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This Year’s Cubs Might Be Better Than The Incredible ’27 Yankees

Our colleagues at ESPN are spending much of this year on an innovative history project documenting the 1927 season of the New York Yankees. A look at the numbers explains the focus on that legendary team, and it’s difficult to overstate their dominance. Sure, the Yankees racked up 110 wins that year and easily swept the World Series, but even those accomplishments don’t fully do the team justice. More than just crushing opponents, the Yankees left them in shock. Opposing first baseman Joe Judge summed it up best: “Those fellows not only beat you, but they tear your hearts out.”

According to FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, the ’27 Yankees’ 66.3 total WAR makes them the best team of the modern era.1 By a more conventional metric like run differential, their +376 scoring margin ranks secondbest in baseball history, trailing only the 1939 Yankees +411 mark. Both are good statistics for encapsulating a team’s overall dominance — its ability to tear out hearts, if you will — and hardly any teams have posed a threat to the ’27 Yankees’ legacy in the last 89 years.

But they could potentially have company this season in the form of the Chicago Cubs.

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Anchored by a legendary lineup of hitters dubbed Murderers’ Row, the ’27 Yankees scored 975 runs and allowed only 599, outscoring foes by 2.4 per game (which also ranks No. 2 all-time). Babe Ruth had one of the finest seasons of his career, setting a single-season home run mark, which wouldn’t be broken until 1961. And Ruth wasn’t the only slugger in the lineup: Lou Gehrig (also a member of those dominant ’39 Yankees), had his best season, as well. Altogether, four members of that vaunted batting order would go on to make the Hall of Fame.

But as historic a run as the 1927 Yankees had, we are now seeing what might be an even better Cubs team. Through 53 games — about a third of the season — only four teams accrued a higher run differential than this year’s Cubs squad: the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates, 1912 New York Giants, 1929 Philadelphia Athletics and the 1939 Yankees. (Through 53 games, the ’27 Yankees’ +124 margin ranks 10th all time.) And if the Cubs continue their outstanding individual performances, they’ll crush the 1927 Yankees’ record for most WAR in a season — by about six full wins. Especially after accounting for the increase in parity over MLB’s history, this Cubs run stands out as startlingly impressive.

The Cubs have stumbled slightly from their unsustainable 24-6 start, but they are still outscoring the opposition by 2.6 runs per game. If they can continue at that level, Chicago will surpass the ’27 Yankees’ total run differential around the 145th game of the season, giving them another 17 games to challenge the ’39 Yankees’ all-time record. So even as we remember the greatness of 1927 Yankees, we are also witnessing history unfold with this season’s Cubs team.

Footnotes

  1. Going back to the American League’s first major-league season in 1901.

Rob Arthur is FiveThirtyEight’s baseball columnist and also writes about crime.

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