The Yankees have one of the worst run differentials in the major leagues, but still sit atop their division after 30 games. This unique juxtaposition is the result of some good luck and a very mediocre A.L. East. Can the Yankees count on these trends continuing throughout the year, or, will the division turn itself around if the Bronx Bombers are unable to do the same?
The Yankees were a very lucky team in 2013. By exceeding their expected win-loss record by six games, the Bronx Bombers were able to disguise a difficult season in a cloak of respectability. So, maybe they can beat the odds again this year? If so, they’ll have to overcome historical precedent in order to qualify for the playoffs. Since the advent of the wild card in 1995, run differential over the first 30 games of the season has been a pretty good barometer for who plays in October, and teams that have been outscored like the 2014 Yankees usually find themselves watching the postseason at home.
30-Game Run Differential Distribution for Playoff Teams, 1995 to 2013
Since 1995, 156 playoff teams have scored an average of 20 more runs than their opponents in the first 30 games of the season. Of that total, nearly 80% had a positive run differential, and over 90% had a better margin than the Yankees’ current 16-run deficit. What about teams in the same boat as the Bronx Bombers? Since 1995, 39 teams had a negative run differential between 10 and 16, and they combined for a winning percentage of .484 over the entire season. Based on these daunting figures, it appears as if the 2014 Yankees have their work cut out for them.
Playoff Teams That Overcame Run Differential of -16 or Worse in First 30 Games, 1995-2013
Are the Pythagorean tea leaves really that foreboding for the Yankees? Or, are there mitigating factors that could explain away some of the ominous historical precedent? Most obvious is the recent expansion of the post season format, which should theoretically lower the bar for making the playoffs. However, that hasn’t been the case in the American League, where the additional wild card has won 93 and 92 games respectively. Even using 90-games as the cutoff produces similar percentages to post season qualification, so, unless the second wild card wins fewer than that mark, the new system doesn’t provide a reprieve.
30-Game Run Differential Distribution for 90-Win Teams, 1995 to 2013
If there’s one silver lining to the Yankees’ poor run differential, it’s their 16-14 record, which is three games better than the average win-loss of the playoff teams who overcame a negative run differential of at least 16 since 1995. In other words, the 2014 Bronx Bombers have a three game head start over history. As long as they don’t fritter it away, that surplus could make a difference at the end of the season, especially if the rest of the American League East remains mired in mediocrity. Of course, the Yankees don’t have stand pat as the season plays out. If the team’s brass is willing to address it deficiencies, the Bronx Bombers could try to pro-actively reverse the historical precedent, instead of relying on the good fortune of prevailing trends to do their dirty work. After all, it’s almost always better to be good than lucky, and so far, the Yankees have generally been the latter.