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Friday, September 04, 2009

YESNetwork: Goldman: WHY THE 1961 YANKEES DO NOT RATE AMONG THE FRANCHISE’S GREATEST CHAMPIONS

Why, just last night I sat up staring at my ciggy-singed, feces-creased, cotch-staped Bobby Richardson Challenge the Yankees card…and wondered “WTF if, bubbleass, WTF if”

• Despite that good hitting, the team had a good, not a great offense. Sure, they hit all the home runs in the world, but the Yankees were evolving into a highly impatient team, something that would start to really hurt them in the coming years. They were only fifth in the league in on-base percentage, one of the reasons that they finished second to the Detroit Tigers in runs scored and runs scored per game. I find it difficult to say that a team had an all-time great offense when it couldn’t lead its league in runs scored. I’m not saying it wasn’t a strong offense—it was—but it wasn’t the juggernaut it has been made out to be or was understood to be at the time.

• Manager Ralph Houk put an immense burden on the offense by filling his leadoff spot primarily with Bobby Richardson (117 games), Clete Boyer (26 games), and Tony Kubek (18 games), and the No. 2 spot with Kubek (115 games), Hector Lopez (26 games), and Boyer (11). Despite leading off for all those games, with 237 home runs coming up behind him, Richardson scored only 80 runs. That would seem almost impossible to do. Heck, it’s only the first week of September and Emilio Bonifacio has 66 runs scored. For the season, the leadoff spot hit .254/.293/.316, and the number two spot hit .253/.283/.345. Unsurprisingly, about 60 percent of No. 3 hitter Roger Maris’s plate appearances came with the bases empty. He hit 33 solo shots in setting the home run record.

Repoz Posted: September 04, 2009 at 12:49 PM | 24 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, yankees

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   1. GeoffB Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:10 PM (#3314353)
ciggy-singed, feces-creased

Sounds like you had an ... interesting (?) childhood.
   2. RollingWave Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:11 PM (#3314355)
just 33? that's 54% the Yankees this year have hit 61% of their HRs as solo shots, and that's not just because of their #9 guy not getting on base.

Solo HRs happen, that doesn't really say a whole lot about other things, the 2009 Yankees are leading the majors in OBP. but they just happen to hit a disperpotionate amount of their long balls while no one's on. (the league average is 59%)

Goldman's generally a good writer but this comment didn't make a whole lot of sense. yes in a large enough sample getting on base correlates a lot with what type of HR you hit, but when the sample is one player' one season, crazy things happen. Don Mattingly hold the all time single season grand slam record, that didn't mean that Yankee team was awesome at getting on base.
   3. BDC Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:17 PM (#3314357)
I find it difficult to say that a team had an all-time great offense when it couldn’t lead its league in runs scored


There could be two rejoinders here: 1) that the Tigers had an all-time great offense, and 2) that Yankee Stadium was an extreme pitchers' park in those days.

Overall, though, especially with those leadoff men, you probably can't call the '61 Yankees a truly great offensive team. And invoking their park accentuates their offense at the expense of their pitching and defense, which aren't as good as they look. The Yankees allowed 110 more runs on the road than at home (scoring about the same amount home or road). The Yankees were 21 games better in the Bronx than on the road. It might be fair to say that the home version of the 1961 Yankees was a magnificent team; the road version played .543 baseball.
   4. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:22 PM (#3314361)
Before this degenerates into another thread of dueling sabermetric arrows, I just want to say that Goldman is right. That 1961 team was a big fish in a small pond, one that wouldn't have a prayer if put up against any of the best Steinbrenner era teams. The high spots were frightening (Maris, Mantle, Howard, Ford), but beyond that there wasn't a whole lot. Just compare their lineup on a position by position basis to this year's team and you'll see what I mean.
   5. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:32 PM (#3314368)
Honestly, I can't imagine Repoz as a child. Or adult.
   6. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:34 PM (#3314370)
The 1994 Yankees had a .374 team on base percentage. I say this apropos of nothing, I just think that that's unreal. What an offense that was! A relative no-name one too!
   7. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:40 PM (#3314380)
Bill James had a long screed about this topic in the new historical abstract
   8. aleskel Posted: September 04, 2009 at 01:55 PM (#3314393)
Manager Ralph Houk put an immense burden on the offense by filling his leadoff spot primarily with Bobby Richardson (117 games), Clete Boyer (26 games), and Tony Kubek (18 games

it's worth noting that, going back to the Stengel days, the Yankees had always put the emphasis on defense when it came to the infield (which is how they tended to get a lot out of relatively unknown pitchers, that and the favorable ballpark). All three of those players were, IIRC, considered among the best defenders in the league, Richardson and Boyer is particular.
   9. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 04, 2009 at 02:33 PM (#3314433)
The 1994 Yankees had a .374 team on base percentage. I say this apropos of nothing, I just think that that's unreal. What an offense that was! A relative no-name one too!

