Friday, August 16, 2013

Yankees at the Three-Quarter Mark: What Will it Take? (August 16, 2013)

Yankee fans are a peculiar mixture of realists and dreamers, attributes often occupying the same mind.  We boo, we rage, we stare at the standings and admit to no hope. And yet, we still watch.…we still cheer….and a few of us….calculate…

What will it take to sneak into a wild card slot?  What do the Yanks need to do – statistically -- in these final 42 games to defy the incredible odds (6% according to and live to see the postseason?

Recapping the Yanks as They Headed into the Second Half of the Season

At the midway mark, I said it would take a mixture of quality help (the return of “The Cavalry,” the injured stars expected to return by roughly August 1) and luck (continuing to win more games than their stats would indicate they “deserved”) to get to 87 wins, which I thought then might be enough for a wild card spot.  (See:  Analytically, I broke it down as follows:

Scenario 1:  Base Case…if the Yanks…

·        Continued to hit at their abysmal May/June OPS of .643
·        Continued to pitch to their reasonably good first half ERA of 3.87
·        Had none of the “Cavalry” (Jeter, A. Rod, Granderson and Cervelli) actually come back
·        Stopped winning more games than they “should” given their stats (“smoke and mirrors”), most likely due to their excellent 26-18 won-lost record in close games (1- or 2-run margin games)

In this scenario, they would end up with only 77 wins.

Scenario 2:  Smoke and Mirrors …same as Scenario 1, except they continued to win more games than they “deserved,” which would give them 5 extra wins, or 82 wins.

Scenario 3:  Smoke and Mirrors plus the Cavalry Returns…same as Scenario 2, except the “Cavalry” returns on August 1, and achieves a .744 OPS versus the .593 OPS of their replacements, they would get 5 more wins, or 87 wins.

And Now at the Three Quarter Mark, 120 Games

So far, through the first 39 games of the second half (from games 82-120), the performance has been pretty much as expected, per the chart below.   The pitchers have been a little bit better than expected (3.77 ERA versus 3.87, their first half ERA).  The hitters on balance have been virtually right on, with a .677 OPS versus my expectation for .683). 

The “Core Hitters” (Cano, Overbay, Gardner, Suzuki and Stewart) have slumped, but the "Cavalry" (substituting Soriano for Cervelli) has been superb, well ahead of expectations.  The “Replacement” players did slightly better than their terrible first half pace.

And the Yanks continue to “outperform” their stats, winning 20 games instead of the 18 that their .677 OPS/3.77 ERA says they should have won (per my regression equation).  Thus “smoke and mirrors” was worth 2 games, probably due to the fact that they continue to win more close games than they lose.

Games 82-120
Games 82-120

Core Hitters OPS
Replacements OPS
Cavalry OPS
Expected Wins
Actual Wins

Diff:  "Smoke/Mirrors"


If the Yankees continue to meet my expectations, then they are on pace for 86 wins.  This is a slight reduction from the 87 wins I previously projected because the “Smoke and Mirrors” effect has diminished a bit.  The "Cavalry” is doing better but the “base wins” from the Core and Replacement players (how many wins they would have if the Cavalry had never returned) are a bit off.

2nd Half
2nd Half

Ist Half

At Midseason
Base Wins
Smoke & Mirrors
Full Year

What Does it Take From Here?

What has to happen for the Yanks to sneak into the second wild card?

The problem is it will take more than 87 wins now.  Tampa Bay, Detroit and Kansas City got hot in the second half, and right now, the Bucs and Oakland are in a virtual tie for the two wild card slots with a winning percentage of about .570 each, which projects to 92 wins.  So, let’s say the Yanks need 92 wins to get there, which means they have to go 30-12 in their last 42 games. 

That’s a very tall order, as we all know.  What sort of OPS and ERA do they need to get there?

I can get the Yanks as far as 91 wins, but it’s a stretch.  Importantly, it’s not a huge stretch, but one nonetheless:

·        Most of the team (Gardner, Suzuki, Overbay, Stewart, Nunez, Nix, Wells and Romine) simply  has to do continue their OPS at the same level they’ve achieved thus far.  And for the pitchers, the same “keep up the good work” requirement holds (on ERA) for Kuroda, Nova, Mariano and the rest of the relievers.  None of this is implausible; only Kuroda and Nova are having exceptional years by career standards.

·        The Cavalry needs to keep overperforming…Granderson needs to maintain his .862 OPS (perhaps a stretch); Soriano has to bump up his current .785 OPS (including his Cub data) from .785 to .821 (his 2012 mark); and A. Rod has to jump a bit from .767 to .800.  Jeter has to return and achieve a .700 OPS in the final six weeks (Jeter has never been that low, even in 2010 when he hit .710).

·        And most of all, C.C., Pettitte and Hughes have to improve significantly…I figure it is reasonable for CC and Pettitte to hit a 3.50 ERA for the final quarter of the season, and Hughes to get to 4.50.  CC has a 3.40 over his last two starts, Hughes hit his 4.50 in his last start and Andy….well, Andy simply has to do better.

·        They need to stay healthy.  All of these guys need to play!

Believe it or not, if the Yanks check each box – IF those three underperforming starters turn into their former selves, IF the Cavalry performs to recent career standards, IF everyone else keeps on trucking and IF no one gets hurt – the Yanks have a shot.  They will have a team OPS for those last 42 games of .762, and a team ERA of 3.20, and that translates (using my regression equation) into a .641 won-loss percentage, or 27 wins over the last 42 games.  Add in 2 more wins for “smoke and mirrors) and the 62 they have already won, and that adds up to 91 wins…will it be enough for a wild card?

Or…the Yanks just took two out of three from Detroit and three out of four from the Angels…just keep winning each of the last 14 series and they achieve the same outcome. 

We’ll be back in October to see how we did!

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