We’re slowly ticking our way closer to the trade deadline, and the Yankees have another move to make. The play is for starting pitching, whether that be Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia or someone else has yet to be seen. What is underplayed in all of this is how difficult the Yankees’ schedule is, and how much of a tenuous position they really are in. If they want to hold on to their playoff position, this next move will have a serious impact.
For the sake of explanation, here’s what the Yankees’ schedule looks like moving forward, after the current Tampa Bay series. I used rest-of-season winning percentage from FanGraphs to come up with an average opponent over the rest of the year:
Yankees Strength of Schedule
|Toronto Blue Jays||9||0.522|
|Boston Red Sox||10||0.565|
|New York Mets||4||0.521|
|Tampa Bay Rays||6||0.504|
|Kansas City Royals||1||0.501|
The Yankees have to face an average opponent that is a .522 winning percentage true talent, which is about the equivalent of the Mets or Blue Jays. That’s not a terribly great nor terribly bad team, but they’re good enough where you’re not going to snag two of three that easily.
I could probably take issue with a few of those numbers, like the aforementioned Jays being too high or the Yankees (.498) being too low, but this is a good ballpark because there’s no getting around the fact they have to face a ton of good teams down the stretch—ten games against the Red Sox, seven games against the Indians, six games against the Rays, and nine games against the Blue Jays. Not only is that a tough period, but it’s just a lot of inter-divisional games.
This circles me back to the subject of the trade deadline. If you’re the front office, this eventuality is baked into your projections. The Yankees currently sit atop the AL East and are relatively comfortable in a wild card position if they fall from that pedestal. FanGraphs says they have a 64.2% chance to make the postseason (fourth-best in the league), FiveThirtyEight says 78%, and Baseball Prospectus says 78.3%. The difference is largely because the latter two believe the team is better than FanGraphs does, but the point is that they’re pretty well-positioned to make the playoffs if they play the next few days right.
The strategy has already been effective, in my opinion. Adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle nail down a shaky bullpen that has deflated their record in close games, and Todd Frazier plugs a very important hole at a corner spot. A pitcher is the only thing left, and the hope is definitely for Gray.
If Billy Beane refuses to lower his price, we’ll have to adjust to either Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, or somebody else entirely. I personally think Darvish is worth the prospect price considering what I said, that such a difficult schedule means that a good deadline acquisition disproportionately affects your playoff odds. I don’t know what the Yankees ultimately decide—a lot of that is out of their control—but their good positioning and difficult upcoming schedule means they need to do something, because it will matter.