The brutal September schedule that might not be a problem

At the moment, the Yankees have a 99.2% or a 98.9% chance to make the playoffs, depending on who you ask. They’ve gone 8-4 this month to stretch their lead in the wildcard race to nine games in the loss column, and their next 15 games will be played against four sub-.500 teams a combined 38 games below the break-even point. It’s not a stretch to think that they could roll into Fenway Park two weeks from tomorrow a dozen games up on a playoff spot. That cushion is good news, because the schedule at the end of the season is straight up brutal.

The Yankees were originally supposed to play two games from September 19th to 22nd, a two-game set against the Rays both preceded and followed by an off day. Now they’re going to play five games in that four day stretch. The first off day will instead be used to make up an April 6th rain out against the Twins, and the second off day will be used to make up a July 8th rain out against the Rays (because Tampa didn’t want to play a doubleheader the next day). At some point during that series they’ll also play a doubleheader to make up yesterday’s rain out. I guess the good news is that all of those games will be in the Bronx, so it’s the other teams that have to deal with the travel. The Yankees will be coming back from Toronto on the 18th, so not a long flight.

The last ten games of the season will be played against the Rays (seven games) and Red Sox, which are never easy. The Yankees also have to make one more west coast trip in the middle of September, visiting Anaheim and Seattle for three games apiece. With any luck, that road trip and those last ten games will be little more than tune-ups for the postseason, with September call-ups seeing the majority of the action in the doubleheader, day games after night games, stuff like that. Plus their already sizable lead on a playoff berth could increase before the rough stretch of the schedule arrives, making things that less dire. It could also decrease, but that’s another post for another time.

The Yankees are technically half-a-game back of the Red Sox in the AL East, but they’re tied in the loss column. All they need to do is win one more lose one fewer game than Boston the rest of the way to take the division. They could make a big move over the next week, since the Yankees have that light schedule and the Sox will play seven of their next eleven games against the Rays and Rangers (with a four-gamer against the Royals mixed in). Getting into the playoffs is always the top priority, but winning the AL East would likely mean an ALDS matchup against the Tigers or Indians, not the Rangers. We’re getting way ahead of ourselves though.

With about six weeks left in the season, the Yankees lead baseball in run differential (+175) by a significant margin (32 runs), and are on pace for 99 wins (98.82, to be exact). They took care of business earlier in the season and are in the middle of the soft part of their schedule, which hopefully makes the last two or three weeks of the season relatively meaningless. The division will probably still be on the line then, but as long as a postseason berth is in the bag, we’ll have little reason to sweat what will probably be the toughest stretch of the season.

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

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.

2011 Draft: Yankees sign 20th rounder Dan Camarena

Update (Aug. 15th): Via Jim Callis and Kendall Rogers, the Yankees have signed Camarena for $335k. Very nice deal, reasonable price. As I say below, I’m a fan.

Original Post (Aug. 4th): Via K. Levine-Flandrup, 20th round pick Dan Camarena threw for the Yankees’ head honchos today, presumably in Tampa. I’m only posting this because I’m a big Camarena fan and apparently I’m not the only one; Baseball America ranked him as the 138th best prospect in the country before the draft. In their subscriber only report, they note that 6-foot-1, 205 lb. high school left-hander from San Diego throws 87-91 with “excellent feel for his changeup, which some scouts rate as an average pitch.” They also say he “already flashes a big league breaking ball” in his curveball.

Workouts for the bigwigs is always a good sign because if nothing else, it shows that both sides are at least considering pursuing a contract. The Yankees inked third rounder Jordan Cote recently, and I think Camarena is the second best pitching prospect they selected this year. I’d like to see a deal get done because this is the kind of kid you could see coming out of college as a first or second rounder in three years.

Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Photo Credit: Flickr user daveynin via Creative Commons license)

Kauffman Stadium is one of the nicer parks in the league I hear, especially after they renovated the place a year or two ago. Ben will be there for all three games this week, but alas, I’ll be watching on the ol’ idiot box. These two clubs met in New York earlier this season, with the Royals taking two of three. They won the first game in extra innings thanks to Buddy Carlyle, and the other by pounding Ivan Nova.

What Have The Royals Done Lately?

Yesterday’s loss to the White Sox was their second straight loss and their sixth in their last seven days. They’ve also lost eight of their last ten. The Royals are 50-71 overall with a -55 run differential, occupying the bottom spot in the AL Central.

Royals On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Kansas City has a pretty legit offense, though the lineup is top heavy. Alex Gordon (.298/.372/.480) is their best all around hitter (and player) and leadoff guy, and former Yankee Melky Cabrera (.311/.343/.478) has settled into the number two spot. Billy Butler (.284/.363/.445) bats third and rookie Eric Hosmer (.275/.328/.425) cleans up. Hosmer hit his first career homer in Yankee Stadium earlier in the season, and he’s hitting a stout .293/.354/.469 over the last six weeks or so. Jeff Francoeur soaks up the fifth spot with his .272/.323/.460 batting line. Those five are the only players on the team with double digit homeruns, and all of them except Hosmer have either 14 or 15 (Hosmer has ten).

