Yanks not playing well against above .500 teams? So what?

Heathcott seeking $2M
Patience is a virtue ... and a requirement

One often-repeated criticism of the Yankees is their relative inability to beat teams over .500. They are, after all, just 24-29 against those opponents, while they’re 40-13 against their weaker counterparts. Intuitively, this seems like a bad indicator of things to come. Once you get to the playoffs those sub-.500 teams are out of the picture. How can the Yankees expect to win if they can’t beat the better teams?

As it turns out, a team’s ability to beat other winning teams doesn’t mean much, at least so far as World Series titles go. As Darren Everson of The Wall Street Journal notes, of the nine champions this decade only four have had winning records against teams over .500. “The typical profile of a World Series champion in recent times is a club that cleans up on the weak and breaks even against everyone else.” So perhaps this isn’t the problem we’re making it out to be.

As Calcaterra muses, it’s probably a coincidence. I tend to agree. Baseball is like a biathlon, starting with a six-month marathon and concluding with a three-week sprint. Teams that fare well in the marathon might not handle the sprint so well, and vice versa (the Wild Card has allowed more of the latter to get into the playoffs). Combine that with the natural streakiness of baseball and you have a recipe for a postseason which does not necessarily reflect the 162-game season we all live and die through.

Not that it stops Craig from speculating:

The article doesn’t speculate about why this might be. Coincidence is almost always the best answer when one encounters weird and/or counterintuitive stats like this, but chalking stuff up to coincidence is boring, even if accurate. Because of this, let’s concoct an untestable yet moderately-satisfying hypothesis: Due to the 162-game regular season, teams that win the World Series are, by definition, marathon winners, not sprinters, and the mark of a marathon winner is somoene who knows when to conserve energy and when to put the hammer down. This is not to say that teams roll over for good competition. Indeed, as the article notes, the winners play even the toughest competition at something just less than .500 ball, which ain’t too shabby. It’s merely to suggest that on some subconscious level, the best teams know that all wins count for the same amount during the regular season and that it simply takes less energy to beat a bad team than a good one and act accordingly.

Really, though, it’s coincidence.

Heathcott seeking $2M
Patience is a virtue ... and a requirement
  • Bo

    What team plays 600 ball against teams over 500 anyway?

    You beat the teams you should beat. You play 500 against the good teams. And you are home free.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Exactly. Getting there is all that matters. And once we’re there…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8bSr1n-zIY (safe)

    • toad

      Right. 24-29 is not significantly different from .500.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    I’d just like to be Boston once =)

    • V

      Beat, I presume?

      I’d like to beat them every time, forever, ever, and ever.

      • Observer283

        Amen.

    • Mike HC

      I would like to beat them more them once. But once is a definite start.

  • jsbrendog

    try to tell all the people bemoaning the 0-8 against the red sox that every game is the same.

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    Damnit, Pawlikowski, stop using science, mathematics, statistics, logic, and reason to counteract my false narrative and warrantless quasi-allegorical conjecture.

    If we can’t beat the White Sox in a 4 game series, that means we’re never, NEVER going to be able to beat the Rangers in the ALCS. That’s a fact. And it’s all ARod/Cashman/Girardi/Cano/Cody Ransom’s fault.

    • Esteban

      Well, maybe actually Cody Ransom’s fault

    • http://www.twitter.com/wahbjo01 Jordan

      I blame Steven Jackson.

  • http://anewfrontier.wordpress.com Pablo Zevallos

    Well, 24-29 includes 0-8 against Boston, which has to be some kind of fluke. If they had gone 4-4 against Beantown, that record would be 28-25, and the article would never have been written.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      No, had we gone 4-4 against Boston and had a 28-25 record, they would have said “Yeah, but if just 4 of those wins against Boston were losses, the Yanks would be 0-8 against Boston and have a 24-29 record against losing teams! ZOMG!”

  • YankeeScribe

    I think it’s mostly the luck of scheduling. Like for example, we might play a team like the Tigers only 6 games a season and 4 out of those 6 games we face Verlander and Jackson whereas, our rivals, the Red Sox, only end up facing those guys 2 out of 6 games. Even while we’d expect these kinds to balance themselves out over the course of a season, a lot of it seems like luck.

    • whozat

      And we beat those two guys at least once each! And scored TEN runs off Roy Halladay!

  • Hova

    I don’t care about beating above .500 teams vs below .500 teams. But I do care about beating the Red Sox. They’ve taken an 8-0 against us, and there’s nothing that says we can’t finish the season series 10-8.

