How Are the Yankees Still in Playoff Contention?

Manager Joe Girardi is keeping the Yankees afloat with smoke and mirrors.

Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman must be sorcerers.

That can be the only explanation for the New York Yankees' ability to hang around the periphery of American League playoff contention. Their rotation lost starters CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Ivan Nova for the season, and only recently got Michael Pineda back from the 60-day disabled list. Outfielder Alfonso Soriano was released by the team after putting up a -1.1 fWAR, and we've seen another high-priced outfield free agent, Carlos Beltran, perform worse than a replacement player as well.

Yet after beating the Kansas City Royals 8-1 on Monday night, the Yankees are 68-61, six games back of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and 2.5 games behind the Seattle Mariners in the AL Wild Card.

There is still certainly a steep hill to climb. Our projections only give New York a 9.2% chance of making the playoffs and just a 0.4% chance of winning the division. But the fact they are still in the conversation in the last week of August, given all their injury woes, is something resembling a miracle.

So how have they done it?

Starting Rotation

Starters7.51 (6)1.99 (1)3.81 (6)3.76 (6)3.52 (2)12.1 (3)

As you can see in the table above (AL rank in parentheses), the rotation has done a great job of limiting walks and striking guys out, which is reflected in their fielding independent metrics.

Some of the numbers put forth by the rotation came from Tanaka's sterling 18 starts in which he posted a 2.51 ERA and struck out 9.39 batters per nine innings. But he's been backed by a decent season from Hiroki Kuroda, who has been the one member of the rotation to stay healthy all season. His nERD of 1.77 means he's prevented 1.77 runs a game more than a league average pitcher, 52nd among all MLB pitchers, and his ERA of 3.94 and fWAR of 2.5 is second on the team only to Tanaka.

Trade deadline pickup Brandon McCarthy has been outstanding as well. His nERD of 1.93 is 30th in baseball, and in eight starts for the Yankees he's posted a 1.90 ERA with an xFIP of 2.54. And Pineda's recent return has been a huge help to the rotation, giving up just four earned runs in 17.1 innings (three starts) since coming off the DL.

Somehow the rotation has held it together.


Bullpen42 (T-1)10.3 (1)3.46 (10)3.86 (10)3.68 (10)3.38 (2)4.5 (3)

The bullpen, especially the late-inning relievers, have been terrific for New York, helping to ease the burden on the rotation.

The dynamic duo of Dellin Betances and David Robertson has been outstanding, with Betances' 1.42 ERA and 13.38 K/9 and Robertson's 3.06 ERA and 13.68 K/9 everything you'd want from two young, hard-throwing, back-end bullpen guys. Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley, David Huff and Matt Thornton have also done well.

Even though the 'pen's ERA, walks per nine and fielding independent pitching were 10th in the American League, they lead all AL bullpens in strikeouts per nine innings, and their expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP) indicates they've been better than those other, more traditional numbers would show.


Yankees118 (9)514 (13)93 (2).133 (10).249 (12).312 (12).383 (10).309 (10)

The area that will most hinder the Yankees' playoff hopes is an offense that struggles to generate runs, just 13th in the American League. Their isolated power (ISO), slugging percentage and weighted on-base average (wOBA) are all 10th in the AL, and their on-base percentage is 12th.

New York traded for Chase Headley, Martin Prado and Stephen Drew at the trade deadline, and so far, Headley and Prado have generated 1.5 fWAR combined since joining the Yankees. And over the last two weeks, Prado has posted a wRC+ of 199, meaning he's been 99% better than a league-average player. In all, the Yankees have five players, (Prado, Mark Teixeira, Ichiro Suzuki, Drew and Francisco Cervelli) all with a wRC+ over 100 over the last 14 days.

And over the last week, the Yankees have scored the third-most runs in the American League. Yes, it's a small sample size, but it shows New York has been playing their best offensive baseball of the season over the last seven days.

Their Chances

Overall, the Yankees don't appear to have the roster of a playoff team and will likely fall short of making the postseason. We haven't even touched on Derek Jeter who, in his final season, is playing like a replacement-level player, with an fWAR of 0.0 and a nERD of -0.94.

Yet somehow, despite all the injuries and the substandard offensive performances of McCann, Beltran, and Soriano, the Yankees are still in the race, finding a way to win baseball games.

I'm starting to think Cashman and Girardi are graduates of Hogwarts.