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August 7, 2006

Setting our Expectations
by SG

August has gotten off to a great start, as the Yankees have won 5 of 6 games after yesterday's 6-1 win over Baltimore. Jaret Wright continued to pitch effectively, if not particularly well and the Yankee offense backed him up with four solo HRs. With Jon Papelbon blowing a save in Tampa and Boston losing in extra innings, the Yankees picked up another game in the AL East and now sit two games up.

There's no doubt Wright's been useful of late, despite his inability to last deep into games. However, his underlying performance is pretty shaky, and does not bode well going forward. Opposing hitters are hitting .296 /.360/.409 against Wright on the season. He's allowed fewer HR per batter faced than any other pitcher in the American League who's pitched 95 innings or more. The problem with that is that his HR per fly ball ratio is .038, which is very low, and very likely unsustainable. If his HR rate normalizes towards his fly ball rate, his effectiveness will suffer markedly. We'll see how it goes.

Getting back to August, the Yankee schedule for the rest of the month is pretty brutal.

3 games at Chicago White Sox
4 games home vs. LA of A
3 games home vs. Baltimore
5 games at Boston
3 games at Seattle
3 games at LA of A
3 games home vs. Detroit

So, 14 games on the road, 10 at home, and only Baltimore has a negative run differential.

While I'd love to see the Yankees tear this stretch up, I also want to understand what the reasonable expectations for this stretch of games should be. To do this, I'm going to use Bill James's log5 method to calculate the expected winning percentage in a series between two opponents.

If you're not up to clicking on the link, here's the math behind it.

A - A * B
WPct = -----------------
A + B - 2 * A * B

where A is team A's winning percentage and B is team B's winning percentage. Home teams get a .042 boost to their WPct to account for home field advantage.

In the interest of better utilizing each team's underlying performance instead of their raw winning percentage, I did this using each team's pythagorean record. If you're not familiar with pythagorean records, you divide the square of a team's runs scored(actual, Runs Scored raised to the 1.83 power) by the sum of their runs scored squared and runs allowed squared to get an expected winning percentage. The idea here is that a team's run differential is a better indicator of the team's quality going forward than their actual W-L record. I'll run through an example with the first series, which is the Yankees traveling to Chicago.

The Yankees pythagorean winning percentage right now is .587. Chicago's is .578. Since Chicago will be home, we add .042 to their WPct to get .062

.587 - .587*.620
So, WPct = ----------------------------- = .466
.587 + .620 - 2 * .587 * .620

That means the Yankees would be expected to win 46.6% of the time they play in Chicago.

I did this for each series and then calculated the expected series results. I did the same for Boston as well. And here's what they say.

So, the reasonable expectation for the Yankees is that they should go 12-12 over this stretch. This may seem disappointing, but playing 24 games in 24 days with only one off day is going to be rough. The 11 game stretch in the middle where the Yankees play five games against Boston before heading to Seattle and LA of A for six more games seems like the key to me. Taking only one of five games in Boston seems pessimistic to me, but that's what the numbers say. If the Yankees do what log5 predicts, they'll exit August trailing by just one game in the loss column and with a far more favorable September schedule. They'll also either have or be closer to having Gary Sheffield and/or Hideki Matsui back.

Obviously, there's a few things that should be kept in mind when looking at this. The first thing is that the Yankee team that put up a .587 Pythagorean WPct is not the Yankee team that will be playing this stretch of games. The additions of Craig Wilson, Bobby Abreu, and Cory Lidle and subsequent reduction in playing time for people like Andy Phillips and Bernie Williams could change things. The same should be considered for the opponents. Pitching matchups could also change the results of any series depending on how they shake out. Obviously, I hope for better.

Speaking of Bobby Abreu, he's a fan of hitting coach Don Mattingly.
"He is the best," Abreu said of Mattingly, who has gotten Abreu away from being pull conscious.

While Abreu isn't sure he was trying to pull everything as a Phillie, he is back to the way he should be hitting: spraying balls to all fields.

"He has helped me a lot with my mechanics and my approach," said Abreu, who went 3-for-4 in yesterday's 6-1 win over the Orioles. "I was hitting the ball too much out in front. Now I let the ball travel more."

And now, your regular injury updates from Rotoworld.

Octavio Dotel (elbow) struck out the side in a perfect inning Saturday for the Rookie GCL Yankees. Additional setbacks are always a possibility, but Dotel could finally make his Yankees debut this week.

Carl Pavano (elbow) threw 50 pitches of batting practice Saturday and said he felt crisper than he had in his first BP last week. The manager added Pavano could throw another batting-practice session or could be farmed out for a rehab assignment. "I felt good and I thought I looked good," said Pavano. "It's been a really long road. I'm not opposed to doing a game after this, but that's not my call." He will make a minor-league rehab start for Tampa (Single-A) Thursday. Torre said the Yankees were "very enthused" by Pavano's 50-pitch batting practice session Saturday.

There was nothing on Rotoworld about Robinson Cano, who played his third rehab game yesterday and went 0-3 with a walk, but more importantly got through the game healthy. With Miguel Cairo injuring his hamstring, look for a DL swap of 2B on Tuesday.

One more setback and Dotel ties Steve Karsay on the all-time Yankee setback list. I also think the likelihood of Pavano returning is about the same as the likelihood of me dating Adriana Lima.