Run Differential isn’t the whole package in evaluating early-season standouts like the Yankees, Mets and Angels. After all, one beatdown series against the likes of the Kansas City Royals can arbitrarily inflate your numbers by 10-12 runs.
Then again … that’s exactly the type of evaluation analysts are hoping to get, in an effort to go beyond a team’s record. How often are your exceptional pitching and solid offense lining up to produce wide margins of victory? When you beat bad teams, just how badly do you beat them? Are you undisputedly better than your competition, good enough to run up the score?
Can a team get unlucky and miss the playoffs with a sterling run differential? Sure. The 2021 Toronto Blue Jays came equipped with a +183 mark, placing them a clear fifth in the league behind the four squads who were the “stories” of the season in the Dodgers, Astros, Giants and Rays.
And yet … no playoffs! Pythagorean projections claim they should’ve finished 99-63 instead of the 91-71 record that left them cold and out of the October mix. The 2021 “Fun Differential” Mariners also finished just out of the postseason despite a run differential (-51) that should’ve left them at an estimated 76-86. Hey, perhaps that explains their cold start to 2022! Perhaps metrics actually say stuff!
Judging the 2022 Yankees based on their quality of opponents thus far has been an exhausting exercise undertaken by the league’s worst trolls (the Guardians were good before the Yankees beat them, and are good again!).
At least we can glean something from the schedule, though. With an opportunity to pile up their run differential against some relatively low-stakes competition, the Yankees have somehow blitzed the rest of the pack, even as it’s felt like they’ve struggled to score.
Yankees’ run differential (now +60) laps 2022 AL East
The pitching has been spectacular. The defense has been airtight. The offense? Rarely there. And yet, through 29 games, the Bombers possess the run differential of a genuinely excellent team.
Currently, they rank second behind the Dodgers (an absurd +76), and have left their fellow AL East contenders in the dust. Tampa Bay’s -3 seems in line with an 19-13 team that may have gotten lucky in a game or two, but what on earth happened to Toronto’s negative mark, which places them on par with the Orioles and Red Sox? Even with some stunning Kevin Gausman starts baked in, the Jays still haven’t managed to get off the schneid in April and early May and blow teams out the way they were expected to.
While MLB has yet to change their postseason format enough to give automatic admission to every team with a positive run differential, it’s still a fairly solid indicator of success and clear signal the Yankees are doing the job required of them to contend all year long.
Even if it feels like the offense is somewhat stuck in the mud, they’ve driven a significant wedge between themselves and their competition. If this consistency continues, the gap will only widen.