Odd but true: Yanks underrated

carty

The New York Yankees are underrated. I didn’t believe that sentence could ever be written as anything other than absurd, talk-radio-style, rile-up-the-common-folk rhetoric. But here we are, in the middle of May, and the New York Yankees are underrated.  They were sitting in third place in the AL East. They were in the bottom third in all of baseball in runs scored, ranking 22nd. Headlines around New York talked about their “weaknesses” and “issues” and asked “what’s wrong?”.

Yet the Yankees are the best team in the American League. Not in terms of their record or their runs scored or runs allowed, of course, but in terms of who they actually are once you account for their history, for context and for the small sample size that is the start of the 2021 season. What a team has done over a limited time frame does not equal its true, underlying talent level or what it will do in the future. And my projection system, THE BAT X — as well as the projections at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus — predict that the Yankees will be the best team in the AL over the rest of the season by a solid margin.

 

After all, nothing about the Yankees has fundamentally changed since opening day, when most people expected them to be the best. And they’ll likely be getting back Luis Severino, a top-5 pitcher in baseball when 100% healthy, sooner rather than later. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are mashing. DJ LeMahieu has performed as expected. Gio Urshela and Kyle Higashioka have exceeded projections. Even though the Yankees had scored just the 22nd-most runs in baseball, their wRC+  was 10th. That screams “bad sequencing!” In other words, they’ve been hitting well, but the hits haven’t come in the right situations. Sure enough, they’ve been 20th in wRC+  with men on base and sixth with the bases empty. As much as old-school baseball folks or talking heads might try to point to this as a flaw — “The Yankees’ situational hitting has been awful! They’re choking in the clutch!” — this is all just narrative nonsense lacking factual basis. It is in fact just randomness that will correct itself.

More than that, the Yankees will actually improve on those wRC+  numbers overall. While observed wRC+  is a better barometer of talent than actual runs scored, projected wRC+  is better still, and that pegs them as the fifth-best offense in baseball. In fact, only one offense in baseball is underperforming its true level more than the Yankees, according to THE BAT X.

Plenty of the Yankees’ good hitters are underperforming. Gary Sanchez had a .193 batting average and a .323 wOBA, but the drop in his peripherals has been limited. His maximum exit velocity was in the 87th percentile and his barrel percentage in the 81st, and his .359 xwOBA was the second best of his career at the 82nd percentile. Aaron Hicks had a 25th-percentile wOBA, but his 72nd-percentile xwOBA was above his career average of 67th. And now their third-best hitter, Luke Voit, is back in the lineup and healthy.

THE BAT X’s projected run total has been above Las Vegas’ most days of late, so betting the team total Over or the Yankees moneyline could be a smart bet in the right situations over the coming days. Their futures bets are also interesting. Despite sitting third in the East, they are still favored to win the division at -112. But that’s still just about a 53% chance of winning, and their true odds are well beyond that. If the season were to start over today with 162 games, the Yankees would project 14 games better than the first-place Red Sox and seven games better than the second-place Blue Jays. Seeing as though they were just two games back of Boston and a half-game back of Toronto, it’s safe to say their odds of catching up and winning are greater than 53%.

 

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