2013 Yankees: Perception vs. Reality

Hal Steinbrenner

There’s no denying that the Yankees were dealt a myriad of blows resulting in just their second missed playoff appearance in the Wild-Card era. Many players were either hurt for a significant portion of the season or regressed significantly. This list includes, but is not limited to: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and CC Sabathia. Guys who were the biggest contributors years before fell significantly short of past production. Plus, the replacements for the walking wounded and those who departed in the offseason (Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, etc.) were simply inadequate (Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells, etc.). Had we known all this prior to 2013’s commencement, we would have never thought the Yankees would win 85 games, let alone be within striking distance of a playoff berth late into the season. Yet, the Yankees were extremely fortunate not to be out of the race far sooner. Worst of all, it may provide false hope for ownership’s $189M plan.

On the forefront, it appears as if the Yankees were extremely unlucky this year given the multitude of issues illustrated in the previous paragraph. It’s easy to ponder the “what ifs” (ownership’s pitfall?). Yet, upper management is lucky that the club’s construction didn’t blow up in its face on a grander scale. According to WAR and Pythagorean Record, the Yankees may have won five or six more games than they should have. So, while we’re all disappointed in an 85 win, non-playoff team, imagine how frustrating a 79 or 80 win team would have been. Much of September, and perhaps even part of  August, wouldn’t have been worth watching.

Fangraphs’ version of WAR pegs the Yankees at 28.9 wins-above-replacement, which if added to a replacement level (roughly 50 wins), equals 79. Baseball-Reference’s version is slightly more favorable, at 30.3, an 80-win club. Based on run differential, pythagorean record expected the Yankees to have 79 wins. These metrics are all in consensus that the Yankees were mediocre at best.

So, why should we care that the Yankees probably won a few more games than statistically expected? While falling short of the playoffs is never a good outcome for an organization like the Yankees, an under .500 season may have placed a greater spotlight on the near-sightedness of the $189M plan. In particular, it may have shed light on how the plan resulted in a terrible offseason:

It’s not easy to figure out just how much blame Brian Cashman deserves, if any. He may have failed to have proper safety nets in place, but then again, how much did ownership hold him back? Moreover, a lot of responsibility weighs on amateur scouting and minor league development for not having any chips on the forefront of the farm system in recent years. There was only so much Joe Girardi had at his disposal this season, making it his best work despite the perfect storm of organizational deficiences.

It’s certainly speculation, but perhaps the Steinbrenners would have scrapped the $189M plan if this team won 79 or 80 games. Instead, they saw a 2013 team that “contended” despite all of the problem areas. Given all the circumstances, this club’s true talent level was that of a 79 or 80 win team. Unfortunately, Hal and co. may think otherwise, believing it could have won 90 or more without all of the injuries. Hopefully, they’re smarter than that. But given the hastily orchestrated $189M plan, my confidence in the organization’s direction is at an all-time low.

Photo by edogisgod (Hal Steinbrenner) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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