    I just hate the bastards more than anything else. That might have to do with the fact I live in this god forsaken city. But like I said last week, the Yankees will stomp on their necks this weekend and the AL East will be ours.

  • Little Bill

    I agree, so what. The playoffs is a crapshoot and the only thing that matters is getting there, no matter who you beat. THIS ISN’T THE BCS!!

    • YankeeScribe

      If the playoffs were a crapshoot we wouldn’t have won the WS 4 times in 5 years…

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Wrong. The playoffs being a crapshoot probably had a large contribution TOWARDS us winning the WS 4 times in 5 years.

        We benefited from good playoff luck during our title years.

        • YankeeScribe

          I’d say 96′ was luck since we clearly weren’t the best team that year but 98′, 99′, and 00′ we were the best(unless you think teams like the Rangers, Indians, A’s, Padres, and Mets were evenly matched against us).

          In recent years, there’s more parity in baseball so luck probably plays a bigger role now but the playoffs are never a crapshoot for exceptional teams…

          • Arman Tamzarian

            Are there any teams in baseball that you would describe as “exceptional” right now?

            • YankeeScribe

              The Dodgers. Maybe the Phillies. This year, the playoffs look wide open for the American league. There’s no clearly dominant team.

              • Sweet Dick Willie

                If you describe the Dodgers & Phillies as “exceptional”, how can that adjective not describe the Yanks?

                Dodgers are 66-41 (1.5 games better) and Phillies are 59-45 (4 games worse), and both play in the sissy league.

                If there is an exceptional team this year, and I don’t think there is, it is the Yankees.

                • YankeeScribe

                  Doth focus too much on records. The best team isn’t necessarily the team that wins the most games. The season is a marathon, not a sprint.

                  As I mentioned earlier, there’s the luck of scheduling combined with slow starts, injuries, trades, slumps, etc.. From a depth standpoint, LA and Philly ‘seem’ to be better than the other 28 teams.

          • whozat

            2000 was DEFINITELY luck. They were an 87 win team that year.

            That is not an exceptional team.

          • Rob H.

            Were we really the better team than the Mariners who won 116 games? I mean yes, we did win that series but how can you say going into that series that the yankees were considered the favorites?

            • YankeeScribe

              No. That was luck. But most of our opponents like the Rangers, Indians, and the Padres were just overmatched. Sorta like how we’ve looked against the Angels in the past few years. That’s not luck, that’s just one team matching up well/poorly versus another team…

          • YankFan

            In 2000, we were evenly matched if you had to listen to Mets fans before the series started.

            • whozat

              I didn’t, and it’s sort of irrelevant. The full season showed the Yanks in 2000 to not be an exceptional team. Getting through the playoffs and then winning the WS that year took some luck, even by your standards.

              • YankFan

                If I remember correctly that team had basically clinched by Labor Day & then went into the tank. Is it b/c they played over their heads the first 5 mos. or didn’t have to go all out for Sept.

        • Observer283

          That.

          I recently watched the DVD of the ’96 championship and its remarkable how many little breaks went our way.

          Onthe flip side, I remember thinking that the Yankees did not play that poorly in the last four games of the ’04 ALCS. Certainly not poorly enough to lose four straight games. But things broke against us.

          If you have over 100 World Series, the odds are that you are going to a few streaks in their somewhere. (Like if you toss a coin 100 times, it’ll be heads about 50 and tails about 50, but you’ll get a couple of 4 heads in a row streaks).

          Talent and ability obviously still plays a role in the playoffs. But when you have good teams going up against good teams in short series, luck is a huge factor.

          • YankeeScribe

            Bingo! I’m not saying that luck isn’t a factor. Luck certainly plays a bigger role when teams are evenly matched. I’m just saying that more often than not, the better teams wins in playoff series.

            • whozat

              Point is that having a team SO much better than another in the playoffs that a short series isn’t very much impacted by luck is very rare.

              • YankeeScribe

                How rare is it?

                …and are teams with sketchy pitching and defense often rewarded by luck in the playoffs?

                • whozat

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

                  Who ever said “sketchy pitching and defense”?

                  We said “the playoffs are a crapshoot,” because the teams are usually rather evenly matched, so a string of good or bad luck can have quite the impact.

                • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

                  Whenever I want to call someone out on a straw man argument, and notice that whozat is in the thread, I hold off for a few minutes and let him do it. Man, you are like clockwork, it is awesome.

