It isn’t an easy task choosing between them, but statistically these are the four best teams in baseball history. Enjoy this journey through the glorious past of baseball greats.
Ask baseball fans who the greatest team of all time is and the most common answer would probably be the 1927 Murders Row New York Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. But was that really the greatest baseball team of all time statistically? Were any other teams as good as or better than the 1927 Yankees? In order to try and answer that question I statistically analyzed all Major League baseball teams from 1901 until today.
What constitutes a great team? Obviously winning is a hallmark of a great team and so is dominating the opposition. So how did I quantify that statistically? I used five markers that teams must meet to be considered great.
- Winning Percentage – Great teams should win the vast majority of their games. I used .700 as the cutoff.
- Run Differential – The difference between how many runs scored minus how many runs given up per game on average. The higher the number the more dominating a team is. I used 1.80 as the cutoff.
- Total Number of Great Players – Great players being defined as Hall of Fame players or Hall of Fame caliber players. Hall of Fame caliber players are players who fall short of the Hall of Fame but had Hall of Fame caliber seasons and failed to make it due mainly to longevity issues. I used a combination of at least 6 players who are Hall of Fame players or Hall of Fame caliber players as the cutoff.
- Led League in Both Runs Scored and Fewest Runs Allowed – Teams should do both to be considered great and dominating. Some might argue that park effects play a great role in determining which teams lead the league in runs scored and runs allowed. That is true but great teams overcome all obstacles which is what makes them the greatest. (The Brooklyn Dodgers played in a bandbox in Ebbets Field yet led the National League in both categories in the 1955 season, while the Los Angeles Dodgers have played in the greatest pitchers park in baseball since Dodger Stadium was opened and they too led the National League in both categories in 1974 and 1978. None of the Dodger teams qualify on all categories though.)
- Winning the World Series (provided there was a World Series) – how can a team be considered great if they did not win the World Series if they played in it? The 1906 Chicago Cubs won 116 games and had a winning percentage of .763, the best ever for regular season since 1901, but lost the World Series to their cross-town rivals the Chicago White Sox.
Only Four Teams Meet All Five Markers (Players Stats For The Year In Parenthesis):
1902 Pittsburgh Pirates – 103-36 (.741), led league in runs scored with 775 while allowing the fewest runs at 440, which works out to 5.58 runs scored per game while allowing 3.17 runs per game for a2.41 run differential. No World Series played in 1902.
Three Hall of Famers on the team in Honus Wagner (105 runs, 91 RBI’s, 42 SB’s, .330 avg) Fred Clarke (103 runs, 29 SB’s, .401 OBP) and Jack Chesbro (28-6, 2.17 ERA). Three more Hall of Fame caliber players in Jesse Tannehill (20-6, 1.95 ERA), Deacon Phillippe (20-9, 2.05) and Sam Leever (16-7, 2.39).
1927 New York Yankees – 110-44 (.714), led league in runs scored with 975 while allowing the fewest runs at 599, which works out to 6.33 runs scored per game while allowing 3.89 runs per game for a 2.44 run differential. Swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series.
Six Hall of Fame players on the team in Babe Ruth (158 runs, 60 HR’s, 164 RBI’s, 1.26 OPS), Lou Gehrig (149 runs, 49 HR’s, 175 RBI’s, 1.24 OPS), Tony Lazzeri (92 runs, 18 HR’s, 102 RBI’s, 22 SB’s, .865 OPS), Earle Combs (137 runs, .356 avg, .925 OPS), Waite Hoyt (22-7, 2.63 ERA) and Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00 ERA). Another player, Urban Shocker (18-6, 2.84 ERA), was Hall of Fame caliber and would be in the Hall of Fame if not for his untimely illness and death in 1928 from heart disease and pneumonia. Bob Meusel (103 RBI’s, 24 SB’s, .337 avg, .903 OPS) was also a Hall of Fame caliber player.
1939 New York Yankees – 106-45 (.702), led league in runs scored with 967 while allowing the fewest runs at 556, which works out to 6.40 runs scored per game while allowing 3.68 runs per game for a 2.72 run differential. Swept the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.
Five Hall of Fame players on the team but Lou Gehrig does not really count as the Iron Horse’s iron man streak of 2,130 consecutive games played came to an end just 8 games into the season due to Gehrig’s unfortunate illness with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. Which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease today.
The other four Hall of Famer’s on the team were Joe Dimaggio (108 runs, 30 HR’s, 126 RBI’s, .381 avg, 1.12 OPS), Bill Dickey (98 runs, 24 HR’s, 105 RBI’s, .916 OPS), Red Ruffing (21-7, 2.93 ERA) and Lefty Gomez (12-8, 3.41 ERA). Also on the team were Hall of Fame caliber players Joe Gordon (92 runs, 28 HR’s, 111 RBI’s, .876 OPS), Red Rolfe (139 runs, 80 RBI’s, .329 avg, .899 OPS) and Charlie Keller (87 runs, 83 RBI’s, .334 avg, .947 OPS).
1998 New York Yankees – 114-48 (.704), led league in runs scored with 965 while allowing the fewest runs at 656, which works out to 5.96 runs scored per game while allowing 4.05 runs per game for a run differential of 1.91. Swept the San Diego Padres in the World Series.
Two sure Hall of Famers on the team in Derek Jeter (127 runs, 19 HR’s, 84 RBI’s, 30 SB’s, .324 avg, .865 OPS) and Mariano Rivera (36 Saves, 1.91 ERA). The 1998 New York Yankees had a remarkable number of Hall of Fame caliber players in Jorge Posada (.825 OPS), Tino Martinez (92 runs, 28 HR’s, 123 RBI’s, .860 OPS) Chuck Knoblauch (117 runs, 31 SB’s), Bernie Williams (101 runs, 26 HR’s, 97 RBI’s, .339 avg, .997 OPS), Paul O’Neill (95 runs, 24 HR’s, 116 RBI’s, .317 avg, .882 OPS), Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (12-4, 3.13), Andy Pettitte (16-11, 4.24 ERA), David Wells (18-4, 3.49 ERA) and David Cone (20-7, 3.55 ERA) all playing regularly (with Darryl Strawberry and Tim “Rock” Raines playing part-time).
How Do They Stack Up?
- 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates – .741
- 1927 New York Yankees – .714
- 1998 New York Yankees – .704
- 1939 New York Yankees – .702
- 1939 New York Yankees – 2.72
- 1927 New York Yankees – 2.44
- 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates – 2.41
- 1998 New York Yankees – 1.91
Number of Great Players:
- 1998 New York Yankees – 11
- 1927 New York Yankees – 8
- 1939 New York Yankees – 7
- 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates – 6
All four teams led their league in both runs scored and fewest runs allowed.
Except for the 1902 Pirates, the other three Yankee teams all won the World Series by sweeping their opponents. No World Series was played in 1902.
What do we end up with? The four greatest teams in Major League baseball history. Trying to separate them is difficult. What’s interesting to note is that 1902 Pirates had the best winning percentage of the four, the 1939 Yankees had the greatest run differential of the four, and the 1998 Yankees had the greatest number of Hall of Fame caliber players.
The 1927 Murders Row New York Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig did not lead in any of the categories but were second in each one.