Factoring playoff performance into the greatest Yankees of all-time list

About a week ago, in an attempt to find where Derek Jeter fits into the Yankees’ hierarchy of excellent players, I came up with a scoring system to rank the franchise’s best players in its history. My metric weighed total WAR and three different measures of peak WAR — only as a member of the Yankees — to generate a total score one can find here. My model is similar to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS, as I briefly discuss in the first version.

One of the qualms I had with my own work was that it only utilized regular season results, as replacement level statistics do not exist for the postseason. There is certainly some place for playoff performance in this ranking, but I had to figure out how to do so. I chose to incorporate Win Probability Added, WPA for short. In my mind, context is vital in the postseason, and WPA accounts for the leverage/pressure of any player’s performance. I wanted to credit those who rose to the occasion, and debit those who didn’t. However, there are a couple of reasons using WPA isn’t particularly fair, which is why I ignored it for the regular season: (1) players cannot control the base-out situations they hit or pitch in and (2) every player will have a different basis of base-out states they perform in. But as I mentioned, delivering or failing in key postseason situations is where a player derives the majority of the postseason value. Thus, even though using WPA to compare players can be unbalanced, I decided to use it here with only a weight of 4%. The other four weights were reduced equally (96% of the first version weights).

Enough words, I’ll explain the updated weights after the updated ranking (it’s scrollable):

Note: yellow denotes Hall-of-Famer, and bold text indicates the Yankees retired the player’s number.

The reader might be wondering why I only allowed 4% weight for postseason WPA. Well, I didn’t want to weigh too heavily on the metric because it’s such a small proportion of games for each player. Even Jeter, who appeared in an astounding 158 playoff games, only had slightly more than 5% career games played during the playoffs. In other words, a marvelous or terrible postseason career shouldn’t shoot a player up or down dozens places in the rankings. It should be a tiebreaker of sorts, with larger jumps only to those whose impact was off the charts. For instance, Andy Pettitte has the second-most playoff WPA in the top-91, but that shouldn’t move him ahead of others whose bodies of work and peaks were better than Andy’s. Similarly, Jorge Posada has the worst postseason WPA according to this ranking, but he doesn’t plummet or lose his spot because his regular season play gives him a strong enough hold on the position.

In the column farthest to the right, I’ve indicated the change in ranking against my initial version only incorporating the regular season. There was some movement, albeit nothing much. Mariano Rivera was the biggest riser, jumping into the top-10, going from 11th to 9th. In turn, Willie Randolph and Whitey Ford fell one spot each, but really to no fault of their own. Mariano’s postseason 11.691 WPA is the greatest in Yankees history, and nobody is within shouting distance. A lot of that is because late inning relievers pitch in extremely high leverage situations, but hey, Rivera was virtually impeccable in big playoff spots.

Other movers include Russ Ford (39th, +1) and Bobby Murcer (40th, -1) swapping spots, with Murcer taking the hit because of his negative playoff WPA while Ford never appeared in a playoff game. Ford was on the Yankees prior to the Babe Ruth-era. Hideki Matsui (62nd, +1) and Home Run Baker (63rd, -1) also swapped spots, as Matsui’s WPA supports his clutch reputation. Other movers: Allie Reynolds (67th, +1) jumped Clete Boyer (68th, -1), David Wells (77th, +1) surpassed Mark Teixeira (78th, -1), Eddie Lopat (82nd, +1) over Tony Kubek (83rd, -1), Gene Woodling (84th, +1) ahead of Tino Martinez (85th, -1), and Horace Clark (87th, +1) past Al Downing (88th, -1). Tying Rivera for the biggest rise was Orlando Hernandez, whose 1.894 postseason WPA allowed him to go from 74th to 72nd, while Wade Boggs fell from 72nd to 74th.

I think my use of postseason WPA worked as I hoped. It broke near ties with players whose regular season only scores were separated by decimal points, while also recognizing significant postseason performers (Rivera and Hernandez). It also worked in that its weight didn’t result in changes that simply wouldn’t pass the sniff test. For example, Lou Gehrig had nearly twice as much WPA as Ruth, but it would be hard to fathom The Iron Horse ahead of the Sultan of Swat.

At the end of the day, the top-8 remained the same: Ruth, Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Jeter, Yogi Berra, Alex Rodriguez, and Bill Dickey. Somewhat surprisingly, Jeter had the lowest playoff WPA (0.012) of these players, but his regular season performances still gave him plenty of breathing room ahead of Berra and A-Rod.

As I said in the first version, I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on the list, and if there may be any ways to improve my scoring system. Finally, I’ve also added a page on the site’s navigation bar to reference the Google Doc featuring this ranking and my initial version.

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