Eight Men Above

November 10, 2015
Other titles I considered:
 
"Eight is More than Enough"
"Crazy (Good) Eights"
 
I finally settled a take-off on "Eight Men Out" to keep with the baseball motif.  Before we get started, though, since we’ll be talking averages and medians and such…..I thought it might be a good time for a little numerical humor.
 
Sidebar: Fun with Numbers
 
"I was going 70 miles an hour and got stopped by a cop who said, "Do you know the speed limit is 55 miles per hour?"  
 
"Yes, officer, but I wasn't going to be out that long..."
 
-Steven Wright
 
 
 "Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital."
- Aaron Levenstein
 
 
A statistics student would accelerate before crossing each intersection. His passenger finally asked, "Why do you go so fast through intersections?" The student said, "Statistically speaking, you're far more likely to have an accident at an intersection, so I try to spend as little time there as possible."
 
 
A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost.  He spotted a man below. He descended a bit more and shouted, "Can you help me?  I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don't know where I am." 
 
The man below replied, "You're about 40 feet above the ground.  You're about 39 degrees north latitude and 94 degrees west longitude, and you’re heading east"
 
"You must be a statistician," said the balloonist.
 
"I am." replied the man, "How did you know?" 
 
"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I'm still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all.  If anything, you've delayed my trip." 
 
The man below responded, "You must be in management." 
 
"I am." replied the balloonist, "How did you know?" 
 
"Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are, and you don’t know where you're going.  You have risen to where you are due to a lot of hot air.  You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, you expect people beneath you to solve your problems, you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."
 
 
One day there was a fire in a garbage bin.  A physicist, a chemist, and a statistician run in to help. 
 
The physicist starts figuring out the amount of energy that would have to be removed from the fire in order to stop combustion.

The chemist starts developing a substance that could be added to the fire to cut off the supply of oxygen.

The statistician starts setting more fires around the office.
 
The physicist and chemist ask, "What are you doing!?"  
 
The statistician replies, "Trying to get an adequate sample size!"
 
 
A mathematician, a statistician, and an economist are interviewing for a job.  The interviewer tells them that the interview will only consist of a single question.  He brings them into the interviewing room one at a time.
 
First, the interviewer brings in the mathematician and sits him down.  He asks him, "OK….what is 2 plus 2?".   The mathematician doesn’t blink and responds quickly, "Well, of course, 2 plus 2 is 4". 
 
The interviewer escorts the mathematician out of the room and brings in the statistician.  Same question: "What is 2 plus 2?".  The statistician considers it for a moment and then replies, "Well, I’m not exactly sure, but I’m 95% confident it’s between 3 and 5".
 
The interviewer escorts the statistician out of the room and finally brings in the economist.  "OK….what is 2 plus 2?".  The economist gets up, shuts the blinds, locks the door, makes sure no one else is in the room, sits back down, and leans in towards the interviewer, and whispers "What would you like it to be?"
 
Everybody Line Up
 
One of my favorite stories about my paternal grandfather relates to baseball.  My grandfather came to the U.S. in the early 1900’s.  After he had lived here for a while, someone he knew from the "Old Country" immigrated as well and settled in the same community as my grandfather.  One of the first things my grandfather did was to take him to a baseball game.   He said, "If you’re going to live in this country, you have to understand baseball".
 
One of the things that appealed to him about the game was the sense of teamwork: the coordination among teammates as they execute a defensive play, working together to move each other along the base paths, etc.  It seemed to embody very American traits to him.  But, mostly, there was something especially appealing to him about the batting order, a unique trait among team sports…..the requirement that everyone takes turns, that everyone gets a chance, that everyone has a responsibility to contribute.  That appealed to him a lot.
 
Sometimes I think back and reflect on just how much that separates baseball from other sports.  I’ve been on other web sites and expressed the observation that I consider baseball to be the ultimate team sport, and invariably someone takes me to task for that, typically of the opinion that football is more so.  What I try to convey, though, is this…..that in baseball, it’s very difficult for a single player, no matter how good he is, to dominate the sport, to turn a bad team into a good team. 
 
In basketball, if you have a Lebron James or a Steph Curry, you can literally run every single offensive play through them, if you so choose.  They can touch the ball, they can pass, they can shoot.  You can have Lebron shoot 20 straight times if you want to (and in last year’s playoffs, it seems like there were stretches where that happened).  If he misses a shot, he can take another one right away.  A superstar in basketball has a much bigger influence on a game and a season than a baseball star does, because there are only 5 players on the court at a time for team, and you can literally go to him and execute plays through him as many times as you wish.  That’s why, if you look through the history of the sport, you almost never see a championship NBA team without at least one superstar.  It happens….but it’s extremely rare.
 
Even in football, it’s rare to have a champion without a star QB.  Again, it does happen sometimes that an extremely good defensive squad can overcome a mediocre QB, but it’s fairly rare.  More often, a Super Bowl champion needs an elite QB.  If you have a superstar QB, he is involved in every single offensive play in one way or another.  It starts with him.  If Green Bay wants to have Aaron Rodgers throw the ball on 10 consecutive plays, they can do so.  If he throws an incomplete pass, he can come right back and try another one.
 
In baseball…..yes, a starting pitcher may be dominant in a game…..but he only gets to play every fourth or fifth game.  Yes, you may have a superstar hitter like a Mike Trout or a Bryce Harper…..but they typically only come to the plate 4 or 5 times in a game.  The other players on the team have to take their turns at bat as well.  Unlike the other sports, if a star strikes out on one at bat, he can’t come right back and take another one.  He has to wait his turn.  Baseball is structured in such a way that it diffuses the impact of a single, great player. 
 
Coming from a different angle now…..
 
One of the things that got me thinking about this article was the current World Series matchup.  I’ve seen more than one instance of someone commenting that both the Royals and the Mets were short of superstars a general lack of players that you think may have a good chance of one day making the Hall of Fame.  To a degree, I agree with that.  It’s difficult (though not impossible) to imagine any of the Royals being a Hall of Famer:
 
Alex Gordon?  A nice all-around player, and he’s doing a decent job of accumulating rWAR (you could say he’s a bit of a WAR "hero"), but he’s 31 years old, and I’d say he’s not on a Hall of Fame track.
 
Eric Hosmer? Nice player, sort of a poor man’s Keith Hernandez (one of his top comps through age 25) with a little more pop but drawing fewer walks.  But, even the real Keith Hernandez, who ended up with a pretty good resume that included a batting title, a co-MVP, another MVP runner-up, being one of the leaders on 2 different franchises that won World Championships in a 5-year span, and probably the consensus top defensive first baseman in history, never received more than about 10% of the writers’ vote in any given year on the ballot.  And, since the original Keith Hernandez hasn’t made it in yet, I’m not too optimistic about the poor man’s version.  At least not until he makes an All-Star Game….
 
Lorenzo Cain?  Great year, probably the team MVP.  Has really developed offensively, and is a terrific defensive player and base runner.  But, he’s already 29 years old and has just 521 career hits.  I’m guessing his odds are slim.
 
