Yankees’ Franchise Four


The Franchise Four voting, baseball’s equivalent of Mount Rushmore, closed the other day and results will be revealed during the All-Star Break. Fans were tasked with identifying the four players that were the “most impactful” for each franchise. As Craig Calcaterra notes, that leaves a lot of room for disparate interpretations and healthy debates. The eight Yankee players on the ballot were Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Lou Gehrig, Derek Jeter, Mickey Mantle, Mariano Rivera, and Babe Ruth. These are not only some of the greatest Yankees of all-time, but some of the best players to ever play the game. Even players who didn’t make the ballot- Bill Dickey, Willie Randolph, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, and Ron Guidry– would garner serious consideration if they played most of their careers for a less historically stacked franchise. Narrowing it down to four players is very difficult.

Buster Olney’s list provides two interesting points of discussion: Mariano Rivera is selected over Mickey Mantle (and Berra, Ford, Jeter) and the Giants are rated as having a better Franchise Four than the Yankees.

Yankees’ Franchise Four: Ruth is an automatic as the greatest player of all-time, a 2-way (pitching and hitting) threat that changed the way the game was played forever with his power forays. Gehrig, his Murderers’ Row teammate, is also a no-brainer as the greatest first-baseman of all-time and legendary iron man. Then the ballot gets interesting. Olney placed Rivera among his “Four” with a blurb that notes his insane postseason numbers that helped the late 90s/early 2000s Yankees’ dynasty. This might be another instance where the closer role is getting overvalued. The mythical “saves” create a situation where the last 3 outs 0f a ball game are viewed as somehow more important or harder to record than the first 24. No question, Rivera was the best at what he did. It is just very difficult to accrue much value doing what he did. The “most impactful” clause, of course, validates Olney’s stance.

The selection of DiMaggio is perfectly understandable, but the simultaneous omission of Mantle becomes questionable. Mantle carried on the legacy of great Yankee center-fielders, but Mantle was also a better player than Dimaggio. wRC+, a context neutral batting metric, gives Mantle an 18% edge in value at the plate. Also, both fWAR and bWAR favor the career of Mantle on the order of dozens of wins. “56” and Marilyn Monroe don’t outweigh that.

Mantle should be on the list if DiMaggio is included. A non-Rivera player deserves inclusion if a non-centerfielder is desired for the 4th slot.

Yankees Versus Giants

Olney’s Giants list includes Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Christy Mathewson, and Willie McCovey. That’s 2 of the 5 greatest players of all-time, a top 10 pitcher, and an excellent slugging first baseman with a Cove named after him. (aside: Mel Ott might have a better on-field performance case than Mathewson or McCovey but the desire for a non-outfielder with Mays and Bonds already included might be in play again) From an on-field value perspective (and retaining Rivera over Mantle) this is basically a wash. Using Fangraphs’ WAR metric the Giants’ players accrued 415 wins while the Yankees’ players achieved 389. The caveat of historical defensive measures and various ways to evaluate pitchers apply but rating one group ahead of the other is splitting hairs.

Olney noted on Twitter that the Giants ranking as top overall is driven by his thought that Mays is the greatest player ever (Most complete? Probably. Best? Not necessarily). Even granting this to be the case, it’s hard to see the Giants 4 as having demonstrably more on-field value than the Yankees 4. Looking at peripheral factors gives the Yankees an edge. A player not even on Olney’s list, Berra, won more World Series rings than the entire Giants franchise. Also, the Yankees play in the largest market and have worldwide reach which should give them a boost in these rankings. Finally, Jeter and Mantle, who didn’t make Olney’s list, are two of the most revered players among all baseball fans. Barry Bonds, for right or wrong, can’t say that. While the on-field value is similar, the Yankees ballot have other factors that should catapult them to the top spot.

These types of debates are incredibly fun for baseball fans who value the history of the game and the results of the Franchise Four ballots in July will only amplify the contention, not end it.

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