There’s no need for a post mortem on the 2013 Yankees because the team’s ails were easily diagnosable before and throughout the season. Although there was some deviation from the early prognosis, the Bronx Bombers really had little chance to survive the debilitating impact of pre-season injuries and off season cost cutting that left the team in such critical condition. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t skip the autopsy? It’s too late to save the 2013 season, but with the franchise seemingly poised to continue on a destructive path, a closer examination might be the only thing preventing next year’s team from suffering a similar fate.
The Yankees may have relied on smoke and mirrors all season, but it’s time to clear the air. Just because the Yankees weren’t officially eliminated from the wild card race until late September doesn’t mean they were a viable contender. Instead of marveling at the team’s ability to remain on the fringe of the wild card, the focus in September should have been on its complete capitulation within the division. Similarly, the Yankees’ 85 wins might imply respectability for most teams, but not the pinstripes, who have had a higher winning percentage in nearly 75% of their 113 seasons. Admittedly, that’s mostly a testament to the greatness of the franchise’s past, but such has always been the standard in the Bronx. Unless the Yankees are prepared to abandon that mandate, a comparison to the franchise legacy is more relevant than the number of games the team finishes behind the second wild card.
There’s no way to hide the disappointment of the Yankees’ 2013 season, especially when you consider the team was lucky to win so many games. With a negative run differential of 21, the 15th worst in franchise history, the club’s expected winning percentage was only .487. In other words, the Yankees, who had the league’s best record in one run contests, exceeded their expected (Pythagorean) winning percentage by six games. Although the 2013 Yankees may have been better off being more lucky than good, such a formula doesn’t bode well for the future.
Yankees’ Historical Actual vs. Expected Winning Percentage, 1901-2013
Note: Positive differentials indicate a real record above the Pythagorean expectation.
Yankees’ Historical Run Differential/Game, 1901-2013
Heading down the stretch, the Yankees bullpen and rotation faltered, but for most of the season, the pitching staff was the team’s strength. With a final ERA+ of 103, Yankee pitchers may not have been spectacular, but they certainly didn’t embarrass themselves. The same can not be said for the offense. The Bronx Bombers’ anemic OPS+ of 87 was the eighth lowest in franchise history, while the lineup’s per game run output was its lowest since 1990, and, on a relative basis to the American League, represented the ninth largest deficit in team history. By just about every measure, the 2013 Yankees offense rated among the franchise’s worst.
Yankees Historical Offensive Rates, 1901-2013
Source: baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com and proprietary calculations
The Yankees’ historic offensive decline was the result of a power outage. Only one year removed from setting the franchise record with 245 homers, the Bronx Bombers recorded their lowest season total since 1989. The final tally of 144 long balls also represented the franchise’s fourth lowest contribution to the American League total, and made the 2013 Yankees the only team to experience a year-over-year, triple-digit home run decline in a non-strike shortened season. Considering the organization made a conscious decision to pull the plug on its power during the winter, it is little surprise that the offense proved to be dead on arrival.
Yankees’ Historical HR Total vs. American League, 1901 to 2013
Yankees’ Historical HR Differential, 1901 to 2013
The 2013 Yankees amounted to much more than the sum of their parts. Joe Girardi and his players should be commended for that. However, the front office doesn’t deserve similar praise. On the contrary, decisions which placed profit over production contributed to a woefully thin roster incapable of sustaining itself amid a series of preexisting and somewhat predictable injuries. Hopefully, that’s the lesson learned by the team’s decision makers. With a re-commitment to winning (and spending the money it makes hand over fist), the Yankees will have every opportunity to rebuild their depleted roster and re-establish themselves as legitimate World Series contenders. Otherwise, the Yankees luck will probably run out in 2014, and the franchise will reach the depths in the standings it somehow managed to avoid this season.