Perspectives: Has It Just Been Bad Luck?
by Paul Semendinger
January 11, 2023
There have been many great threads in the comments these last few weeks. I enjoy good discussions and debates about the Yankees. It is wonderful.
Just a reminder, keep the debate focused on baseball. If I see people insulting other readers, I'll delete their posts. The put downs are unnecessary, juvenile, and certainly not appreciated. They also shut down discussion which is the exact opposite of what we're trying to do here. Debate with each other all you wish, but do so respectfully and keep it clean.
One idea that came out of the comments recently was this idea that the Yankees have been losing in the playoffs because the playoffs are random and that luck plays a big part in determining who wins. The idea is that the Yankees could have won more World Series in recent years, but they've just been unlucky.
I understand that argument. It makes sense, and we've all seen when it is true. We've all seen wild card teams win championships. It happens. Sometimes the best team loses. Of course.
But, I will push back on that theory explaining why the Yankees have not been winning World Series this century - especially since 2010. In short, while it's true that the best teams sometimes lose, the Yankees, in fact, for the most part have not been the best team.
If the Yankees had the best team heading into the playoffs, then the argument that they are losing because of bad luck or the randomness of the playoffs could be made, but, as I will show, the Yankees have, most often, not been the best team heading into the playoffs. As a result, the outcome that transpired (the Yankees coming up short and failing to reach or win a World Series) was exactly what was supposed to happen.
In fact, if the Yankees won in recent years, it would not have been because they were the best team, but because of the randomness of the playoffs and luck - good luck.
In short, the Yankees have been good enough to make the playoffs, but they have not been the best team in the league, and as such, it is no surprise that they have not reached the World Series - they weren't supposed to. They haven't been the team that should win.
This has been one of the things that has frustrated me the most about the Yankees of today, and the last decade especially. I have written this often. They are good. They are very good. But they're not great. They haven't been great. I am a believer that good is the enemy of great. The Yankees seem to act otherwise. From my perspective, the Yankees want to do just enough, spend just enough, to make the playoffs, or be close, with the hopes that luck will carry them through to a World Series trophy.
The best team will not always win. But in the Yankees' case, they most often have not been the best team.
Let's take a look:
2022 - The Yankees won 99 games. They were not the best team in the league. The Astros won 106 games. The Astros were the best team in the league. The Astros also won the World Series.
2021 - The Yankees were a wild card team. They finished in a tie for second place. They were clearly not the best team. They didn't win the World Series. It had nothing to do with bad luck.
2020 - The Yankees were a second place team. They were the fourth best team in the American League. They certainly were not the favorites to win the league let alone the World Series. And they didn't.
2019 - The Yankees won 103 games, but lost to the Astros who won 107 games. The Yankees were very good, but they were not the best team in the league. They did as they should have - losing in the Championship Series.
2018 - The Yankees were a second place team with the league's third best record. They lost in the Division Series.
2017 - The Yankees were a second place team with the league's fourth best record. The made it to the Championship Series and lost.
2016 - The Yankees finished in fourth place. They did not make the playoffs.
2015 - The Yankees were a second place team. They lost a one-game Wild Card game.
2014 - The Yankees were a second place team but has the seventh best record in the A.L. They did not reach the playoffs.
2013 - The Yankees finished in fourth place, they did not reach the playoffs.
2012 - The Yankees were the best team in the American League. They lost to the Tigers in the American League Championship Series. If one wishes to say that bad luck played a factor in the Yankees not reaching a World Series, it would be fair to point to 2012. In this season, the best team, the Yankees, didn't win.
2011 - The Yankees were the best team in the American League. They lost to the Tigers in the Division Series. If one wishes to say that bad luck played a factor in the Yankees not reaching a World Series, it would be fair to point to 2011 as well.
2010 - The Yankees were a second place team. They lost in the Championship Series to the Rangers.
This quick study clearly demonstrates that the reason for the Yankees not reaching the World Series has not been bad luck (except in 2011 and 2012, but that was more than a decade ago...).
The main reason why the Yankees have not advanced through the playoffs is the simple fact that they did not have the best team over the course of a full season heading into the playoffs. Rather than bad luck keeping the Yankees out of the World Series, the Yankees have been kept out of the World Series because they weren't supposed to get there. They were not the best team.
Now, if the Yankees had gone out and addressed the many weaknesses that so many have documented on a year-in-year-out basis, and then they lost... that would be a different story. But that just has not been the case.
When the Yankees reach the playoffs with the league's best record and lose in the post season, we can discuss the role that bad luck played. But that certainly has not occurred in well over a decade.