Dec 13, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; the New York Yankees introduce new center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury during press conference at Yankees Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Yankees: Better Talent, Same Record

The Yankees will certainly have a more talented team in 2014 than they did in 2013. The acquisitions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts should more than offset the losses of Chris Stewart, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano. A full season of Alfonso Soriano over Ichiro Suzuki is a net positive. A healthy Mark Teixeira would be an upgrade over Lyle Overbay and a healthy Derek Jeter would produce more than Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, et al. The pitching side of things would take a slight hit with the losses of Andy Pettitte, Boone Logan, and Mariano Rivera assuming no further free agent additions beyond Matt Thornton. The Yankees should win more games in 2014 than they did last year.

The 2013 team went 85-77 and missed a playoff spot. However, the true talent of the team was actually only a 79-win team according to their runs scored and allowed. The team scored 650 runs and allowed 671 runs. Bill James‘ Pythagorean Win/Loss Record is calculated as (runs scored^2)/((runs scored^2)+(runs allowed^2)). Plugging in 650 and 671 gives a win percentage of .484. Multiply that by 162 and the Yankees should have won 78.4 games (rounded up to 79 to even out the zero-sum game that is the MLB standings). This calculation strips out peculiar runs scored and allowed distributions (The extreme example being a team that alternates games of scoring 10 runs and 0 runs versus a team that always scores 5 runs) and luck in close games (The Yankees at 30-16 had the best record in the MLB in 1-run games). On paper the 2013 team was bad. In the standings, they were above .500 and okay.

Despite all of the upgrades, the 2014 team might finish with a similar record. projects the Yankees’ pitchers to accrue 18.2 WAR and their batters to accrue 19.0 WAR. An exactly replacement level team would be expected to win 47.7 games. This would make the Yankees a projected 84.9 (47.7+18.2+19.0) win team. They would be expected to win exactly the same amount of games as last year despite a much more talented team. Essentially they would have added around 6 WAR to go from a lucky 2013 85-win team to true talent 2014 85-win team. They would actually finish 4th in the division based on other teams’ projections and miss the playoffs again.

These projections should not be taken as 100% guaranteed. These projections are the median outcome based on past performance, ballpark factors, aging curves, regression, etc. Positive or negative variance at the individual player and on the team level would alter the actual record. Additionally, injuries, mid-season acquisitions, and call-ups change the calculation. However, an 85-win projection seems reasonable and +/- 3 (the average positive or negative “luck” across MLB last year) wins either way wouldn’t change the overall outlook. At this projection the Yankees would miss the playoffs due to the 90+ wins needed to win the loaded AL East and the 90+ wins needed to get either of the wild card spots due to 3 good teams in the AL West and the Royals making a push in the Central.

This exercise highlights the dire need to add more talent. The Yankees are at that sweet spot on the marginal win curve (85ish wins) where each additional win is more valuable due to the playoff implications (both the extra revenue generated during a heated playoff race and the revenue generated from actual playoff games if they were to make it).

This is where a team is justified in slightly overpaying for a player. The low-hanging fruit right now is in the rotation and bullpen as they can more easily upgrade over a David Phelps, Preston Claiborne, or Michael Pineda than they can upgrade over  Johnson or  Roberts. Combine this with the fact that there are better pitching free agents than hitting free agents at this point and the Yankees should really focus on adding arms to complete the off-season.

Adding all of this talent and then finishing with a similar record as last year while missing the playoffs again would be a disappointing outcome for the Yankees. The 6 wins of luck they received in 2013 will not happen again. This is similar to the Orioles, a team that won more games in 2012 but was more talented in 2013. They just received a lot of luck in 1-run games in 2012. Pushing hard for some combination of Masahiro Tanaka, Ubaldo Jimenez, Grant Balfour (if his medicals check out), and Fernando Rodney would put the Yankees into contender territory.

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