Mike Moustakas?  Had a really good year, his best year so far.  He made the All-Star team.  Still, he’s probably no better than the 4th best 3B in the league (I’d put Donaldson, Machado, and Beltre above him, and maybe Longoria and Seager too).  And, that’s just the AL.  If you include the NL too, now you’ve got Arenado, Bryant, Frazier, Carpenter.  Put it all together, and Moustakas is, depending on your taste, somewhere between the #6 and #10 third baseman in MLB.
 
Ben Zobrist?  A fascinating player, and he’s had 2 years (’09 and ’11) where he had rWARs of 8.6 and 8.7, respectively, and those are up in the area where you start to think about someone as an MVP-level type performer.  In fact, he was 1st in the AL in rWAR among position players both of those years.  So, a very valuable and extremely versatile player, and certainly among the best of his particular type in history.  But….Hall of Fame?  He’s 34 years old.  I’d say his chances are virtually nil.
 
Salvador Perez?  Certainly has his weaknesses as a hitter, but he’s only 25 and a 3-time All-Star and a 2-time Gold Glover.  He keeps hitting more HR’s each year.  But a Hall of Fame track?  At this point, I’d say he’s an excellent match for Benito Santiago.  Now, Santiago had a good career, hung around for 20 years, and won his share of honors….but he got less than 1% of the vote when he appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot.
 
So, while we can’t say for sure that none of these players are Cooperstown-bound, and it will be years before their cases are thoroughly vetted, it’s a stretch to envision any of them making it.  And the Mets are more of the same story, although some think that David Wright has a decent chance at the Hall of Fame, although I think he’s a long shot too.  He’s tracking similar to (though probably behind) Scott Rolen, and Rolen’s no lock either. 
 
The pitchers?  Who knows?  No matter how talented they are, trying to figure out if pitchers this young will end up in Cooperstown is folly, unless it’s someone like a Clayton Kershaw that just overwhelms you with his achievements at an early age.  
 
However…what the Royals do have going for them is that, while they’re lacking in star power, and none of their players are the "best" in the league at their respective positions, the lineup doesn’t have a lot of weak spots either.  You go through the order, you see the everyday lineup, and they’re just about all quality players. 
 
If you look at the Royals vs. the rest of Major League Baseball for the 2015 seasons, they are basically in the upper half at every position (assuming you count Zobrist, who came over mid-way through the season, instead of Infante at 2B) except SS (Escobar) and RF (Rios).  And, both of them have been good enough at some point to make the All-Star team (although Rios’ selections are pretty far in the past at this point).  And, sometimes, that can be more devastating than having a handful of stars who are offset by weaker players.
 
When people started talking about this, it also reminded me of something Bill wrote about in the New Historical Abstract, in one of several segments related to "The Best Team What Ever Was" topic.  He made a reference as to how rare it was for a team to be above average at every position (especially if you include pitchers).  He called out the 1941 Dodgers as being above average at every position.  Their primary regulars were:
 
C Mickey Owen
1B Dolph Camilli
2B Billy Herman
3B Cookie Lavagetto
SS Pee Wee Reese
LF Joe Medwick
CF Pete Reiser
RF Dixie Walker
 
That was a terrific everyday lineup.  The team won 100 games and led the NL in runs scored.  There are 3 Hall of Famers (Herman, Reese, Medwick), Camilli won the MVP, Reiser finished 2nd in the same balloting (and finished 6th in ’42), Walker would win a batting title in ‘44, Owen finished 4th in the MVP voting in ’42 and was in the middle of a 4-year run as a NL All-Star, and Lavagetto was a 4-time All-Star in his age 25-28 seasons, then lost 4 straight years to the war. In addition, the team had a good 1-2 staring pitcher combo in Kirby Higbe and Whitlow Wyatt, and a good relief ace in Hugh Casey.
 
So, it was a great lineup that made the World Series, and then followed that up with winning 104 games in ’42, with another Hall of Famer (Arky Vaughan) basically taking over for Lavagetto at 3B.  Of course, as Bill pointed out, as good as they were, they didn’t win.  The Cardinals were a little better in ’42 and won 106 behind the likes of a young Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Walker & Mort Cooper, Marty Marion, Terry Moore, and White Kurowski.
 
In any case….this got me thinking about lineups and how many teams were able to field lineups that were "above average" throughout.
 
 
Positions Above Median
 
I didn’t really have a database handy that I felt would help me tackle this, so I did a little more of a manual approach using a feature on baseball-reference.com.  Let’s look at the ’42 Brooklyn team, since they actually qualify by my approach (the ’41 team technically, during that year, weren’t above average at all positions).  If you click on seasons, then go to the year you want (in this case 1942, NL), and then click on 1942 MLB, you’ll get something that says "1942 MLB Wins Above Avg By Position."  You can then choose to highlight a particular team.  If you highlight Brooklyn, you get something that looks like the table below (I eliminated a few columns to focus just on the 9 positions.  Note that this uses Wins Above Average (WAA) instead of rWAR).
 
The thick horizontal line divides the upper 8 teams from the lower 8 teams, in essence creating the median.  Half are above, half are below.  Note that all Brooklyn entries are above the line.  Another note is that this grid charts out the WAA for each position on each team, not just the starters.  LF for Brooklyn includes Joe Medwick, but also 71 PA of Augie Galan, and 17 PA of Johnny Rizzo.  It’s a team figure.  Also, it’s important to note that this reflects both offensive and defensive value:
  

Rk

P

C

1B

2B

3B

SS

LF

CF

RF

 
 

1

STL

BSN

NYG

NYY

CHC

NYY

BOS

NYY

NYG

 

16.0

2.0

4.1

6.6

2.9

4.0

8.6

4.2

4.1

 

2

DET

PIT

PIT

BOS

SLB

BOS

NYY

SLB

STL

 

14.7

0.9

2.7

3.8

2.0

3.8

4.8

3.5

4.0

 

3

CIN

BRO

CLE

CIN

PIT

BRO

STL

BOS

CHC

 

6.2

0.3

2.7

3.1

1.0

3.5

3.1

2.7

3.6

 

4

BRO

CHC

BRO

BRO

CLE

CLE

PHA

BRO

NYY

 

6.0

0.3

2.6

0.9

0.8

2.7

1.7

2.1

1.8

 

5

SLB

STL

CIN

NYG

BRO

STL

CLE

WSH

SLB

 

3.0

0.3

1.0

0.1

0.5

2.4

1.5

1.0

1.6

 

6

NYY

NYY

DET

CHC

NYY

CHW

WSH

BSN

BRO

 

1.8

0.2

1.0

(0.5)

0.3

1.0

1.1

1.0

0.4

 

7

BOS

NYG

SLB

DET

STL

NYG

DET

STL

CHW

 

1.8

(0.6)

0.0

(0.6)

0.0

0.9

0.6

0.8

0.1

 

8

CHW

PHI

BOS

SLB

DET

SLB

BRO

NYG

WSH

 

1.1

(0.9)

(0.2)

(1.3)

0.0

0.7

0.5

0.2

(0.6)

 

9

PIT

CHW

NYY

CLE

PHI

BSN

CHW

CLE

DET

 

0.5

(1.1)

(0.5)

(1.4)

0.0

0.6

0.4

(0.1)

(0.6)

 

10

NYG

BOS

PHI

CHW

NYG

CIN

CHC

PIT

BOS

 

