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A Way-Too-Early Look at the 2018 Season

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Early season simulations give a clue to what the offseason strategy should be.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

One of the most impressive things about the Yankees’ 2017 season is the degree to which the team underperformed its underlying statistics. The Yankees finished with 91 wins, good for the first AL Wild Card, but should have finished with close to 100 wins based on their ability to score runs and suppress opponent’s lineups. With the GM meetings this week, the task now turns to optimizing the team and trying to better line up with true talent level .

Luckily for the Yankees, it’s likely their true talent level is pretty high. Most of the biggest contributors are young and returning (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino), the departing players weren’t super productive anyway (Matt Holliday) and the loss of helpful players, like Todd Frazier, should be offset by gains in other areas, like a full season from Greg Bird.

With all this, it’s a useful exercise to project the 2018 season to get an idea of what the Yankee offseason could look like. First thing we have to do is establish an approximate talent level for the team.

The 2018 Yankees’ Pythag record was 101-61, their BaseRuns record was 102-60 and their fWAR cumulative record was 92-70. These are three great ways to measure true talent of a team, as they disregard things like sequencing and general luck, which aren’t nearly as sustainable as something like scoring a lot of runs. The average of these three “true talent” win totals is 98.333.

To be conservative, and account for slight regression to the mean, we can establish that the true talent of the 2018 Yankees is between 97-98 wins, or about a .600 winning percentage. With that, it’s not hard to set up a random number generator to simulate a 162 game season from a .600-level team, which I ran 1000 times. The rules of the simulation are simple; 162 random numbers between 0-99, if the number is greater or equal to 40, the approximate true talent level, it’s recorded as a win. Run that 1000 times and you get yourself a decent attempt at a distribution of wins, which you can see below:

1000 simulations still establishes a sample size, so the most likely result in this set is a 99 or 100 win season, at a 7% chance each. There were a host of outlier seasons, with less than a 1% chance of occurring, and you can see those here:

Bottom line, the Yankees look pretty good headed into the offseason. This has gone from a team needing significant building blocks to a team that needs that final piece to perfect a roster. This is doubly important for a team with an outlook where 95+ wins is a very real possibility, as adding that “final piece” raises you from a World Series hopeful to a legitimate favorite.

There are two times teams generally go for their “final piece”, over the offseason and at the trade deadline. Trading in the offseason does tend to cost more in terms of prospects, but the bonus is you get an entire season’s worth of production rather than only half. For a team that doesn’t have much leverage, with an impending free agent, could be talked into an offseason trade. In this case, I’m thinking directly of the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles.

Alternatively, a team could want to land a big-name free agent, since they only cost money and can be had for multiple seasons. The class this offseason is relatively weak, with the exception of course of Shohei Otani, who can and should be the chief target of the offseason.

The point of this exercise is to reinforce how good the 2018 Yankees should be. This is a deep, talented lineup with a pitching staff better than anyone gives them credit for. With so much skill and such a high true talent level, it’s the best time for the front office to make a big splash, and move from a true talent 97 win team to a 100 win team.