What a difference a week makes! It seems like only yesterday when the Yankees were barely above .500 and people were wondering if the Orioles’ surge was legitimate. Now, the Yankees have won eight of their last ten and sit just a half game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL East.
One point that was raised frequently when the Bombers weren’t playing well is they weren’t playing as poorly as it seemed. Commentators frequently mentioned as evidence of this that the 2011 Yankees, a team that went on to win 97 games, had a similar record after the first third of the season to this year’s team. We all know that the 2011 Yankees were good (in the regular season). Is it fair to compare them to this season’s vintage?
In terms of the win-loss record, the 2012 team is actually a bit better than last year’s regular season AL champs. Through 59 games in 2011 the Yankees were 33-26. The 2012 team is currently 34-25, a full game better than last year’s team. That is encouraging, and provides additional evidence that you can’t read too much into a third of a baseball season. The Yankees have a lot of games to go and it really didn’t look like the 2011 team was going to finish in first until the dog days of August.
Digging a bit deeper, however, the numbers do not suggest that this year’s team will wind up winning almost 100 games, at least not at their current pace. Instead, the numbers show that the 2011 squad underachieved.
Thus far the Yankees have scored 281 runs and allowed 241 runs to score. Their 40 run differential suggests they’re playing precisely as they should. Excluding the results of Sunday’s game, the Pythagorean suggests their record should be 33-25, which is exactly where it was entering the game.
In terms of per game averages, however, this team is a step behind some of the other Yankee teams we’ve seen the last few years. The Bombers are averaging 4.76 runs per game and allowing 4.08 runs per game. The 2011 team scored 5.35 runs per game and allowed 4.05 runs. On a per game basis, the Yankees have gone from out scoring their opponents by more than a run to outscoring them by under a full run. That’s a significant drop off. Putting things into perspective, the 2008 Yankees were the last team the Bombers put on the field to average fewer than five runs per game. We all know how that ended.
To make this comparison more accurate it is important to compare the performance of the 2011 team to the 2012 team after the 2011 team had played only 59 games. Unfortunately, last year’s team wins that battle as well. After 59 games the 2011 squad had scored 298 runs, an average of 5.05 per game. It had allowed 239 runs, or 4.05 per game. Even after just more than a third of the season the 2011 team was scoring runs at a faster clip than this year’s team. (It is fodder for a different post, but it should come as no surprise that a team that has struggled with runners in scoring position as much as this year’s Yankee team is scoring fewer runs than it has in the past.)
While it is technically correct to point out that this year’s Yankee team has a similar record after about a third of the season to the 2011 Yankee team, it is unwise to suggest that this year’s team is playing as well as last year’s team. The truth is that the 2011 Yankees were under achievers, and not just in terms of losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Tigers. In terms of run differential, that Yankee team should have won 101 games, four more than the 97 they won. After 59 games their run differential suggested that they should have fared better than just 33 wins. The 2011 Yankees inexplicably won games at a slower pace than they produced runs (due to a lot of blow outs). Any team that scores that much will eventually pull away, which is precisely what happened.
This year’s Yankee squad is certainly playing better, but with a .576 win percentage the team is on pace to win only 93 games. That’s a great outcome, but it’s a far cry from 97 wins. Furthermore, it isn’t fair to compare this team to the 2011 team. The 2011 team was much better at scoring runs. The only reason the comparison has any teeth at all is because the 2011 Yankees under achieved more than people realized.
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