The mighty New York Yankees went 16 innings without a hit over the weekend, leaving them eight outs from being no-hit in consecutive games. What happened next? A comeback, walk-off win over the Houston Astros on Sunday. Then a comeback win from four runs down against the Oakland Athletics on Monday, New York’s 54th victory of the season, which continued the team’s flirtation with a record pace.
The Yankees have the most wins in baseball, seven more than their crosstown-rival New York Mets. The Bronx Bombers have scored the most runs per game (5.1) and allowed the fewest (3.1). How high are expectations getting? Historically high.
The Yankees’ winning percentage of .730 entering Tuesday was tied for the ninth-best start to an MLB season through 74 games, with only one of the eight teams that had a higher win rate — the 2001 Seattle Mariners — making such a run this century. Those Mariners wound up tying the record for wins in a 162-game season with 116, equaling a mark set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs. At the most basic level, if the Yankees maintain this win rate over 162 games, they would win 118 games, an astounding figure.
The 1906 Cubs accomplished their feat in a shorter season (152 games), so Chicago holds the best winning percentage in baseball history (.763), which the Yankees are unlikely to threaten. And the Dodgers went 43-17 (.717) in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season for a slightly better winning percentage than the 2001 Mariners (.716). In any case, New York has a chance to eclipse the Mariners’ mark while chasing the franchise’s 28th championship.
So how likely is it New York equals or surpasses that lofty win total? To assess the Yankees’ chances, we can look at an average of two factors. The first is the team’s base runs win rate compared with its upcoming opponents’. Base runs gives us a good estimate of a team’s performance by reducing the impact at-bat sequencing has in results. For example, if a team is issued four consecutive walks, that almost certainly would result in a run; however, if those same four walks were sprinkled throughout a game, there is a good chance the walks themselves wouldn’t generate any runs. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees’ base runs indicate they should have won 49, not 54, of their first 74 games, illustrating the good fortune they have enjoyed.
The second factor is the relative strength of the team as reflected in the betting markets. Similar to how we derive the sportsbooks’ NFL team ratings by using their public-facing point spreads, we can do the same with baseball money-line odds. (This involves the use of a solver tool to go through each completed game and minimize the error between the known implied win rates and what we estimate them to be based on the teams involved. In plain English: We’re tracking how oddsmakers have assessed each team in each game as a measure of strength.)
Using the average of those two talent indicators, the Yankees have a 27 percent chance to win at least 117 games and break the MLB record.
The record would be nice, but a World Series title is obviously more important to the franchise. Having a win rate above 70 percent — which projects to 113 wins in a 162-game season — certainly earns the Yankees the right to be front-runners. Since 1900, just 10 teams have finished with such a win rate. Eight appeared in the World Series, and five were crowned champions.
According to FanGraphs’ projections, however, the Yankees have just the fifth-best chance of winning the World Series (12.1 percent), trailing the Astros, Dodgers, Mets and Atlanta Braves. The fact that the Yankees have won more games than their raw counting numbers would suggest plays a role in this estimate. The Dodgers, by comparison, have won three fewer games than expected, indicating they are stronger than they appear in the standings. The Mets have overachieved as much as the Yankees (five more wins than expected), but they should get three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer back soon — and perhaps two-time winner Jacob deGrom, too.
FiveThirtyEight is more optimistic about the Yankees, giving them the best chances at a title at 22 percent. The betting markets fall somewhere in the middle. The consensus future odds on the Yankees winning the World Series is +445, meaning you would win $445 for every $100 wagered. That implies an 18 percent chance of a title, which declines to 16 percent after removing the amount charged by a sportsbook for taking a bet.
As the odds indicate, it’s a little surprising the Yankees are playing this well. The Astros were the favorite to win the American League pennant from November through April, and the Toronto Blue Jays were the favorite to win the AL East from April to May. New York was the third choice behind Los Angeles and Toronto to end the season with the best record in baseball.
Obviously, Aaron Judge being on track for 51 home runs (per the latest estimates from Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections) and Anthony Rizzo for 35 has helped, and any falloff by either slugger will depress the Yankees’ chances of the wins record — or the title. Until that happens, though, Judge’s proclamation seems fair: “We got the best team on the planet,” he said after one of New York’s most recent steps toward history.