During the offseason, the primary concern about the 2011 Yankees was a lack of pitching depth. Entering spring training, the blueprint was to hang around the pennant race until the summer, at which point Brian Cashman would trade for an established starting pitcher. Well, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan.
As they approach the halfway mark of the season, the Yankees have done more than just hang around. Entering July, the team has compiled the best record in the American League and built a solid three game lead over the favored Red Sox. In some circles, the Yankees’ first half success has been considered a big surprise, especially in light of the many injuries they’ve endured. Although there may be some truth to that assessment, it’s still hard to look at the Yankees as underdogs.
With all the talent the Yankees have on offense, no one should be too surprised by their current position in the standings. Despite a few periods of inconsistency, the Bronx Bombers have mostly lived up to the name. In addition to leading the majors in runs per game, the 2011 Yankees have also posted one of the franchise’s highest totals relative to the American League. To date, the Yankees’ 5.33 runs per game is 25.1% greater than the league average of 4.26. The last time the Yankees outperformed the league by that much was 1931, when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig powered the offense to a per game total of 6.88 runs, the second highest output in team history. In fact, only three other Yankees’ teams have outscored the league by a higher percentage, and each one featured the potent duo of Ruth and Gehrig.
Even though the Yankees’ offense has been a major part of its success, it really hasn’t carried the team. In fact, at various times throughout the year, pitching has been the Yankees’ strong suit. The team’s current ERA of 3.51 not only ranks fourth in the American League, but would also be the franchise’s lowest annual rate since 1981. Of course, the depressed run environment has contributed to lower ERAs across the board, but even when compared to the league, the Yankees’ runs allowed per game is impressive. As illustrated in the chart above, the team’s current runs allowed rate of 91.7% would rank right at the median on a historical basis. Although not as impressive as the offense, that’s still not bad for what was supposed to be a major weakness.
Because the Yankees have enjoyed both great offense and great pitching, the team has a run differential of 115, or 1.46 runs per game. If that doesn’t sound impressive, consider this: it would be the fifteenth highest total in franchise history. Although it might be asking too much to expect that level of proficiency to continue, if the Yankees can maintain a differential of at least 1.20, they’ll still be in elite company from a historical standpoint. Among the 27 Yankee teams (excluding the strike shortened 1994 season) to maintain a differential at or above 1.20, the average win total was 100, all but six finished in first place and 16 won the World Series.
Ironically, the 2011 Yankees have been more underachievers than underdogs, at least based on their expected Pythagorean record. The big question, however, is whether the team can continue its success throughout the dog days of summer? Or, will Brian Cashman still need to work the phones in search of reinforcements? Even though the halfway mark is always a good barometer, in baseball, the climate surrounding a team can quickly change. If there are storms gathering on the horizon, it’ll be up to Cashman to be a good weatherman. The Yankees’ chances in October could very well depend on his forecast.