Aug
27

There are 29 other teams in the majors

By

If you haven’t yet read Mike’s post on the rotation concerns, go do that now. He hits on some important point regarding how we mistakenly use hindsight when comparing last year’s team to this year’s. That’s one pitfall into which we can easily fall, but it’s not the only one. When we get emails and comments from fans who express concern, or panic, over the current team I often wonder how much baseball they watch outside the Yankees. Because while the Yankees certainly have flaws, other teams have them too.

In terms of the regular season the Yankees seem set. They are tied for the best record in baseball, and even if they finish with the second best record they’re obviously still in the playoffs. The Red Sox present the only possible threat to the Yankees’ playoff chances, but that’s quite the long shot. They’re 5.5 games out and will miss the right side of their infield for the rest of the season. Two of their three starting outfielders won’t return, and their bullpen is in tatters. Five and a half games might be a surmountable deficit for a team at full strength, but the Red Sox are far from that.

The only concern, then, is how the Yankees will fare in the playoffs. While it might seem like the Yankees have a few fatal flaws, they’ve managed to do pretty well despite them. No team in baseball, after all, boasts a better record. This signals that other teams have more glaring flaws. And since the next closest team after the Rays is 5.5 games worse, it would seem that those flaws are considerably more significant. It might be tough to see this at times, since most of us don’t watch many non-Yankees games, but it’s true. The Yankees are far better off than their non-Rays competition.

Adding to the strength of this Yankees team is the division in which they play. We know anecdotally that the AL East is the toughest division in baseball. While other divisions have a couple of strong teams, the AL East boasts what could be the three best teams in the AL. The Red Sox, injuries and all, would lead the AL Central by a half game, and would sit a mere .001 percentage points behind the Rangers in the West. Then there are the Blue Jays, 66-60, giving the AL East another tough competitor.

Just how much better than the rest of the league is the AL East? Perhaps a pair of tables that loyal reader PJ emailed us will shed some more light on the situation.

Division

Runs Diff.

Division

Avg. Win Pct.

AL East

239

AL East

.536

NL East

142

NL West

.516

NL West

125

NL East

.513

AL West

(47)

AL Central

.487

AL Central

(122)

AL West

.487

NL Central

(337)

NL Central

.466

It’s no surprise that the AL East, NL East, and NL West are the only teams with positive run differentials, since they’re the only divisions with four teams at or above .500. But the margin between the NL and AL Easts is staggering. The AL East has a 68 percent larger run differential. Yes, the Yankees play a large role in that; they do have the largest run differential in the league. But they have to play all those other teams with superb run differentials, and they have to play them 18 times each. And, as we saw this week, that includes Toronto, which has the sixth best run differential in the AL. That’s rough for a fourth-place team.

In terms of the playoffs, the Yankees appear to be in a similar spot as last year. As part of Baseball Prospectus’s statistical package, they provide something called Secret Sauce, which blends defense, pitcher strikeout rate, and bullpen strength to determine a team’s likelihood of winning in the playoffs. You can read our write-up on Secret Sauce here. Last year the Yankees’ Secret Sauce score was 22. This year it’s — guess what? — 22. The only difference is that the Rays have a lower (i.e., better) score this year, but there’s nothing the Yanks can do about that. It would seem that they’re in the same position as last year, which as we know is nothing but a good thing.

Do the Yankees have flaws? Of course. Are those flaws more serious than those of other teams? Not at all. The Yankees own baseball’s best record, the league’s best run differential, and the AL’s second best Secret Sauce score. The only difference this year is the presence of the Rays, something over which the Yankees exert no control. It means one more tough team to beat, but little more. In terms of comparing the 2009 World Champions to the 2010 defenders, there isn’t too big a difference.

Categories : Musings

32 Comments»

  1. bexarama says:

    Secret Sauce

    That’s… what she said?

    Yeah, I agree with everything here. Of course, the team has flaws and it’s frustrating at times. I just don’t get the we suck our offense sucks this team is rancid and has no heart or guts-style hysteria. It really does make me wonder if people who say that pay attention to the rest of baseball, at all. (I don’t blame them if they don’t. People [who are not bexy] have lives.)