(1.1)

(1.4)

(0.8)

(1.5)

(0.1)

0.2

(0.4)

(0.5)

(0.8)

 

11

CLE

CIN

CHW

BSN

WSH

CHC

SLB

CHC

PHA

 

(4.6)

(1.6)

(0.8)

(1.7)

(0.5)

0.1

(0.4)

(1.1)

(1.0)

 

12

BSN

DET

STL

STL

PHA

PHI

PHI

PHA

BSN

 

(5.5)

(1.9)

(1.1)

(1.7)

(1.0)

(1.4)

(0.6)

(1.8)

(1.4)

 

13

PHA

SLB

WSH

WSH

BSN

PIT

NYG

CHW

PHI

 

(5.7)

(2.0)

(1.2)

(2.1)

(1.1)

(2.5)

(0.9)

(1.9)

(1.6)

 

14

CHC

CLE

BSN

PHI

CHW

PHA

BSN

CIN

CIN

 

(5.8)

(2.1)

(1.2)

(2.2)

(1.4)

(2.9)

(1.5)

(2.0)

(1.7)

 

15

WSH

PHA

CHC

PHA

CIN

DET

CIN

PHI

PIT

 

(7.8)

(2.3)

(1.7)

(2.8)

(1.5)

(5.0)

(2.1)

(2.1)

(1.9)

 

16

PHI

WSH

PHA

PIT

BOS

WSH

PIT

DET

CLE

 

(9.2)

(2.4)

(3.0)

(3.0)

(1.8)

(5.1)

(2.5)

(2.9)

(2.0)

 

 

A simple count reveals that Brooklyn had all 9 Positions Above Median, or "PAM" for short.
 
So, the first hurdle involves finding out which teams were above median at every position.  I made exceptions for teams that were below median at pitcher, but in order to be included for this study, you had to at least be above median at each of the 8 position player slots.  If the team didn’t make this first cut, I didn’t go any further with that team.   In this study, although I tracked pitchers as well, I was really more interested in being above average at the 8 fielding positions aside from pitchers. I ignored DH’s and PH’s, so that I could have better comparisons among different eras.
 
 
Next, I applied a "score" (I’ll just call it "PAM Score") based on the ranking at each position as well as the team WAA.  I gave more credit the higher the ranking, but also calculated it such that a team that was ranked 2nd at a position in a 30 team environment got more credit than one that finished 2nd in a 16 team environment.  Also, the higher the team’s cumulative WAA for position players, the higher the score. 
 
3 components of the PAM score:
  1. The WAA of the 8 position players (this was usually between 10 and 25)

  2. 30 minus the average rank of the 8 players based on WAA (since it’s good to have a low "average rank", I made it a positive by subtracting the average rank from a fixed number).  This was done to reward rank regardless of # of teams.  This would typically yield a number between 21 and 28.

  3. A percent figure derived from the rank at each position, adjusted for the # of teams.  Ranking first at a position resulted in 100%.  Ranking 2nd in a 16-team environment resulted in 93.8% (16+1-2)/16.  Ranking 2nd in a 24-team environment resulted in 95.8% (24+1-2)/24.  This was done to reward rank while accounting for the # of teams.  This would typically yield a percentage between 70 and 90%.
 
2 and 3 are similar in that they both reward how well you rank, but one rewards absolute ranking, and the other makes adjustments for how many teams there are.  The average of A and B, multiplied by C yields the PAM Score.
 
 
How Did They Do?
 
Since 1901 (which is the first year for which I saw the grids listed on baseball-reference.com), there have been 2,422 team-seasons.  If all things were equal, and if each  team had a 50% chance to be above median at one position, the chance of being above median at all 8 positions would be 0.39%, or about one in every 250 team-seasons. 
 
2,422 x .039% is about 9, so this would imply about 9 teams would be expected to be above median at all 8 positions, or about one every 12-13 years.
 
Well, in actuality….there have been 58 teams that have achieved this status.  That’s a pretty big difference from what I would have expected.  I suspect that, maybe, it really isn’t a true 50% chance at each and every position, that there are other factors that cause it to happen at a greater rate.  Still, even with 58 teams having achieved this, that’s only about 2% of all teams….or about once every other year or so on average, although it has fluctuated quite a bit over time.  Only 2 teams have achieved it since 2000, with the most recent team being the 2009 Angels (although the Blue Jays came close in 2015 with 7 of the 8 positions above median)
 
At the end of the article, I’ll list all the teams.  I can tell you that 17 of the 58 teams were Yankees  The next highest were the Orioles with 6.  Only 17 of the 30 current franchises have accomplished this status.  Here’s the tally by franchise.
 
Team
# of Times
Yankees
17
Orioles
6
Dodgers
5
A's
4
Braves
4
Giants
4
Cardinals
3
Cubs
3
Reds
3
Tigers
2
Angels
1
Indians
1
Mariners
1
Pirates
1
Twins
1
White Sox
1
Phillies
1
 
Before hitting the top 12, here are a few teams that were interesting to me for a variety of reasons.  For each position, I’ll give the MLB rank for that year, and the primary contributor(s)
 
#55-1991 Minnesota Twins
One of the lower ranked teams that accomplished this feat, In the prior season, the ’90 Twins were 74-88, and only had 3 positions above the median.  In ’91, though, they improved to 95 wins and won the World Series over the Braves.
 
If you look at the grid below, you’ll see that there was a certain consistency.  None of the positions was better than 5th, but everyone was in the upper half (there were 26 teams). 
 
They remind me a little of the 2015 Royals….identical 95-67 records, they both beat the Blue Jays in the ALCS, and they both beat a team noted for its impressive young starting pitching (the Braves had Glavine, Smoltz, and Avery, all 25 or younger).  Like the Royals, they were noted as a team that played smart and was good defensively.  They had similar stolen base totals, although the Twins did not have a reputation as a speedy ball club, and the Royals did.  But, with Gladden, Knoblauch, and Mack, they had some speed in the lineup, and Puckett and Gagne had decent speed.  The Royals, who have the image of a speedy team, had 70% of their SB’s rolled up in 3 players (Cain, Escobar, and Dyson).  The norms were different in ’91, but the Twins stole 107 bases that year.  Last year, the Royals stole 104.  Both teams led the Majors in fewest batter strikeouts.
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
7
Brian Harper, Junior Ortiz
1B
10
Kent Hrbek, Gene Larkin
2B
13
Chuck Knoblauch, Al Newman
3B
8
Mike Pagliarulo, Scott Leius
SS
7
Greg Gagne, Al Newman
LF
11
Dan Gladden, Shane Mack
CF
5
Kirby Puckett
RF
6
Shane Mack, Gene Larkin
 
#37-1932 Philadelphia Athletics
I was fascinated by this team because it made the list but the 3 teams preceding it (the 1929 through 1931 Athletics) that won 3 AL pennants and 2 World Series never had all 8 position players above median in the same season. 
 
