When you look at “what if” scenarios in sports, it’s typically about wondering what team or player among the elite of a sport’s history is the best of that exclusive group. What Super Bowl winner is the best? What NBA legend would win a one-on-one tournament? Could Hall of Fame pitcher X strike out Hall of Fame batter Y?
On a purely Yankees level, the best argument is probably which team is better between the 1927 and 1998 squads. Both won a World Series title after historic regular seasons, and are in the conversation for best teams in all of baseball history. If you could find some way to level the era-based playing field, it would an interesting matchup.
However, the flip side of it all is: what would happen if you took a historically great team and matched them up against a historically bad one? Thanks to Out of the Park Baseball 21, we can sorta find out. We’ve done experiments on OOTP before, but this time we’re going to use it to find out what would happen if the best ever Yankees teams played the worst ever one for an entire 162-game season.
For the best, we’re choosing the 1927 Yankees. As mentioned, there’s a legit argument for choosing the 1998 team instead. We’re going with the ‘27 team for two reasons. The first is that they have the best regular season winning percentage. The ‘27 Yankees’ .714 winning percentage just edges out the ‘98 team’s .704. Also, we’re going with 1927 to stay somewhat in the same era as their opponent. That’s because for the worst ever team, we’re going with 1912.
The 1912 season came when the team was still known as the Highlanders, and it was not good. They went 50-102, for a .329 winning percentage, the worst in franchise history. The 55 games they finished out of first place in the AL is the worst ever by a Yankees’ team. The next closest was the 1908 team that finished 39.5 back. The ‘12 season was Harry Wolverton’s first, and not shockingly, last as the team’s manager.
For purposes of the experiment, I set them up in a league of just those two teams. For 162 games, they played nothing but each other. It’s also possible to choose the era/year the game was set in to dictate what type of offensive/pitching environment it was played in. I split the difference and chose 1920. Now, onto the results.
As you would expect, the 1927 team thoroughly dominated things, although it was closer than you might’ve guessed. The two teams’ winning percentages were better/worse than what the teams put up in real life.
The ‘27 team’s offense was not terribly far off the exploits they put up in real life, but how they did it was different. The real life ‘27 “Murderers’ Row” team hit 158 home runs with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig combining for 107. In the simulation, the entire team only hit 95. Ruth and Gehrig only hit 20 and 22, respectively, but they were still dominant forces on offense. Ruth hit .393/.505/.605, leading the league in all but a couple offensive categories, and had a big jump from his real life batting average. The categories Ruth didn’t lead were mostly led by Gehrig, who hit .368/.480/.578.
Meanwhile, quite literally every ‘27 pitcher had an ERA+ above the average 100, because the ‘12 Highlanders’ offense was, uh, not great.
In real life, the 1912 team’s issue on offense wasn’t that the entire lineup was terrible, it’s that even their best hitters were mostly just average. Only three players who made more than 300 plate appearances for them that year had an OPS+ above 100. The “best” of them was Bert Daniels, and his mark was only 108.
In the simulation, those mediocre bats were completely neutralized. Birdie Cree and Roy Hartzell were both regulars that put up OPS+ total above 100, but they were the only ones on their team who made any sort of regular plate appearances. As a team, they hit just .279/.324/.368. As mentioned, Ruth and Gehrig were held in check on the home run front, but even still, their 42 combined dingers matched exactly what the ‘12 team did in entirety.
Like me, your first impression is probably surprise that it wasn’t more lopsided. I assume it probably would’ve been more lopsided if this was feasibly possible in real life, and the game is giving the teams a little more or a little less credit than they deserve. On the other hand, you’d think if two teams played 162-straight games against just the other, the worse one would maybe figure some things out about how to keep the other’s best players in check, so maybe that’s somewhat realistic.
Either way, there’s some proof that the 1927 Yankees were definitely better than the 1912 Yankees.