Don't be a pessimist about the Yankees, just be reasonable

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Put the "Fire Cashman" and "Sell! Sell! Sell!" narratives on the back burner and just look at the facts.

If you were to spend a moment to peruse the comments on any article about the Yankees--be it on this site or elsewhere on the internet--you would think that the Yankees are playing like the Rays. In fact, the Yankees are three games over .500 and are just a half-game out of the second wild card spot, pegging their playoff odds (per Baseball Prospectus) at 41.3% as of June 18th. That's really not that bad; it's actually 11th in MLB in playoff odds. Yet, the narratives persist. "Fire Cashman", "Tear it down", etc. are what Yankees fans have said, after just anointing the team World Champions after a spending spree this offseason.

The problem with these narratives (both optimistic and pessimistic) is that they're mostly based on emotion more so than fact. The idea that the Yankees would be successful before this season was because they signed a number of stars, and that must create a winning ball club, right? And the pessimism associated with the recent sputter is because of the age-old recency bias, when recent performance drowns out times when the team looked pretty good as a collective. That is why I would recommend reading both Mitchel Lichtman's analysis of projection systems and Dave Cameron's reaction to his post. The fact is--both I and everyone else always have a "what have you done for me lately" mentality when it comes to baseball and, well... everything. We make these assumptions all the time. If you've been fighting with a significant other or family member recently, you're "always fighting"; if you get a couple of bad grades, you're "always failing"; the list goes on. What this assumes (incorrectly) though, is that the current trend will continue at that pace, and this bias is no different in baseball.

How do we push aside this immense subjectivity? We try to trust in projection systems in deciding the future of each player, and we try to ignore (as much as possible) the misleading 2014 stats. Now, that's not always perfect. With players like Dellin Betances, Chase Whitley, and Yangervis Solarte, you may have to do a little detective work with such short track records, especially when they filled different roles in that time. However, for a vast majority of players, projections work pretty well. There are going to be times when they're completely wrong, but it's certainly better than a random guess. People often dismiss the work of these systems because most don't know how they're created or how they work, but they generally do the type of work we already do in our head--they factor in age, track record, injury history, and historical precedence to figure out the probable performance of a player. What they don't do is factor in subjectivity. They don't care if a player doesn't have the will to win or that they're not gritty, because that isn't at all scientific. The more we do that--in all things, not just baseball--the better we would be in making logical decisions and in predicting the future.

When it comes to the Yankees, we can all cool our jets by taking a look at these projections and putting them into context. It was clear that the Yankees would be a slightly-above-.500 team, and that's exactly what they are. We've seen some surprises like Yangervis Solarte and Dellin Betances, but the projections have all adjusted accordingly. The following shows the ZiPS WAR projections coming into the season, and then their projected full season as of now:

Pre-Season Now
Brian McCann 3.2 2.0
Mark Teixeira 1.7 1.8
Yangervis Solarte N/A 2.3
Derek Jeter 0.4 0.8
Kelly Johnson 1.5 1.0
Brian Roberts 0.3 0.1
Brett Gardner 2.3 2.9
Jacoby Ellsbury 4.1 3.3
Carlos Beltran 1.7 0.1
Alfonso Soriano 2.0 0.0
Ichiro Suzuki 0.3 0.9
Francisco Cervelli 0.5 -0.1
CC Sabathia 3.4 1.7
Ivan Nova 2.7 -0.3
Masahiro Tanaka 3.8 5.9
Hiroki Kuroda 3.1 2.6
Michael Pineda 0.7 1.1
David Phelps 0.9 0.9
Chase Whitley N/A 1.2 (Steamer)
David Robertson 1.3 1.1
Vidal Nuno 0.1 0.0
Shawn Kelley 0.3 0.7
Adam Warren 0.0 0.8

The combined total for the pre-season WAR combined: 36.6, and based on the current projections: 30.8. This does not even include the likes of Dellin Betances who had wacky preseason projections because of his failed stint as a starter and other spot performers and relievers who were projected to finish around replacement level. This was just a simple guide to show that these projection systems provided a good median of expected performance, and while there were disappointments and surprises, it certainly wasn't far off. A good or bad month would tick these in the opposite direction as well. The team's recent performance doesn't change their current talent level, only the amount of wins they have currently banked.

The Yankees are not in danger of falling apart, just like it wasn't likely that they would win 100 games coming into this season. Many of the people on this site, thankfully, take the moderate route of expectation, and I don't think this team is far off from what we've expected. We certainly would have liked more of Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, but the team has survived considering those losses. Given the fact that the latter two won't be lost for the whole season and that the Yankees will try to spring for some relief from the trade market, the Yankees are not in horrible shape. Their recent mediocrity won't doom them, and the projections back that up. And whenever you think they might, take a peek at their projections one more time before you panic.

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