The ’32 squad was still good (94-60 record), but the Yankees won 107 that year to run away with the pennant.  Still, a lot of the familiar names from those pennant winners were still around and going strong in ‘32:
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
1
Mickey Cochrane, Johnnie Heving
1B
1
Jimmie Foxx
2B
5
Max Bishop, Dib Williams
3B
5
Jimmy Dykes
SS
6
Eric McNair
LF
4
Al Simmons
CF
6
Mule Haas, Doc Cramer
RF
8
Bing Miller, Doc Cramer
 
 
 
 
#21-1957 Milwaukee Braves
This was the first of 2 consecutive Braves teams that reached the World Series, and is an intriguing team.
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
3
Del Crandall, Del Rice
1B
6
Frank Torre, Joe Adcock
2B
3
Red Schoendienst, Danny O'Connell
3B
1
Eddie Mathews
SS
2
Johnny Logan, Felix Mantilla
LF
8
Wes Covington, Bobby Thomson, Andy Pafko
CF
5
Bill Bruton
RF
1
Hank Aaron, Bob "Hurricane" Hazle
 
This was the ’57 team, but the ’58 Braves also qualified (#43 on the list) as did the ’61 team (#34).  The ’57 and ’58 were basically the same players, but by ’61 Joe Torre was the catcher, Frank Bolling the 2B, Roy McMillan the SS, Frank Thomas the LF’er, and Lee Maye the RF’er (with Aaron moving to CF).  Logan, Crandall, and Covington were still on the team, but didn’t play much.
 
#13 – 1948 Cleveland Indians
 
This team, which achieved the Indians’ last World Series title, is most notable for the infield, often cited as one of the best ever.  Robinson was the weakest of the quartet, but Gordon, Boudreau, and Keltner all ranked #1 in the Majors that year.
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
5
Jim Hegan, Joe Tipton
1B
7
Eddie Robinson, Johnny Berardino
2B
1
Joe Gordon
3B
1
Ken Keltner
SS
1
Lou Boudreu
LF
5
Dale Mitchell, Allie Clark
CF
2
Thurman Tucker, Larry Doby, Wally Jundich
RF
6
Larry Doby, Hank Edwards
 
 
 
The Top Twelve
 
Let’s do the top 12 teams in  a little more depth:
 
#12 – 1913 Philadelphia A’s
Record: 97-58
Result: World Series Champions
Team Position WAA: 19.7
Avg. Pos. Rank: 3.0 (16 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 87.5%
PAM Score: 20.43
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
1
Wally Schang, Jake Lapp
1B
1
Stuffy McInnis, Billy Orr
2B
1
Eddie Collins
3B
1
Frank "Home Run" Baker
SS
2
Jack Barry
LF
3
Rube Oldring, Tom Daley
CF
8
Amos Strunk, Jimmy Walsh
RF
7
Eddie Murphy, Danny Murphy
 
This team featured the "Million Dollar Infield" and 4 positions ranked as #1 in the Majors.  In terms of WAA, Collins was the highest rated in all of baseball, Frank Baker was #3, Stuffy McInnis #9, and Jack Barry #12.  Million Dollar infield, indeed!
 
They almost didn’t qualify as their CF position was ranked 8th, barely above the median, but this World Championship team (Mack’s 3rd out of his 5 champions) is a worthy member of this club.
 
#11 – 1976 New York Yankees
Record: 97-62
Result: Lost in the World Series
Team Position WAA: 20.8
Avg. Pos. Rank: 3.88 (24 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 88.0%
PAM Score: 20.65
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
1
Thurman Munson, Fran Healy, Elrod Hendricks
1B
4
Chris Chambliss, Otto Velez
2B
3
Willie Randolph, Sandy Alomar
3B
2
Graig Nettes
SS
11
Fred Stanley, Jim Mason
LF
1
Roy White, Carlos May
CF
1
Mickey Rivers, Elliott Maddox
RF
8
Oscar Gamble, Lou Piniella
 
I was surprised to see this team on the list, because I figured their SS (Stanley) would have prevented them from meeting the criteria of having every position over the median.  As it turns out, it was the one year that Stanley had a positive WAA in his career, and it was enough to allow the Yankees to rank #11 among SS, good enough to be in the upper half.  The other factor is that there were a lot of very mediocre SS in the majors at that time, with the likes of Roger Metzger, Enzo Hernandez, Tom Veryzer, Darrel Chaney, and Frank Duffy pulling regular duty.  Again, the WAA metric accounts for both offensive and defensive value.
 
So, they were fortunate to qualify in one regard, but the other positions make for an interesting overall lineup.  There are no Hall of Famers in the lineup (Catfish Hunter was the only Hall of Famer on the team), but there are lots of very good players that could make Cooperstown under the right circumstances.  Munson is a top-20 all-time catcher, and I’d probably put him top 15.   I think Randolph is a top-20 all-time second baseman, and Nettles is probably a top-15 third baseman.  White is probably a top-25 left fielder. 
 
Among the other key players, Rivers, Chambliss, Piniella, and Gamble were all good players with long careers, and all were top 100 at their positions in Bill’s Historical Abstract (well, Gamble was actually #103).  It was a very good, very balanced lineup.  It’s not one of the most memorable Yankee teams because they didn’t win the Series, but they were an important one as they broke the 11-year postseason drought the franchise had experienced between ’65 and ’75, setting the stage for the 2 World Series Champions to follow in ’77 & ’78.
 
Note – the ’77 team also achieved the 8-positions above median status as well, with Bucky Dent taking over for Stanley and Reggie Jackson signing as a free agent, taking over RF and Piniella moving to left.  However, the players didn’t rank quite as high relative to their peers as the ’76 squad did, so they’re a little further down the list (#31). 
 
Another note – although this team is #10 by this methodology, they were only #2 among teams from 1976.  You can probably guess who that other one is (coming up later).
 
#10 – 1971 Baltimore Orioles
Record: 101-57
Result: Lost in World Series
Team Position WAA: 20.7
Avg. Pos. Rank: 3.75 (24 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 88.5%
PAM Score: 20.79
 
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
5
Elrod Hendricks, Andy Etchebarren, Clay Dalrymple
1B
5
Boog Powell
2B
2
Davey Johnson, Jerry DaVanon, Chico Salmon
3B
3
Brooks Robinson
SS
1
Mark Belanger
LF
3
Don Buford, Merv Rettenmund
CF
5
Paul Blair, Merv Rettenmund
RF
6
Frank Robinson, Merv Rettenmund
 
More famous for having 4 twenty-game winners in the rotation, this Orioles team also had a very strong and very well balanced lineup, with no one position being ranked less than #6 among their peers.  Rettenmund also had a great year with the bat, playing all 3 outfield positions. 
 
Like other Orioles teams of this era, they featured strong offense, good pitching, and stellar defense.  Has there ever been a better left side of the infield duo defensively than Robinson and Belanger? 
 
One of the hidden strengths of this team is the catching, where Hendricks and Etchebarren (along with the occasional contribution of Dalrymple) made solid contributions.
 
#9 – 1952 New York Yankees
Record: 95-59
Result: World Series Champions
Team Position WAA: 19.7
Avg. Pos. Rank: 2.75 (16 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 89.1%
PAM Score: 20.91
 
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
1
Yogi Berra, Charlie Silvera
1B
5
Joe Collins, Johnny Mize
2B
4
Billy Martin, Gil McDougald, Jerry Coleman
3B
4
Gil McDougald, Bobby Brown
SS
2
Phil Rizzuto
LF
2
Gene Woodling, Irv Noren, Bob Cerv
CF
2
Mickey Mantle, Irv Noren
RF
2
Hank Bauer, Irv Noren
 
Typical Yankee lineup of that era, good all-around.  Berra’s the only #1, but they had 4 players ranked 2nd.  Mantle, Berra, and Rizzuto were all top 10 players in WAA, while Woodling and Bauer were top 20.  McDougald and Collins were solid players as well.
 
