"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

“What’s your 20?”

Much has been written about the need for the Yanks to get off to a strong start in the highly-competitive AL East.

With last night’s win over the Tigers, the Bombers have a 10-10 record after their first 20 games.  Some would call that disappointing.  Some would call for Joe Girardi’s head on a platter.  Some would step back and say “given all they’ve been through, 10-10 is pretty decent.”  But perhaps a larger question is . . . do the first 20 games of a season make or break your chances for the playoffs?

To attempt to answer this, I’ve analyzed the performances of all 104 playoff teams in the wild card era from 1996-2008 (I excluded 1995 due to the shortened schedule).  I first looked at how those teams did in their first 20 games:

Wins

# Teams

6

1

7

2

8

8

9

12

10

10

11

21

12

9

13

24

14

8

15

4

16

4

17

1

At first glance, it would seem that starting off winning roughly 2/3rds (13 of 20) of your games makes you an instant playoff contender.  But overall, the playoff teams averaged “only” 11.5 wins in their first 20 games (.575 winning percentage), and there was a 2.3 win standard deviation in the group. (For the math-challenged, that means that roughly 2/3rds of the teams were within 2.3 wins (higher or lower) of that 11.5 average.) In fact, roughly 30% of the playoff teams won half or less than half of their first 20 games.  So, it would appear that Yankee fans don’t have to panic just yet.

The playoff teams finished the seasons with a combined .584 winning percentage (roughly 94.5 wins). If this figure holds true for 2009, that means the Yanks must go 84-58 (.592) the rest of the way. By the way, the subgroup of playoff teams that started EXACTLY 10-10 ended up playing .578 ball (roughly 93.5 wins).   So it IS possible for a team to overcome a “mediocre” start, especially if we are speaking of a mere 20 games.

For thoroughness sake though, we should examine the final records of all teams (playoff or not) that split their first 20 games.  There were 57 such teams from 1996 through 2008.  We previously mentioned that 10 of those teams (17.5%) made the playoffs.  However, the “10-10″ group as a whole finished, perhaps not surprisingly, with an average 80-82 record.  Also, even with a standard deviation of 9.5 wins, that means that roughly 2/3rds of the teams finished with between 71 and 89 wins.

In the “possible bad karma” department, the Yankees have had one season since 1996 in which they’ve won exactly half of their first 20 games.  That was . . . last year.  In fact, the Yanks have had eight such starts in their history, and have never once gone on to the post-season.  (To be fair, it should be noted that they’ve made the post-season six different times after winning fewer than half of their first 20 games, including as recently as 2007, when they started 8-12).

So what’s the bottom line? Its early.  And though teams that play .500 ball in their first 20 games generally stay at that level, its also entirely possible to right the ship from that point forward.

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6 comments

1 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 29, 2009 12:00 pm

Realistically, you might have to look at how far behind you are after 20 games, and your remaining schedule and the remaining schedule of the teams in front of you.

Toronto is off to a hot start, but they have yet to play any AL East teams.
Of 20 games for the Yanks, only 6 have been at home.
Every team has injuries. If by the RCNB, a team's injuries come early, but they are healthy later, vs the other way around, that has bearing on how valuable a hot/slow start is.

If we were 12-8 (.600) but still 3 games behind Boston, would we be better off? We are 2.5 ahead of TB, but they have played a tough schedule with only 7 Home games. I think realistically, it's a complicated formula. Making the PS it not based on our record per se, but our record compared to other teams.

We have had a number of issues we didn't expect. CC and Tex are 2 of our 3 biggest guns, and have underperformed (especially in light of our biggest gun being out of the lineup). But our 2 biggest questions, Po and Cano, seem to be looking good. Andy also seems to be in good shape.

To me, the only issue is that we have lost a few games that were in the bag. 95% of the time, Mo saves that game against Boston and a 6 rub lead with AJ pitching a shutout holds up. What hurts is not so much the 10-10 record, but that we should be 12-8, a game ahead of Boston and 5.5 ahead of TB.

But all in all I think we are OK. If we don't continue to have injuries (beyond the norm) and what we've seen from Po and Cano hold up, I have to assume CC and Tex will heat up, and we will be fine. Certainly, Phil and Melancon and nice pluses.

And you know Cashman is going to get SOMEBODY mid season. I personally hope it's Holliday.

It will certainly be a competative year, but I think we are right there. We have issues and weak spots, but on paper, we still have a very good team.

2 Rich   ~  Apr 29, 2009 12:25 pm

Obviously, these numbers are skewed by the presence and absence, respectively, of two players.

One pitcher's preseence (Wang) contributed to 30% of their losses, but Hughes's stellar outing last night offers signs that they can easily compensate for that deficiency going forward, and despite A-Rod's absence, they have been able to get off to a 10-10 start, even though they are overly dependent on him offensively.

[1] One of the Yankees' biggest problem is that they don't have sufficient depth in the mL system to overcome injuries and poor performances. Gutting it for a Holliday would make that problem much worse going forward. I seriously hope Cashman is too smart to do that.

3 williamnyy23   ~  Apr 29, 2009 12:52 pm

Only 30% of teams (winning less than/= 1/2 of their first 20) making the playoffs is NOT an encouraging statistic. I'd like to think the Yankees chance of making the playoffs are better than that figure.

4 JohnnyC   ~  Apr 29, 2009 12:54 pm

[2] Also, dealing with Beane will be a bear. Hopefully, if IPK can get his numb finger fixed, he's a part of the package Beane will accept.

5 OldYanksFan   ~  Apr 29, 2009 3:53 pm

[2] I agree to we can never compromise the Ml, but part of the reason we have a zillion decent RHPs is for trade chips. Our farm is full of pitching trade chips and all but void of position players. We can afford to trade a talented pitcher if we get a talented position player in return that might be with the club for 5 or so years.

No matter what, we need an OFer for the future. AJax (IF.... If he is real) Swisher and Melky won't cut it. We have a 3rd and 1st baseman for quite a while, and a C/DH for another 2 years, so a power bat for 2010/2011 will only come from a trade or FA OFer or DH.

With the poor economy and Holliday being a FA at the end of the year, I'm not sure if Beane can hold out for too much. For teams that won't pay $15+ m, Holliday becomes a 3 month rental, so I'm not sure if a team will give up much, unless they feel 3 months of Holliday is the difference between the PS or not.

I would ask what other FA OFers look tasty for 2010? It's a short list, and I think Crawford is the only alternative (I assume the Sox re-sign Bay and Vlad will start aging in dog years at anytime). We can wait until Holliday becomes a FA and simply be top bidder, but this assumes we won't need another impact bat to assure us the PS this year.

6 Raf   ~  Apr 29, 2009 4:11 pm

[3] The list consists of the 104 teams that made the playoffs from 1996-2008. Of those teams, 30% won less or 1/2 their first 20 games.

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