Klassen: The greatest Yankees outfield ever?

From Matt Klassen at FanGraphs on January 31, 2013:

Buster Olney has been doing a series of Top 10 lists on his blog at ESPN this week. He even solicited suggestions from Twitter. It has been a fun exercise, I am not here to nitpick the method. One that was particularly enjoyable to think about was Olney’s list of the top ten outfields in MLB history. It is on Insider, but I do not think I am ruining anything by telling you that he rates the 1961 Yankees outfield of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Yogi Berra as the best outfield ever. It is not a terrible choice or anything, although there are arguments to be make for others, which is the fun part of this sort of thing. I wonder, however, was whether the 1961 Yankees outfield is even the best Yankees outfield of all time. What about 1941? (No, not the star-studded Spielberg/Belushi movie.)

Historical comparisons of this sort run into a number of difficulties. Sure, statistics can help by making adjustments to establish excellence relative to era (e.g. using league average as a baseline). However, while that is necessary for something like this, it is not necessarily sufficient, and the adjustments are difficult to make. The issue of league difficulty over time is a difficult one to make adjustments for — integration and the internationalization of the game is just one example, the “professionalization” of the game is another, as even during Honus Wagner‘s time spectators came out of the stands to join the game when not enough players showed up. Another issue for those of us using linear weight-based metrics like wRC+ and wRAA is that those metrics currently are optimized for the late 1950s forward. Due to a lack of play-by-play information (although that is slowly being corrected), we really do not have great weights for earlier eras, thus offensive metrics used for those need to be taken with a multiple grains of salt (although this is true of all metrics, even the “basic” ones like average, on-base percentage, and slugging).

Read the full article here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/the-greatest-yankees-outfield-ever/

Originally published: February 1, 2013. Last Updated: February 1, 2013.