#8– 1975 Cincinnati Reds
Record: 108-54
Result: World Series champions
Team Position WAA: 22.0
Avg. Pos. Rank: 3.88 (24 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 88.0%
PAM Score: 21.18
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
3
Johnny Bench, Bill Plummer
1B
6
Tony Perez, Dan Driessen
2B
1
Joe Morgan, Doug Flynn
3B
7
Pete Rose, John Vukovich
SS
3
Dave Concepcion, Darrel Chaney
LF
2
George Foster
CF
3
Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister
RF
6
Ken Griffey, Merv Rettenmund
 
I was a little surprised that they weren’t higher, but there is another Reds team ahead of them, and some other strong lineups as well.  No one was lower than 7th at his position, a terrific across-the-board balance for this lineup.  They led MLB in runs scored. 
 
#7– 1969 Baltimore Orioles
Record: 109-53
Result: Lost in World Series
Team Position WAA: 22.9
Avg. Pos. Rank: 4.0 (24 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 87.5%
PAM Score: 21.39
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
2
Elrod Hendricks, Andy Etchebarren, Clay Dalrymple
1B
2
Boog Powell
2B
7
Davey Johnson, Chico Salmon
3B
6
Brooks Robinson
SS
7
Mark Belanger, Bobby Floyd
LF
2
Don Buford, Merv Rettenmund, Curt Motton
CF
2
Paul Blair
RF
4
Frank Robinson, Dave May
 
Essentially the same lineup as the 1971 team, which was #10 in this list.  Powell, the catchers, Buford, Blair, and Frank Robinson ranked higher in ’69 vs. ’71, with Brooks Robinson, Johnson, and Belanger ranking lower.  The average ranking of the ’71 squad was slightly better, but the ’69 team had a higher collective WAA, which gave them the edge.
 
 
#6– 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates
Record: 103-36
Result: Won NL Pennant (no World Series yet)
Team Position WAA: 20.2
Avg. Pos. Rank: 2.5 (16 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 90.6%
PAM Score: 21.61
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
7
Jack O'Connor, Chief Zimmer, Harry Smith
1B
3
Kitty Bransfield, Honus Wagner
2B
2
Claude Ritchey, Jimmy Burke
3B
2
Tommy Leach
SS
3
Wid Conroy, Honus Wagner
LF
1
Fred Clarke
CF
1
Ginger Beaumont
RF
1
Honus Wagner, Lefty Davis, Jimmy Sebring
 
The team won 74% of their games, taking the NL pennant by 27.5 games, and with a record 20 games better than the AL pennant-winning Philadelphia Athletics. 
 
Outside of the catcher slot (split 3 ways by O’Connor, Zimmer, and Smith), the Pirates ranked #3 or better at all other positions, including all 3 outfield slots.  Their average rank of 2.5 (unadjusted for # of teams in the majors) is the best of all teams in the study.
 
Wagner had one of his standard jack-of-all-trade seasons that was common early in his career, spending 61 games in the outfield, 44 games at SS, and 32 games at 1B.  Beginning with 1903, he started playing a higher percentage of the time at SS. 
 
A truly great team that overwhelmed the opposition, including 2 Hall of Famers (Wagner and Clarke) in the everyday lineup and other stellar players of that era such as Beaumont and Leach.  Smith was pretty bad as the catcher with the most playing time, but O’Connor and Zimmer (who were both pretty good players who were getting up there in age) got in enough time to make it an above-average position.  Bransfield had probably his best year, and Ritchey was probably the best 2B in the NL in that first decade of the 1900’s (I think he was better than Evers over that stretch).  This might have been the best of all of those Pittsburgh squads of that decade, maybe even better than the 1909 World Series champions that went 110-42.
 
#5– 2011 Seattle Mariners
Record: 116-46
Result: Lost in ALCS
Team Position WAA: 23.6
Avg. Pos. Rank: 4.5 (30 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 88.3%
PAM Score: 21.69
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
5
Dan Wilson, Tom Lampkin
1B
4
John Olerud, Ed Sprague
2B
1
Bret Boone
3B
10
David Bell, Mark McLemore
SS
6
Carlos Guillen, Mark McLemore
LF
6
Al Martin, Stan Javier, Mark McLemore
CF
2
Mike Cameron, Stan Javier
RF
2
Ichiro Suzuki, Stan Javier
 
This was an amazing team that, at first glance, doesn’t strike you as a team that would be above median at all positions.  A few notes:

  1. One of their big weapons (Edgar Martinez) was not included, because I didn’t include DH’s, but he was a big part of their success.

  2. One of the team’s hidden gems was Mark McLemore.  He’s not listed as the "starter" at any position, but, much in the manner of a Tony Phillips or a Ben Zobrist, he played all over.  He ended up as a significant contributor in LF, at SS, and at 3B.  McLemore ended up with nearly 500 PA’s, hit .286 with a .384 OBP, and was 39 for 46 as a base stealer.  He played wherever he was needed, and was invaluable in that role.

  3. Stan Javier was another solid contributor in LF (and the other 2 OF positions), hitting .292 with a .375 OBP.  Martin is listed as the "starter", but McLemore and Javier gave them some terrific play out there to boost their final ranking.
 
Boone, of course, had an amazing year 37-141-.331, and Ichiro hit .350 in his inaugural MLB season.  Cameron is certainly not remembered as a great player, but he was phenomenal in 2001.  Olerud had one of his typically quiet but still excellent seasons.
 
One of the fascinating things about this team is that, in contrast to some of the more star-studded teams in prior years featuring Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson, this team had a lot less star power, but posted a much better won-lost record.  The Yankees knocked them out in the ALCS, but it was an amazing year for that team.
 
#4– 1976 Cincinnati Reds
Record: 102-60
Result: World Series champions
Team Position WAA: 24.2
Avg. Pos. Rank: 3.75 (24 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 88.5%
PAM Score: 22.33
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
2
Johnny Bench, Bill Plummer
1B
8
Tony Perez, Dan Driessen
2B
1
Joe Morgan, Doug Flynn
3B
4
Pete Rose, Bob Bailey
SS
2
Dave Concepcion, Doug Flynn
LF
2
George Foster, Mike Lum
CF
8
Cesar Geronimo
RF
3
Ken Griffey
 
Basically a repeat of the ’75 squad that checked in at #8 earlier, but with a little more WAA and slightly better overall rankings.  Perez and Geronimo ranked a little lower than ’75, but 5 of the 6 others ranked higher (Morgan was #1 both years).  Of course, the team famously swept through the playoffs, winning 7 games without losing any.  They also led the Majors in nearly every important offensive category that year.
 
