Myths and legends - the 2006 AL East race
The Boston Red Sox are currently in first place in the American League's Eastern division, with a record of 63-41. They have a 1-game lead over the 61-41 New York Yankees. This one game lead is the source of a couple of attitudes, found mostly, though certainly not exclusively, among Yankee fans. The attitudes are contradictory, almost mutually exclusive, though frequently simultaneously held and expressed.
And they're both wrong.
1) Wow! Those plucky underdog Yankees have been decimated by injuries and struggles, and they're only 1 game out!
The Yankees have had 2 significant long-term injuries this year. Gary Sheffield and Hidecki Matsui have each missed about 2 1/2 months so far, and they're good hitters. Robinson Cano has missed about 1 month. (Carl Pavano's been out the entire season, but shame on anyone who expected anything from him before the season started.) How have those "plucky, underdog" Yankees survived?
Well, they've got former or current All Stars at catcher, SS, 1B, 3B and CF, they've got two in the starting rotation and 1 in the bullpen. Does anyone think that might help? Those "plucky underdog" Yankees, the ones that are so devastated by injury, are still running the highest payroll in baseball out there every night. As the following table shows, the Yankees started the season with a payroll that was $74,000,000 (about 62%!) higher than the 2nd highest payroll in baseball. If you remove from their payroll the salaries of Matsui (~$13M), Sheffield (~$11M), Pavano (~$8M) and Cano (~$400K), they've still got far and away the highest payroll in the game.
|New York Yankees||$194,663,079|
|Yankees without injured players||$165,263,079|
|Boston Red Sox||$120,099,824|
|Los Angeles Angels||$103,472,000|
|Chicago White Sox||$102,750,667|
|New York Mets||$101,084,963|
Surely that $165 million payroll that they're playing with - before taking on Abreu's salary - shouldn't leave them as "plucky underdogs!" They've still got 5 players (Johnson, Mussina, Giambi, Rodriguez and Jeter) who are making more money than anyone who's disabled, and three more (Damon, Posada and Rivera) who are making $10M+. No other team in baseball is spending as much on their roster as the Yankees are on those 8 players. Not that money translates directly into wins, but is it really surprising that they're still having a pretty good season?
2) The Red Sox have really blown it, because they haven't taken advantage of the Yankees struggles and injuries! They should be 8-9 games up now! What a missed opportunity!
The Yankees, despite their "struggles and injuries," are currently 61-41. That's a .598 winning percentage, which, if maintained for a 162 game season, would result in 97 wins. The Red Sox are currently 63-41, 1 game ahead of New York. In order to be 8 games ahead of New York, they'd need to have a record of 70-34, for a winning percentage of .673, a 109 win pace. There have been 64 teams in baseball history finish with a .673 or better winning percentage, out of 2505 team-seasons. To say that the Red Sox, who've had significant injury problems of their own (60% of their opening day starting rotation has been on the DL), have wasted some "opportunity" because they aren't currently one of them is just nonsense. To just be 4 games up, they'd have to be on a 103 win pace. That they aren't is not an indictment of their performance - given their own "struggles and injuries," the 98 win pace that they're on is quite an achievement...
The fact is this - the Red Sox have the 2nd best record in baseball. The lead is one game because of the way the Yankees have performed, not because of anything that the Red Sox have failed to do.