Through the first third of the season, the Yankees lead the American League East, at 29-25. Heading into the season, New York were not popular picks to take the division crown. Now 54 games in though, not only do we have wins and losses on the board, but the rest-of-season projections can also be updated with a reasonable sample size of 2015 information. Indeed, updated playoff projections on Fangraphs now shows the Yankees as the favourites to win the East. Clear favourites at that, better odds to take the division crown than the other four teams combined, and close to a two-in-three probability of making the postseason when accounting for their WildCard chances.
This is a pretty significant departure from the preseason projections, which had the Red Sox as the clear favourites. Indeed, Craig Edwards at Fangraphs mentions the Red Sox early swoon as potentially the biggest boost to the Yankees chances. The Red Sox projected rest-of-season win clip is right where it was at the start of the year, and even in the cellar now they are still pegged with the second best odds to make the postseason out of the East. Clearly Fangraphs projection systems aren't treating them too harshly for their poor start. It's the games they have lost already that's dragging them down though. Coming into the season, it did seem like the Red Sox had optimistic projections given the state of their pitching staff, and to some extent the early part of the year may have demonstrated this.
Still, this isn't just about the Red Sox falling off their expected pace. The Yankees have gone from an expected 82 win team to one that is projected to win 86 games. New York has made the biggest improvement in the league on projected winning percentage the rest of the way. Such a gain in just 54 games would suggest the Yankees were literally under-estimated coming into the year, and when Edwards looked at some of the key players who have helped the team make gains here we can see why. Alex Rodriguez has made the biggest gain among all Yankee position players, I imagine the vast majority of us have been caught out by the 40-year old making such an impressive return from suspension and hip trouble. Mark Teixeira is right behind A-Rod, perhaps having experimented with baby wrist transplant surgery over the offseason. Michael Pineda is finally turning in a healthy campaign, and living up to his extraordinary promise in a breakout year. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were expected to be good, but no projection system could have pegged just how good.
This promising start to the year has come even with arguably the team's best two players in Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka missing significant time. Tanaka returned yesterday looking like he never left, and with hopefully another boost is due this month when Ellsbury is back, the Yankees can continue to push on atop the East. Of course, there is the flip side of the injury risk with their current top-producers. Rodriguez, Teixeira or Pineda are all injury risks and with all three important enough to leave a significant impact should they miss time. Brian McCann's MRI today is also a nervous moment, and the bullpen simply hasn't been deep enough to withstand an injury to either Betances or Miller.
So far though, things are looking promising. Coming into the season, it did look like this team could contend for the postseason if everything broke correctly and so far more has gone for good rather than ill. The division as a whole has been mediocre, with the Yankees 4 games over .500 looking very much like a team that can win 85 to 90 games. They certainly could be the pick of the bunch.
What do you think? Are the Yankees the favourites to win the AL East?