And yet the 2009 version beats even that team in OPS+, 120 to 118.

BTW is there a page on BB-Ref that ranks teams over the years by various statistical categories? It seems like there would be, but I can't find it.
   10. The Yankee Clapper Posted: September 04, 2009 at 02:40 PM (#3314445)
but the Yankees were evolving into a highly impatient team, something that would start to really hurt them in the coming years.

They won the World Series the following year (with Mantle largely hobbled) as well as 3 additional AL pennants. That's pretty good by most standards.
   11. Mike Emeigh Posted: September 04, 2009 at 02:51 PM (#3314462)
All three of those players were, IIRC, considered among the best defenders in the league, Richardson and Boyer is particular.


And they all had to bat somewhere.

The argument that Houk hamstrung the offense by using Richardson/Kubek 1-2 in the order doesn't consider that Houk didn't really have a whole lot of other options. He was using an outfield of Berra or Lopez/Mantle/Maris, with Howard catching and Skowron at first. None of those guys were viable leadoff options - you really can't seriously argue that Mantle or Maris, the only guys with a history of getting on base, should have been leading off, and Howard had a good OBP that season only because he hit .348. As long as Richardson and Kubek were going to play, it didn't make a whole lot of difference to the offense where they batted.

-- MWE
   12. GGC Posted: September 04, 2009 at 03:27 PM (#3314527)
Bobby Richardson:Repoz::Joe Morgan:FJM
   13. Long-Time Fan Posted: September 04, 2009 at 04:07 PM (#3314596)
Richardson and Kubek were decent defensively, but Clete Boyer was a truly exceptional defensive third-baseman, arguably the defensive equal of Brooks Robinson.
   14. Tom Nawrocki Posted: September 04, 2009 at 04:18 PM (#3314609)
it's worth noting that, going back to the Stengel days, the Yankees had always put the emphasis on defense when it came to the infield (which is how they tended to get a lot out of relatively unknown pitchers, that and the favorable ballpark).


To tie this back to another thread, this is why I doubt that Berra was some kind of historically great defensive catcher. Stengel would bring in a bunch of hard-throwing nobodies from other teams who would do better for the Yankees than they had anywhere else, but that was mostly because the infielders would turn the double play almost every time the HTNs would walk somebody, and the park would keep the number of homers down. Berra may have been a part of their improvement, but it's not likely that he was the major part.
   15. Don Malcolm Posted: September 04, 2009 at 04:48 PM (#3314635)
Nick and Mike have the salient points here, I think. The '61 Yankees were carried by half a dozen players having seasons that were their best (or very near-best), and "concentrated peak" is a viable approach to building a dominating team--though in the so-called "dynastic theory" it would be out of favor: sabes, neos, and even post-neos vastly prefer more modest peaks spread across more lineup slots (the "safety in numbers" approach). I can't see that anyone has really studied the issue in any kind of depth, however--James's work here is laced with his massive anti-Yankee bias (and, hey, if I'd lived in KC when the Yanks were using my team as their farm club I'd probably be unable to restrain that type of ongoing reaction, too).

With peaks that high, and no way to fleece the league for better-hitting middle infielders, the Yanks simply had to go with what they had (and, of course, could afford to do so). It's important to note that not everyone in the 1961 AL is batting middle IFs at the top of their lineup, so the best comp for Richardson and Kubek is with their fellow 2Bs and SSs. When we do that, Bobby is 9th offensively, Tony 6th. As Mike said, the Yanks had to bat them somewhere, and they simply look (even) worse when compared to the other 1-2 hitters (most of whom were not MIs).

