"A team is its record", says Bill Parcells, the sage of banality. Well by this measure, through 64 games, the Yankees personify mediocrity. They stand at 32-32, mired at .500 for over two months, having risen to two or more games above mediocrity's benchmark twice, at 9-7 and 12-10, the last time on April 23rd.
However, if a team is its record, it is not only its record. Often, there are trends, signs, indices in how they play that a record belies, omens that betoken a future that differs from its past.
THE RETURN OF A-ROD; THE RESURGENCE OF GIAMBI
In my previous post, "History's Mirror," (May 19, 2008), I observed that through 44 games, the Yankees had scored 179 runs, a decline of 24% from the total they'd amassed at an identical point in 2007. However, the Yankees' loss of A-Rod and Posada through the lion share of those games accounted, I argued, for much of the drop.
In the 22 games since A-Rod returned to the Yankees lineup, the team has scorded 118 runs. Their average per game, that is, has risen from 4.1 runs scored to 5.2 runs scored.
If the last five of those 22 game are any indication, then Posada's return on June 5th heralds a more potent lineup still. In fact, with Giambi's resurgence, there's isn't any reason why the Yankees couldn't approximate the 6.0 runs per game they averaged in 2007, even if Cano continues to founder for the season's duration and Posada produces closer to his career average. (Giambi created 43 runs in all of 2007, according to Baseball Reference. In 2008, Giambi's Runs Creation figure already totals 40 runs.)
What does this mean for the season's duration?
Well, through 66 games, the Yankees also have allowed 300 runs or a 4.55 average per game. So let's hold this figure constant for a moment and extrapolate.
Assume the Yankees Runs Scored trend continues and the Yankees continue to score on average 5.1 runs per game for the rest of the season. (The projection, of course, basically excludes the marked increase in production they can expect from their catcher because Posada only has played in 4 of the last 22 games.)
At a 5.1 RS average and a 4.54 RA average over the Yankees remaining 96 games, James' Pyhtagorean theorem would predict a team winning percentage of .558, giving the Yankees about 53 to 53 wins over their remaining 96, and amassing them 86 to 87 wins for the season.
Should Posada's return increase the Yankees' average RS total only marginally, say from 489 total scored runs over the remaining 96 games to 528, or an average increase of .4 runs per game, the Yankees winning percentage would increase to .594, or 57 wins. and predict, in turn, a 90-win season. And if 90 wins doesn't necessarily qualify them for the playoffs, it should at least make them a viable playoff contender.
RUNS ALLOWED: CAN THE PITCHING HOLD?
Of course, the calcuations above assume the Yankees' pitching neither improves nor regresses over the season's duration.
And to be fair, the reason why the Yankees' record over the last 22 games since A-Rod's return has not risen much above its .500 benchmark is because the team has allowed more runs just as it has scored them.
Through 44 games the Yankees had allowed 197 runs, an average of 4.48 runs per game. Over the next 22 games, the Yankees surrendered 101 runs, an average of 4.59 runs per game.
Thus lies the cause for optimism. The increase in runs scored (1.1 average per game) dramatically exceeds the average increase in runs allowed over the last 22 games (.11 per game)
Given Wang and Pettitte's aberrant performances in their last four outings, in fact, the Yankees should consider themselves fortunate their average runs allowed has increased dramatically.
That it has not, however-- that Wang and Pettitte stand to improve, even if Rasner and Mussina regress and that whatever Joba provides as a 5th starter has to surpass every other alternative-- should provide some measure of confidence that the Runs Allowed figure assumed above will bear fruit in the end. In fact, should the Yankees' pitching cede, on average 4.54 runs per game over the season's duration, their runs allowed will total 736 or about 40 runs better than their 777 total of last season.
In that eventuality, a 90 win season and playoff contention doesn't defy the realm of possibility.