#3 – 1931 New York Yankees
Record: 94-59
Result: Finished 2nd in AL
Team Position WAA: 24.4
Avg. Pos. Rank: 2.88 (16 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 88.3%
PAM Score: 22.56
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
1
Bill Dickey, Arndt Jorgens, Cy Perkins
1B
2
Lou Gehrig
2B
8
Tony Lazzeri, Jimmy Reese
3B
1
Joe Sewell
SS
3
Lyn Lary
LF
2
Ben Champman, Samuel Byrd
CF
5
Earle Combs, Samuel Byrd
RF
1
Babe Ruth, Samuel Byrd
 
As good as this lineup was, they almost didn’t qualify, as their second basemen (mostly Lazzeri) were only 8th out of the 16 teams.  But, qualify they did, and they come in at #3.
 
You like Hall of Famers?  We have 6 of them for you here, with Dickey, Gehrig, Lazzeri, Sewell (who had been released by the Indians after a terrific 11-year run with them), Combs, and Ruth.  The other 2 (Chapman and Lary) were terrific as well.  Chapman led the league in steals that year as a 22-year old, and Lary hit .280 with 35 doubles, over 100 RBI’s, and 88 walks. 
 
Each of the 8 primary players at each position had an OPS+ of over 100.  Even though it was a high-scoring era, it was an amazing offense.  The team still holds the record for holding the modern day Major League record for team runs scored in a season with 1,067, or nearly 7 per game.  They didn’t win the pennant, though, because, despite 3 Hall of Fame starters in Lefty Gomez, Herb Pennock, and Red Ruffing, their pitching was below average, and the Philadephia Athletics won 107 games that year, the last season of their 3-year domination of the American League from 1929-1931.
 
 
#2 – 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers
Record: 105-49
Result: Lost in World Series
Team Position WAA: 23.4
Avg. Pos. Rank: 2.75 (16 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 89.8%
PAM Score: 22.56
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
1
Roy Campanella, Rube Walker
1B
3
Gil Hodges, Wayne Belardi
2B
4
Jim Gilliam, Jackie Robinson
3B
5
Billy Cox, Jackie Robinson
SS
2
Pee Wee Reese, Bobby Morgan
LF
3
Jackie Robinson, George Shuba
CF
1
Duke Snider
RF
2
Carl Furillo, Don Thompson
 
You’re probably very familiar with this lineup.  4 Hall of Famers (Campanella, Reese, Robinson, Snider), another (Hodges) who is a popular candidate, and 2 others (Furillo, Gilliam) who weren’t too far off that standard.  Cox was the weakest hitter in the lineup, but he was a stellar defensive 3B, and even he hit .291 that year.
 
Campy was the MVP that year (the 2nd of his 3 awards), Snider was 3rd, Furillo (who was the batting champion that year at .344) was tied for 9th  with team mate and starting pitcher Carl Erskine, Reese was 11th, Robinson was 12th, and Hodgers was 14th.
 
Robinson was all over the diamond that year, with 75 games in LF, 44 at 3B, 9 at 3B, and 6 at 1B.  He even got in 1 game at SS for good measure.
 
Truly one of the great lineups in history, maybe the best balanced one ever (no player is ranked lower than 5th at his position).
 
#1– 1927 New York Yankees
Record: 110-44
Result: World Series champions
Team Position WAA: 27.9
Avg. Pos. Rank: 3.00 (16 teams)
Adj. Rank %: 87.5%
PAM Score: 24.02
 
Position
MLB Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
6
Pat Collins, Johnny Grabowski, Benny Bengough
1B
1
Lou Gehrig
2B
3
Tony Lazzeri, Ray Morehart
3B
8
Joe Dugan, Mike Gazella
SS
2
Mark Koenig
LF
1
Bob Meusel, Ben Paschal
CF
2
Earle Combs
RF
1
Babe Ruth, Cedric Durst
 
 
Similar to the ’31 Yankees, the ’27 squad very nearly didn’t qualify.  Their third basemen (mostly Dugan) was just above the median at that position.  In the end, the WAA of their position players was the deciding factor and boosted them to the top.
 
4 Hall of Famers are in the lineup, and of the ones who weren’t, Meusel was ranked as the #1 LF, and Koenig as the #2 SS.  To be honest, subjectively I would put the ’31 Yankees over the ’27 Yankees in terms of overall balance, as Dickey was better than the ’27 catchers and Sewell was better than Dugan.  But, it’s hard to go wrong with the ’27 Yankees.
 
Summary of Teams
 
Below is the list of all teams that qualified with all 8 positions over median, sorted by their PAM scores:
Rank
Year
Team
PAM Score
Wins
Losses
# Teams
Postseason
World Series Champion
1
1927
Yankees
        24.02
110
44
16
Y
Y
2
1953
Dodgers
        22.81
105
49
16
Y
 
3
1931
Yankees
        22.74
94
59
16
 
 
4
1976
Reds
        22.33
102
60
24
Y
Y
5
2001
Mariners
        21.69
116
46
30
Y
 
6
1902
Pirates
        21.61
103
36
16
 n/a
n/a 
7
1969
Orioles
        21.39
109
53
24
Y
 
8
1975
Reds
        21.18
108
54
24
Y
Y
9
1952
Yankees
        20.91
95
59
16
Y
Y
10
1971
Orioles
        20.79
101
57
24
Y
 
11
1976
Yankees
        20.65
97
62
24
Y
 
12
1913
A's
        20.43
96
57
16
Y
Y
13
1948
Indians
        20.00
97
58
16
Y
Y
14
1974
Dodgers
        19.94
102
60
24
Y
 
15
1955
Dodgers
        19.00
98
55
16
Y
Y
16
1905
Giants
        18.82
105
48
16
Y
Y
17
1953
Yankees
        18.65
99
52
16
Y
 
18
1936
Yankees
        18.57
102
51
16
Y
Y
19
1929
Yankees
        18.51
88
66
16
 
 
20
1973
Orioles
        18.49
97
65
24
Y
 
21
1957
Braves
        18.42
95
59
16
Y
 
22
1944
Cardinals
        18.30
105
49
16
Y
Y
23
1930
Yankees
        18.26
86
68
16
 
 
24
1955
Yankees
        18.07
96
58
16
Y
 
25
1906
Cubs
        17.93
106
36
16
Y
 
26
1960
Yankees
        17.89
97
57
16
Y
 
27
1958
Yankees
        17.77
92
62
16
Y
Y
28
1947
Yankees
        17.64
97
57
16
Y
Y
29
1962
Giants
        17.55
103
62
20
Y
 
30
1922
Giants
        17.43
93
61
16
Y
Y
31
1977
Yankees
        16.87
100
62
26
Y
Y
32
1910
Cubs
        16.71
104
50
16
 
 
33
1933
Yankees
        16.65
91
59
16
 
 
34
1961
Braves
        16.57
83
71
18
 
 
35
1934
Yankees
        15.87
94
60
16
 
 
36
1998
Yankees
        15.68
114
48
30
Y
Y
37
1932
A's
        15.66
94
60
16
 
 
38
1948
Braves
        15.52
91
62
16
Y
 
39
2009
Angels
        15.40
97
65
30
Y
 
40
1921
Cardinals
        15.09
87
66
16
 
 
41
1985
Yankees
        15.08
97
64
26
 
 
42
1943
Cardinals
        14.99
105
49
16
Y
 
43
1984
Tigers
        14.72
104
58
26
Y
Y
44
1958
Braves
        14.53
92
62
16
Y
 
