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June 8, 2004

Lucky or Good?
by Larry Mahnken

Not being very knowledgeable about amateur baseball, I can't say exactly what the quality of the Yankees' draft was, but I do know it wasn't that good, especially considering that they had 4 of the first 40 picks.

It's not like they drafted a bunch of talentless crap, these players could turn into something worth having, but it's not going to offer much help in the next couple of years; not for the major league team, and not for trades. The team seems happy with the guys they got--well, that's no surprise--but I feel a bit disappointed by this draft, like it was a lost opportunity.

But the thing with drafts is that while you can criticize the decisions that were made in drafting a player right away, it's tough to say how good the draft itself was in terms of talent acquired, at least for a few years. If a draft brings you a major league regular, then it was a good draft, regardless of the decisions made.

* * *

The Yankees come into today's games 2½ games ahead of the Red Sox, but the Sox have a slight edge in run differential--4 runs--and ½ a game behind Boston in Pythagorean Record. They're currently four games better than their Pythagorean Record, while Boston is only one game ahead of theirs, largely because New York is 10-6 in one run games, while Boston is 3-6.

And it doesn't really mean that much.

Pythagorean Record isn't some magical indicator of a team's true quality, the most important thing about James' Pythagorean Theorem is that it shows the relation between run scoring and winning, but there's a lot of things that can, and will throw it off. Record in one-run games is one of those, but a large number of blowout wins can skew things, too.

That a team is outplaying it's Pythagorean Record doesn't mean that they're lucky. Winning a lot of one run games doesn't mean that a team is lucky, either, because not all one-run games are equal. For instance, a team could win a one-run game that they should have won by four or five runs, but didn't because the breaks didn't go their way. If luck evened out, they wouldn't lose that game, they'd win by more.

In general, teams will finish .500 in 1-run games, but that doesn't mean the Yankees are likely to play 4 games under .500 in 1-run games the rest of the way. They're likely to play .500 in 1-run games the rest of the way--just like Boston.

That being said--and excuse me if this seems contradictory--Pythagorean Record is a useful tool when evaluating a team. It tells you how well they've done outside of their record, but it doesn'supersede their record.

Another important tool when evaluating a team is the strength of their schedule. The Yankees have the best record in baseball, but only Tampa Bay, Seattle, Houston and Pittsburgh have played a tougher schedule so far (opponents' record minus games played against team), while only eight teams have had a weaker schedule than Boston.

Going the rest of the way, the Yankees have the fourth easiest schedule, while Boston has a tougher schedule than everyone but the Rangers and the Cubs. Ooooh, that makes me happy.

Anyway, I used that information to make a projection of the final standings:

AL East W L Pct. NL East W L Pct.
Yankees 106.7 55.3 .659 Florida 93.0 69.0 .574
Boston 93.0 69.0 .574 Philadelphia 85.3 76.7 .526
Baltimore 77.2 84.8 .476 Atlanta 81.9 80.1 .506
Toronto 71.8 90.2 .443 NY Mets 79.3 82.7 .489
Tampa Bay 68.5 93.5 .423 Montreal 54.1 107.9 .334

AL Central W L Pct. NL Central W L Pct.
White Sox 90.8 71.2 .560 Cincinnati 95.3 66.7 .588
Minnesota 81.7 80.3 .504 St. Louis 92.1 69.9 .569
Cleveland 74.0 88.0 .457 Houston 89.7 72.3 .553
Detroit 70.9 91.1 .438 Chicago Cubs 81.7 80.3 .504
Kansas City 62.4 99.6 .385 Milwaukee 80.3 81.7 .496
Pittsburgh 73.3 88.7 .453
AL West W L Pct.
Anaheim 96.4 65.6 .595 NL West W L Pct.
Oakland 91.4 70.6 .564 San Diego 89.9 72.1 .555
Texas 89.2 72.8 .550 Los Angeles 88.5 73.5 .546
Seattle 65.7 96.3 .406 San Francisco 82.5 79.5 .510
Arizona 62.5 99.5 .386
Colorado 60.8 101.2 .375

Now, as awesome as that would be, we know it's highly unlikely to go down that way. It assumes that every team is going to play the rest of the way like they've played so far. It doesn't account for teams playing over their head, playing below their talent, or injuries. Like Pythagorean Record, it's highly flawed. But it's awful nice to think about--107 wins, and a runaway victory in the division. Now, if Oakland could be two games better...