                • whozat

                  Heh. Nothing irks me more than a logical fallacy.

                  I also don’t want to write this document here at work. I’d much rather be writing code, but we’re in the design stage for a lot of stuff right now.

                • YankeeScribe

                  Moshe,

                  What’s more of a strawman? Saying that the playoffs are a crapshoot as if no team has an advantage or disadvantage or saying that luck matters but not as much as how the teams matchup(in terms of strengths and weaknesses)?

                  I mean luck factors into all competition. The playoffs is no exception. Luck matters in the playoffs as much as it does in all other competition. Still, matchups matter MORE. Teams usually beat the teams that they should beat. Upsets happen too but they’re the exception not the rule…

      • Mike HC

        I think it is safe to say that it takes both luck and skill. Trying to prove only one of them matters rather than the other is a fools argument.

  • A.D.

    Realistically only have to be able to beat the good teams in October, other than that doesn’t matter how you get there.

  • M

    Isn’t a good team a team that beats the lesser teams, and wins when they need to? I think it hurts much worse to get swept by KC than to be swept by LAA. The only reason it is such a big deal this year is that LAA and BOS are teams we have struggled against in the past and/or have a huge rivalry. If the Yanks finish first with playing aorund 500 ball against top teams and beat up on everyone is it any different than finishing first beating up on top teams and being 500 against weak teams?
    NY has seemed to win the season series vs boston most of the years by 1 game, yet Bos has played better in Play-offs.
    So in essence as long as you make the play-offs a win vs a top team counts the same as a win vs the last place team ( Boston being in division and 2nd place matters more since its a win+ a game in the standings)…..Nothing hurt worse last year than watching the Pirates win 2 of 3… those games come back and haunt you later.

  • wilcymoore

    Doesn’t matter how you fare against .500+ teams. The great Yankee squads of the 20′ and 30’s did the same thing. Just as a “for example,” the 1927 Yankees – Greatest of All – crushed weak opponents. They played the St. Louis Browns 22 times, and won 21 of those games. (Sorta like what the Rays have been doing to the Royals this year.)

  • Russell NY

    If we make it to the playoffs still under 500 against winning teams it won’t matter much to me. For 2 years (Tigers and Indians I believe) the Yankees made the playoffs and got knocked out by teams I thought they should have beat. Now it’s our turn.

  • http://161stStreet.wordpress.com Chris A

    Technically the Yankees are 31-29 against teams .500 or above because the Twins (who the Yankees are 7-0 against) became a .500 team after Everson wrote that article.

    • http://161stStreet.wordpress.com Chris A

      Not that it really matters, but I just wanted to point that out.

    • Tom Zig

      yeah tell them to suck it. How about when we beat the Orioles on 04/09, they were 2 games over .500, or the blue jays on 5/13 and 5/14 when they were 10 and 9 games over .500 respectively. Or the Mets when we played them?

      I can go on and on.

      • whozat

        yeah, when do you count the “over .500″-ness of a team?

        If a team gets reamed by injuries, but was good when you played them, do they count? If a team sucked early on, but had some important players come back from injury mid-season, do you count them?

      • YankFan

        +1

  • JoeSit.(ragman)

    I am old and lack computer skills, so don’t have the knowledge to research like most of you do, I rely on 50+ years of rooting for the Yanks and many years of coaching and “trying” to evaluate talent and refining it. My take is you beat up the little guys break even with the “good” ones and then see what happens.

  • Mike HC

    I don’t see it as a coincidence. It is pretty obvious that the Yanks record should be comparatively worse against good teams than bad teams. If the situation was flip flopped, and if the Yanks played better against the best teams, and badly against the sub .500 teams, then I would say it is a coincidence. The playoffs is about matchups. The Yankess don’t have to beat “teams above .500,” but they have to beat the White Sox, Red Sox, Phillies (yes, that will be the path we take to win it all, ha). Are we better than those teams? I hope so.

  • YankFan

    We’re Yankee fans so our ears perk up w/ stories like this wanting to put our team down. W/o doing my own search, what are the other top teams in the leagues doing against teams w/ .500 records.

    Of course forgetting about the ALL POWERFUL Bosox. We’ll be lucky to win one game against them all year.

    /Sarcasm’d

  • TheLastClown

    The intelligence suggesting there was no reason whatsoever in the national interest to invade Iraq? Boring, even if accurate.

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