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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, August 23, 2002
Yankee Postseason Success
Have they been really, really good, or just lucky?
There’s been a lot of concern about perceived competitive imbalance in baseball lately—concern that has been focused on New York Yankees’ most recent run of postseason dominance. It seems that every fall, the Yankees plow mercilessly through another set of helpless opponents. But it also seems that their opponents are not always so helpless—in fact, sometimes their opponents seem distinctly better. This was certainly the case during last year’s playoffs, when they not only squeaked past a superior Oakland Athletics team, but embarrassed the historically successful 2001 Seattle Mariners.
It’s tempting to dismiss the October success of the Yankees as a fluke, to decide that they’ve had the occasional good fortune of defeating a better team. But the fact is that the Yankees dismantle superior opponents with alarming consistency as soon as they reach the playoffs.
One way to look at New York’s postseason success is to see how many times they’ve outperformed their regular season win-loss record in the playoffs. Because a playoff team is virtually guaranteed to have a winning record in the regular season, and to face tougher opposition in the postseason, and because multi-tiered playoffs create multiple losers, one would expect that usually, a team’s winning percentage in the playoffs is worse than it was in the regular season. That’s absolutely true; in fact, only 25 percent of the time has a team posted a better winning percentage in the postseason than they did in the preceding regular season. It doesn’t work that way for the Yankees, though:
Team* Postseasons Higher WPct %Higher WPct Florida Marlins 1 1 100% New York Yankees 41 21 51% Arizona Diamondbacks 2 1 50% Toronto Blue Jays 5 2 40% Oakland Athletics 20 7 35% Cleveland Indians 9 3 33% Boston Red Sox 14 4 29% Chicago White Sox 7 2 29% Baltimore Orioles 11 3 27% Cincinnati Reds 12 3 25% Minnesota Twins 8 2 25% San Francisco Giants 20 5 25% Detroit Tigers 11 2 18% Los Angeles Dodgers 22 4 18% New York Mets 6 1 17% St. Louis Cardinals 18 3 17% Chicago Cubs 13 2 15% Kansas City Royals 7 1 14% Pittsburgh Pirates 14 2 14% Atlanta Braves 16 2 13% Philadelphia Phillies 9 1 11% Anaheim Angels 3 0 0% Colorado Rockies 1 0 0% Houston Astros 7 0 0% Milwaukee Brewers 2 0 0% Montreal Expos 1 0 0% San Diego Padres 3 0 0% Seattle Mariners 4 0 0% Texas Rangers 3 0 0% Total 290 72 25%
*Includes all previous franchise names and locations. Postseasons=Postseason Appearances Higher WPct=Times with Better Winning Percentage in Postseason than Regular Season %Higher WPct=Percent of Times with Better Winning Percentage in Postseason
A little over half the time, the Yankees do better in the postseason than in the regular season. No other team with a meaningful number of appearances comes close. And this has been going on as long as the Yankees have been going to the playoffs:
Years Postseasons Higher WPct %Higher WPct 1920-1939 11 7 64% 1940-1959 13 6 46% 1960-1979 8 3 38% 1980-2001 9 5 56% Total 41 21 51%
In each of the above time periods, the Yankees have been well above the league rate. And the Yankees haven’t managed to do that simply by playing clearly inferior teams. While they’ve compiled a postseason record of 117-69-1 (.629) against teams with worse regular season records, they’ve also managed to go 57-39 (.594) against teams with better regular season records, and 8-4 (.667) against teams with equal regular season records. In 1981 and 2000, the Yankees won the World Series despite having to face three different teams in the playoffs that had better regular season records. This is one area where New York has had more opportunity and more success during their current run:
New York Yankees Playoff W-L Records Vs. Worse Teams* Vs. Equal Teams* Vs. Better Teams* Years W L T W L T W L T 1920-1939 38 18 1 - - - - - - 1940-1959 23 13 - 8 4 - 16 14 - 1960-1979 24 20 - - - - 7 9 - 1980-2001 32 18 - - - - 34 16 - Total 117 69 1 8 4 - 57 39 - *As determined by regular season winning percentage.
Since 1995, the Yankees have not only gone 32-15 (.681) in the playoffs against teams with worse regular season winning percentages, but they have gone 26-10 (.722) against teams with better regular season records.
Furthermore, the Yankees have played 91 playoff games against teams they also faced during the regular season. Their record against these teams in the postseason was an incredible 62-29 (.681). But when they faced these same teams during the regular season, the Yankees only managed to go 99-100 (.497). In terms of winning the whole series, New York has gone 17-3 in the playoffs, but has only posted a record of 8-10-2 in the regular season series against these same teams. The Yankees have done this over two runs of postseason appearances, one from 1976-1981, and the other from 1995-2001. The following chart shows how the Yankees have done against teams they have played in both the regular season and the post-season:
In Playoffs In Reg. Season Years W L SW SL W L SW SL ST 1976-1981 15 10 5 1 26 32 1 3 2 1995-2001 47 19 12 2 73 68 7 7 0 Total 62 29 17 3 99 100 8 10 2 W=Individual Game Wins, L=Individual Game Losses SW=Playoff Series or Season Series Wins, SL=Playoff Series or Season Series Losses
Somehow, the Yankees make short work in the postseason of teams they struggled against in the regular season.
The Yankees’ success in this regard deserves recognition as much as it defies explanation. There’s no clear way that Yankee teams have been consistently geared toward more postseason success than other teams. But until their opponents can figure out their secret, New York may well continue to dominate the month of October, while fans of other teams remain frustrated.
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