Now, the injury factor is likely to give Boston a boost and drag the Yankees down, since Trot Nixon and Nomar Garciaparra are coming back, and the Yankees haven't had any devastating front line injuries yet, which a lot of people expect to be somewhat inevitable.

But the other question has to be, are the Yankees playing over their head? Forget about what Boston's doing, the Yankees have the best record vs. one of the toughest schedules, is it because they're playing better than they should?

I took a look at this using Bill James' most recent incarnation of Runs Created (which accounts for homers with runners on, and hits with runners in scoring position, to give a more accurate estimation of runs scored), and projected how many runs each player would have created in the same number of plate appearances in 2003, in his last three seasons, and his career. The results:

Name 2004 2003 2003 Career

Derek Jeter 24 39 39 39
A. Rodriguez 43 47 51 47
G. Sheffield 39 50 47 43
Hideki Matsui 41 31 31 31
B. Williams 23 27 34 34
Jorge Posada 32 32 30 29
Jason Giambi 30 28 32 29
E. Wilson 15 12 8 11
Ruben Sierra 19 14 15 17
Tony Clark 17 12 13 16
Kenny Lofton 12 11 11 13
Miguel Cairo 10 7 8 9
John Flaherty -1 5 4 4
Bubba Crosby 7 0 0 0
Travis Lee -1 3 3 2
Homer Bush -1 0 1 0
Total 309 318 327 327

I also projected the number of earned runs given up by the pitchers in each situation (The numbers in parantheses on the bottom is the 2004 total for players who have data for the listed season):

Name 2004 2003 2003 Career

Bret Prinz 0 9 4 4
M. Rivera 4 6 8 9
Tom Gordon 8 11 11 14
J. Vazquez 31 27 29 34
Kevin Brown 34 21 25 28
P. Quantrill 15 7 10 14
Mike Mussina 41 31 32 32
T. Sturtze 5 6 5 5
Jorge DePaula 5 1 1 1
Jon Lieber 26 - 20 22
Gabe White 14 9 10 9
J. Contreras 25 12 12 12
D. Osborne 14 - 12 8
Scott Proctor 6 - - -
Felix Heredia 8 2 3 4
Alex Graman 6 - - -
Total 242 141 181 195
(190)(230) (230)

What this data shows is that the Yankees have in fact underperformed their track record on the whole, despite surprisingly good seasons by some players. However, being an older team, that can't be too much of a surprise, a decline should be expected.

I compared the 2004 numbers to PECOTA to get an idea of how they're doing compared to a reasonable projection, which accounts for decline:

Name 2004 PECOTA Name 2004 PECOTA

Derek Jeter 24 36 Bret Prinz 0 4
A. Rodriguez 43 48 M. Rivera 4 11
G. Sheffield 39 43 Tom Gordon 8 11
Hideki Matsui 41 34 J. Vazquez 31 27
B. Williams 23 32 Kevin Brown 34 31
Jorge Posada 32 28 P. Quantrill 15 16
Jason Giambi 30 30 Mike Mussina 41 30
E. Wilson 15 12 T. Sturtze 5 5
Ruben Sierra 19 15 Jorge DePaula 5 5
Tony Clark 17 15 Jon Lieber 26 27
Kenny Lofton 12 11 Gabe White 14 9
Miguel Cairo 10 9 J. Contreras 25 13
John Flaherty -1 4 D. Osborne 14 -
Bubba Crosby 7 3 Scott Proctor 6 4
Travis Lee -1 3 Felix Heredia 8 5
Homer Bush -1 - Alex Graman 6 3
Total 309 320 Total 242 200

So, even using PECOTA, the Yankees are at least 29 runs worse than their PECOTA projection, and yet they still have the best record in baseball.

Some of the slumping guys--Mussina and Jeter, primarily--seem likely to play closer to their projections the rest of the way, and Hideki Matsui might sustain his improvement. But Bernie might really be done, and there are several players who have improved who are unlikely to sustain it.

But, on the whole, I'd say these numbers are encouraging. If I had the time, I would have done the same thing for Boston, but I think these numbers pretty clearly show that the Yankees are going to be able to hold their own against Boston the rest of teh season. Unless, of course, they get hurt--which was the number one variable all along.