The Yankees currently sit at 25-24, good enough for first place in what seems to be a mediocre AL East. A 12-5 run in April and a 1-9 skid in May are baked into the present record. At one point the team was going to the World Series and Alex Rodriguez was front-runner for MVP. Then the team looked very mediocre, possibly enough to sell off present value for future. These are the products of a long 162 game schedule. This roller coaster ride makes it difficult to discern the actual quality of the team.
Keith Law likes to talk about how people want random distributions to be uniform. A .300 true talent hitter doesn’t get exactly 3 hits for every 10 additional at-bats. There are “8 for last 10” and “0 for last 10” along the way The same idea applies at the team level. A true talent .500 team doesn’t trade off wins and losses to arrive at 81-81. There are a collection of “8-2 in last 10” and “1-9 in last 10” during the season. Therefore, the best way to value a team is by using projection systems rather than simply actual record or how the team has done over the past week and a half.
The projections are unbiased estimators of a team’s true talent. The projection system at Fangraphs has the Yankees finishing 85-77, first place in the AL East. In fact, the Yankees have had the biggest jump from preseason to now in win percentage projection through Fangraphs in all of baseball. Jeff Sullivan notes that the team is projected at three wins better compared to the preseason edition. The current projection incorporates current actual record with individual player projections and playing time estimates. In the Yankees’ case, the model saw a .500-ish team play .521 ball for 48 games while the rest of the division scuffled. Now they are projected to be three wins better across 162 games than previously expected.
The return of Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova will provide a boost to the rotation and the return of Jacoby Ellsbury will bring back the OBP and speed at the top of the order. Upgrading over Stephen Drew at second base and/or David Carpenter in the bullpen are also options that could improve the team. The roller coaster will go up and down, but when the ride ends, the Yankees have a very good chance of making the playoffs according to the Fangraphs’ projection system, the best way to estimate a team’s outlook at any point during the season.
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