Far more useful, IMO, than a "rating" of the '61 Yanks vs. their other incarnations is some type of historical understanding of the team's impact on the future of offense. Despite having so much concentration of peak performance, the '61 Yanks were the first team in MLB history to have six players with 20+ HRs. They make for a clear line of demarcation in that strategy, one that has come to dominate the game (and, to the minds of many, detract from the overall balance of the game). The response was swift: a suppression of offense with a larger strike zone. People kept swinging for the fences, however, and teams assembling lineups centered around HR hitting survived a downturn in the 70s and early 80s to become the dominant mode of "offensive thought" in the current game, as shown in these figures:

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS WITH 4+ PLAYERS HITTING 20+ HOME RUNS (by decade)
30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s
1%, 2%, 9%, 14%, 8%, 11%, 19%, 27%

How much further this will go, of course, is anyone's guess.

This is probably more useful to us than the continuing fascination with an ersatz "aesthetics of lineup construction" that, even today, has less impact on team success than what is often claimed.
   16. Tom Nawrocki Posted: September 04, 2009 at 04:50 PM (#3314638)
James's work here is laced with his massive anti-Yankee bias


Roy White would be amused by this.
   17. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 04, 2009 at 05:09 PM (#3314664)
To tie this back to another thread, this is why I doubt that Berra was some kind of historically great defensive catcher. Stengel would bring in a bunch of hard-throwing nobodies from other teams who would do better for the Yankees than they had anywhere else, but that was mostly because the infielders would turn the double play almost every time the HTNs would walk somebody, and the park would keep the number of homers down. Berra may have been a part of their improvement, but it's not likely that he was the major part.

Berra was by all accounts a very good defensive catcher, but it's hard to make any meaningful comparison between him and some of his successors, for several reasons.

First, with the concrete gloves they had back then, blocking marginally wild pitches was far more difficult.

Second, since base stealing was such a completely lost art in the AL of Berra's time, and the hit and run was more of an offensive weapon than it is now, his relatively high CS percentage is likely inflated by a fair amount.

But those HTNs weren't all the product of double plays and a pitcher's home park. The Yankees did indeed usually lead the AL in DPs, but never by all that much that the relatively small number of extra outs would have made that much of a difference. It's far more likely that the success of the Larsens and the Kuckses and the Sturdivants was due to a combination of run support and Berra's pitch calling skills, a talent that many of Casey's pitchers vouched for time and again.
   18. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: September 04, 2009 at 05:18 PM (#3314670)
Roy White would be amused by this.


Not to mention noted Yankee-hater Bill James' comment about why he didn't write the book he had already planned and researched about what was the greatest team ever:

(a) You can't write a book saying the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team ever, because it's already been said too many times, and

(b) You can't write a book saying the 1927 Yankees weren't the greatest team ever, because they were.


He then went on to say that the team with the strongest claim to be considered as better than the 1927 Yankees was... the 1998 Yankees.
   19. Matt Garza smells it deep (Mr. Tapeworm) Posted: September 04, 2009 at 05:30 PM (#3314678)
Don Mattingly hold the all time single season grand slam record, that didn't mean that Yankee team was awesome at getting on base.


In movie trailer voiceover guy voice: "And he never hit another grand slam ... in his entire career."
   20. JPWF13 Posted: September 04, 2009 at 06:10 PM (#3314730)
And they all had to bat somewhere.

The argument that Houk hamstrung the offense by using Richardson/Kubek 1-2 in the order doesn't consider that Houk didn't really have a whole lot of other options. He was using an outfield of Berra or Lopez/Mantle/Maris, with Howard catching and Skowron at first. None of those guys were viable leadoff options


Pre Houk, Stengl would often times bat Lopez and even Mantle 2nd

Hell, Mantle would have been a GREAT leadoff hitter, and considering the paucity of Ribbie opps he had anyway, batting HIM leadoff, thereby maximising his PAs, would probably have been the 61 Yankees optimum lineup- not that it really mattered
   21. GGC Posted: September 04, 2009 at 06:34 PM (#3314772)
Far more useful, IMO, than a "rating" of the '61 Yanks vs. their other incarnations is some type of historical understanding of the team's impact on the future of offense. Despite having so much concentration of peak performance, the '61 Yanks were the first team in MLB history to have six players with 20+ HRs. They make for a clear line of demarcation in that strategy, one that has come to dominate the game (and, to the minds of many, detract from the overall balance of the game). The response was swift: a suppression of offense with a larger strike zone. People kept swinging for the fences, however, and teams assembling lineups centered around HR hitting survived a downturn in the 70s and early 80s to become the dominant mode of "offensive thought" in the current game, as shown in these figures:

PERCENTAGE OF TEAMS WITH 4+ PLAYERS HITTING 20+ HOME RUNS (by decade)
30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s
1%, 2%, 9%, 14%, 8%, 11%, 19%, 27%

How much further this will go, of course, is anyone's guess.


