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This Is The Yankees’ Best — And Last — Chance To Win A Title In The 2010s

Most franchises would be envious of a decade like the one that the New York Yankees have enjoyed during the 2010s. The Bronx Bombers’ record of 872-669 is the best in baseball over that span,1 and the team’s scoring differential of +987 is 100 runs better than any other club. New York has made the playoffs six times — with the overwhelming likelihood of a seventh trip this season — and has advanced to the American League Championship Series three times. Only three teams2 have appeared in more postseason games this decade than the Yankees. Along the way, they’ve seen the ends of multiple Hall of Fame careers (Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera), or at least Hall-worthy ones (A-Rod), and have brought up some of the brightest stars of the next generation (Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez), as well.

And yet, in the Bronx, this isn’t good enough. Only one accomplishment matters to a team that touts “27 World Championships” at Yankee Stadium everywhere the eye can see. The Yankees have somehow gone almost the entire decade of the 2010s without winning a World Series. If that holds through this season, the 2010s will join the 1980s as just the franchise’s second title-less decade since the team came into its own as baseball’s most dominant starting in the 1920s.3 The pressure is real; as a Yankee-fan friend4 fretted to me the other day, “We can’t go the whole decade without a ring.” Fortunately for New York fans, this year’s team could be the one to end the drought at the eleventh hour, even if it isn’t without its flaws.

This current post-Jeter/Rivera/Rodriguez Yankees era has been marked with plenty of promise, though it has only occasionally scratched the surface of its full potential. The 2017 team featured big breakout seasons from Judge and Severino en route to an ALCS appearance, but New York was unable to capitalize on a 3-2 series lead against the Astros, losing Games 6 and 7 in Houston by a combined score of 11-1. Last season, the Yankees were again impressive relative to the majority of MLB, but they couldn’t ever muscle past the rival Red Sox, who dispatched them in an ALDS that was (mostly)5 closer than the 3-1 series margin would suggest. New York had its chances both years, but also ran up against a couple of historic buzzsaws in those Astros and Red Sox.

The Yankees are counting on this year to be different. And although a massive spate of early injuries threatened to derail the 2019 season before it had scarcely begun, the team’s stand-ins have done a relatively good job of holding down the fort in the stars’ absence. Here’s how the Yankees’ role-shuffling to plug injury holes has worked out, according to wins above replacement:6

The Yankee stand-ins have done a pretty good job

Among members of the 2019 New York Yankees, incumbent regulars from last year who have missed significant playing time, and the players who replaced them

2018 starter 2019 starter
Pos Player WAR/162 Player WAR/162
1B Greg Bird -0.3 Luke Voit +3.2
2B Gleyber Torres +2.4 DJ LeMahieu +7.5
SS Didi Gregorius +4.4 Gleyber Torres +5.3
3B Miguel Andujar +2.5 Gio Urshela +1.8
LF Brett Gardner +2.6 Cameron Maybin +1.6
CF Aaron Hicks +4.8 Brett Gardner +2.9
RF Aaron Judge +5.3 Clint Frazier +0.7
DH Giancarlo Stanton +4.1 Kendrys Morales -0.8
SP Luis Severino +5.1 Domingo German +2.4
RP Dellin Betances +1.7 Adam Ottavino +2.4

WAR is as of July 1, prorated per 162 team games

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs

New York has definitely missed the standout performances of Judge, Severino, Giancarlo Stanton and company. But things could have been so much worse without the great play of Torres (who shifted to shortstop during Didi Gregorious’s injury) and Luke Voit (who took over full-time at first base this year) — both of whom came on strong late last season. And the truly out-of-nowhere production has come from names like Gio Urshela at third base (replacing Miguel Andujar) and Domingo German in the rotation, where German has been the team’s second-best starter by WAR behind Masahiro Tanaka.

(Voit and German are themselves injured now, but German should return this week and Voit will have the All-Star break to recover from the abdominal strain that landed him on the IL.)

At the same time, the Yankees have managed to pluck productive veteran hitters from other teams for surprisingly low costs. Before the season, New York signed former Colorado Rockies second baseman — and 2016 NL batting champ — DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million deal. All LeMahieu has done is hit for the AL’s best average (.341) and post a team-leading 3.7 WAR in a half-season of play. Moving on quickly from designated hitter Kendrys Morales, who hit .177 after joining New York in mid-May, the Yankees also snagged AL home run leader Edwin Encarnacion from Seattle for a young pitching prospect.

Yankee pitching has suffered without Severino and Dellin Betances, as offseason trade pickup James Paxton and free-agent returnee J.A. Happ have disappointed in the rotation early, and reliever Chad Green has fallen off. The team’s pitching has dropped from second overall in WAR in 2018 to 11th this year, and depth on the mound remains an area of concern for the team as it looks ahead to the second half of the season.

Still, the Yankees are playing like arguably the best team in baseball right now, even with Stanton still on the injured list. They just swept the Red Sox in a high-scoring weekend series in London, and have won 13 of their last 15 games. In terms of Elo ratings, New York’s current 1579 mark is the second-highest it’s been through 83 games since the fabled 114-win 1998 team, trailing only last year’s squad (which faced a fraction of the same injury problems).

The best Yankee teams through 83 games, according to Elo

All-time New York Yankees teams with an Elo rating of at least 1579 through 83 games, by season

Season Wins Losses Win percentage Elo Rating
1939 60 23 .723 1618
1937 55 26 .679 1604
1998 63 20 .759 1603
1928 60 23 .723 1596
1927 58 24 .707 1590
1954 54 28 .659 1590
1932 56 27 .675 1589
1947 56 26 .683 1588
2018 55 28 .663 1588
1957 55 28 .663 1586
1956 57 26 .687 1585
1938 51 29 .638 1585
1933 53 30 .639 1585
2019 54 29 .651 1579

Source: ESPN

A year after setting the all-time record for home runs in a season with 267 bombs, the Yankees are actually going yard more frequently in 2019 (once every 20.4 at-bats) than they did last season (20.7).7 And again, that’s without Judge, Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Encarnacion for most of the season. At full strength, the sheer amount of power in pinstripes could be well beyond anything we’ve ever seen in the same lineup before. In terms of established players on board, this roster could stand right next to the 2009 Yankees as one of the most impressive collections of raw talent in the modern era.

But none of that will mean anything if this year’s version can’t replicate that 2009 team’s postseason success. While these Yankees have the potential to be as dominant as any team, the competition remains stiff at the top of the major leagues. Our model gives the Yankees a 17 percent chance of winning the World Series, which ranks second only to the Dodgers’ 24 percent odds. New York will probably win 100 games, and they’ve got an 82 percent chance of winning the AL East. All of the trappings of past Yankees success should be there by season’s end. But will that translate to October? One thing is for certain: This is the best chance New York has had in years to break its ring-less streak and put a title in the books for the 2010s.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

Footnotes

  1. Three games better than the runner-up Los Angeles Dodgers.

  2. The Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinals and the dynasty San Francisco Giants.

  3. And even in the ’80s, the Yankees at least made one Fall Classic. The 2010s Yankees can’t even say that.

  4. No, not Nate Silver, who really ought to stick to his Tigers cap like a good Michigander.

  5. Putting aside games where Brock Holt hit for the cycle.

  6. Averaging together the versions of WAR found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

  7. Somehow this ranks only fourth in MLB (behind the Twins, Brewers and Mariners) this year — and all four current teams are ahead of the Yankees’ record 2018 pace — because baseball in 2019 is insane.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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