Entering action on July 3rd, the Yankees were 58-21 and were 15 games ahead of the Rays in the loss column. Since then they’ve gone 21-32 and currently lead Tampa Bay by four games in the loss column.
Ouch. What the heck happened?
Of course, a drop-off to that extent is never the result of one single thing, but when we look more closely at their performance, some interesting – I might say “odd” – matters pop up.
For starters, and despite appearances, the Yankees’ batters have hit pretty well since July 3rd. They’re in the top ten in MLB in virtually every major offensive category since then, including runs scored, wRC+, BB%, and chase rate. And even though they’ve dropped off in most areas, eighth in MLB in both runs scored and wRC+ is still pretty good – certainly good enough to be winning games.
They’ve regressed on the pitching side as well, but the staff overall hasn’t been “bad”. Since July 3rd, the team is 10th in MLB in SIERA, and 11th in both xFIP and K-BB% while being about average in runs allowed (16th). Again, not great, but certainly not bad.
(If you’re wondering, the team defense was first in MLB in defensive runs above average through July 3rd and has been first in DRAA since as well, so that’s not an issue.)
So what has changed?
On the offensive side, nothing has changed drastically. The issue is that everything has regressed a little bit. Everything has been good since July 3rd, just not “as good” as it was over the first 79 games. Somewhat surprisingly, the team BABIP is actually higher over their team slump than it was when they were dominating.
The pitching side is similar in the sense that everything has regressed, but the drop-offs are more pronounced than with the batters. Prior to July 3rd, the staff ranked first across MLB in xFIP, K-BB%, and SIERA – since then they rank 11th, 11th, and 10th in those areas respectively. Again, not awful but that is a significant drop-off.
What does stand out on the pitching side is that prior to July 3rd, the staff posted the third lowest fly ball to home run ratio in baseball – since then it’s been the 23rd lowest. Given that the number of fly balls allowed has only increased marginally (36.9% to 37.7%) and their average exit velocity allowed is virtually identical over the two sample sizes, I’m of the mind the staff ran into a lot of luck in the first half of the season with fly balls going toward the right part of the park. That luck ran out.
Yet (again), in totality none of the above explains the massive drop-off in the win-loss column – because let’s be clear – going from a .734 winning percentage to .396 is massive.
I don’t have an answer here, I’m as confused as anybody. But I do think with a reduction in production from virtually every player* on the roster, and some things simply not going their way (a bloop falling in for the other team, a bad umpire call, a managerial move not working out, etc.) we can take two lessons from all of this:
(*Much of that is due to injuries, some of it due to water simply seeking its own level, but Judge and Cole are the only players who’ve produced at a high level all season long.)
First, given their performance since July 3rd, they aren’t as bad as the 21-32 record would indicate, despite how ugly it’s been. That said, and perhaps most importantly, they were on the right side of the baseball gods through July 3rd, and a lot of that luck (particularly with injuries) simply ran out. They may not be as bad as they look now, but they also aren’t as good as they looked over the season’s first three months either.
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