I wish you'd stop by more often, Don.
   22. Obama Bomaye Posted: September 04, 2009 at 07:02 PM (#3314812)
Pre Houk, Stengl would often times bat Lopez and even Mantle 2nd

Mantle batted 2nd for a couple weeks in 1960, that's it.
   23. Don Malcolm Posted: September 04, 2009 at 07:36 PM (#3314852)
He then went on to say that the team with the strongest claim to be considered as better than the 1927 Yankees was... the 1998 Yankees.


True enough. James the historian is eminently capable of rising above his personal feelings in most cases--after all, it's hard to argue with the numbers regarding those two teams. When it comes to the 1961 team, however, you're in a territory where personal feelings and memories--along with that stubborn "aestheticizing error" that continues to plague sabermetrics--can come to the fore. The fondness for (and subsequent increasing homogenization of) an across-the-board ISO-based offense stems from the stylistic revulsion that surfaces in James' work (and much of the echo chamber that Goldman's piece falls into) for the 1961 Yankees. James loves the 1976 Reds, thinks they'd whip the rears of the '61 Yanks based on an aesthetic preference (dotes on teams with great and undersized second basemen, likes long-sequence offenses, etc.)

I find it ironic, of course, because despite the poor lineup construction issues, the Yankees still wound up scoring the second highest number of runs in the first inning that year (106, five behind the Tigers). They did that despite lousy performances from Kubek and Richardson (.290 OBP) and an indifferent performance from Maris (.752 OPS, 7 HRs, and 8 GIDP)--all because Mantle hit 14 HRs, slugged .946 (!!), and drove in 38 runs in that inning. (Most astonishing in all this, IMO, is that Mantle, batting 4th in the lineup for much of the year, only gets a plate appearance in the first inning 86 times, as opposed to 143 for Maris).

It's also ironic because, as noted in the other post, the '61 Yankees are the harbingers of the type of ISO-based offense that dominates the game now. The teams in the 50s that approached such a "style" (Redlegs, Dodgers) had ballparks more conducive to hitting HRs (those teams hit close to 60% of their HRs at home)--whereas the '61 Yanks hit more homers (128) away from Yankee Stadium than they did at home (112).

My point here was really that there are a lot of interesting facts to be gleaned from the details in which dominating teams achieve their success, and that spending so much time in ranking them tends to get in the way of discovering those facts. More important still is the need to examine assumptions that can build up imperceptibly, and to avoid creating/enabling a lingering climate of bias in the work being carried forward.

As for Roy White, that's another chapter in saber-rattling that really isn't relevant to the team he played for--that fact disappears in the larger penumbra of arguments against Jim Rice and the ballpark in which he played. Put another way, White's team affiliation in that argument is less germane to the discussion than Rice's.
   24. GGC Posted: September 04, 2009 at 08:01 PM (#3314882)
My point here was really that there are a lot of interesting facts to be gleaned from the details in which dominating teams achieve their success, and that spending so much time in ranking them tends to get in the way of discovering those facts. More important still is the need to examine assumptions that can build up imperceptibly, and to avoid creating/enabling a lingering climate of bias in the work being carried forward.


IOW, the lesson to be learned from great teams is their legacy, right? This seems to be more apparent in football where a certain scheme is used by a successful team, then the rest of the league copies them. There really isn't an equivalent in baseball to a Tampa 2 or West Coast Offense, but this may manifest it more in how rosters are constructed. The thing about 1961 was there were other trends besides the Yankees don't take, yet rake approach; expansion and integration of African American and Latin American players, for example. Also, the guys coming up would be those born in the late Depression and early stages of WWII, for what that's worth.

What's the status of the book, Don?

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