The Yankees Are Tanking, Can The Orioles Catch Them?
by Cary Greene
August 10, 2022
If I hear Michael Kay remind the audience one more time this year that the Yankees, despite their recent struggles, are on pace to win 105 games, I’m throwing my Jordan Montgomery jersey out the window. The comments like this that Yankee fans keep hearing are based on a lot of complicated math, which we’ll talk more about in a moment, but here’s the problem: My eyeballs tell me the Yankees are tanking.
Fangraphs tells me the Yankees are going to win 100 games. Yankees announcers said on Sunday, prior to the 12-9 loss to the Cardinals, that the Yankees were on pace to win 105 games. That’s what the math was saying/is saying will happen.
The problem is, I don’t think this is a 100+ win team anymore. The remaining schedule disagrees and says, “yes it is,” for the Yankees have the weakest remaining schedule of any American League team. How could a team with a .642 winning percentage play a schedule filled with opponents who have a .503 winning percentage and come out winning less than 100 games? It doesn’t seem possible, does it?
Going back to the eyeball test, since July 1st, the Orioles are by far the hottest team in the American League East. The balance of power in the division has very quietly tilted in the ‘birds favor recently, as they have gone 21-10 (.677). What if they sustain their torrid pace over the remaining 55 games on their schedule - a schedule which contains teams who have a collective .522 winning percentage, per Tankathon?
There does happen to be a mathematical way to predict not only how the Orioles are likely to finish, but also, how the Yankees and the other AL East rivals are likely to play over the course of their remaining schedules. In fact, the entire playoffs could be predicted. If things continue the way they’ve been going since July 1st, the Orioles are going to make things VERY interesting in the AL East. More on that in a moment.
First, I consulted with SABR (the Society for American Baseball Research) in order to obtain their very handy “Table-7,” which will allow us to determine how each team is likely to perform, based on their current winning percentages.
Currently, the Yankees winning-percentage is .642 and their opponents have a measly .503 winning-percentage, so using Table 7 the Yankees will finish their remaining 53-game schedule with a .629 winning-percentage - which means they’ll go 33-20. That would give the Yankees a final regular-season record of 103-59. This is why announcers keep saying 100-wins are in reach. Fangraphs is “in-on” this math also, per their projections below.
What if I looked at things not based on records of each team to date, but instead, I looked at how each team has played since July 1st to present and then - based on how each team has been playing currently - used the same math the experts use (SABR’s Table-7) to determine where the teams in the American League East will really wind up?
The reason I propose doing this is because of what we’re seeing with our eyeballs! Based on the way the Yankees are playing, does anyone really think they’re going to magically go on a tear and finish the season with 100+ wins? It just doesn’t seem possible, not for a team that is 14-18 (.438) since July 1st. Does it? Don’t get me wrong, I’d be all-in if the Yankees suddenly got hot and went 33-20 to finish the season, but it just doesn’t feel like that will happen. Last season, the Yankees were capable of amazing hot-streaks and unthinkably bad slumps. I wouldn’t put anything past the Yankees, because they really can be THAT good and also, THAT bad!
Let’s look at the Bombers schedule though for a moment. With 25 games remaining against good teams like the Rays (9-games), the Blue Jays (7), the Twins (4), the Mets (2) and the Brewers (3) and another 9 games left against the Red Sox, I’m just not sure we’re looking at a Yankee team that wins 100+ games. The Yankees stink right now and they’ve been playing the worst brand of baseball in the Division. They’d have to become more consistent in order to change my mind.
After the potentially disastrous series against the Mariners in Seattle, the Yankees "Ship up to Boston", potentially to find their wooden leg. What if they can’t find it? They could very easily start hobbling around from there on out. Granted, the Red Sox have been playing horrible baseball lately, but beating up the Yankees could save their season. The Sox backs are against the wall. Then, the Yankees begin the most important homestand of the season, hosting the Rays, Blue Jays and Mets. Every one of those games will have a playoff atmosphere.
After that stretch, the Yankees could very easily be staggering for their lives - tripping and stumbling and gasping for air and wilting under the 110-degree summer heat. Then they’ll head out west to play the Angels and the A’s? I’m not so sure Aaron Boone has his team prepared for all of this. The Yankees fortunes could reverse of course, but putting a stop to squandering leads would need to be the Bullpen’s first order of business. This would need to occur immediately because there is no way this Yankees team is going to next waltz out to Seattle with Frank Sinatra blaring and clobber the suddenly improved Mariners, considering the Yankees can’t hold a lead consistently these days. I’d like to believe "the best is yet to come", but I’m just not feelin’ it!
Pounding home runs and destroying opposing pitching would be what the Yankees offense would need to focus on. If the Yankees could get early leads in games and then hold those leads, it’d suddenly be a different story, but we’re talking about a dramatic turnaround - the kind of turnaround that used to happen when George Stienbrenner fired a skipper. Hal is fine with letting Boone muddle along, making questionable decisions and chronically resting his key players - creating an overall atmosphere that causes the Yankees to play without a sense of urgency.
Since July 1st however, we’re not seeing the same Yankees team on the field. The lineup is playing well enough to keep the Yankees in games, but the pitching staff has imploded, from top to bottom and especially out into the bullpen. Right now, the Yankees are desperate for quality starts and quality bridge-men, but closing games is also an issue.
Based on each team’s winning percentage since July 1st and using SABR’s Table-7, here’s a different take for you to consider - one that you won’t read about anywhere else but here. If things continue to trend as they’ve been going. I project the below is how things will look when the dust settles and each team runs their remaining gauntlets:
Rolling like the Birds of old, the Orioles are flamin’ orange-hot right now. If they keep it up, they may wind up leapfrogging both the Rays and the Blue Jays in the standings. SABR Table-7 math says that if they continue putting it all together, they are going to challenge for the division crown and if the Yankees fall further off their pace since July 1st, the unthinkable could very well happen. Baltimore could win the vaunted American League East outright. Can you imagine that happening? The Birds would stun baseball.
If all of this doom and gloom unfolds, we’ll have plenty of time to ascertain the reasons why, so if you’re bobbing up and down in the pinstriped country-club swimming pool to beat the summer heat, expecting 100+ Yankees wins - I’d caution you not to hold your breath. Grab a snorkel. Get some fins and an oxygen tank. You may need them.
I’m not getting caught up in algorithms. At the beginning of the year, Fangraphs projected the Yankees to be a 96-win team and PECOTA came up with the exact same conclusion. Of course, predictions can err 3 to 7 games either way, so “they” (prognosticators) say. Therefore, a 94-win season for the Yankees, as I’m projecting above per SABR’s Table-7, using July 1st on as the baseline, seems easily possible, even likely.