Earlier in the season I wrote a post explaining that the Yankees had put themselves in first place using the same formula that has worked for them since at least 2009: Great hitting, top flight relief pitching and average starting pitching. The comments to the post didn’t fully accept my hypothesis for two reasons. First, the Yankees had just won ten consecutive games, riding mostly on a wave of insane starting pitching. Second, the Bombers were also caught in the throes of a woeful stretch of hitting futility when runners were in scoring position. How, the counter argument went, could I say that the Yankees had great hitting and mediocre pitching when they couldn’t score runs and had just won a bunch of games because of strong starts? My answer was that the pitching was reverting to the mean, after a miserable start to the season, while the team’s high wOBA suggested that the hits with runners in scoring position would come. At the time it was (maybe) a little early in the season to put forth arguments about how the Yankees were winning. Now that we’re past the halfway point we can revisit this. (All stats exclude Sunday’s results.)
After 88 games the Yankees have an eight game strangle hold on first place in the AL East and with a .614 winning percentage they hold the best record in baseball. According to Fangraphs, the Yankee position players are the fourth best in baseball, having generated 16.9 fWAR. Only the Rangers are better in the AL. But that doesn’t tell the whole story because Fangraphs rates the Yankee defense negatively. In terms of wOBA, which is to say pure offense, the team is the best in baseball. The Yankee offense has put up a .345 wOBA, the best in the game, and a bit better than the .338 Derek Jeter has put up this season. One through nine, the Yankee offense hits just a little bit better than the Captain.
In terms of relief pitching, the Yankees are once again stellar, something that has become a true mainstay in the Joe Girardi era. With an fWAR of 3.8, the Yankees have the second best bullpen in baseball (once again trailing those pesky Rangers). They’ve managed that success by having the best FIP in all of baseball, at 3.33.
So far there are no surprises. As mentioned above, the Yankees have had great success putting up monster offenses and bullpens the past few seasons. And there won’t be any surprises in this post because the starters rank eighth in baseball in terms of fWAR, with an 8.5. Those results are far from bad, but they aren’t as elite as the hitting and the relief work. The Yankee starters rank right above the Dodgers and Mets and just behind the Marlins and White Sox. Only Chicago is a first place team.
The net sum of all this has been 431 runs scored and 365 runs allowed, including Sunday’s game. That translates into 4.9 runs scored per game and 4.1 runs allowed per game. This team isn’t quite putting up runs at the same pace as some of the other recent Yankee teams, but they’re scoring faster than they did earlier in the year, and have a knack for winning close ball games. As a result, the team is punching a bit above its weight, with a Pythagorean W-L projection of 50-37 (excluding Sunday). It is worth noting, that even if the Yankees were playing to their projected record they would still be in first.
Now that we can make more informed decisions about the Yankees’ performance it is clear that they are winning the Yankee way: Heavy hitting, lights out relief, and starting pitching that keeps the team in the game. The only difference between this and earlier seasons is that the Yankees still aren’t quite scoring as many runs as they have in the past, but I predict that will change by season’s end. If the Yankees continue at their current pace, with a .345 wOBA, the team will find itself scoring more than five runs a game and outscoring their opponents by more than a run a game by season’s end.
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