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The 2021 Yankees and the lack of blowouts

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My favorite measure of a good team hasn’t shown up just yet.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

I only ask for two things out of the baseball teams I follow. One: When you win, win by a lot. Two: When you lose, lose by a little. A team that wins a bunch of their games 10-2 and loses 5-4 is just a better team than one who continually wins and loses by a one or two-run margin. Blowout victories both work as an indicator of true talent and serve a host of other benefits for a team.

“High stress” pitches take more of a toll on your pitcher than “low stress” pitches. If your starter is in a game up by six or seven, 100 pitches probably doesn’t tax you as much as it would in a one-run game. You also get to conserve your high leverage bullpen arms, getting to roll out the rookies and saving the big relievers for the close games (as the Yankees did with a trio of MLB debuts on Tuesday). There’s also a fan enjoyment element to blowouts as well — we all love watching Gerrit Cole win a 1-0 game almost single-handedly, but it’s significantly less stressful to be a fan when they put up 12 runs.

But don’t just take my word for it:

There are outliers in every dataset — peep those Mariners way up in the top left quadrant — but you can see where the division leaders rank compared to the Yankees. It’s simple, but scoring way more runs than your opponent means a lot for the team’s performance.

This all leads me to still be concerned about this team, even as the Yankees’ starting rotation has continued to pitch well as they’ve come out of the trade deadline sweeping Miami and taking two of three against the Orioles. Yes, they blew out the Orioles twice, but all three games against Miami were two-run games. The series they won against the Rays beforehand? No blowouts. The two-game sweep of the Phillies? No blowouts. Before Tuesday, the last blowout win for the team had been July 18th.

Prorating out those 12 blowout wins over the full 162 games, assuming no change to the team’s play, we’d get about 18 blowouts. Even if you believe that the offense is legitimately better than it was from April to July — which, hey, I like Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo a lot, I think it’s definitely possible that this offense is better — how much more can you expect? Perhaps 24, or a full third more than the pace they’ve been on through 107 games?

This Yankees team just doesn’t hold up against previous incarnations in this window. Again, the pitching is better than we’ve seen from the 2017 or 2018 teams, but the drop-off in true offensive firepower is really telling.

Now, every win counts the same. You don’t make up two games in the standings for winning by eight runs, and while they’ve blown out the Red Sox just once, they’ve only been blown out by that same team once (although they’re 0-2 in blowout games with the Rays), which might indicate that the teams are closer in true talent than the record might show.

The Yankees aren’t as bad a team as the Mariners, whose entire season is hanging on their ability to win one-run games — a castle built on sand for a team with real playoff aspirations. But even though the club has unquestionably looked better since the trade deadline, it doesn’t boast the same kind of explosiveness that the best teams in baseball do, or even that previous versions of this team did, and that’s worth tracking throughout the stretch run.