On July 18th, the Yankees had a 10 game advantage over the Orioles, and it didn’t seem like there was any looking back. After last night’s results, that comfortable lead has been cut in half to 5. Additionally, the Rays have contracted the cushion to 6. Although a lead of this margin is usually fairly comfortable, it doesn’t quite feel that way given the way the Yankees have played. Since July 18th, the Yanks are 6-12, including losing 2 of 3 against the Orioles as the calendar turned from July to August. Finally, the Bombers have also lost 8 consecutive one-run games, which is demoralizing.
So, is it time to panic Yankees’ fans? Are the Orioles really a threat? No, not at all. In fact, it’s amazing the Orioles are actually in the position they’re in today. They’ve been extremely lucky and deserve to be in the bottom third of the league.
Remarkably, the O’s are 22-6 and 12-2 in one run and extra inning games respectively. Last night improved upon that. At first glance, one might think that good teams find ways to win close ballgames. To find out the legitimacy of this theory, I did a quick and dirty test using data from 2009 up until today. I sorted all 30 teams in terms of best winning percentage overall, and then extracted records in one-run games and extra inning games. Next, I divided the thirty teams into the upper third, middle third, and bottom third and calculated record in these tight games for each third. See the graph below:
While the theory that the better teams find ways to win close ballgames looks to be true, the Orioles are far outperforming the average rate for top teams since 2009. It’s highly unlikely that Baltimore keeps winning these types of games over the next 2 months at the same percentage. Additionally, the Yankees are actually due for some improvement in this area. As mentioned, they’ve lost 8 straight one run games (13-17 overall).
One final note, the Orioles are a bottom-third quality team! They have the 9th worst run differential in all of baseball, at -54 runs. Pythagorean win-loss (calculated as runs scored^2/[runs scored^2-runs allowed^2]) uses run differential to get a better idea of what a team’s record should be. When plugging in the Orioles’ 455 runs scored and 509 runs allowed, the end result is a .444 winning percentage and a 49-61 record, instead of the actual 59-51. Still believe in the Orioles? They’re offense is below average with a 89 wRC+, good for 5th worst in baseball. Defensively, they have the second worst UZR only to the Mets and the most errors with 89. Their pitching? Poor, 18th overall in ERA and 7th worst xFIP.
Don’t worry Yankees fans, it’s pretty clear the Orioles will fizzle out. But what about the Rays? At 57-52, they’re just 6 back on the loss side. According to pythagorean win-loss, their record is right on par with their run differential, so they should stick around. Plus, with their pitching (4th best ERA, 3rd best xFIP) they’ll be in good shape. The return of Evan Longoria should boost their awful .301 wOBA and 91 wRC+.
As for Boston, the pythagorean formula indicates they’ve gotten unlucky and should be closer to 59-52, considering that they have the 11th best run differential in baseball. Now, we know they’ve been victimized by injuries all season, and that there could be some tension with Bobby Valentine. I expect them to bring it a little bit closer as they continue to get healthier, but having the 8th worst ERA and 13th worst xFIP will prevent them from being a true threat. Additionally, although we’ve seen some epic collapses in recent years, the Yankees cushion combined with having to hop over two teams is probably too daunting of a task.
With a run differential of +6, the Jays only deserve to be slightly above .500. Having the 5th worst ERA and 6th worst xFIP, plus Jose Bautista still on the DL, they’re probably ticketed to stay where they are.
Finally, what about the Yankees? Based on their run differential of +86, their record of 63-46 actually perfectly agrees with the pythagorean formula. All teams scuffle from time to time throughout a season, and hopefully this is just the worst of it. Rather it happen now than in October. Building up such a large cushion in July allowed the Yankees to go through some lean times over the past few weeks. Compared to all of the other teams in the division, the Yankees are clearly superior not only in terms of run differential, but talent wise as well. The return of A-Rod and Pettitte in September will only help the club’s cause even further.
Stay calm Yankees fans. Nothing to worry about.
Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons