Yankees and Nationals are on pace to have two of the best offenses in MLB history
These two Eastern powers are crushing the ball in 2017, here's a closer look
The calendar, which exists to remind us of the passage of time -- and by extension our lives -- and uncompleted tasks, still says May. As such, when we talk about players and teams being on pace to do this or that, we do so at great peril. You know that, we know that. Still and yet, and like an untamed youth jumping off a pitched roof onto a trampoline, we damn those cautions.
Yes, this scribe is going to talk about two teams, the offenses of which are on pace to make a run at history and rank among the great attacks of all-time. First up, our National League representative ...
The Washington Nationals
Right now, the Nats lead all of baseball with a runs-per-game average of 6.05. That scales to 980 runs scored across the full regular season. If they stick to that pace, then that would be the 12th-highest total since 1900. Now let's put that in some context by looking at all the teams ahead of the Nats' projected pace on that list ...
1931 New York Yankees
1950 Boston Red Sox
1999 Cleveland Indians
1930 St. Louis Cardinals
1930 Chicago Cubs
1996 Seattle Mariners
1932 Oakland Athletics
2017 Nationals (projected)
Take a particular look at that last column because it provides some essential context. Relative to the team ahead of the Nats' run-scoring pace, they play in a much stingier league environment when it comes to offensive outputs. Also bear in mind that the Nats play in the DH-less National League. Two teams ahead of them -- the '96 Mariners and '99 Indians -- used the DH. The Washington offense also doesn't really benefit from the home playing environment. Over recent history, it's played mostly as a neutral environment that leans just a bit toward the pitcher-friendly. Apply context, especially league context, and it's no exaggeration to say the 2017 Nationals are on pace to be one of the greatest run-scoring attacks in MLB history.
Survey the current stats, and it's not terribly surprising. Bryce Harper is back producing at an elite level. Ryan Zimmerman 's rebuilt his swing to focus on driving the ball in the air, and it's paid off in a huge way thus far. Daniel Murphy remains one of the most productive middle infielders in the game, Jayson Werth 's enjoying a late career spike, and Matt Wieters has put up some of the best numbers of his career on a rate basis. Elsewhere, Adam Lind has been one of baseball's best-hitting reserves thus far, and Anthony Rendon 's also been a plus at the dish.
Going forward, no, it may not last. While the Nats will at some point more acutely feel the loss of Adam Eaton and his table-setting chops, it's more about how the Nats have sequenced their hits to date. With no runners on base this season, the Nationals have put up an OPS of .754. However, with runners on and runners in scoring position that figure has increased to .954 and .935, respectively. That's probably not sustainable. Once those numbers undergo a correction, the Nats' runs scored pace will fall back along with it. That said, it's possible for teams to run aberrantly high or low numbers in such situations for an entire season. Therein lies the Nats hope when it comes to keeping this up.
And now for our AL entrant ...
To put the 2017 Yankees in (admittedly premature) historical context, we'll turn to a FanGraphs stat known as weighted runs created plus (wRC+). Here's the explanation, straight from the source ...
So wRC+ takes into account not only what a team does at the plate, but also what it does on the bases. As well, it corrects for league and ballpark environment, so we can safely compare figures across eras. Right now, the 2017 Yankees check in with a wRC+ of 124, or 24 percent better than the league average, as described above. In 2017 terms, that's a bit like having Chris Davis or Nolan Arenado or Giancarlo Stanton in every lineup spot. That's good, in other words. Now have a look at the best team wRC+ figures since1900 ...
1976 Cincinnati Reds
So that's elite company, to say the least. The current Yankees model is fractionally behind the 1930 Yankees for second all-time. They're also within range of the 1927 team that featured Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Earle Combs. Walking with the gods, that. (Aside: Also keep an eye on 2017 Houston Astros , who presently ninth all-time with a wRC+ of 119.)
Yes, the Yankees these days play in a hitter-friendly ballpark, but as noted above we're not in a high-offense era right now. Oddly enough, the AL this season is trailing the DH-less NL in runs scored thus far. In a league, the 2017 AL, that's scoring just 4.41 runs per game, the Yankees are batting a robust .270/.353/.456 as a team. Led by baseball golem Aaron Judge , the '17 Yanks are also on pace to hit 259 homers, which would be the third-highest total ever. While it remains to be seen how lasting the early performances of Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks turn out to be, this is a very good offensive team, especially if Gary Sanchez stays healthy and then get more from Greg Bird upon his return. As such, the Yankees seem more likely than the Nats to keep their appointment with history.
Whatever the case, if you enjoy historic offensive performances at the team level, then the 2017 Nationals and Yankees (and Astros, possibly) have given you something to follow the rest of the way.
They still would much rather grab the AL East, however
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