There are only two teams in the modern era (after 1988) with more than 110 wins in a season: the 2001 Mariners, who were eliminated by the Yankees in the ALCS, and the 1998 Yankees, who swept the Padres to win the World Series. Those teams had winning percentages above .700, .716 and .703, respectively. Those are the only two teams in this era to do that. That could very well change this season, with the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are the undisputed best team in baseball. While a common complaint two or three years ago is that too many teams were bunched near .500, there are a few juggernauts in baseball now—namely the Nationals, Astros, and those Dodgers. Los Angeles obviously takes the cake. They are, as of yesterday, 88-35, good for a .715 winning percentage. FanGraphs predicts they will finish at about 111.7 wins, and their cumulative numbers are insane: a 106 OPS+, and a 134 ERA+.
I thought it would be interesting to see how this team stacks up against the 1998 team (Lookout Landing, I welcome you to add in the 2001 group). These are teams that will likely always appear together in the record books, no matter what happens in October. It’s up to you to decide which is better on paper.
Monetarily, both the Dodgers of today and the Yankees of yesteryear is and were the big spenders, but the amount salaries have inflated really puts the Dodgers of today off the scale. The Yankees in 1998 were second in payroll at $65.6 million. The median payroll was $43.9 million. This year the Dodgers spent $240 million, and the median payroll is $135.9 million. While the Yankees spent about 49% more than the median team, the Dodgers are spending 77% more than the median team.
Without question, the Dodgers have the staff I want in a playoff series. The 1998 Yankees were a fantastic team in many ways, but their pitching doesn’t touch the Dodgers. While neither has a below-league average starter, the Dodgers starters have been off the charts: Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood both have sub-2.50 ERA’s; Kershaw’s ERA+ is a whopping 205. Not to mention the fact they added Yu Darvish, and they have a top three most general managers would dream about. Bullpens are hard to compare because of how much they’ve changed since then, but the Yankees boasted the greatest in Mariano Rivera and a mishmash of others: Graeme Lloyd, Ramiro Mendoza, and Darren Holmes were more than adequate, but wouldn’t hold up in today’s game—the Dodgers have Kenley Jansen (323 ERA+) and Pedro Baez (221 ERA+), who have been nearly unhittable.
This is where the Yankees likely have an advantage. While the Dodgers have a collective 106 OPS+, the Yankees were significantly better at 116. If you just look at how their overall lineups compare, the Yankees look like a much more complete lineup top to bottom:
The Yankees also had a number of role players who were actually pretty important: Shane Spencer had a brief tear, and they also had great backups like Tim Raines and Joe Girardi. The Dodgers have a ton of position player depth, and they also just added Curtis Granderson, but the Dodgers’ strength offensively lies with their everyday players like Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and Cody Bellinger.
Comparing managers across eras is impossible, and Dave Roberts is a relatively fresh face, but you’d probably take Joe Torre, right? I have my own personal gripes with the way he handled the ball club later in his tenure, and I have a ton of respect for the way Roberts manages a team, but Torre is a Hall of Fame manager and widely regarded as one of the Yankees’ best ever. Maybe we look back one day and Roberts is on a similar plane, but as of 2017, you go with Torre.
So, where do you stand? I know a lot of Yankees fans will immediately say the Yankees, but there’s a good case to be made for the Dodgers as well! Of course, they should win the World Series before they solidify their place as the best ever. The Mariners have the best record and the Yankees have arguments for best overall team, but the Dodgers could get both. They’re in the conversation, though, and that should still be considered a marvel.