When a tie in the loss column isn’t a tie

2011 Draft: Yankees sign 20th rounder Dan Camarena
The brutal September schedule that might not be a problem

Yankees fans toiled away a rainy Sunday without the hometown team taking the field. Rainouts always bring disappointment, but it’s always worse on the weekends. The one bit of good news we got involved the Red Sox, as they dropped their second game in three chances against the Mariners. That gave them their 46th loss of the season, tying them with the Yankees. The loss column, we’re told from a young age, means everything. You can’t make up a loss. That axiom puts the Yankees in a virtual tie with the Red Sox, though it doesn’t feel that way.

One statistic captures nearly 100 percent of everyone’s disappointment with the 2011 Yankees: 10 losses. In a dozen games against the Red Sox the Yankees have dropped 10, leaving them with a pathetic .167 win percentage. They’re only under .500 against two other teams, the Tigers and the Royals, and in both cases they’re just one win away from .500. There’s just something about the Red Sox this year that completely stymies the Yankees. Could it be their undoing in 2011?

In one way, it would seem that is the case. While the Yankees must fare well against other teams in order to make the playoffs, they will have to tumble the Red Sox if they’re to take the AL East, and, perhaps, the AL pennant. They’re the one team that truly stands in the way. Their offense tops the Yankees, and their pitching staff, while not quite as strong, does have a quality top end that has proven it can handle the Yankees’ lineup. But that’s not the only way to think about this issue. There are plenty of aspects that make this seem like an anomaly rather than some ingrained malfunction.

No prior imbalance

If you look at the Yankees vs. the Red Sox in every year since the rivalry re-intensified in 2002, you’ll see that the results are pretty even throughout.


2002 10 9 .526
2003 10 9 .526
2004 8 11 .421
2005 10 9 .526
2006 11 8 .579
2007 10 8 .526
2008 9 9 .500
2009 9 9 .500
2010 9 9 .500
Total 86 81 .515

With such evenly played ball for the past nine years, it seems quite out of line that one team would rise to dominance in the 10th. Of course, the 2011 versions of the teams are nothing like the 2002 versions, so there might be something else at play. But as we’ll soon see, the overall landscape doesn’t appear all that different.

Performance vs. the league

If the Yankees are 2-10 against the Sox yet have the same number of losses, it means that they’re playing better against the rest of the league. To wit, the Yankees are 70-36 (.660) vs. all other teams, while the Red Sox are 63-44 (.589), giving the Yankees a 7.5 game advantage. Even if you take interleague record out of the equation, the Yankees are 57-31 (.648) against AL opponents, while the Sox are 53-36 (.596), giving the Yankees a 4.5 game lead. Essentially, the Yankees are better against everyone else, except the Red Sox themselves.

Tougher schedule

Measuring toughness of schedule is always difficult, but there are a few stats that give us an idea of toughness at a glance. One place I like to look is Baseball Prospectus’s quality of batters faced. It measures the triple slash of opponents facing each pitcher in the league. In that way, it appears that the Yankees’ pitchers have faced tougher opponents than the Red Sox. Freddy Garcia (6th), CC Sabathia (27th), and Bartolo Colon (30th) all rank in the top 30 for highest OPS by opponents, while none of the Red Sox rank in the top 30. Ivan Nova ranks No. 31 as well.

(To be clear, this measures how well opponents have hit overall, not how they hit against the specific pitcher. In other words, it makes Freddy’s season look even better, since he has an ERA in the low 3s despite facing hitters with an average .757 OPS.)

That Boston has the league’s best offense does play into this, since their pitchers don’t face their own hitters. But in the same way, it somewhat dampens their top two starters, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, since they haven’t faced opponents as tough as the Yanks’ top four. Josh Beckett ranks No. 38, Lester ranks No. 42, and Tim Wakefield ranks No. 93. They are the only Sox starters on the list.

Another way to view this is Baseball Reference’s Simple Rating System. If you pull up the main page you’ll see the current standings, with SRS as the final item. This is a formula that determines how much better a team is than the average team, based on run differential and strength of schedule. Here the Yankees have led the Sox all year, and currently lead the league. Again, this is because Boston is tough and does not play itself. But the same can be said about the Yankees. Yet they still top Boston.

Adding it up

We can look at the Yankees performance relative to the Sox from any angle we want, but it will not erase the poor head-to-head showing. This isn’t to excuse any of that; if the Yankees want to win this year, they’ll almost certainly have to topple the Sox at some point. But given the available evidence, it appears that they’re able to do just that.

