Given the choice between being projected to win the AL East by a sizeable margin and being projected to fall short of even their initial goals, it's obvious Yankees fans would choose to be praised.
But that's the rub. Every year, the Yankees build a roster that appeals to objective statistical models. Every year, the Yankees pile up projected WAR like Skittles in a jar. And that's certainly good! Collecting surplus wins should, theoretically, lead to real-life wins. When the Skittles reach the top of the jar, that means it's easier to reach your hand in and eat them.
But every year, the Yankees (and their projections) fail to account for the hard hammer of reality. The inundation of injuries. The WAR wiped away by a new import's inexplicable fears of the New York City spotlight. And, of course, the fact that no projection system can account for postseason wilting, or the repetitive fact that the October offense (and pitching staff) always look different than the one that breezed through July in a smaller and more pressure-packed sample. Thanks for accruing all that August WAR, James Paxton! Could've used you in Houston!
It would feel fantastic to be able to celebrate Baseball Prospectus' new PECOTA projections for 2024, and you'd always rather be well-liked than cast to last place. But too often, the Yankees have either failed to reach their considerable ceiling or sputtered in the postseason after reaching it because of something imperceptible that the data can't crack. Until proven otherwise, it seems safe to butt heads with the model and remind it that reality wins.
Yankees projected by PECOTA to win 94 games and the AL East
I'm not "rolling my eyes," per se. More like "purchasing a protective cup for when the crotch kick arrives."
On a positive note, this objective collection of mathematical formulas is an excellent rebuke to those who have been inexplicably sputtering in recent weeks about how the Yankees "added Juan Soto and NOTHING ELSE," as if Soto is a trifling addition and as if Marcus Stroman, Alex Verdugo, Trent Grisham, Caleb Ferguson and a midseason Jasson Dominguez return don't exist.
But, conversely, the fact that the nerds were wowed by Brian Cashman's incomplete "all-in" offseason will only give those Yankees detractors more ammunition to claim the team still doesn't understand how the game is played on the field over the course of a long season (though at least they remembered to acquire lefties this time).
There's nothing we want more desperately than to be able to counteract those mouth-breathers with cold, hard reality. For now, though, all we have are projections -- and imperfect ones at that.
On the one hand, 2024's reality cannot possibly be as grim as 2023's, when nearly everything that could've gone wrong (injury-wise) did, and the rare things that went right swiftly got injured (Dominguez).
But, on the other, it happened once, something the math already deemed to be unlikely. Why couldn't it happen again (or, at least, a simulacrum of the same thing), after the Yankees chose to bet on nearly all the same injury risks?
Soto could provide the type of outsized impact in balancing the lineup with fervor that renders all pending concerns moot. Soto, by his lonesome, could make the math king. In the meantime, though, it feels rather empty to once again see a Yankees roster showered in praise by the book despite repeated failures in practice to attain the ultimate goal. And any projection system that hates the Orioles this much simply must have a boot stuck in it somewhere along the assembly line -- though at least these modern O's suffered the same bewildering playoff fate as the current Yankees so often do last fall.