The Puzzle of the Yankees
If you read the New York media, the sky is said to be falling. The Yankees are under .500 at 33-34 and there's open discussion of trading away pieces of their excellent bullpen to rebuild for the future. In an AL East that doesn't have a great team, the Yanks are already a hefty 15-1 just to win the division. There was a time when you might have longed for that number on New York to win the whole thing.
We don't want to diminish the problems the Yankees are facing, but smart futures bettors know that whenever public opinion and the betting market move strongly one way, it's always worth looking at cutting against the grain and finding a value buy. Does New York - a playoff team just last year - have a chance to rally and take the AL East?
We're going to focus on New York's offensive problems. While the staff ERA is 9th in the American League and that's hardly exceptional, any team that plays in Yankee Stadium is going to have a hard time making its pitching look good. And if nothing else, Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia are pitching well in the rotation, Michael Pineda simply has to get better and that aforementioned bullpen of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman can take any lead in the seventh inning and close it out.
The issue has been getting those leads. And in spite of the friendly hitting dimensions in the Bronx, New York is an appalling 13th in the American League in runs scored. There is no individual category where they really perform well, so handicapping the Yanks becomes about going through the lineup and finding out if there are any players we can reasonably expect to get better.
Any discussion of improvement has to start with catcher Brian McCann. He's hit 20 home runs or more every year since 2008 and while he may continue that streak (he's at eight), he simply has to start driving the ball into the gaps more consistently. McCann's slugging percentage is a lowly .383, depths he has never touched in his career, not even as a 21-year-old rookie back in 2005. McCann is 32-years-old, so there's no age-based reason to think now would be the year he goes off the cliff.
The other player performing significantly below his recent norms is...don't laugh...Alex Rodriguez. While no one expects A-Rod to ever resemble his old self, he did finish with a .356 on-base percentage and .468 slugging percentage just last season. Those numbers are .268 and .401 this year. Of course he's also 40-years-old, so there would be a good age-based reason to think he might be going off the cliff.
This is what's difficult about forecasting any sort of turnaround for the Yankees right now. There are precious few spots in the lineup that you can point and be confident of a turnaround. The Yanks are left hoping that Jacoby Ellsbury can find the offense he used to produce in Boston, but has not in the Bronx since his arrival in 2014. Or that two 26-year-olds in the middle infield, Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro can find a level of offensive production they haven't yet shown. None of those hopes are unreasonable, but nor are any of them smart, percentage bets.
That's why even though the 15-1 price just to win the AL East is attractive, there's no value in any ticket that loses. We'd prefer to take our chances on waiting to see some signs of life in the Bronx and live with the price dropping to 12-1 or even 10-1 before making any kind of investment in the Yankees.