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Have the Yankees improved from where they were in 2014?

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If the current Yankees are no better than they were in August 2014, was that good enough?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

All right. I accept your cynicism, your disillusionment, your revulsion. The 2014 Yankees lost the division to the Orioles by 12 games. They were clearly not good enough, and all their moves so far this offseason have hardly left them a better team.

I'll accept this much of your analysis: the Yankees have swapped one elite reliever for another, they've turned a very good backup catcher in a questionable left-handed reliever, they've acquired a potential platoon shortstop by creating a hole in their rotation they'll have to patch out of their already thin minor league system or by investing the significant years and dollars they've been trying to avoid giving a free agent. They've signed a third baseman who's better than they've started the last two years, but who is really just above average.

They're planning to run a team out based on defense and just enough hitting and (we presume) some pitching (though where that is likely to come from is still up for debate). Just like the end of last season.

I disagree with this analysis, but I'm willing to accept it as a worst case scenario. Because the Yankees played just about the same two games over .500 pace that they played the entire season.

Except that they didn't play the same kind of .500 ball after July 31st that they had played before. Before the trade deadline, the Yankees run differential was -30. After the deadline, they were basically neutral.

But I see more to it than just that.

Look:

Run Differential Before July 31 After July 31
-1 14 13% 10 18%
-2 10 9% 3 5%
-3 6 6% 6 11%
>-3 22 21% 7 13%
>3 14 13% 8 15%
3 7 7% 5 9%
2 18 17% 4 7%
1 16 15% 12 22%

Do you see what I see?

The Yankees were blown out of games significantly less often (>-3). If I accept the doom and gloom crowd's worst case scenario, then it has to be with the silver lining that this is a team with the potential to significantly outperform.  It could all be noise and small sample size, but I remain an unrepentant optimist.

That's with a rotation of cast offs and spare parts. If the improved defense can help the Yankees' pitchers shave as little as a third of a run per game off their runs allowed, it moves the pitching from league average to one of the best rotations in the league.

Can Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius and Martin Prado help save the Yankees two runs each week beyond what Solarte, Jeter and Brian Roberts managed? The Yankees front office certainly seems to think so. It might not close the entire 12-game gap with the Orioles, but it's a start. And the team certainly has time to improve.