    • Angelo says:

      I don’t watch other teams play against one-another (sometimes, but it’s rare if I do watch a team besides the Yankees.) Either way, I’m smart enough to know the Yankees are arguably the best team in baseball.

      Some people don’t have enough common sense though. And others just run on pure emotion, while living and dying with every win and loss. Those usually aren’t the brightest of people.

  2. Lol @ the NL Central.

    What an awful division.

  3. Mrgfeeny says:

    Great article as always.

    However, is there a free link to see the leaders in, um, Secret Sauce?

  4. EndlessMike says:

    No wonder Pujols is so good.

  5. FIPster Doofus says:

    Great article, Joe. This should be required reading for those who panic after every loss. The bottom line is that this year’s Yankees, like the 2009 team, are great. It’s just that there happens to be a team on their level this season, and that’s Tampa. One of them will win the World Series – no doubt in my mind as far as that’s concerned. Let’s just hope it’s the Yankees.

  6. BigBlueAL says:

    Biggest difference though from last season to this season is the health of the older players. Obviously we know about Pettitte, plus apparently Jeter has been playing banged up for awhile along with Arod currently on the DL and Posada constantly getting banged up here and there.

    As long as Pettitte and Arod come back from the DL looking healthy and ready for the playoffs the Yankees will be fine.

  7. jim p says:

    I blame my worry on Cashman not buying us all of this year’s good luck, for the post-season. Will balls bounce the right way?, will umpires be possessed by demons?, too many of these kinds of questions remain unsettlingly open.

  8. Sean C says:

    Oddly enough, I was reminded today why being a Yankee fan is awesome. One of my friends, whom I haven’t seen for a few weeks and is a Cardinal fan, walked up to me and the first thing he said was “Fuck the Yankees.” While a completely childish thing to say, it made me happy to hear that the Yankees are indeed still hated (is it okay to call this SSS?) for being good at baseball.

    I admit that I, too, get caught up in comparing this year’s team to last year’s team. They just had a special something to them (call it new stadium, new faces, etc.) that made the World Series victory seem inevitable (admittedly, at this point, a victim of hindsight’s 20/20 vision). It seems that the lack of another superior AL East team that season made it feel that way.

    I’ve told everyone I know that follows baseball since early on in the 2010 season that two AL East teams will make the postseason and one will make the World Series, and as of right now, that seems to feel like an accurate predicition (based on my completely unprofessional opinion). I only hope, as a Yankee fan, that it will be my Pinstriped heroes that stand as American League and World Series Champs.

    After not making the postseason in 2008, I have learned to not take success for granted.

  9. aRX says:

    The NL Central as a whole being 337 runs in the red is just…staggering. In fairness, most of that is the Pirates’ fault; -246…wtf? I wonder what the record worst is. Imagine if the Blue Jays could feed on them instead of being stuck in permanent 3rd/4th here?

    Now if only the Rays would go on a nice 8 game losing streak. Or we bash their skulls in next month and do it ourselves. Whichever.

  10. Put another way, On June 1st our rotation was the biggest strength on the team and the bullpen was a mess. Two months later, the roles are reversed. By the time we hit October, things may very well change again.

      • That, too, though.

        I fear that after 2009, we’ll see a resurgence of the whole “World Series win or the season is a failure” sentiment we saw in the early part of the decade. While it’s always nice to strive for that, and the Yankees certainly do have a shot at winning said World Series every year, it’s ultimately a relatively unrealistic goal. As THCM said, though, time will tell. In November, we could look back at this post I’m writing and think “Why did he ever doubt them?” Hopefully, we are.

        • Ross in Jersey says:

          Even as a Yankee fan I think that was unrealistic. Last year I was so caught up with them finally getting past the Angels and back into the WS that I think my brain shut down. After having that attitude every year since 2000 it’s obvious it just doesn’t work. The playoffs are too much of a crapshoot.

