Are the Yankees this year’s version of the 2012 Orioles?
With the lack of big moves in the off-season and the mountain of injured players the Yankees have endured, not many expected them to get off to a good start. Well not only has it been a good start, the Yanks are now in 1st Place in the AL East with a 20-13 record, just a half-game behind Texas for best record in the American League. Every year there is a surprise team that defies the numbers and conventional wisdom by winning games. Last year it was the Baltimore Orioles who won 93 games and a Wild Card spot in the playoffs despite a bunch of peripheral statistics that said they should have been about a .500 team. So far in the early going there are a lot of parallels to the 2012 Os and the 2013 Yanks.
Baltimore only had a 712-705 run differential which according to the respected Pythagorean W-L stat developed by Bill James should have equaled a 82-80 record. But the O’s were able to defy the odds thanks to an incredible 29-9 record in 1-run games and an unheard of 16-2 mark in extra inning games. While there was a tremendous amount of luck involved in the Orioles success last year, they also have to be commended for finding ways to win all of those close games. Baltimore was middle of the pack in most categories but the one area that excelled for them was their bullpen. Their pen led the AL with 55 saves and was 3rd with a 3.00 ERA.
This year’s Yankees have a 139-128 Run differential which would equal a 18-15 Pythagorean W-L record so their 20-13 record is not such an anomaly. But, the manner in which they have been winning is what is similar to Buck’s 2012 team. The Yanks are a MLB-best 6-1 in 1-run games and 12-4 in games decided by 2 runs or less. None of their team stats jump out as a possible reason why they have been able to win so many close games. Their bullpen ERA is 10th in the AL at 3.82 but the back-end of their pen, namely David Robertson and the great Mariano Rivera have been superb. Robertson has done his job in 13 of 14 appearances while Mo is a perfect 13 of 13 in Save opportunities and the team is 15-0 when the Sandman makes an appearance.
While Mariano is a huge part of the close wins, it is truly a team effort. The team offense has been mediocre, averaging just 4.2 runs per game (10th in AL) but they have been scratching out runs when they need them in a variety of ways. This is a huge difference from previous seasons when the Yanks have perennially been in the top 1 or 2 teams in scoring. With all of the injuries and the anemic lineup vs LHP (.217/.287/.340/.627), the team has relied on strong pitching (5th in AL 3.68 ERA) and some timely runs. They haven’t exactly come through a lot with runners in scoring position or anything but they have done the little things well to get just what they need to win….moving runners, stealing bases, capitalizing on their opponent’s errors, beating out an infield single to score a winning run, etc.
One thing the Yankees have done incredibly well this year is winning games when they have the lead. Once they get ahead, they stay ahead. They have lost only one game all year that they have led in. They are 11-0 when leading after the 3rd inning and 15-0 when leading after the 6th. That is a testament to their excellent pitching, especially the back-end of the pen. While the perfect record isn’t sustainable, having a strong back-end of the pen is so the Yankees will continue to win when they are ahead as long as DRob and Mo remain healthy. Joba and Logan and most recently Preston Claiborne have all pitched well out of the pen.
But can the Yankees remain in 1st Place without starting to score more runs? It’s doubtful. While Baltimore showed a team can win 93 games and make the playoffs without scoring much more than your opponent, it certainly isn’t likely to repeat itself. The Yankees need to find ways to score more to continue winning. Some help is on the way with the soon return of Eduardo Nunez and Curtis Granderson but the rest of the injured starters are a long ways off. The Yanks will need to try to improve their offense against LHP either through minor-lg callups (David Adams, Ronnier Mustelier) or via trades. I don’t think any trades are likely at this point unless they get some bad news on the injury rehab front. Youkilis, Teixeira, Jeter, ARod and even Cervelli are all strong RH bats who have clobbered LHP in recent yrs so getting any or all of those players back from injury will be better than any trade they can make.
The starting pitching has been good and right now all of the starters are pitching well with the exception of Andy Pettitte who has had back to back poor starts. I expect Andy to get it together and the rotation to continue to give this team opportunities to win. While the offense is clearly not as good as in past years, there is a certain level of satisfaction to see the team winning these types of games. They just took 2 of 3 in Colorado despite scoring just 6 runs in the entire series and their last 7 games have all been decided by 2 runs or less. Getting Grandy and Nunez back and calling up one or both of Adams & Musty would infuse some much-needed offense into the team. Getting Hafner’s bat back into the lineup with the DH is also a big plus. I see no reason to believe the Yankees can’t remain in striking distance of 1st place until the All-Star Break when they should begin to get most of their bats back.
Can the Yanks keep winning all of these 1 and 2-run games or is it a fluke? Do they need to make a trade to improve the offense or can they hold out until injuries heal? Give your opinion in the comments.