There has never been a year in recent memory that has been this unbalanced. Even in 2009, with the infamous 0-8 start, the Yanks came back to tie the season series. In no year did either team have more than a three-game advantage over the other. Things tended to balance out when it came to the top teams in the East. Things should balance out again this year, at least to some degree. After all, we’ve seen from multiple angles that the Sox aren’t actually better than the Yankees outside of the head-to-head matchups.

Does this mean that the Yankees will sweep the remaining games to finish the season 8-10 against the Sox? Hardly. They’ll be lucky to split the remaining six games and finish 5-13. But even that will provide the Yankees with a boost. They’ve played better against every other team in the league, and so could still win the East even with that dismal record against the Sox. It’s not the ideal way to go about it, but the Yankees cannot undo games. All they have is what’s left. And what’s left favors them pretty heavily when you add up the available evidence.

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2011 Draft: Yankees sign 20th rounder Dan Camarena
The brutal September schedule that might not be a problem
  • jsbrendog

    In that way, it appears that the Yankees’ pitchers have faced tougher opponents than the Red Sox. Freddy Garcia (6th),

    soo, freddy garcia has faced the 6th toughest competition? wow, my mind really truly genuinely is blown. he really is having a great year huh?

    or did i misread it?

    • https://twitter.com/TheRealJeromeS Jerome S.

      Really destroys all the people who have been saying “he hasn’t faced tough enough competition”.

  • nsalem

    Odds are we won’t be meeting the Red Sox in an ALCS matchup this year (just like every year) and even if they do what happened during the regular season won’t effect our playoff performance..

    • Cuso

      “Odds are?”

      Because they won’t be making it, or we won’t?

      • Brian S.

        Because we’re winning the division and Texas is going to kick the snot out of them in the DS. ALCS rematch baby!

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    I suspect this will even out as the year goes on. The Yankees will (hopefully) beat Boston a bunch of times before the end of the season, and the Sox will probably kick the snot out of all the other teams they face.

    • Hardy

      You guys are baiting your more sabrmetric leaning audience, right?

    • nsalem

      like this past weekend against Seattle? btw I also thought I remembered Chen pitching a great game against the Yankee’s sometime in the last 2 years. It was at the beginning of the season and in KC.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        That is true, the season’s pretty close to being done at this point. I don’t even consider September a real month of baseball, it’s almost like Spring Training.

        • JohnC

          Not entirely true. I’d still rather win the divison that be the wild card and have to open on the road again

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

            I don’t worry too much about home field advantage. I’d prefer to win the division because it (likely) means facing the AL Central team instead the Rangers in the ALDS.

            • Tim

              What about the school of thought that says that facing Justin Verlander twice in a best of five is probably tougher than facing Texas in that series, and that maybe the Yankees would be better off playing Texas in the Division Series on the road. There isn’t a single pitcher on Texas that can dominate like Verlander. Him twice in a best-of-five is like what Tampa had to deal with last year against Texas with Lee. It really minimizes the gap between the two teams, IMO.

              • Jim S

                Yeah, I think all of the factors tend to just point towards HFA not being that big of a deal.

                Get in and see what happens.

              • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

                It works two ways. Verlander will match up against Sabathia in those games, and CC has an advantage because of the lineup he’ll face.

            • nsalem

              In 2006 we got the Tigers who lost 31 of their last 50 games. They got swept by the Royals at home and then they beat the crap out of us. Last year many were rooting for the Rangers to beat the Rays despite Cliff Lee thinking that the series would never get to a game 5. I have given up rooting for an opponent in the post season.

              • jdp

                I do care about the home field advantage in the play-offs, especially if we do play Boston in the ALCS. Not because I think it will determine who wins, but because in a crucial game I hate being the road team in a tie game in the 9th or extra innings.

              • .zip file

                This +1. I don’t care who they face. Just get in and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Greg

    Would you please stop deleting my comment. I understand it’s off topic but where else am I going to put it?

    I just think its an interesting move that’s all.

  • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

    Of course I wouldn’t really want the Yankees to play the Rangers in the ALDS, but you gotta admit, the Rangers aren’t as good this year as they were last year. That is really because they don’t have Cliff Lee. Now C.J Wilson is their number 1 while Alexi Ogando is their two. The Yankees were able to hit Wilson pretty good in last years ALCS. And the Yankees OWN Ogando. Plus, the Yankees have a really good record against the Rangers this year. I know about 2006 and 2007 when they owned the Tigers and Indians, but this is a different team. But all in all I’d rather play Detroit in the first round. Although Verlander has been outstanding all year long, the Yankees have had more than their fair share of success against him this year. And after game 1 I really think that the Yankees are much better with their starting pitching compared to Detroit’s

    • nsalem

      SSS but Scherzer in 3 starts .273/.408/.681

  • JohnC

    lets not forget 2007 too when Yanks swept season series from Indians and proceeded to lose that Divison Series in 4

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      Good point.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      In 1988, the Mutts went 10-1 vs the Dodgers in the regular season, and lost in the play-offs.

