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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.


Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 23, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 13 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Bob T Posted: August 23, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605964)
The Yankees are so good in the postseason that they were retroactively awarded the 1981 title.

George Steinbrenner purchased a time machine and kept George Frazier's parents from ever meeting.
   2. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 23, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605968)
Oops... sorry about the 1981 error... somehow the Yankees playing three teams who all had better records turned into their winning. I'm a Dodger fan, too.

I'll try to sort the home/away, 1-run records, and perhaps a little pythagorean out here soon.
   3. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 23, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605969)
Here's the pythagorean info (relatively easy to come by):

In 28 postseasons, the Yankees have had a winning postseason record.
In 28 postseasons, the Yankees have had a postseason pythagorean record above .500.

Eight times, these haven't been coincident. In 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1997, the Yankees have had a losing postseason record despite outscoring their opponents. In 1962, 1977, 1996, and 2001, they had a winning postseason record despite being outscored.

Where they've improved on their WPct 21 times in the postseason over their regular season WPct, they have done so 20 times with Pyth. Pct (5 times not coincident).

Here is their overall showing only in years they have gone to the postseason:
      Reg. Season     Postseason
Act.     .630            .619
Pyth.    .626            .597
   4. Mike Emeigh Posted: August 23, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605971)
How do these data look when you take 1960 out of the mix? As most people know, the Yankees lost that series despite outscoring the Pirates 55-27, and I'm curious as to how much that skews the overall data.

-- MWE
   5. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 23, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605972)
First off, Home/Away Splits and one run records:
 Home        Away          1-Run
91-51-1      91-61         47-35

But the 1-run results are really interesting when you break out their current run:
Yrs            Home        Away          1-Run
1995-2001     29-10        29-15         17-4
Pre-1995      62-41        62-46         30-31

In addition to 1996 and 2001 being two years where they've had a winning record despite being outscored, it's clear that their most recent run has involved more luck than they had in the past.

Mike, if we pretend 1960 never happened, here's how it changes:
      Reg. Season     Postseason
Act.     .630            .624
Pyth.    .627            .589

But bear in mind that that's just one of four times when they've underperformed their pyth. %, and there are also four times they've outperformed it. In 2001, for example, they went 10-7 despite being outscored 71-57.
   6. Charles Saeger Posted: August 23, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605973)
Some time ago, I figured the expected win-lost for the Yankees in the postseason for the 1990s. I used Bill James's method, and had it estimate the home-field advantage.

Based on their opponents' records and their own, the Yankees would expect to go 42-41 (actually expected wins were 42.47) from 1995-2001. The Yankees actually went 58-25. Using a binomial distribution, we would expect this result 0.0413% of the time. This record did not result from random chance.
   7. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 24, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605975)
Thanks, Charles. My statistical wherewithal is somewhat lacking, and one thing I love about this site is that people will supplement my analyses like that. I wonder what it would show for the pre-90s teams.

By the way, above, where I said the pre-1995 home record is 62-41, it should actually be 62-41-1.

F. James,

You raise a valid concern that WPct may not be the best thing to look at. Of course, it's not always clear who a team's top 3 starters are. One possibility, I suppose, would be to see who actually pitched in the postseason. But I'm not sure how to go about that, exactly, either. For example, from the 2001 ALCS:
Game   SEA           NYY
1      Sele          Pettitte
2      Garcia        Mussina
3      Moyer         Hernandez
4      Abbott        Clemens
5      Sele          Pettitte

Obviously, since both teams had suffered a 5-game ALDS, they couldn't use their best starters as much as they would have liked. So would you use a pro-rated formula, like:


Where SEL=Seattle's WPct in Sele-started games, etc.? Or if you use the best three, do you average the WPcts or do you take the aggregate WPct of all games any of them started? The latter approach could really skew things for a mid-season pickup, etc.

Of course, there are some other factors, too.
   8. Don Malcolm Posted: August 24, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605976)

I?m glad to see that you?ve resurrected and expanded this info from where it first appeared (as a comment tied to one of my more infamous blog entries about ?anti-Yankee bias,? where it was suggested that the Yankees? incredible post-season record was contributing to a creeping subjectivity from otherwise solid analysts).

