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Four reasons the Yankees are vulnerable
With the 2010 season in the offing, that's what most fans -- including those loyal to that colossus in the Bronx -- are wondering.
Last year, of course, the Yankees barged to 103 wins in the regular season, and then they claimed the belt and the title in Octovember. Yet all that success hasn't bred complacency. This winter, they've added to the fold -- among others -- an All-Star center fielder (Curtis Granderson) whose left-handed power stroke seems tailored to Yankee Stadium, a durable right-hander (Javier Vazquez) who was one of the game's top starting pitchers in 2009 and an on-base artisan (Nick Johnson) to fill the DH role.
So the Yankees are bound to repeat, right?
No, actually they're not. Sure, the Yankees must be regarded as the favorites, but the multitude of Yankee haters out there will be pleased to know there's hope for a toppled empire. Indeed, here are four reasons that a Yankee championship in 2010 is not to be assumed ...
1. The lower baseline
In 2009, the Yanks went 103-59 in the regular season. However, if you take their run differential and run it through the proper formula, you find that, based on runs scored and runs allowed, the Yankees' record in 2009 should've been 95-67. Sure, wins mean more than runs, and nothing about their run differential means anything when looking back on 2009. But it does mean something when looking ahead to the 2010 season.
Enjoy it, Mariano. You may never get to No. 28.Jed Jacobsohn
Research has shown that when a team's "deserved" record (i.e., what their record should have been based on their run differential) diverges from its actual record in a given season, they're likely to perform more in line with the deserved record in the following season. So when pondering the Yankees in 2010, know that you're really pondering a slightly more mortal 95-win team.
And 95 wins puts them in hailing distance.
This is a great team, but this is also an old team. Last season, the Yankees had the oldest crop of hitters in the American League and the third-oldest pitching staff. And that didn't change much over the offseason. Consider the ages of some core contributors: Mariano Rivera, 40; Jorge Posada, 38; Andy Pettitte, 37; Derek Jeter, 35; Alex Rodriguez, 34. The over-under on future Hall of Famers in that group is 3.5, but no other team leans so heavily on players in their mid- to late-30s. The danger, even for players as great as these, is that decline can set in quickly and precipitously. That's a concern for New York.
3. A brutal division
For the last few years, the AL East has been, without debate, the toughest division in baseball. The Yankees are the defending champs, the Red Sox have made the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, and the Rays won the pennant in 2008 and still boast the best young talent in the game. (Heck, even the Blue Jays and Orioles have the whiff of respectability about them.) It's not out of the question that the three best teams in baseball all reside in AL East.
Such strength in tandem with the unbalanced schedule means that the Yankees, once again, will play a remorseless slate. The Sox and Rays could both challenge for the division title, and a third-place finish for the mighty Yankees is not an impossibility.
4. The vagaries of the postseason
Of course, it's likely the Yankees will make the playoffs. Octovember baseball, though, offers no guarantees. In fact, what happened in 2009 is something of a rarity. That is, it's not often that the team with the best record in the regular season winds up winning the World Series. That's especially the case in this, the era of the three-tiered playoffs. In fact, the best team in the regular season has won it all just three times in the past 20 years.
Baseball is a sport with much built-in parity (compare the MLB standings to those in the NFL and NBA, and almost every season you'll see that the winning percentages are more tightly bunched in baseball), and a short, best-of-five/best-of-seven series can lead to all manner of randomness and unanticipated outcomes.
Sometimes, as was the case last year, the best team in the regular season is also the best team in the postseason. But usually that's not the case. So even if the Yankees do lord over the rest of the league in the regular season, history suggests they probably won't wind up hoisting the trophy.