Expectations have always been high for the Yankees. However, this year, more than any in the recent past, thoughts of New York appearing at the top of the AL East came few and far between prior to the start of the season. Fans and experts all over the baseball world weren’t sold on the Yankees coming into the 2015 campaign, as evidenced by the highlighted divisional predictions on the right…
Yahoo’s Chris Cwik: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Yankees
Yahoo’s Mike Oz: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Rays
Yahoo’s Mark Townsend: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles, Yankees
Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Yankees
ESPN Staff Poll: Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees, Rays
88 games through the season, the Yankees find themselves atop the East with a record of 48-40, leading the second place Rays by 3.5 games. But what does this mean? Have the Yanks been lucky?
The answer is no, not necessarily.
Let’s take the Pythagorean W-L record stat, which determines how ‘lucky’ a team has been. At the all-star break, the Yankees hold a 47-41 Pythagorean W-L record, which sits only one game under their actual win total.
On the field, New York’s recipe for success seems legitimate as well. The Yankees own the best 1-2 hitter combination in baseball with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, who are backed up by power threats such as Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, and Chase Headley. This potent offense places second in the MLB in runs, third in homers, fourth in weighted on-base percentage, and sixth in slugging.
The Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller duo spotlights the bullpen, which follows the unpredictable Yankees starting staff. Breaking down the rotation, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka have performed almost identically, albeit Tanaka’s injury. Both pitchers have been reliable, but have fallen short of their potential contributions to the ball club. C.C. Sabathia has been anything but reliable, Nate Eovaldi hasn’t necessarily been good despite his appealing record, and Adam Warren has been a nice, competent fill-in. Ivan Nova’s play has come in too small of a sample size to evaluate on a large scale.
With the first half performances laid out, one question remains. Can the Yankees keep up this type of play?
The answer is yes, but with multiple factors to take into account. First and most obvious, the injury bug. With Ellsbury, Tanaka, Nova, and Miller all undergoing DL stints at some point in this first half, there remains no guarantee the Yankees stay healthy. Still, this speaks volumes of New York’s impressive retention of the AL East’s top spot despite the injuries. With everyone healthy, the potential for this team seems limitless.
However, it is necessary to count in regression. The ZiPS projections (Individual Performance Projections by Advanced Metrics) predict regression in the statistics of Betances, Miller, Gardner, and Ellsbury, the team’s ‘pair’ of pairs. Nonetheless, this regression, while not subtle, would still place these players among the best in the league. For example, Dellin Betances is projected for a 3-1 record and a 2.21 ERA for the remainder of the season after a 5-2, 1.58 ERA start. Additionally, Jacoby Ellsbury is projected to bat .290 for the rest of the season following his current pace of .327.
In return, however, the projected trend is positive for Michael Pineda, who is estimated a 3.31 ERA for the rest of the season after starting at 3.64. The same can be said for C.C. Sabathia, whose inflated 5.47 ERA is projected to give way to a 4.69 ERA following the all-star break.
This being said, the verdict of the Yankees season is entirely up to the other teams in the division. We’ve seen how good the Blue Jays can be, and how bad the Red Sox can be. The Orioles and Rays have each posted stretches of excellence and mediocrity. In a toss-up scenario, the Yankees seem to be the current favorite, but that can change within a week. Following a more than satisfactory first half for Yankees fans, where will New York land come October?
We’ll have to wait and see.
(Photo: Winslow Townson-USA Today Sports)