Are the Yankees Playing Over Their Heads?


Who cares? Enjoy the present and let the statisticians worry about a tomorrow that can't be predicted.

Baseball statistics are interesting. Sometimes, they are useful. But what they never are is necessary.

I have a friend who's one of the new breed of Fantasy Baseball, neo-sabremetricians. We were having a Hot Stove conversation the other day. As is always the case between Yankees and A's fans, it turned into a debate.

"The Yankees are playing way over their heads," Lee said to me.

"Yeah, they probably are. But so what?"

"They're 20-13 but have only outscored their opponents by eleven runs. Run differential is the best predictor over time for how a team will end the season."

"Tell that to the players on the 2012 Baltimore Orioles."

"You'll see. The Yankees are headed for a fall."

"Ok, Cassandra. Whatever your slide-rule says."

The debate ended with a proposed bet. Lee said the Yankees will be no better than five games over .500 at the All-Star break. Twenty dollars American is on the line. I took him up on it. That's what good fans do.

I have a fun time with statheads. They remind me of the kids who stay up on Christmas Eve, not because they believe in Santa, but because they want to grope and prod the shapes of the presents under the tree to guess what's inside the wrappings. I appreciate their intellectual curiosity, but wonder if they have less joy come game time. When it comes down to it, baseball is infield dirt, blades of grass, four bases, and nine men and a batter giving it their all. Stats are abstract, the game as watched by our eyes is real..

Now I've been reading the Bill James Baseball Abstract since I was ten. That was almost thirty years ago. I know what WAR and Runs Created are. I know walks are valuable, but not as good as a single unless accomplished by a leadoff batter. Stats are great fodder for debate but they are minutiae and so much hot air.

Baseball is not stock market technical analysis. Those playing between the white lines don't care one whit whether you or the stats say they are ready to regress. Individual human beings - last time I checked, ballplayers are that - are impossible to predict.

Groups of humans behaving in packs, which technical analysis measures, are much easier to predict. But even then, in the world of trading there is a saying: "the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent." I'm never going to buck the trend as long as Mariano Rivera and effective starting pitching and a little timely hitting are making winning close games less a function of luck than good play.

Betting on the Yankees to regress is to suck all the fun out of the season we've been witnessing. As a fan, what is the point of predicting? Fan is derived from fanatic. They should not be cool-headed masters of arbitrage. Our job is to watch the games or listen on the radio. It is to get pumped with adrenaline with our fellow fans at the park, yelling our throats raw. But mostly, it is to appreciate the skill and efforts of the players. UZR will never convince me that Derek Jeter has been a terrible defensive player in his career. I have my eyes to tell me that he won the Yankees a playoff series with The Flip.

Sure, the Yankees could fall back to the pack. But for one night at least they are in first place, only one game out from owning the best record in baseball, all with a MASH unit of splinted and gauzed players watching from the dugout. Baseball fandom is not about tomorrow. It has forever been about the bonding of family and friends in the present and the fond memories of yesteryear.

But I suspect Lee is a baseball fan more than a stathead, after all. Despite twenty-seven World Series titles -one of his dreaded counting stats - he always uses his numbers to empirically prove that the Yankees suck. But at least his Yankee hatred is a hot-blooded motive, and that's what being a fan is all about.

Bravo, Lee.

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