Some thoughts:

1?I think the standard Pythagorean method is a bit dicey to use here, due to the sample size. Charlie?s approach is probably the best way to go. There?s too much noise in those blowouts.

2?One thing that could be checked against the Yanks? penchant for beating teams with better WPCTs is the overall historical record in that regard. How many times has the team with the lower in-season WPCT won a division series/World Series? (This is just for comparison purposes.)

3?It?s actually more impressive to do what the Yanks have done since the addition of a third round of playoffs.

4?It strikes me that the key to their success is their ability to win on the road, and that?s been a consistent feature of their post-season play from the beginning.

5?Jumping off from that, what are the home/road splits in one-run games for 1995 to the present and prior to 1995?

6?As regards ?top three? starters for establishing a more ?representative? in-season WPCT, using the three best ERAs might be a way into such an approach.

Charlie?s binomial value, IMO, would be a very good ?sound bite? with which to counter the standard complaints about competitive balance. Of course, it would really be helpful if the Yanks would simply get knocked out in the first round, a la 1995 and 1997.
   9. Don Malcolm Posted: August 24, 2002 at 12:42 AM (#605977)

Re "thought" #2--my bad. You'd already covered that issue in the article, and I managed to forget that you'd done so. In the words of Emily Litella, never mind... :-)
   10. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 24, 2002 at 12:43 AM (#605979)
Actually, Don, unless I'm misunderstanding what you're asking for in point #2, I didn't answer it.

Teams with the better regular season record are 104-85 in terms of winning an entire series (those are not individual games). In other words, in 189 playoff series, the team with the better regular season record has taken 104. Here's the breakdown:
Series         Best Team W  Best Team L
Pre-1968 WS        36           27
Post-1968 WS       14           18
LCS                37           26
LDS                17           14
Total             104           85
Interleague        50           45
Intraleague        54           40

As you'd expect, the WPct has meant a little more when teams from the same league meet.

The Yankees are 25-14 (series W-L, not individual game W-L) when they have the better record, 14-4 when they don't, and 3-0 when they have the same record.

About your other points:
1. I agree that pythagorean WPct isn't the greatest here, but having used only standard WPct in the article, and given the preference for Pyth around here, I felt I was sort of begging the question. I appreciate the value of Charles's analysis but am afraid it's not my area of expertise.

5. How I wish you'd asked me that yesterday, when I sorted those two things out separately. Oh well, here it is:
NYY Postseason Record in 1-Run Games, Home and Away:
Yrs          HomeW HomeL   AwayW AwayL
1995-2001      11     0       6     4
Pre-1995       18    13      12    18
Total          29    13      18    22

I bet you didn't expect that.

Three best ERAs works... that still leaves the question of whether you aggregate the wins and losses and then find the WPct or average the three percentages.

Oh, and I should have mentioned that some of this material appeared in a different (less refined) form last winter on Don's excellent site. So I'm doing that now.


You might have a point... of course, it goes hand in hand with what I'm saying: that Yankee postseason success is really remarkable considering that they haven't always done that well in the regular season. But there's also the unavoidable fact that we can't treat the standings as though they'd be the same under a different divisional structure, especially when it involves the Yankees, who have a knack for doing what's necessary to win.
   11. Dan 'The Boy' Werr Posted: August 24, 2002 at 12:43 AM (#605980)
"14-4 when they don't" should read "14-4 when they have the worse record."
   12. Bud Selig Posted: August 27, 2002 at 12:43 AM (#606033)
I don't know why the Yankees do so well in the playoffs. All I know is that I don't like it.
   13. Robert Dudek Posted: September 01, 2002 at 12:44 AM (#606070)
Excuse me, Steve,

But if you look at the total number of runs scored and allowed in the 2001 World Series, you'll see that the D-Backs blasted the Yankees off the diamond.


It would also help if the Yankees did not make the playoffs every year.

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