Comparing the Yankees of 2022 to the legendary race of 1998

Well, we’ve come to that time of year.

Everyone around here winked and nodded at the 1998 team, possibly the greatest Yankee team of all time, when they talked about the 2022 Yankees and their 51-18 start. That .739 win rate translates to 119 wins out of 162, so they have a few matches to give if they want to reach or exceed the 114 wins the dynasty’s peak team has achieved.

To keep things steady, we’ll take a look at both teams’ first 68 games, where this year’s group has a +144 run differential, 16 runs better than ’98. This is driven almost entirely by much, much better pitching staff, as the ’22 squad allowed 81 points fewer, scoring 65 fewer. However, this is where the comparison between eras makes things a little complicated. 1998 was a huge offensive season, averaging OPS in the league at .770. Although offense has increased in baseball, the championship average OPS in 2022 is just 0.698.

Ergo, everyone was scoring more 24 years ago, and when we use the modified metrics to compensate for different running environments, this year’s offense is actually better than wRC +, 120 to 116.

More interesting for me is the breakdown of the roster of both teams. The 1998 Yankees were depth, depth and more depth, with only four players amassing more than 5 fWARs across the entire roster, but 13 having at least 2 wins, the limit at which we consider an “average” player. A dozen hitters were at least league average, and even if you discard Chili Davis and Homer Bush’s low-pot attendance totals – not to mention Shane Spencer’s 231 wRC + in 73 PA -, everyone in the line-up could put you off. bad somehow. However, among the regulars, league batting champion Bernie Williams scored a 158 wRC + and no one else was above 130.

The 2022 squad, while not a “stars and scrubs” list, is somewhat heavier. Aaron Judge is in the middle of an MVP-like year and has already amassed more fWARs than all but four hitters in the ’98 group. This year’s “normal” lineup includes four batters above 130 wRC +, but in each game you will see two or three of the five players who are below average.

However, that maximum heaviness really only applies to the sticks. It is difficult to compare pitching 24 years later, since philosophies and practices have changed so much. Davids Cone, Wells and Andy Pettitte pitched more than 200 innings, but only Pettitte was in the top 30 in innings pitched across the league. The best starter in the rotation, El Duque, had a 69 ERA- (again, the era adjustment issues), and the five guys who scored over 100 innings as holders were all between 69 and 95, Pettitte was l best man.

In 2022, the Yankees have looked like a true throwback team so far, with five quality starters all able to jump into the sixth inning. Where they differ from the ’98 squad, aside from the fact that their stuff is simply more dominant, is that ERA bracket, where this year’s rotation sits between 60-85. So we have better rotation right now, with more dominant depth and performance.

So who would you rather have?

The 2022 squad feels like a sledgehammer. Yes, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Aaron Hicks have had a couple of big hits for the team, but a lot of the scoring really comes down to those elite 4-5 hitters at the top of the lineup. The ’98 offense doesn’t have the sheer explosive power of an Aaron Judge, but having a lineup every single day where every player is at least a little better than average, in a high-scoring environment, must have been next to impossible to do. the gameplan.

But I’d prefer the 2022 rotation, every single day. Wells and Cone and Hernandez and Pettitte and Irabu, there’s nothing wrong with sending one of those guys out every game. But at least so far this year, modern rotation is only one step further, likely due to advances in available launch technology.

There is still a lot of baseball and the kids will collapse. The 1998 Yankees will not collapse, their performances are set in stone and we know exactly what the 2022 team has to do to match them. If we think of these two era-adjusted metrics, the 114-winners of ’98 recorded a 116 wRC + and 84 ERA-, compared to 120 and 75 for the modern squad. I’m willing to bet the pitch will surpass the performance of the 1998 Yankees, but I think again this week we saw that a cold stroke from Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton could likely prevent the attack from eclipsing their predecessors.

Either way, we just have to wait and see. We can revisit it again in September if 114 wins are in sight. Until then, this is at least the best Yankee team from 1998, and for this reason too it is worthwhile to feel joy.

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