It’s no secret the Yankees haven’t been playing up to their potential for some time now. They haven’t necessarily been bad, and some of the hysteria over the team’s struggles have been overblown. They have simply been a little worse than expected, posting a 29-23 record after Aaron Judge went down on July 26th, the 11th-best record in baseball over that span.
Of course, a confluence of factors drove the Yankees’ shortcomings, namely a rash of injuries. Missing Judge, Aroldis Chapman, Didi Gregorius, and Gary Sanchez, among others, for stretches led the Yankees to a couple months of uninspiring play. All those players are back in the fold, and the team is as close to fully operational as it has been all year.
Not only that, but the Yankees have the added benefit of players who weren’t on the roster when the season began, namely J.A. Happ, Andrew McCutchen, and Zach Britton. At this point, I think it’s fair to ask: at full strength, where do the Yankees rank among the league’s best?
Just scanning the roster, it feels like the Yankees have an argument as the game’s most talented team, loaded at nearly every position. They have enough good outfielders that Brett Gardner, in the midst of another quality 3-WAR season, has been relegated to fifth outfielder duty. Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Gregorius, and
Babe Ruth reincarnate Luke Voit form a terrific, power-hitting infield.
The bullpen runs deeper than any, armed with closer-caliber pitchers like Chapman, Dellin Betances, and David Robertson, not to mention arms with the ability to cover multiple middle innings like Chad Green and Jonathan Holder. In Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Happ, the Yankees have three legitimate choices to start the AL Wild Card Game.
Does that group stack up as the best in the league? It’s hard to say. The Astros likely have the Yankees beat when it comes to starting pitching, with a terrifying, hard-throwing triumvirate of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton at the front of their rotation. The Red Sox, powered by All-World sluggers Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, lead the league in slugging and on-base percentage, and could arguably have the better lineup.
It’s too close to call just by eyeing the rosters, so let’s turn to something more concrete. What do the cold and calculating projection systems have to say about where the Yankees rank among baseball’s finest?
Let’s look at lineups first. Here are the top projected batting lines the rest of the way courtesy of FanGraphs’ depth charts projections, sorted by wOBA:
MLB Projected wOBA
The Yankees rank fourth, but the differences are slim among the top few. For all intents and purposes, in the eyes of the projections, the Yankees’ lineup is tied with the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Cubs as the best in MLB.
On the pitching side, I decided to simply rank by projected WAR, as otherwise, NL teams could get an undeserved boost, lowering their ERA’s by virtue of pitchers hitting. Here’s how the top teams shake out:
MLB Projected Pitching WAR
The Yankees project to strike out more batters than anyone else, and maintain one of the league’s best ERA’s despite playing in a relatively hitter-friendly park. In essence, the projections have the Yankees as one of the three or four best teams on both sides of the ball.
Unfortunately, similar things can be said about Boston, Houston, Cleveland, and LA. If you add it all up and just look at overall projected WAR the rest of the way, the Yankees rank second, just behind, the Astros, but the margins are so thin at the top so as to be negligible. If anything, looking at projections has muddled the picture even further; the Yankees, and a handful of other teams at the top, are so tightly packed together, it’s almost impossible to determine who has the best roster entering October.
Of course, the Yankees will probably have a harder trip to the World Series than any of the other team’s with elite rosters, by virtue of finishing second in the AL East. The Athletics, whose roster doesn’t appear towards the top of these projections, will give the Yankees everything they’ve got in the Wild Card Game.
That is the nature of baseball’s current playoff structure. The Yankees can blame the system, or they can blame themselves for not winning more games than the Red Sox. Preferably, they will blame no one and simply win the one-game playoff. If they do that, their roster clearly stacks up as just as good as any they will meet in the rest of the tournament.