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July 22, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Why The Yankees Will Win The Pennant

(I hope)

In which Larry tries too hard to break out of his writer's block...

Here at the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, we--and by we, I mean myself and the voices in my head--tend to analyze the Yankees from the negative rather than the positive. I see what's wrong with the team before I see what's right with them, and while I take victory in stride, the defeats often result in a powerful emotional reaction. I don't really break furniture--that's just a reference to Billy Beane in Moneyball--but I did throw my coffee table after the Yankees lost Game 3 last year. Damn, that's just not healthy.

This team is, after all, in first place, 2½ games ahead of the Red Sox, 5 games ahead of the A's for the Wild Card, and they have an easier schedule than either of those teams, especially Oakland. It is very likely that the Yankees will make the playoffs this season. That, of course, is pretty routine by now, they've done it for eight consecutive seasons. Making the playoffs is old hat in the Bronx, what we really view as a successful season is one that ends with us getting a big shiny trophy. Today, I'm going to tell you why we will be playing for that trophy in October. Maybe.

(And by we, I mean the Yankees and the voices in my head)

It's time to look at the positive.

The biggest positive on the Yankees is their offense. In runs scored, they rank sixth in MLB, and third in their division. However, Baseball Prospectus' Equivalent Average ranks them as 3rd in all of baseball, only behind the Red Sox and Cardinals, and this is without Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Nick Johnson for large parts of the season, and Jason Giambi putting up mediocre numbers for a month and a half. When healthy, the Yankees' offense is every bit as potent as Boston's, and has a clear advantage over every other team that they are likely to face in the playoffs. This team can put some runs on the board.

On the other side is the Yankees' pitching. Because the Yankees' defense is so atrocious, it is vital that they have good DIPS pitchers to keep the ball out of play as much as possible. They have done a good job of that so far: no team in the American League has allowed fewer home runs or walks than the Yankees, and only Boston has struck out more batters. The cumulative DIPS ERA of the rotation (summing the dIP and dER of each pitcher, and making ERA from that) is 3.66, with Wells and Weaver the "weak" men, with 4.15 and 4.11 DIPS ERAs respectively. The other three starters have a cumulative 3.36 DIPS ERA, far better than the A's vaunted "Big Three"--although, to be fair, the A's have the best Defensive Efficiency Rating in the AL, while the Yankees' is 4th worst. But the point remains the same, the Yankees have excellent starting pitching, particularly for the playoffs. Combined with a great offense, they should be able to beat all comers. Ignore their defense, we're focusing on the positive. THE POSITIVE, I SAY!!! Ahem. Think happy thoughts.

The Achillies' Heel of the Yankees has been their bench and bullpen. The bench won't likely come into play until the World Series, unless Joe Torre continues his foolish strategy of pinch-running for his best hitters in close games, and the bullpen has vastly improved in the past few weeks. With the accquisition of Armando Benitez, the Yankees have a potential stopper in the 'pen in front of Mariano, and Chris Hammond has been excellent in setup this year. In fact, DIPS says he's pitched better this year than last year, but is obviously not as hit-lucky as he was last season, when he posted a 0.95 ERA. Antonio Osuna is also capable of giving the Yankees good relief pitching, and whoever gets left out of the postseason rotation should be a good long man, as well. When Jose Contreras comes back, there is a good chance that he can provide quality long relief, as well. The bullpen could cost them games, but it's more likely that poor starts, injuries, or poorly-timed slumps will be the downfall of the Yankees.

The opponents are not likely to trip them up, either. Oakland can throw three great pitchers at you, and they have an excellent bullpen, but their offense has been pathetic this season. While they should be able to expect rebounds from Tejada and Chavez, it shouldn't be enough to beat the Yankees. The Mariners are a balanced team, but they can't match the Yankees on either side of the ball, particularly in the rotation, and should be disposed of easily. Forget anyone from the AL Central.

The only team in the American League that frightens me is the Red Sox. Their offense is better than the Yankees', and they have the most dominant pitcher in Pedro. However, Derek Lowe is an average #2 starter--not an ace--and the rest of the rotation is shaky. The back of the bullpen is coming together, but it's not a lights-out combination by any means, either. A series with the Red Sox could go deep, but I still think that the Yankees would come out on top.

So, there's so positive vibes for you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled bitching (and by we, I mean myself and the voices in Alfonso Soriano's head--the ones that constantly say "Swing batter batter, swing batter batter, SWING!").

* * *

A couple of things about yesterday's post. First, as eric, who does not own a television commented, Tippett's study doesn't really diminish DIPS--it in fact supports the validity of DIPS ERA, but it does challenge the concept that pitchers have little, if any, control over BABIP, which has been Weaver's downfall this season, as he's put a LOT of balls in play, with very bad results. I still think that Jeff Weaver is better than his numbers, but the fact that his DIPS ERA is 4.11 doesn't give me the confidence it once did. Of course, a 4.11 shouldn't give you much confidence in the first place, that's not that great an ERA.

The other thing was the quick, unscientific study I ran yesterday involving past champions and run scoring/prevention. I realized that I forgot to adjust for park (*slaps head*), and after doing so, it changes things a little bit. The average champion still scored 13% more than average, but allowed 11% less than average. Here's the breakdown of how those teams won, so you, my readers, can draw your own conclusions:

Great - 20% more than league average or better
Very Good - 10-19% more than league average
Good - 5-9% more than league avearage
Average - 4% more to 4% less than leaguer average
Poor - 5-9% less than league average
No team won a title being more than 7% worse than either offense or defense.

Great Offense, Great Defense - 1 (1939 Yankees)
Great Offense, Very Good Defense - 7
Great Offense, Good Defense - 7
Great Offense, Average Defense - 8
Great Offense, Poor Defense - 1 (1913 Athletics)

Very Good Offense, Great Defense - 4
Very Good Offense, Very Good Defense - 24
Very Good Offense, Good Defense - 11
Very Good Offense, Average Defense - 2
Very Good Offense, Poor Defense - 0

Good Offense, Great Defense - 0
Good Offense, Very Good Defense - 6
Good Offense, Good Defense - 3
Good Offense, Average Defense - 1 (1993 Blue Jays)
Good Offense, Poor Defense - 0

Average Offense, Great Defense - 3
Average Offense, Very Good Defense - 12
Average Offense, Good Defense - 4
Average Offense, Average Defense - 0
Average Offense, Poor Defense - 0

Poor Offense, Great Defense - 1 (1995 Braves)
Poor Offense, Very Good Defense - 2
Poor Offense, Good Defense - 0
Poor Offense, Average Defense - 1 (1987 Twins)
Poor Offense, Poor Defense - 0

Great Offense - 24
Great Defense - 9
Very Good Offense - 41
Very Good Defense - 51
Good Offense - 10
Good Defense - 25
Average Offense - 19
Average Defense - 12
Poor Offense - 4
Poor Defense - 1

Offense Better than Defense - 44
Defense Better than Offense - 54

One thing interesting is that while good and very good defense are more effective than a good or very good offense, a great offense is more effective than a great defense. It does seem to counter the notion that pitching is all important--when you've got a great offense, it's not that important to have a defense that's much better than average at all--but does confirm the idea that you usually need to be good at both. Almost two-thirds of the teams that won titles (63 of 98) were at least 5% better than league average at both.

Or maybe I'm completely wrong. I'm not a statistician.