When your favorite team’s lineup has gone through nicknames such as “Murderer’s Row,” “Bronx Bombers,” and the more recent (and my personal favorite) “Savages in the box,” narrowing down the team’s very best offensive seasons is a daunting task. Yet despite the sheer volume of great lineups the Yankees’ have run out over the decades, let’s see if we can’t home in on the best run-scoring machines in their history.
Obviously, run-scoring environments have varied drastically over the years, so that’s something we need to consider. To that end, we’ll stick primarily with each team’s runs per game compared to the AL average in that particular season, and OPS+, which is adjusted for era. Obviously, we can’t account for luck or randomness, but I will weigh the level of competition, albeit subjectively.
With that said, let’s look at the best four Yankee offenses in their storied history in chronological order – I’ll crown the all-time best when we’re through.
Surely this comes as a surprise to no one. Three regulars – Earle Combs, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri – posted OPS+ of better than 125, while Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were both at the top of their games. In fact, Gehrig’s 1927 season OPS+ of 220 has only been surpassed by Ruth, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle in American League history, but it wasn’t good enough for best on his own team that year. As a result, the Yankees led the AL in virtually every offensive category of significance (even triples) on their way to a World Series win.
The Yankees’ 6.3 RPG average was 28 percent higher than the AL norm that year, and is the second-best in franchise history. Meanwhile, their team OPS+ of 127 is the highest single-season mark for a Yankees team. For further perspective, only 19 individual players posted better than 127 OPS+ in the AL in 2021.
Even as the entire league became offense heavy in the 1930s, the Yankees, once again led by Ruth (218 OPS+) and (Gehrig 194 OPS+), stood head and shoulders above the AL. The 1931 Yankees lineup was so deep that third baseman Joe Sewell posted a 109 OPS+, which was the lowest among Yankees’ regulars in ’31. Heck, starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer Red Ruffing hit three long balls and posted a 123 OPS+ in 116 PA for the team. Like their predecessors from 1927, the ’31 Yanks also led the league in virtually every category, including stolen bases while posting the AL’s second-best SB success rate.
When compared to other great Yankees lineups across the decades, the 1931 Yankees stand tall among that formidable group as well. Their 6.88 RPG was 34 percent better than the AL average in 1931, which is the highest gap in Yankees history, while their team OPS+ of 125 is second to only the 1927 group.
In 2007 the Yankees had an incredibly deep lineup that simply wore pitchers down. Light-hitting Doug Mientkiecwz posted an impressive .349 OBP on the season which was only good for seventh-best among Yankees’ regulars in ’07, while Jorge Posada had what was likely his best season with a .338/.426/.543 triple slash line. Even backup catcher and defensive specialist Jose Molina posted a better than league average OPS+ of 101, while usual suspects Derek Jeter, Robinson Canó, and Hideki Matsui had typically good years.
Of course, they flew under the radar as Álex Rodríguez had what was likely his best season and one of the best seasons a third baseman has ever recorded. A-Rod led the league in home runs, runs, RBI, SLG, OPS+, and total bases, helping turn what would have been a great offensive team into a legendary one. The ’07 Yankees 5.98 RPG was 22 percent higher than the AL average which has only been surpassed by Ruth/Gehrig teams in Yankees’ history, and their team OPS+ of 116 is second-best among non-Ruth/Gehrig Yankees teams. The only time since the Ruth era that a Yankees team topped 116 OPS+ over a full season is…
Due to the current baseball landscape that contains so much debate about style of play and a good chunk of backlash against teams that are perceived to be “all or nothing”, many of us may have been surrounded by too many trees to properly see the forest in 2019. That Yankees team was a powerhouse even by all-time great Yankees standards, and certainly earned manager Aaron Boone’s designation as “savages in the box.”
As is often the case with great offenses, including the ones we’ve already discussed, lineup depth was the key to the 2019 Yankees output. As much if not more so than any Yankee team, the ’19 group received production from virtually every player who was penciled on the lineup card. 13 Yankees had more than 160 PA in 2019 and put up an OPS+ of better than 100, with nine of them surpassing the 120 mark - that’s not counting very near misses Gary Sánchez (119) and Brett Gardner (117.) Although there were no Ruths, Gehrigs, or A-Rods on the 2019 squad, the collective production of the ’19 team was staggering. As noted, their 118 OPS+ is the best full-season* number among any Yankees team that didn’t have Ruth and Gehrig, and their 5.82 RPG was 19 percent better than the AL average that season.
*The 1994 Yankees (119 OPS+) and the 2020 group (118 OPS+) were pretty impressive too but weren’t included due to coming in shortened seasons.
A quick note as I’m sure I’ll get some pushback about swinging for the fences, all or nothing, and the juiced ball with regards to 2019. The scoreboard doesn’t track “how”; it tracks “how many”, so much of the conversation about how teams score is irrelevant. More importantly, the “all or nothing” trope isn’t even accurate in this particular case. The 2019 Yankees didn’t lead the AL in long balls, SLG, or total bases, and were exactly league average in strikeout percentage. Finally, all MLB teams were hitting the same ball in ’19, and none of them outscored the Yanks.
Obviously, this conversation is very subjective. I probably could have chosen four other seasons in Yankee history besides these four and written a very similar article – the relentless 1998 team and a few other of the Ruth/Gehrig era certainly could have made the cut today. Yet I chose 1927 and 1931 just out of the sheer separation from their competition in that era, and 2019 made the cut with just a little subjective boost, as I think we’d agree that with much more, and fully-integrated, competition, separating yourself from the pack in 2019 was more difficult than it was in the early 1930s.
In all, that’s why I’m crowning the 2007 Yankees as the best offensive Yankees team in their history. The ’07 squad produced similarly to the powerhouses seven decades earlier, and they did it against many more teams that included the best players from all over the world. Against that backdrop, a RPG that’s 22 percent better than league average is staggering.
If only that team had better than average run prevention capabilities...