      So yeah, I’m not all that concerned about the Yanks record vs the Sux.

    • Jimmy McNulty

      TBH, the “anything can happen in the playoffs” is probably more the Yankees managed to win three of those games. The Yankees probably shouldn’t have made the playoffs that year they had like an 89 win pythag, a pretty weak staff, and they trailed the Red Sox in wOBA. The Sox had a much better staff, especially at the top end, and a better offense. The Vegas line was even “Red Sox in 7.”

  • Jorge

    If the 2004 ALCS isn’t an example of “anything can happen in the playoffs,” nothing is. While I can understand why we’d like to forget that moment, it’s amazing how little we remember sometimes.

    Excellent write-up. I tip my hat to you.

  • Brian S.

    All of New England can blow me.

    • jdp

      thank you for that insightful contribution to the discussion

      • Brian S.

        Thank you for capitalizing and punctuating.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Their offense tops the Yankees, and their pitching staff, while not quite as strong, does have a quality top end that has proven it can handle the Yankees’ lineup.

    So they have an offense that’s better than the Yankee offense, and their top end pitching staff is better than the Yankees’ top end pitching staff.

    But that’s not the only way to think about this issue. There are plenty of aspects that make this seem like an anomaly rather than some ingrained malfunction.

    Good, because from that previous sentence it sure sounded like the Yankees are good and fucked if they draw the Red Sox in the ALCS.

    Of course, the 2011 versions of the teams are nothing like the 2002 versions, so there might be something else at play.

    Well there’s also some other issues at play here too: Jacoby Ellsbury is an elite player, something he wasn’t during his entire tenure with the Red Sox. The Red Sox have added Adrian Gonzalez, who may just be the best hitter in the AL, that’s something they haven’t had in a while. Josh Beckett is actually an elite pitcher now, everything’s working for him. In prior years the Yankees were able to hit him, it doesn’t seem like they, or anyone else, can touch him this year. Not only that, but the Yankee squad is different. Derek Jeter is no longer an elite player, something he was up until 2010. Alex Rodriguez might not be elite much longer, something he was up until 2010. They no longer have a productive DH or catcher, something they also had up until 2010. They’ve made a few new additions that seem to be doing work this year like Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner, but overall they haven’t done enough to keep up with the Red Sox additions from the offseason and the improvements that some of their own players have made.

    If the Yankees are 2-10 against the Sox yet have the same number of losses, it means that they’re playing better against the rest of the league. To wit, the Yankees are 70-36 (.660) vs. all other teams, while the Red Sox are 63-44 (.589), giving the Yankees a 7.5 game advantage. Even if you take interleague record out of the equation, the Yankees are 57-31 (.648) against AL opponents, while the Sox are 53-36 (.596), giving the Yankees a 4.5 game lead. Essentially, the Yankees are better against everyone else, except the Red Sox themselves.

    See, I hate this reasoning. The Red Sox played a dozen pretty good games against the Yankees. They’ve absolutely crushed them a few times and demolished their best pitcher every time they faced them. The Red Sox absolutely CRUSHED CC this year, that matters, you can’t just take that out and say “ANOMALY!!!!” when that happens, they deserve credit for doing that. They’ve also came back and put in strong performances where the team just kept on cruising. Over a dozen games they’ve outscored the Yankees by 29 runs, that matters…you can’t just say “look at the teams’ past performances” when the two squads this year are pretty different than the typical Yankee/Red Sox squads that you’ll see thrown out there. The Red Sox have three of the five best players in the AL on their team, when was the last time that they could say that? You can’t really compare their records over the past decade and use those with as high of a degree of certainty.

    Measuring toughness of schedule is always difficult, but there are a few stats that give us an idea of toughness at a glance. One place I like to look is Baseball Prospectus’s quality of batters faced. It measures the triple slash of opponents facing each pitcher in the league. In that way, it appears that the Yankees’ pitchers have faced tougher opponents than the Red Sox. Freddy Garcia (6th), CC Sabathia (27th), and Bartolo Colon (30th) all rank in the top 30 for highest OPS by opponents, while none of the Red Sox rank in the top 30. Ivan Nova ranks No. 31 as well.

    Here we get to some meat, obviously the Red Sox pitchers haven’t had to face their own batters. There’s the other side of the equation “who have their batters faced?” I’m too lazy to do a comprehensive study, but I get the impression that the Yankees have had tougher draws. Here you may be on to something, but even then you’re still subtracting an eighth of the season from each team if you completely discount the H2H match up.