The Yankees have a 51-18 record. They have noted the more races in baseball (even with the Mets, although they have played fewer games) and have allowed the least amount. No matter what your expectations were with the kit at the start of the season, they have been far exceeded.
They are equal with third best start in club history through the first 69 games of a season – along with the 1928, 1939 and 1998 Yankees, who went on to win the World Series. Set aside for a moment the rich history of the team. This is the ninth best start throughout 69 commitments in the National or American League. The rest of the teams on the list qualified for the postseason and four of them won the Fall Classic.
Given that we’re deeper into the season than it seems – about 43% of the Yankees’ games have already been played – it’s really not too risky to ask ourselves something that Bombers fans are likely to have on their minds.
Is the record of 116 wins, achieved by the Mariners in 2001, within reach? What must they do to achieve it?
Well sure. Everything is possible. After Wednesday’s 5-4 victory over the Rays, have a projection of 120 wins. It is also true that a “projection” is not the best way to assess this, because we cannot assume that everything that has happened will happen again. Those 2001 Mariners, for example, started their first 69 games 53-16, two games better than these Yankees, and fell short of 120 wins.
It is important to think about the meaning of that. First, the Yankees have had health on their side so far, despite some bullpen snags and a pair of 10-day DL stints for Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson. Can they sustain that, considering they have the oldest roster in the majors?
Second, it’s not a given that Aaron Judge, as good as he’s been so far, hit 62 home runs on the year. Anthony Rizzo probably won’t finish with 45 homers. But those are projections. There is nothing to indicate that José Treviño will finish with an OPS+ of 137.
Of course, it can also be seen from the opposite side. One could expect more than Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo have done so far. Brian Cashman could make some serious acquisitions at the trade deadline that we’re not factoring in. Again, if they continue to hold an overwhelming lead in the division in September, Cuban Nestor Cortes and Jameson Taillon could get some time off.
One thing is certain, the Yankees have 51 wins in their first 69 games. That amount is not going anywhere.
But what comes next?
What do they need to do to earn 116…or more?
At 51-18 with a .739 winning percentage, the Yankees have 93 games remaining. To match the Mariners’ mark from 2001, they need to be 65-28 and .699 the rest of the year. To set a new record with 117 wins, they have to go 66-27 and .709 the rest of the way.
To be honest, it doesn’t sound impossible. Since 2000, a team has had a 93-game stretch with a .700 winning percentage multiple times. The 2017 Dodgers did it, as did the 2004 Cardinals and those 2001 Mariners, the A’s in 2001 and 2002. The same Yankees did it in 1998 and 1997. It’s not easy, but there are precedents.
But here is the trick. Only four teams in the past 50 years — the 2001 A’s, 1993 Braves, 1977 Royals and 1975 Reds — have done so by finishing a season. This data highlights the importance of rest and injuries in the twilight of the season. It’s hard to start a campaign that well. But it’s even harder to finish it at that rate.
The Yankees’ best finish in their last 93 games was against the legendary 1927 Bombers, who finished 66-27 (.710). Therefore, to break the all-time record for wins, they don’t just need a historic start. They also need a historic closure.
What has happened to other teams that got off to a start like this?
Looking at other teams that have started the season 51-18 (.739) or better in their first 69 games, we realize one thing: Very few teams have done just that. Only a dozen, and several of them made it in the re-integration era that has little to compare with baseball today.
So instead of worrying about postseason success, let’s just take a look at those 12 clubs, and compare how they did in their first 69 games, and then after that stretch. (Remember that until 1961, the season was only 154 games).
.809 in his first 69 games // .578 the rest of the year // -.231
.779 in his first 69 games // .704 the rest of the year // -.075
.768 in his first 69 games // .677 the rest of the year // -.091
.765 in his first 69 games // .655 the rest of the year // -.110
.754 in his first 69 games // .659 the rest of the year // -.095
.754 in his first 69 games // .642 the rest of the year // -.112
.754 in his first 69 games // .576 the rest of the year // -.178
.742 in his first 69 games // .655 the rest of the year // -.087
.739 in his first 69 games // .677 the rest of the year // -.062
.739 in his first 69 games // .570 the rest of the year // -.169
.739 in his first 69 games // .560 the rest of the year // -.179
.739 in his first 69 games // .536 the rest of the year // -.203
So: Each of those 12 teams that got off to that kind of start played worse for the rest of the season, for an average winning percentage of -.133, a reminder of how hard it is to maintain this winning pace all year . The good news, of course, is that each of them finished with a very good record; collectively, they played for a winning percentage of .624, or a pace of 101 wins over a span of 162 games.
If the Yankees did just that – play .624 ball for the rest of the season – they would end up winning 109 games. That brand would not set any records. But it would still be an extremely impressive regular season.
What do the forecasts say?
We like projections – systems like ZiPS, or Steamer, or Bat – because they take into account each player’s past performance. Of course, the forecasts are not perfect. For example, you can’t predict future injuries, or what kind of players will bolster the roster via trades.
This is how the Yankees would finish according to these systems:
Baseball prospectus: 103-59
If the Yankees keep playing at exactly the same pace, they’ll end up winning 120 games. If the Bombers finish the season at the same pace as those other teams with great starts to the year, they’ll end up winning 109 games. If they manage to close as the predictions say, their win count will be 103.
In the end, all that really matters for the Yankees is winning that coveted 28th title, no matter how many wins they rack up in the regular season. After all, just ask the 2001 Mariners.
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Can NY break the 116-win mark?