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Monday, July 1, 2013

Yankees Midseason Report: Do You Believe in Magic? (July 1, 2013)

The Yankees have been taking a memorable walk on the poor side of town, getting a taste of how life feels operating with a payroll of roughly $100 million (the Yanks are missing roughly half of their $200+ million in salary commitments).  It has been magical, watching the club scratch and claw its way into contention on the backs of untested rookies, scrap heap veterans, and the few blue chip talents the club has that have gone unscathed.

But that sound you just heard was that of the glass slipper shattering.  It’s been fun, but the Yanks are crashing back to the .500 mark that their statistics say they deserve (if that).

Let’s break down how the Yanks are doing versus my expectations, which were for a 90-win season.  And then let’s speculate on what could happen the rest of the year, if, say, “The Cavalry” (Jeter, A. Rod, Cervelli and Granderson) all return by August 1st.

Smoke and Mirrors:  Doing Better Than Their Stats Would Indicate

Though the Yanks are not much above .500, at 42 wins they are still outperforming their statistics pretty handily.  They have a dreadful team OPS of .682 (13th in the league, barely ahead of Chicago and Houston) but good pitching with a team ERA of 3.87, 5th in the league.  Using my regression equation, those OPS and ERA figures should translate to only 37 wins thus far.  Bill James’ Pythagorean Formula, based on runs scored versus runs allowed, yields a similar result, 38 expected wins.

So with 42 wins they have five more wins than they should.  And that is because they continue to win close games at an unnatural rate.  I call this the “Smoke and Mirrors” effect because there is no empirical reason why it is has happened, should happen  – or should continue.  It is simply difficult for a team to outpace their statistics over the course of a full season.


Won
Lost
1 or 2 run margin games
26
16
3+ run margin games
16
23

Eight Wins Behind My Prediction:  The Subs Are Playing More and Doing Worse

My preseason projection (http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2013/03/yankees-2013-prediction-is-it-1965-i_31.html) indicated the Yanks would have 45 wins at this point, and they have 42….not far off.  But as I just said, they actually should have only 37 given their Team OPS and ERA…so really they are off 8 my projection.  Why so far off?

This is not so hard, of course.  It’s the hitting.  All 8 wins off are attributed to the hitting.

The pitching has been as predicted; in fact, their 3.86 ERA is almost exactly where I predicted (3.87).  But I actually am off on the components thus far:  the starters are doing worse than I expected (4.11 versus 3.84) but the relievers have been far better (3.37 versus 3.92).  The relievers who made the opening day roster are performing very close to expectations:  3.43 versus 3.34.   And the emergency call-ups, led by Preston Claiborne and Vidal Nuno, have performed superbly, which is often not the outcomes (see:  Brett Marshall). 

So of course it is the hitting, and it is a double whammy.  Of course I knew going into the year the Jeter, A. Rod, Granderson and Teixeira would miss months of the season…but they’ve missed even more time than that, and Youkilis and Cervelli have joined them on the extended DL.  So the subs are playing far more than expected….but the second part of the whammy is that those subs are also doing much worse than I expected.


PLAN
PLAN
PLAN

ACTUAL
ACTUAL
ACTUAL

OPS
Plate apps.
P.A. %

OPS
Plate apps.
P.A. %
Starters
0.777
5050
81%

0.765
1485
50%
Subs
0.684
1175
19%

0.605
1502
50%
TOTAL
0.757
6250
100%

0.682
2998
100%
  
You can see that the starters (who I defined as Cervelli, Tex, Cano, Jeter, A Rod & Yuke, Gardner, Granderson, Ichiro and Hafner) have hit about as expected (.765 OPS versus plan of .777) but only have about 50% of the team’s total at bats versus the 80% I expected.  Further, the subs have an OPS of only .605 versus my expectation of .684.

Let’s break the subs down further.  The Yanks started the season with a bunch of experienced backups who were expected to hold the fort until the Cavalry returned (Wells, Overbay, Stewart, Nix, Nunez, Francisco and Boesch).  And then they signed or called up a bunch of other players when those missed games piled up.  In general, both groups have underperformed badly.


PLAN
PLAN
PLAN

ACTUAL
ACTUAL
ACTUAL
Among Subs:
OPS
Plate apps.
P.A. %

OPS
Plate apps.
P.A. %
Expected Subs
0.686
1025
16%

0.641
1165
39%
Call Ups
0.667
150
3%

0.478
337
11%
TOTAL
0.684
1175
19%

0.682
2998
50%
  
You can see the veteran group that was on the roster on Opening Day have achieved an OPS of only .641 versus the expectation of .686, while chewing up 39% of total plate appearances versus a plan of 16%.  Only Overbay, Stewart and Boesch performed well; Nix, Nunez and Wells have been overstretched at best, abysmal (Ben Francisco) at worse.  

But the call-ups and retreads have been even...well, what can be worse than "abysmal?"  They have been forced to make 11% of the team’s overall plate appearance and have a disastrous OPS of .478.  David Adams, Austin Romine, Reid Brignac, Chris Nelson, Thomas Neal, Corban Joseph and Alberto Gonzalez have proven they are simply not up for major league pitching; among this group, only Zoilo Almonte has acquitted himself well.