45
1978
Dodgers
        14.52
95
67
26
Y
 
46
1975
A's
        14.48
98
64
24
Y
 
47
1942
Dodgers
        13.99
104
50
16
 
 
48
1979
Orioles
        12.47
102
57
26
Y
 
49
1931
Cubs
        12.32
84
70
16
 
 
50
1968
Orioles
        12.31
91
71
20
 
 
51
1988
A's
        12.30
104
58
26
Y
 
52
1960
White Sox
        11.72
87
67
16
 
 
53
1964
Tigers
        11.63
85
77
20
 
 
54
1986
Giants
        10.50
83
79
26
 
 
55
1991
Twins
        10.47
95
67
26
Y
Y
56
1999
Orioles
        10.39
78
84
30
 
 
57
1984
Phillies
        10.35
81
81
26
 
 
58
1980
Reds
          8.07
89
73
26
 
 
 
You may notice that there are a few teams on this list that seem quite ordinary, especially towards the bottom part of the list.  One team, the 1999 Orioles, even had a losing record.  Generally speaking, though, these teams were big winners.  The aggregate winning percentage of these teams is .619.  67% of them participated in the postseason, and 29% of them won the World Series.
 
Distribution by Decade:
 
Decade
Total
1900s
3
1910s
2
1920s
4
1930s
7
1940s
6
1950s
8
1960s
7
1970s
10
1980s
6
1990s
3
2000s
2
 
 
I’m not sure what to make of the decade distribution.  The 1900’s through 1920’s was seeing about 3 teams per decade achieve this status.  Then, it went up to about 7 per year in the ‘30’s through the 50’s. 
 
I don’t see any pattern that implies that the number of teams makes it any more or less difficult to have all 8 positions over median.  All decades up through the ‘50’s were played with 16 major league teams per season.  In the ‘60’s, expansion lifted that to 18 teams in ’61, 20 teams in ’62 through ’68, and 24 teams in ’69.  The next expansion (’77) bumped it to 26, then 28 in ’93, and finally 30 teams in ’98.  So, I’m not sure why the ‘70’s were so abundant with these types of teams, or why they have become so rare since the ‘80’s.  Is it that much harder to be above the median at all positions with 30 teams as opposed to 26?  Then how would we explain why so many more teams accomplished this in the ‘70’s (when there were 24 teams) vs. the early 1900’s (when there were only 16)? 
 
Royal Treatment
 
One last observation…..
 
I wasn’t really looking to see if there were any highly successful teams that had every position below the median.  However, just in sifting through the data, I stumbled on one team that’s particularly noteworthy in light of the Royals’ triumph in 2015.  The last Royals team to win it all, as most know, was the ’85 club.  That team came awfully close to having every position below the median.  George Brett at 3B was the only one above (and he was way above).  Most of the others were not only below, but typically way below:
 
Position
Rank
Primary Contributor(s)
C
14
Jim Sundberg, John Wathan, Jamie Quirk
1B
21
Steve Balboni
2B
15
Frank White, Greg Pryor
3B
2
George Brett
SS
25
Onix Concepcion, Buddy Biancalana
LF
24
Lonnie Smith, Darryl Motley
CF
15
Willie Wilson, Lynn Jones, Omar Moreno
RF
25
Darryl Motley, Pat Sheridan, Dane Iorg
 
Their position players combined for a WAA of -2.3.  Their DH’s were another -1.5, and pinch hitters were -1.8.  Their only saving grace, besides the stellar performance of Brett, was that the had the highest WAA among pitchers in the majors with 13.5.    They were 2nd in the AL in ERA.  Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Leibrandt, and Danny Jackson were a terrific top 3 starters, and Quisenberry was a workhorse in the pen. 
 
I don’t mean to badmouth them.  They had some strengths.  Brett and Balboni both hit over 30 HR, and White chipped in with 22.  White and Sundberg, although getting a little bit up in years, were 2 of the best ever defensively at their respective positions.  Some of it was a little flukey for just that one season….in ’84, they were in the upper half in 4 of the 8 positions.  But, they had enough to get to the playoffs, and once there, they proved to be good enough to win. 
 
 

COMMENTS (24 Comments, most recent shown first)

abiggoof
I thoroughly enjoyed this. Interested thing to note: the Braves, Mariners, O's and Cubs have more of these seasons than titles.
10:35 AM Nov 19th
 
abiggoof
You missed in the chart that the 1910 Cubs did make the postseason.
9:32 AM Nov 18th
 
evanecurb
I just thought of a question. Is it easier to be in the top half of a 30 team group than it is to be in the top half of a 16 team group? I don't know the answer; just asking a question. I would think that all other things being equal, the two feats would be equally likely.
8:19 AM Nov 15th
 
MarisFan61
(yeah -- we better shout it out, that was a typo) :-)
11:09 PM Nov 14th
 
DEK1966
At first, I was pretty shocked when I saw the 2011 Mariners on your list (in the narrative), considering they lost 95 games, but looking closer... The '99 Orioles were a legit surprise, though. And the '31 Cubs instead of the '32 or '35 Cubs? Who woulda thunk it?
11:54 AM Nov 14th
 
3for3
How about the teams with 8 below. Might make for some nightmares.
12:48 PM Nov 13th
 
chuck
Thanks DM- a very good read. Important to keep these articles coming out during the long, horrible winter with no games.
I don't know if you've gone through the archives, but Bill's article Teams on Paper had, if I remember right, the '31 Yanks as the top team. Interesting they almost make it here, too.
Good observation about the '91 Twins and '15 Royals.
I was surprised the '39 Yanks didn't make it on the list, but then remembered that was due to Gehrig not being there.
And I thought the '98 Yanks were going to come out higher than 36th.
Funny that the '75 A's made the list, but not 1972-74.

Not sure why so many made the list from the 1970s, but thereafter perhaps free agency had a hand in decreasing the number of times teams had all positions above the median.
12:07 AM Nov 11th
 
DaveFleming
Great article, Daniel!

I immediately thought of the 1984 Detroit Tigers: a super balanced team that has no representation in the Hall. I was a little surprised they only cracked the 43rd spot on the list.

But it's nice to come across a team article that finally puts the 1927 Yankees at the top. That team has really been the forgot squad in baseball's long history, and I'm just happy that someone is finally giving them due attention. Let's end eighty years of injustice, and get Dutch Ruether in the Hall!
3:20 PM Nov 10th
 
danjeffers
The Lake Wobegon Whippets would have a good shot at being above average across the board.
3:12 PM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
Forget everything I've said -- which I know isn't hard for most. :-)

I know what Bill meant. :ha:

Or anyway, it's a 3rd possibility (I think that's how many we're up to, unless we start distinguishing between "median" and "mean," which actually we should, but forget that.)

I think when he talked about all the positions being above average, he meant above average for regulars.

