Monday, July 02, 2007

So, what's wrong with the Yankees?

The answer used to be simple - their pitching. And when the injuries came this spring, that looked to be the easy answer again. But those guys have mostly healed, Clemens is pitching well, and the bullpen doesn't seem to be the sore spot it once was. So, what's wrong with the Yankees?

When I research a question like that, there's a certain progression I go through - team stats, individual stats, and then news accounts. This time, I didn't get very far, because the team stats were pretty telling:

Runs scored - 415 (5th best in the American League)
Runs against - 368 (6th best in the American League)

You'll notice that prior to last night's game, the Yankees had outscored their opponents by 47 runs, and yet they came into the game four games under .500 at 37-41. That's not supposed to happen. Teams that outscore opponents are supposed to be better than .500 and vice versa. In fact, many of you know that there's a formula popularized by Bill James that converts runs scored and runs against into a record. He called it The Pythagorean Theorem, and it looks like this:

(Runs Scored)^2
Winning Pct = -------------------------------------
(Runs Scored)^2 + (Runs Against)^2

The Yankees then, should have a winning percentage of (415)^2/(415^2 + 368^2) which equals a 56% winning percentage, which translates to a 44-34 record. That's seven games better than their actual record, and would put them just 1.5 games out of the wild card race.

There are a fair amount of statheads that attribute those seven games to 'luck'. That may be true, but that's not what the studies say, or at least none that I've read. All I've seen is that we haven't been able to identify the difference between actual record and pythagorean (expected) record, which is different than saying it must be luck.

Not that it isn't a compelling conclusion. For instance, a study has shown that a team that outperforms their expected record is no more likely to outperform it than a team that underperformed it. So the rest of the league can't count on the Yankees to continue to outscore their opponents, but still be below .500.

There is also a belief that a team's expected record is better indicator of future success than its actual record. This is used all the time in sabremetric analysis, and will likely lead someone to say the same thing this week about the Yankees. But I wonder if its true. Let's find out.

Later this week. Right now I gotta talk about last night's game....

Melting Under Bright Lights
There are sports commentators who constantly evaluate character or poise in sports, and I'm often critical of them, because to me that's a well they go to too often. If you're going to earn a paycheck based on your analysis of some games, then learn something about the god damn game. Character and poise are too often a crutch for someone that doesn't want to do any real work.

So I'm just cringing about tomorrow. Partly because it's all going to be critical, partly because I've heard it all before, and partly because it's going to more intangible, lazy coverage.

But mostly I'm going to cringe because this time it's going to be true. I don't know where this aw-shucks attitude comes from when playing the Yankees, but I'm ready for someone to kick this team in the ass and tell them they're better than this over-aged excuse of a ballclub.

You don't out-finesse Yankees batters. You bare some frickin' fangs and go for the throat. Boof Bonser wasn't afraid to do just that early in the game, like when he was brushing back Johnny Damon. And then he fell in love with his offspeed stuff, and then Juan Rincon nibbles away at the edges and the bleeding doesn't truly stop until Garza and his little buzz cut and FU attitude started challenging these guys.

And the hitters don't get a free pass either. The philosophy is slightly different, the aggressions a little more controlled, but it still needs to be there. How about some attempts to hit the ball where it's pitched? Or making the 44-year-old man field some bunts? Or making Jorge Posada, who has been a defensive liability all year (only 15 caught stealing in 74 attempts) throw a runner out on the basepaths?

For once, I'm going to agree with the pundits. This team is too starstruck and too damn timid. If they don't stop screwing around, they're going to find themselves staying close enough to not embarass themselves, but still be eliminated by the fourth week of September.

And judging by what I've seen, they'll likely respond to it by passionately shrugging their shoulders.

The Hot Corner
The opening lineup caught my eye because Jeff Cirillo (who has recently struggled against right-handers) was in the lineup instead of Nick Punto (who I thought hit right-handers). But looking at the stats, there were plenty of reasons to play things that way.

First, I'm just plain wrong about Punto. He isn't hitting either hand this year, and he hasn't historically been significantly better versus either side of the plate. Cirillo is better versus southpaws, but he's still outhitting Punto this year.

Combine that with the fact that Cirillo entered the game hitting over .300 versus Clemens, and the fact that he's a veteran playing on a big stage, it made total sense.

And then he blew an easy ground ball that allowed two runs to score because he didn't take the extra step to get in front of it. GRRRRRRrrrrrrr.........

First Pitch
You're going to be very old someday, and you're going to be taking in a ballgame with your grandkids, and they're going to ask you about what that regular person is doing on the mound before the game begins. And you're going to say "Well, that's the first pitch, where an honored person gets to sort of start the ball game."

This is all going to happen, provided you lay of the Cheetos a bit, tubby. But what you don't know is whether these next four words are going to come out and lead to a story you can tell your grandkids about. And those four words are:

"I did that once."

Right now, those words and the story that goes with it, would cost you about $265. And the money you gave wouldn't be going into Carl's overstuffed wallet, but will support homeless youth services throughout the state of Minnesota. To bid on this and support Lutheran Social Serives of Minnesota, click on the URL below.

And HURRY. The bidding for this (literally) once-in-a-lifetime chance ends Saturday.

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Jack Ungerleider said...

One thing that should maybe weight the Pythagorean calculation is the record in close (1 or 2 run) games. They made a comment during last nights game that the Yankees were not winning the close ones the way they used to. I don't remember the exact numbers but I do remember that it was only about a third of those games that they won.

So if you win a lot of blowouts and loose a lot of close ones then you'll be below .500 while scoring more runs than your opponent.

John said...

Jack, that's true, but the same thing has happened when studying one run games, namely that they can't find any consistency between a good record or a bad record in those games.

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