So the stop gaps, young and old, have simply been a disaster.  They are sturdy gloves perhaps, good clubhouse types, no doubt, but starting major leaguers – for the New York Yankees at that – they are not.

SECOND HALF OUTLOOK

How many wins will the Yankees have by the end of the season?  That depends on two questions:  1) will the Yanks continue to benefit from Smoke and Mirrors?, and 2) can “The Cavalry” help them?

Here is my conclusion:

  • If Smoke and Mirrors vacate the premises, the Yanks will end up with 77 wins.
  • If Smoke and Mirrors continue, that’s worth 5 more wins, up to 82.
  • And if the Cavalry does indeed ride in, that could give a pop of 5 wins, to 87.

Let me put these scenarios in a chart and then explain each one.


Smoke &

Full 
Full 
First
Second


Mirrors
Cavalry
Year 
Year 
Half
Half
Total

Continue
Comes
OPS
ERA
Wins
Wins
Wins
1) Continue OPS of May/June
No
No
0.665
3.87
42
35
77
2) Continue OPS of May/June plus SM
Yes
No
0.665
3.87
42
40
82
3) Continue OPS of May/June plus SM&C
Yes
Yes
0.709
3.87
42
45
87

In each scenario I assume that the pitching continues along at the same level of effectiveness (that 3.87 ERA).  This seems reasonable given that the Yanks pitching is on track with my projection, and even as Andy Pettitte seems to be fading, everyone else seems pretty solid and there is depth with Nova and Pineda knocking at the door of the rotation.

In Scenarios 1 and 2, I assume that the relative hitting spree the Yanks experienced in April was an aberration, and the May/June OPS of .644 is thus a better predictor of their future performance than the full first half OPS of .681.  So I used the .644 OPS for the balance of the year, resulting in a full year OPS of .665.

So:

Scenario 1:  No More Smoke and Mirrors:  The Yanks continue their solid first half pitching and their May/June hitting, but their “Smoke and Mirrors” luck runs out and they win only the 35 games my model says they deserve, to end up with only 77 wins.

Scenario 2:  Smoke and Mirrors Continues: Same as Scenario 1, except their Smoke and Mirrors performance in close games continues, thus adding the same five wins they received in second half that they did in the first, bringing them to 82 wins.

Scenario 3Here Comes the Cavalry:  Same as Scenario 2, but here the Yanks get some help from the first team.  I made the simplifying assumption that each of Jeter, A.Rod, Granderson and Cervelli make it back by August 1st, giving them 55 games as starters.  I assumed each would be reasonably productive though not insanely so:  Jeter at an OPS of .700, A. Rod at .750, Granderson at .775 and Cervelli at .700.  I’m assuming their plate appearances will match what their replacements have been doing; yes, they might bat higher in the lineup and get more at bats, but they will also rest more.  When you do the math, this equates to the Cavalry providing a collective .733 OPS, which is quite an upgrade versus the .600 OPS their replacements have been offering.

Over 55 games, such an upgrade makes a difference.  Assuming Cano, Gardner, Overbay and Ichiro do about the same as they have, the team OPS for those last 55 games will rise to. 744, and lift team OPS for the full year to .708. That improvement, when plugged into my model, results in five more wins over those 55 games.

So, despite the dreadful five game losing streak that seemed to mark the end of the dream, the Yanks, with 87 wins, have an outside chance for a wild card slot.  But they need: 1) to keep winning an absurd number of one- and two-run margin games (“Smoke and Mirrors”); 2) for the Cavalry to return and achieve a collective .733 OPS; and 3)  for the pitching to hold up and the non-injured starters to continue their production.

It’s not out of the question.  But….do you believe in magic?

(P.S.  The nice thing is that all of this is measurable, so we can come back in late September and see how we did, after they play all 162.)

3 comments:

  1. How does your model account for the other-worldly caliber of competition in the A.L. East? If the season ended today, I have to assume that it would be the first time that every single team in a division finished at .500 or above. Surely such a strangely skewed competitive set makes the 42 wins even more remarkable... and must have an impact on your prediction going forward, yes?

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  2. You really make a terrific point, and, no, I have no "strength of schedule" variable factored into this analysis. I will figure out how the Yanks schedule stacks up in the second half versus the other wild-card contenders. One thing I do know...the Red Sox have not made a West Coast swing yet, and the A's are tough, the Angels are on the rise, and the Mariners have King Felix and Iwakuma. Not easy!

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    Replies
    1. I finally looked into the strength of schedule for the contending teams in the AL. At this juncture eight teams are in the mix for the five playoff spots: Boston, NY, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland and Texas. (Of course almost anyone could play their way into contention, especially Toronto and the LA Angels who have both been on the upswing.) Anonymous' central point is correct...the Yankees and the AL East teams in general have tougher schedules than the others, in large part because they play each other so often, as follows: Baltimore has the toughest, with their second half opponents having a mideason won-loss percentage of (.516), followed by the Yankees (.509), the Red Sox (.504), Tampa Bay (.497), Oakland (.495), Texas (.487), Detroit (.474) and Cleveland (.473). I also discovered the amazing anomaly that the Tigers have yet not played the lowly White Sox, which means they play them 19 times from here on in, more than one-quarter of their remaining 75 games! I still think the Tigers will crack 100 wins, and that schedule will surely help!

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