As I explained, the reason I started thinking he meant a 'range' rather than a 'point' for the meaning of "average" was that he seemed to be talking about something very rare, i.e. all the positions being "above average." If all he meant was just being in the upper half of all players (which would be something like having a positive WAA; not exactly, but something like that), I didn't think that would be as rare or remarkable as what he seemed to be talking about -- so I looked for other things it could have meant, and all I could think of was that he was conceiving of "average" as a category in the middle and that "above average" meant above that category, not merely a positive WAA.

But, if he meant above average for a regular, we wouldn't have to get so fancy about what "above average" means.
And more specifically, I'd guess he meant sort of above average for a regular at each respective position.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it (for now). :-)
Bill was talking about players being above the median (or mean, or whichever; I don't think this would matter much) .....above the median among regulars at their respective positions.
2:28 PM Nov 10th
 
Riceman1974
Great Piece.

Not surprising that Murderers Row wins out, and that Stengels deep lineup Yankees are well represented. Although I'm surprised that the 98 Yanks are #36, and what's up with the 86 Giants?
2:01 PM Nov 10th
 
evanecurb
Daniel:

Great article. Very interesting. Thanks for all the research.

Elrod Hendricks: a member of three of the twelve greatest teams of all time?
12:25 PM Nov 10th
 
BobGill
Speaking of the 1999 Orioles, I believe they had the highest payroll EVER, up to that time, so in a way I guess it makes sense if they were "above average" across the board. But they sure didn't get much for their money in terms of wins. I think of that team often when I hear people say "Of course this or that team wins, with all the money they have." Just spending a lot does not guarantee success.

11:37 AM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
(oops, typo: That should be ".....would look at what I said about what I thought he meant")
11:31 AM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
Fletch: I wouldn't say I'm right. I think it's very possible that Bill would look at what I had about what I thought he meant, and he would either say "Of course I only meant in the upper half" or that he's just roll his eyes over such obsession about what "above average" means.

I do think, though, that it's valid to wonder whether "average" is meant as a point or a range. It can be either. A prominent example of the latter is IQ: "Average" doesn't mean 100, it means something like 90-110 or 85-115.
11:30 AM Nov 10th
 
jimgus
Daniel,
GREAT article! Am I overly positive or are there a LOT of really good posts and articles around here these days?

Two quick thoughts: Just about any fan of the green and gold crew would have corrected you on the 1913 infield's nickname. Interviewer: "Tell me Mr. Mack, would you be inclined to break up your all-star infield?" Connie: "I wouldn't sell them for $100,000!"

Second, how interesting that the Giants' representatives are: 1905, 1962, 1922, and 1986. In other words, their competitive offerings are "smeared" across their entire history.
Same thing for the A's - All four eras of greatness are represented once each by: 1913, 1932, 1975, and 1988.

Oops... one more thought: In reading the article, I was noticing how a lot of the top teams were more recent (division era, anyway) and I thought it was because, early on, you could always slot in some "nobody" to fill out your team... but as the game matured, you needed better and better players - even in the "nobody" slots. Apparently I was wrong because (other than a bump around division creation), the later years aren't the most (only 3 in the 90's and only 2 in the aughts).

GREAT article!
Cordially,
JimmyG
11:13 AM Nov 10th
 
Gfletch
Maris, you are right. What Daniel has done is quite a bit different from what Bill was doing. It would be a bit of work, though, to go back to the data he assembled and look for teams where all the position players were at, say, 20% above average. Up to him.

About that 1999 Orioles team...gotta think that's an intriguing group, worth a closer look.
10:59 AM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
A good proofreader would change "proofreader" to "fact checker" in the below comment. :ha:
10:34 AM Nov 10th
 
DMBBHF
BobGill,

Yeah, you're right. Can't believe I called them the Million Dollar Infield! I need s good proofreader if you're interested.

Thanks,
Dan
9:28 AM Nov 10th
 
BobGill
Just nitpicking, but I'm pretty sure the 1910-14 Athletics' infield was known as "the $100,000 Infield." I believe the first $1 million quartet (in nickname, anyway) belonged to the 1947 Chicago Cardinals in the NFL, who had "the Million-Dollar Backfield." Obviously inflation had something to do with that. (But the Cardinals did win the championship in 1947 and returned to the title game in 1948.)

8:50 AM Nov 10th
 
ksclacktc
Nice article! I remember that article in the historical abstract. I would like to see this study done using the year in question and the year before and after. The data would require more work for sure. Another idea might be to use the year in question, weight it at 4 or something, and add 2 years before and after into it. This would give a better perspective of how the player really stood up in his own time. Maris fan also made a good point. Reminds me of the 2-8 scouting system with 5 being average. You need to be a 6 or above, to be above average. Great work.
7:29 AM Nov 10th
 
shthar
When someone in HeyBill asked "Is Alex Rios the worst every day player to win a World Series ring?" The 85 royals immediately came to mind.
4:11 AM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. About that last JOKE: I was especially struck by it, because it's very similar to one that my H.S. physics teacher told and which I've often told since then, but which I never came across elsewhere till here.

The physics teacher's version:
Three guys are interviewing for a job. The interviewer asks each guy just one question: How much is 2 plus 2?
The first guy says, "2 + 2 is 4!"
The second guy figures it must be a trick question, so he thinks for a couple of seconds, shrugs, and says, "22."
The third guy says, "2 + 2 can assume any value between zero and 4, depending on the directions of the vectors."
So, the question is, which one got the job?
And the answer is, the second guy, because he was the interviewer's brother-in-law.
1:48 AM Nov 10th
 
MarisFan61
Very interesting article again! And nicely presented, including the jokes, which were almost my favorite part.

When I saw the title I did immediately think of Bill's thing that you reference -- and I also remembered a question I thought of about Bill's piece, something I didn't think was clear: whether "average" meant a point, or a category. I wondered about it a fair bit, and concluded he probably meant it as a category. You're thinking of it as a point. It doesn't matter, except of course that you wind up with far more such teams if you think of it as a 'point.'

First a little digression.
Some time in the late '80's -- which I thought was after Bill wrote that thing; you said it's from the New Historical Abstract but I wonder if he wrote a similar thing much earlier....anyway, some time in the late '80's, Tim Teufel, then on the Mets, commented on Darryl Strawberry's fielding, something like, "He's better than average, but I don't know if he's above average." That seems like an absurdity, a stumbling way of trying to soft-pedal a criticism. But I thought it could make sense -- along the same lines as what I thought was the slight ambiguity about Bill's thing.

I figured that if all that Bill meant by "above average" was 'above the 50th percentile,' it wouldn't be that hard to find such teams, and he wouldn't have put it so remarkably. So, I thought he was talking in terms of categories, with "average" being a whole clump in the middle, maybe something like 45th to 55th percentile.

Seen that way, we can make sense of what Teufel said, if he was flipping between the possible meanings of average: Something can be in the upper half, but not of a nature that we'd call "above average." I don't have much doubt about what Teufel really meant, and I don't think it was this :-) but it could have been.

You're considering "average" to be a point -- the median. I thought Bill was thinking of it in terms of category. Even if so, it's all good -- we can see it either way. It's just that I thought Bill was talking about it as a highly remarkable thing, which I thought meant that "above average" had to mean a more demanding thing than just being above the median.

P.S. When I see something like how the '85 Royals came out, my immediate assumption is that the metrics are somehow systematically underrating those players.
1:41 AM Nov 10th
 
 
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