The 2009 Yankees won more games than almost everyone expected. That’s almost always the case when a team wins over 100 games, but it holds particularly true in the three-team dogfight that is the AL East. They got to the 103 win mark because they were a good team that got hot at the right time, but also because they got lucky in some ways. Their 915 runs scored and 753 runs allowed works out to a 95-67 Pythagorean record, which they outperformed by eight wins. Does this mean the Yankees got lucky?
That’s a tough question to answer. Their Pythag record suggests that they did, but that takes gross runs scored and gross runs allowed and factors them into an equation. It doesn’t take into account how the team scored those runs. Over the course of a 162-game season, the reasoning goes, the issues of how a team scores runs should even out. Sometimes it doesn’t. Perhaps we can learn a bit more about the nature of the 2009 season by looking at a breakdown of the results.
Brandon Heipp of Walk Like A Sabermetrician looks at the 2009 run distribution of all 30 MLB teams. He breaks games down into one-run games, blowouts (five or more runs difference), and the games in between. Here’s the odd thing: The Yankees underperformed their record in both one-run games and blowouts. It’s the latter that seems odd, since a team with an offense like the Yankees figures, intuitively, to have a favorable record in blowouts.
The Yankees played in 38 one-run games and went 22-16, a .579 win percentage. Overall the Yankees had a .635 win percentage, and had a .653 win percentage in non-one-run games. They played in 51 blowouts and went 32-19, a .627 win percentage. This is more in line with their season total, but still a bit below. Still, no playoff team had as big a difference in blowouts as the Yankees. In those middle games, obviously, the Yankees killed, going 49-24 in 73 games, a .671 win percentage.
I’m not sure we can discern much from this data. It’s just interesting to see that while the Yankees had an over .500 win percentage in all three categories, that they still didn’t do exceptionally well in blowouts. I would have thought, since they outperformed their Pythag, that maybe they were inordinately good in one-run games. They weren’t. Though, maybe — and this is just a guess — maybe their tempered record in blowouts led to their Pythag underestimating their record.
Heipp also looks at the team win percentage when scoring X number of runs. When a team scores one run, for example, it wins 7.5 percent of those games. The magic number, it appears, is four runs, as that crossed the .500 line. It also adds the highest marginal win percentage value over the value before it. That is, the jump from scoring three to scoring four runs, in terms of winning percentage, is .186. Going from four to five runs adds just .106 to the win percentage.
Here’s another interesting bit: the Yankees played in 28 games where they scored four runs, and won just 14 of them. The average MLB team played in 21 games where they scored four runs, but we should have figured that the Yankees were above average there. I would say that reflects poorly on their pitching and defense, but then I saw that they outperformed the average when scoring two and three runs. When scoring two runs, the average MLB team won 20.8 percent of the time, while the Yankees won 28.6 percent. They won 41.2 percent of games when they scored three runs, against am MLB average of 33.7 percent. In both instances they played in fewer games than MLB average.
Again, I’m not exactly sure what we can take this data to mean. I’m not sure that, by itself, we can take it to mean anything definitive. I do think it’s interesting to note these trends. In some ways it bucks intuition. In other ways it gives us another way to view the 2009 Yankees as a team. They did well here, but not well there. Since this post contains a lot of random data, we’ll close with another random bit. The Yankees allowed 11 runs just once this season — and won the game. When scoring 11 runs, MLB teams went 110-6. Glad that the Yankees counted for one of those six.