by Joe Caputo
It happened all of last year’s regular season. It happened in last year’s postseason. It happened again leading up to this season. Despite ALL the attention, despite ALL the public money, the betting markets have not caught up to this revolutionary roster the Yankees have put together. Coming into this season, the Yankees season win total was set by Vegas at 94.5, and did not move. This number, at least to the sportsbooks, seemed about right. Fangraphs, my most respected source for baseball analytics, projected 94 wins for the Yanks. Bleacher Report joined them, and USA Today said 93. Even the Brunch’s own prediction model had them at no more than a -120 favorite on Opening Day in Toronto, which does not exactly reflect a 100-win team. So how could everyone (including my own model) be so wrong?
We all know about the lineup. Yes, it is one of the best in baseball, but everyone knows that. Fans know that, statistical models know that, and Vegas knows that. The potential of the lineup is already baked into that 93-95 win projection. Could it be even better than anticipated? Sure, but it could also be worse. If you are looking for an edge in the sports betting markets, betting the Yankees to go over their projected win total because they acquired Giancarlo Stanton just simply is not going to cut it.
The minor league system, on the other hand, could be flying a bit under the radar. Although the Yankees are starting the season with Tyler Wade and Tyler Austin in their every day lineup, this should not last long. Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres both appear to be ready for the Majors, and both appear to be studs. Then there’s also Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial, two guys that could easily be starters on other MLB teams that are simply blocked in the Yankees organization. If a starter goes down, or another need presents itself, don’t be surprised to see one of those guys on the move. The MLB season is long and grueling, and the Yankees depth seems to be prepared to get them through the tough times.
But while the lineup is great, and the minor league system is loaded, neither quite explain why I think the Yankees, the most public team in all of sports, are underrated. That brings us to the bullpen.
This is the big one. It’s not about the elite talent at the back end; we’ve seen that before. It’s not about having the only man to ever throw a pitch 103 miles per hour. It’s the depth. Projections are based on statistics, and statistics by definition are historical. For the most part, this formula works, especially in baseball where there is a 162-game sample size for statistics to be able to regress. This is how Fangraphs and other analytical sites and personnel have been able to transform the game of baseball. But here’s the rub: what happens when something comes along that we have never seen before? Can we still trust those beloved statistics? Much like Donald Trump changed the game of political projections 2-years ago, the Yankees’ bullpen is about to change the game of baseball modeling. Never before have we seen a bullpen so deep. The Yankees’ 6th-best reliever can close on a handful of MLB teams, and that’s what’s breaking baseball statistical models across the world. They just simply cannot account for this luxury. While past teams with a “big 3” performed well, what happens over the course of a 162-game season when one of those “big 3” gets hurt? What happens when that “big 3 has pitched 2 or 3 days in a row? What happens when a starter exits in the 3rd inning, and the bullpen needs to eat more innings than they are used to?
These are all problems that simply will not affect the New York Yankees. Their bullpen features SIX pitchers that had a sub-4.00 xFIP a season ago, three of which were sub-3.00. Five of those six arms posted a K/9 above 12. This is simply an advantage that is impossible to account for. Not only will they be far better than any team in history at holding leads, but the bullpen depth allows for something that really no team has ever been able to do before: bringing in a “closer”-type talent to hold a deficit. When the Yankees lead the league in come-from-behind wins this season, don’t give the lineup all the credit, for it will be their bullpen that allows for that to happen. I don’t blame Fangraphs, I don’t blame the sportsbooks, hell, I can’t even get my own model to account for this advantage. But I know it’s there. It’s the same advantage that enabled a team that was projected to win 82 games to win 91 in 2017. It’s the same advantage that enabled a Wild Card team to defeat a 100-win team in the ALDS. It’s the same advantage that enabled a team that was listed at +150 to lead 3-2 in a best of 7 vs. the Astros.
The Yankees are being projected out to be a very good team, but in line with other very good teams of the past and present. I am projecting them to be a great one. Barring an inordinate amount of injuries (I’m talking many key pieces for a long, long time), the Yankees will win 100+ games in 2018, and will revolutionize baseball and baseball modeling in the process.