          Once we were in the WS last year, I took a step back and was thinking “Just be glad they’re here, and enjoy every game” and I did. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had watching the Yankees.

    • You mean there are ebbs and flows in a baseball season an not every part of a team will play perfectly for the entire season? Surely, you jest. Someone call Bellevue on this guy.

  11. Ross in Jersey says:

    All I know is if Fransisco Cervelli starts any playoff games I officially am going to lose it.

  12. Steve H says:

    They’re (the Red Sox) 5.5 games out and will miss the right side of their infield for the rest of the season.

    They aren’t just missing the right side of their infield, but they happen to be their two best players (Beltre’s great year notwithstanding). It’s amazing they are as good as they are, but they simply don’t have the horses going forward.

  13. bonestock94 says:

    Just how good are the Rays? It seems like every game I’ve watched they’ve trounced their competition. Although I did watch them get shut down by good pitching vs. the A’s last week. Lemme go find that series where your broke down the division rivals.

  14. Lee says:

    I watch other teams all the time, including at least part or all Red Sox and Ray’s games. That’s because I live in Colorado and pay for the MLB package. Last week I watched all the Ray’s games because they were on the West Coast and played after the Yankees were done and if it weren’t for a scrappy Oakland A’s team, the Rays would be in first place by two games. The Rays look great.

    The Red Sox also look great and even scored a couple off of King Felix and came close to getting the game tied at four. If Lester had pitched as scheduled and had pitched as he has most of the season, they could have won that game. Instead it was Wakefield who even in heavy wet air didn’t have success.

    I think it is going to be a dog fight partly because of the Yankees inability to beat Toronto. Detroit made Romero look terrible last night. I think the Toronto pitchers have so much confidence against the Yankee hitters that they could be their undoing as I think they will split against the Rays and Sox. This is going to be an exciting finish, maybe more than my ticker can stand.

    • bexarama says:

      Last week I watched all the Ray’s games because they were on the West Coast and played after the Yankees were done and if it weren’t for a scrappy Oakland A’s team, the Rays would be in first place by two games.

      You could say that about us and Toronto.

      The Red Sox also look great

      They’re 5.5 back

      and even scored a couple off of King Felix

      Cleveland did that too.

      and came close to getting the game tied at four.

      Why do I think you weren’t exactly jumping for joy that Curtis Granderson didn’t hit that go-ahead grand slam on Wednesday?

      If Lester had pitched as scheduled and had pitched as he has most of the season, they could have won that game.

      If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same!

      I think it is going to be a dog fight partly because of the Yankees inability to beat Toronto.

      Other than the Red Sox, Toronto is killing the division. Would you rather be in the Red Sox’s position?

      Detroit made Romero look terrible last night.

      It’s one game. Romero’s had what, three starts? against the Yankees this year. In two he was awesome, in the third we… made him look terrible.

      Again, this is mostly confirmation bias. I’m not saying the other teams aren’t solid to really good – they are. Just, so are the Yankees.

  15. Lee says:

    Bexaram,
    Thanks for caring enough to take my post apart! It’s lonely out here on Plains with no life but baseball. Just a couple comments that you can dissect.

    When I referred to scrappy I was describing teams that get behind and scratch out a couple runs to come back and win or even lose the lead again and still come back and win. In the Toronto series the team that scored first won every game. Not too scrappy.

    I don’t understand your Granderson grand slam comment.

    I definitely think the Red Sox are in the worst position but they are not out of it. Would I take Buckholtz, Lester and Beckett over CC, Burnett and Hughes? I think I would! Maybe CC and Hughes are equal but AJ, not so much. Of course if AJ and Josh went up against each other – I’ll take Mariano over Pap any day.

    It’ll be fun to watch it all play out.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

    PS: What’s a bexy, pray tell?

Leave a Reply

You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> in your comment.

If this is your first time commenting on River Ave. Blues, please review the RAB Commenter Guidelines. Login for commenting features. Register for RAB.