Friday, August 8, 2014

How Do the Yankees Look for the Pennant Race?

I know I've written a lot about baseball recently. I love it, and I can't get enough of the pennant race. So sue me. Actually, that's the opposite of the point I'm trying to make.


Today, let's tackle a few interesting questions about a Yankees team that just took three out of four games against the Tigers and their fully-loaded pitching staff.

1. Can the Yankees continue to outplay their run differential?
Many analysts have harped on the Yanks' run differential, which has been negative for much of the season and stood at 23 runs into the red as of Friday morning. The strong back end of the team's bullpen has allowed it to pull out some close games, while the relatively weak middle relief has suffered through a few blowouts.

And while those factors might not fully explain the Yankees' poor run differential, it might not matter the rest of the way. After all, this team looks very different than it did on July 11, when I wrote about how depressing the rest of the season figured to be. At that point, the Yanks had just lost Masahiro Tanaka for the season, putting the starting rotation on life support. But since then, the Yanks added Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano to bolster the staff. Those two guys, as well as rookie Shane Greene (who twirled eight shutout innings on Thursday), have each posted an ERA of less than three since the start of July.

2. Okay, so the pitching looks pretty okay. What about that atrocious hitting?
The Yankees have performed below average at the plate by league- and park-adjusted measures, and the team has consequently been forced to win a bunch of low-scoring contests. Against Detroit this week, the Yankees won by margins of 1-0, 5-1, and 2-1; they also dropped a 4-3 contest in 12 innings. To put it another way, their offense has been about as productive as that of the Astros. Not awesome company.

In addition to adding McCarthy and Capuano, Brian Cashman picked up a few bats before the trading deadline, and each of those hitters has already contributed. Chase Headley has put up a .267/.333/.417 line over 16 games. He's provided 1.1 wins above replacement after taking the spot of the decidedly replacement-level Yangervis Solarte. Stephen Drew and Martin Prado have each been around for just a week, but Drew provided the game-winning double on Thursday and Prado's history suggests that he'll be a productive player the rest of the way.

3. So should I buy playoff tickets? I really want to.
You should probably hold off on that idea for at least a few weeks. The Yankees are battling the Royals, Blue Jays, Mariners, and Indians for the second wild-card slot. Each of those teams is flawed, but it will pretty much be a crapshoot. According to Fangraphs, the Yanks still have just over a 25% chance of making the playoffs. Even if they do, they'll most likely be traveling out west to take on the formidable A's or Angels in a one-game playoff. A lot would have to break right for Yankee Stadium to host a playoff game this year.


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