The Yankees are a very lucky team, at least according to Pythagoras. After losing last night’s doubleheader night cap by a 6-0 margin, the Bronx Bombers have now allowed just as many runs as they have scored. Normally, being run neutral is indicative of a .500 team, but, despite recent struggles, the Yankees currently sit seven games over that threshold. Is Joe Girardi’s depleted squad the exception that proves Pythagoras’ rule, or, is the team’s luck about to run out?
Note: Positive differentials indicate a real record above the Pythagorean expectation.
The Yankees’ winning percentage of .549 represents the franchise’s fifth largest positive differential over its Pythagorean-based record and eighth largest regardless of direction. In terms of distribution, only 15% of all team seasons have fallen within the 25 to 50 point interval in which the current campaign resides. However, it’s worth noting that the Yankees have made a habit of exceeding their run differential. In 70 season, or 62% of the time, the Bronx Bombers have bettered their Pythagorean record, so maybe there isn’t a shoe waiting to drop on this year’s team?
Unfortunately for the 2013 team, it doesn’t have any of the characteristics of past successful pinstriped clubs who exceeded their run-based projection over an entire season. What just about every Yankees team that outpaced Pythagoras had in common was an above average offense. Of the 70 clubs who enjoyed a positive record differential, only 11 did so while scoring fewer runs per game than the American League average. The current edition of the Bronx Bombers is scoring at only 89.3% of the A.L. average, the seventh lowest relative rate in franchise history, so barring a miraculous offensive revival, this year’s team will rely heavily on its pitching if it wants to keep bucking the odds.
Another disconcerting precedent is that when the Yankees have managed to outperform expectations with a below average offense, their overall record hasn’t been very good. Only five of the 11 applicable teams finished the year with a winning record, and the highest rate was only .568 in 1996 (the lone season in the sample in which the Yankees made the post season). Although Brian Cashman and Girardi would gladly sign up for that record, it would take a nearly record setting Pythagorean discrepancy in order to achieve it.
Source: baseball-reference.com and proprietary calculations
The Yankees’ tea leaves haven’t been very encouraging of late. Even though the pitching staff has been very good, the team’s offensive statistics, performance, and personnel do not augur well for an exciting summer in the Bronx. Only the Yankees extraordinary track record as well as the residue of aura and mystique provide a basis for optimism. Maybe a trade is on the horizon, or the bevy of injured players will quickly heal, but without some kind of intervention, the Yankees had better hope that luck remains on their side. If Pythagoras has his way, they’re certainly going to need it.