Admittedly, this is a subjective, very non-scientific observation on my part, but it seems that many are surprised by the Yankees post season success thus far. So much credit and attention was given to the 100 plus win Indians and the 100 plus win Astros (rightfully so), that the team that won 91 games and finished behind Boston (seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?) wasn’t given much of a chance.
Here’s the thing, and I noted this much earlier this season: The Yankees were among the team leaders in run scoring and run prevention all season, finishing at 2nd in the American League in both runs scored (behind Houston) and runs prevented (behind Cleveland).
Despite the 2nd best run differential, they had the 8th best record in baseball, due in large part to randomness, and perhaps a (slightly) smaller part due to managerial inability to handle a bullpen. Reminder – they were 18-26 in one run games, despite having the best bullpen in baseball – draw your own conclusions.
And even though at various points of the year, Aaron Judge, Aroldis Chapman, Masahiro Tanaka, and Gary Sanchez were all awful (fans’ sentiments, not mine – “My GOD, what’s wrong with (insert name from above choices)?!?!” people neglected to see what I thought was obvious.
There was nothing wrong with the players or the roster. The team just wasn’t healthy. If the team that takes the field for them tomorrow night were available all season, they probably would’ve finished first in run scoring, run prevention and maybe even overall record.
I know, I know, all teams suffer injuries. But let’s look at the extent to which they affected the Yankees. Quite simply, the following players were full time starters for extended periods this season due to other players’ injuries:
Austin Romine, Chris Carter, Ronald Torreyes, Jacoby Ellsbury.
Now under normal circumstances, the Yankees get full time at bats from:
Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks.
We’re not splitting atoms here.
Group A averaged 301 plate appearances. That’s half of a season and almost three times what a part timer should get under normal circumstances, because essentially, all of them were full timers for a good chunk of the season.
Those players averaged a .304 on base percentage, .360 slugging percentage and a 76 weighted runs created plus (wRC+).
For some perspective about how woeful a performance that is, consider this: The combined OPS of the group is almost 100 points lower than the league average and would make them the 140th worst player out of 144 to qualify for the batting title this season, using OPS.
More perspective: The league average wRC+ is 100. So their combined production was literally 24% worse than an average player.
Insert group B:
They averaged a .338 OBP, .502 SLG, 119 wRC+. That’s big time offense especially considering that 4 of the 5 spots are taken by the 4 most difficult defensive positions where offense isn’t necessarily expected. Speaking of which…
The regular inclusion of Sanchez, Gregorius, Hicks and Bird combined with Todd Frazier taking over 3rd base, improved the Yankees defensively exponentially as well.
The Yankees, with their “normal” lineup are significantly better now than they were mid-season in both scoring and preventing runs, and they were pretty good then.
The problem during their mid-season slump wasn’t that the Yankees were young and coming back to earth. The problem wasn’t Aaron Judge being in the Home Run Derby. The problem wasn’t Aroldis Chapman having a World Series hangover. The problem wasn’t Gary Sanchez was lazy. The problem was that they played a good chunk of the season with their “B” team due to injuries.
Fortunately, the loss of Michael Pineda, which make no mistake was a big loss, wasn’t as glaring as his replacements performed very well.
And on a somewhat tangential note, this strengthens Judge’s case for MVP even more in my mind. He was setting production records while surrounded by a AA team a good chunk of the time.
This doesn’t mean that Houston won’t win two in a row on Friday and Saturday. This is still baseball and if these teams played each other 100 times there would be streaks of 4 wins or more by each team, probably more than once.
And remember, momentum does not exist in baseball no matter what John Smoltz says. All momentum begins and ends with Justin Verlander and Luis Severino tomorrow night at 8:08pm. (And for the love of all things holy, when is someone going to tell Smoltz that “undefensible” and “irregardless” are…not…god…dammed…words…?!?)
But for those in the national media who haven’t watched the Yankees all year, or for the Yankee fans who let their emotions get the best of them in June, rest assured:
This is a bad ass team.
As usual, thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for the stats.
Side note on stats: I used Bird’s OBP and SLG from his return from surgery on, prior to that he clearly wasn’t healthy, and it was a small sample size anyway. And I couldn’t use his wRC+ at all – I’m not tech savvy enough yet to sort to that extent.