Wednesday, June 9, 2010

15 Over

The Yankees are 15 games over .500 on June 9th. It feels like it's been at least a few years since they were this far over .500 this early in the season. Just three years ago they were a game under .500 at the All-Star Break, before having to go nuts in the second half to make the playoffs.

This has me thinking though, why we put so much emphasis on record being a reflection of the way teams are playing in baseball. In other sports we heavily factor scheduling. If an NFL or college football team has a vicious 5 weeks and goes 2-3 it's not the end of the world. If an NBA or college basketball team has a tough 10 games and goes 4-6 we're generally okay with that. While we might be fine with either of those records in baseball too, the proportional equivalent is 8-12 across 20 games, which we would likely be not so fine with. Each example is .400 ball, but only one would be viewed as truly poor against a tough schedule. At least in my opinion.

This doesn't make a lot of sense. Baseball is no different than the other sports in that you are supposed to play better against the worse teams and you aren't likely to play as well against the good teams. It's just that you aren't expected to beat the bad teams every single game. Just 2 out of 3 or better.

To bring this back to the Yankees, it seems like in years past they had very tough schedules the first half and easier schedules the second half. While they undoubtedly weren't at their best early and played better later in the year, and while the schedule didn't have everything to do with it, I think it had a big impact both ways. I'm sure most remember the same 2007 season I referenced above, where the Yankees had something like 75% of their games over a 40 something game stretch against teams under .500, which is a big reason why they made the playoffs despite being a game under at the break. Chances are if the schedule was that easy for that long late, it was probably tough for a long time early, which probably contributed to their record. You get my point.

This year the Yankees schedule is much more balanced. With almost perfect consistency (meaning no mixing and matching of good and bad teams) the Yankees season thus far has been completely composed of four big cycles. Tough opening, then an easy stretch, then another tough stretch, and now the easy stretch they are in right now. Which is why it's good to see them at this many games over against that schedule, because the schedule the rest of the way should be about as tough as it has been thus far. Maybe a little tougher, but I may only be saying that because of how favorable the schedule has been for over two weeks now.

Further, it has been nice to see the Yankees play with good balance for the most part. Of their 37 wins, their starters have gotten 31 of them (not including Vazquez's relief win) which is incredible. The starters have a combined 3.67 ERA despite Vazquez's April, tied for 5th best in the game. The offense is first in baseball in runs at 326, and is also first in AVG, OBP, and OPS. The bullpen has been very middle of the pack with a 4.35 ERA (19th in the game) and a 67% save percentage (tied for 16th in baseball) neither of which are great but neither of which are not serviceable, especially considering (1) the strength of the rotation and offense and (2) the fact that they have Mariano Rivera at the very back of that bullpen, which is what matters most for their bullpen. He can and does cover up a lot of things. If there is one area of need right now, however, this is it, although the pen has been a lot better lately.

They have also been doing what they are supposed to do against the easier parts of their schedule. After hitting their first legitimate rough patch of the year losing 5 of 6 to the Red Sox, Rays, and Mets, the Yankees have won 11 of their last 15 including a series against the Twins on the road. It would be nice to continue that tomorrow against the Orioles and over the weekend against the Astros, before a stretch of the schedule, including two west coast trips in three weeks, leads them into the All-Star Break. If they could build further upon 15 over at that time, they'd have to be pretty happy with where they would be.

7 comments:

the gm at work said...

1. Thanks for your Strasburg commentary and insight on the blog yesterday. Judging by your text messages, I know you were apathetic about it and therefore am not surprised or disappointed by the fact that you didn't even say a word about it.

2. A larger sample size is why there is less emphasis on an equal part of the season (basically 1/8). That and the fact that much more often a bad team can beat a good team two out of three times in baseball than in other sports. Sometimes the Orioles sweep the Red Sox.

3. There has been more emphasis on strength of schedule as of late, probably when the universal (justified) whining about interleague play started. I mean, in 2007 we talked about a 29-game stretch against the gutter sluts of the American League that would have to go very well for the Yankees to revive their season. Well, that 29-game stretch was the turning point of the season. Anyone who's been reading this publication long enough knows that we've emphasized strength of schedule far more than most.

Enjoy yo day.

Anonymous said...

PF

The reason that people emphasize hot starts/cold starts and hot/cold stretches so much in baseball is because records matter much more in baseball than they do in basketball, football and hockey. Football's playoffs take 12 teams and the NBA and NHL each take 16 teams. Baseball takes eight. So your record, especially vis-a-vis the rest of your divison, matters and it matters a lot. It doesn't matter who you beat to get to the playoffs, just that you got there.

