Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Comparing the 1951 Yomiuri Giants to the 1939 New York Yankees

By PATRICK GORDON | Managing Editor
@Philabaseball

One of my research goals over the past year has been to use statistics and sabermetrics to develop a statistically significant metric that allows for the objective ranking of baseball teams across decades and eras. 

Content with my findings and rankings of major league clubs from 1900 - present, I turned my attention to professional baseball in Japan.

Turns out, greatness is greatness, wherever. 

The Yomiuri Giants dominated Japan's Central League in 1951 with a 79-29 mark, outpacing the second place Nagoya Dragons by an impressive 18 games. The club went on to defeat the Nankai Hawks in the Japan Series in five games led behind a pair of wins by hurler Hideo Fujimoto.

Wally Yonamine helped the Giants to the 1951 Japan Series title.The '51 Yomiuri Giants were more than simply a dominant team. According to my research and statistical metric - the Greatness Number (G.N.) -  the club ranks as the greatest in Japanese baseball history.

Hang on, there's more.

Delving deeper, the '51 Yomiuri Giants actually out performed the 1939 New York Yankees - the top ranked team in MLB history via G.N.

What does this mean?

Well, though there is no simple way to compare quality of competition across eras and, in this instance, countries, the '51 Giants rank as the best professional baseball team in my data set (1900 - present for MLB, 1950 - present for Japanese clubs).

Before you think I'm crazy for anointing a baseball team you probably never heard of from Japan as the greatest all time, take a look back at some of my previous articles on the topic to get a feel for where I am coming from and how my research has evolved to reach this point.

Remember, this is an objective study involving statistics and mathematics.

We know baseball in Japan differs a bit from the sport in America, specifically in how the game is played, yet the concept of winning remains the same. Aware of the differences, here are the two Greatness Number formulas - one for MLB clubs and the other for Japanese clubs [these are covered in the articles above, in case you were wondering where they came from]:

  • MLB G.N.= (.503)+(RDiffPG*.096)+(WHIP*-.051)+(OPS*.091)
  • JPN G.N.= (.492)+(RDiffPG*.088)+(WHIP*-.077)+(OPS*.151)
Admittedly, the JPN GN I created is working under the notion that run differential (per game, in this case), WHIP, and OPS  are the three statistics that correlate strongest to winning (see the first linked article above for an explanation.) Complete data from Japan, especially prior to 1980, is hard to find and usually is not conducive to importing in Excel, but I think the statistical significance of these three categories is a fair assumption.    
Using the above formulas, the 1939 Yankees have the highest Greatness Number in MLB history (.773), but the 1951 Yomiuri Giants (.787) have an advantage. Aware of this, some colleagues have suggested the lesser competition in Japan during the '51 season is why the Giants rank higher.

Let's take a look.

The first chart below shows how the two clubs compared against their league opposition and uses the method conceived by Rob Neyer and  Eddie Epstein to rank clubs via standard deviations. For those wondering, "la" stands for league average, S.D.S stands for standard deviation scored and S.D.A. stands for standard deviation allowed.

The formula to find S.D. Total:

((Scored - la scored) / S.D.S) + (la allowed - Allowed) / S.D.A)) 


Taking things a step further, below is another chart showing how the two clubs rank in standard deviations against the opposition from their respective league and year in the categories significantly correlated to winning. RD stands for run differential, RPG stands for run differential per game, and you know the rest.


Comparatively, the 1951 Yomiuri Giants put up better numbers against their competition than the 1939 Yankees. 

You can legitimately argue the quality of play in the majors in 1939 was superior to the quality of play in Japan in 1951, and I would agree. Yet, the numbers clearly indicate the '51 Giants outperformed their competition in comparison to the '39 Yankees.

Maybe crowning the 1951 Yomiuri Giants as the best team in all of baseball history is a bit of a stretch, but if you look at the data you would be remiss to ignore their dominance.

Regardless of your opinion on the quality of play, the numbers clearly show the 1951 Yomiuri Giants pieced together the most statistically dominant season in baseball history.

One final note: The '51 Giants had six future Hall of Famers on their roster: Noboru Aota, Takehiko Bessho, Shigeru Chiba, Tetsuhara Kawakami, Hiroshi Nakao, and Wally Yonamine. The '39 Yankees also had six future Hall of Famers: Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Red Ruffing, and Lefty Gomez.

- Patrick Gordon is Managing Editor of the Philadelphia Baseball Review.  Follow him on Twitter @Philabaseball or contact him at pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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