The rest of the lineup is pretty iffy. Recent call-up Johnny Giavotella is guaran-damn-teed to be that pain in the butt player this series, and he’s hitting .289/.325/.474 in limited time. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is having trouble after making the jump from hot shot prospect to big leaguer (.184/.242/.232 in a small-ish sample), and another recent call-up (Salvador Perez) has taken over behind the plate (.264/.250/.333 in four games). Alcides Escobar is in the lineup for his glove (+8 UZR, +11 DRS), not his bat (.251/.288/.332).

That group of players up their represent their regular lineup, and like the Yankees, the Royals only have three players on the bench. That’s backup catcher Brayan Pena (.262/.302/.364), backup infielder Chris Getz (.256/.315/.285), and backup outfielder Mitch Maier (.253/.364/.360). Kansas City is one stolen base behind the Yankees for the AL lead, and they have five players with at least ten steals (Getz, Escobar, Gordon, Melky, and Frenchy). It’s a better offense than you may realize.

Royals On The Mound

Monday, RHP Felipe Paulino (vs. A.J. Burnett): Claimed off waivers from the Rockies earlier this season, Paulino (a former Astros) has quietly performed like a borderline ace for the Royals in a dozen starts. His strikeout (8.23 K/9) and walk (2.90 BB/9) rates are very good, and although 44.8% grounders isn’t great, it’ll get the job done with those walks and whiffs. Paulino brings the heat, legitimately sitting in the mid-90’s with his fastball and throwing his slider in the high-80’s. He’s also got a changeup and curveball, but they’re distant third and fourth offerings. Unsurprisingly, he does have some trouble with lefties. The Yankees have never faced Paulino, and he’s allowed more than three runs just four times as a Royal. He’s sneaky good.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Dinur via Creative Commons license)

Tuesday, LHP Danny Duffy (vs. Nova): Another guy the Yankees have never faced before, Duffy was one of nine top 100 prospects the Royals boasted coming into the season. He’s been below-average in 15 starts since being called up, walking too many (4.41 BB/9), getting too few ground balls (39.4%), and throwing too many pitches (averaging 97 pitches and just 5.1 IP per start). Duffy’s a hard-throwing lefty, sitting in the 92-94 range with his four-seamer and a touch below that with his two-seamer. A big-breaking mid-70’s curveball is his bread and butter pitcher, and his low-80’s changeup is a decent offering as well. Duffy certainly has the ability to shut the Yankees down, but I’d like to think that they’ll punish a rookie pitcher with walk and fly ball issues.

Wednesday, LHP Bruce Chen (vs. Bartolo Colon): For some reason I thought Chen shut the Yankees down last year, but he made just two starts against them and neither was all that great: 6 IP, 5 R and 5 IP, 3 R. He’s having a similar season to last year but is just a bit worse across the board, with underwhelming strikeout (5.59 K/9), homerun (1.16 HR/9), and ground ball (37%) rates. His walk rate (3.28 BB/9) is fine though. Chen is a total soft-tosser, sitting 84-88 with a variety of fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter). A low-80’s slider is his top secondary offering, and he’ll also mix in a high-70’s changeup and low-70’s curve. Chen’s been pretty good since coming off the DL in late June, allowing three or fewer runs in six of nine starts. He did cough up ten runs just three starts ago, though.

Bullpen: Three men on the bench means eight guys on the bullpen. Closer Joakim Soria has dug himself out of an early season rut, pitching to a 2.22 ERA with 27 strikeouts and just four walks in 28.1 IP since the calendar flipped to May. His primary setup man these days is righty Greg Holland (2.56 FIP), though Aaron Crow (3.85 FIP) will also get some late-inning work as well. Louis Coleman (3.69 FIP) is a side-arming righty without much of a platoon split, but that’s because he hasn’t been up all that long. Tim Collins has gaudy minor league numbers but also some major walk problems (6.66 BB/9 and 4.74 FIP). Blake Wood (4.13 FIP), Nathan Adcock (4.45 FIP), and Everett Teaford (7.13 FIP in a small sample) fill out the rest of the bullpen, doing everything from long relief to middle innings work. Collins and Teaford are the two lefties.

Recommended Royals Reading: Royals Review

Fan Confidence Poll: August 15th, 2011

Record Last Week: 3-2 (29 RS, 21 RA)
Season Record:
72-46 (632 RS, 457 RA, 77-41 pythag. record), 0.5 GB in AL East, 8.5 up for wildcard
Opponents This Week:
@ Royals (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Twins (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

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