Of course, once you get there, and you want to find out who may be favored, then look at strength of schedule. But it doesn't do the fifth place team in the AL any good to go 25-12 against the Yankees, Sox and Rays if they stink it up against the Indians and Mariners.

On the other hand, because it's easier to make the playoffs in a sport like basketball, teams can do what the Spurs have done in past years and what the Celtics did this year--keep your guys healthy, work yourself into a manageable, but perhaps not stellar position, and then give it hell in the playoffs. A manageable position in baseball has you playing golf in October.

Bandi

Don't think I didn't see that comment about "Corner Kicks" the other day. Something tells me that you've been to a bar with that name and enjoyed a apple martini with Ricky Davis.

--the Gunn

PF said...

Gm -

You were much more level headed in your post than you were in your texts.

Gunn -

I know why records matter more in baseball, and as a result why we empasize the way you start. So I agree with you. All I'm saying is why don't we give a little more consideration of SOS to those starts, or any other stretch of the season. Any record, say 10-10, is not always equal with other 10-10's, you have to consider who you are playing. It might be pretty good if you're playing good teams, pretty bad if you're playing bad teams. So why not factor it in to a team maybe not being as good as their record might say, or maybe being better than their record indicates. I do agree with gm that we are starting to do it more, and that should continue.

TimC said...

My thoughts on how the public reacts to baseball records vs. other records have to do with the final records of elite and poor teams in each league. Elite football teams tend to win about 13-14 games while the poorest teams sit in the sub-4 range. In basketball, the top teams check in at around 55-60 but it must be factored in that teams tend to coast through March/April given the playoff format. These teams could probably hit the 60-65 range if the "playoffs" featured just one or two teams from each conference.

In baseball, the top teams are usually in and around the .550 to .600 mark. The worst teams tend to fall around the .400 mark. I think you sort of touched on the point but didn't really consider it as an answer to your question.

On the other side, I see it as the answer. A baseball team playing .400 ball through twenty games is playing the quality of baseball seen by the dregs of the league throughout the season. In my mind, an 8-12 baseball team is equivalent to an 0-4 NFL team. There is plenty of justification for panic.

That said, I agree completely that SOS is not considered nearly often enough by the mainstream media and casual fans. It just isn't an easy angle and those types of audiences love to cover easy angles. Too many games, too many unknown pitchers, too many mediocre players who might be hot early, too many slow starting pitchers, etc. etc., contribute to the inability of many to accurately assess an early season schedule. However, it is much easier to assess 8 wins, 12 losses, and hit the panic button. In the NFL, everyone can spend five days looking at the other teams and concluding that the SOS could be a factor for a slow start.

Another rarely discussed factor, albeit one that may not be so relevant to this post, is injuries. Although sometimes they help (Patriots 2001!) it is more often the case that they stop teams in their tracks. However, because our sports culture tends to celebrate individuals who can maintain their high levels of performance despite injury, I suspect that such thinking is extended to the team and injuries are deemed to be a weak excuse for poor performance. This is ridiculous.

Final thought, I am considering creating a twitter account and tweeting a bit during the world cup. The tentative user name is "jbandilovesfutbol." I'll let you guys know next week whether I go ahead with it.

TimC said...

One more thought, I find it interesting that although the mainstream media rarely considers SOS for team performance, the only thing anyone could talk about on ESPN yesterday was how weak a lineup Strasburg faced in his debut- a pitcher's "SOS", if you will.

the gm at work said...

Tim,

Never get a job. Your unemployment is HYD Baseball's biggest asset. Excellent comment, and I agree whole-heartedly. As I said in comment #2 this morning, a bad team still beats a good team 2/3 or 3/3 every now and then. It all comes down to the fact that there's a large sample size.

If you get that Twitter, I'm taking out the name "soreglovehand" so that JD Drew can have a Twitter. "Bowhunting season starts four months from tomorrow. Can't wait that long. Payday's tomorrow, though."

jason said...

I think part of the reason the media may not look at SOS as much is due to the fact that even bad teams do win 40% of the time which isnt too far away from a coinflip whereas in the nfl there are teams going 1-15 2-14 another point may be the fact that even bad teams have aces the jays used to have halladay the royals have greinke (if he is still considered an ace after his poor start) and if a bad teams ace gets put against a good teams 4th or 5th starter the bad team is probably favored in that game, so in this case SOS can be thrown out the window