As of May 17, 2013, the Yankees have $97 million in payroll on the disabled list. The players include three starting pitchers (Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda), their starting catcher (Francisco Cervelli), first baseman (Mark Teixeira), both shortstops (Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nuñez), both third basemen (Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis), high-leverage reliever Joba Chamberlain, and, until just recently, starting outfielder Curtis Granderson. That’s a list of injuries that should…would decimate almost any other team. Even at the season’s start, few picked the Yankees to finish higher than third in the AL East, and yet, as I write this, the Yankees have the third-best winning percentage in all of baseball, trailing only the Rangers and Cardinals.
It makes no sense. Sure, the Yankees have a good farm system, but the consensus is, or was, that the most prized talent was still at the lower levels, in no way ready to help the big league club in a significant manner. Many of the offseason/pre-season acquisitions, including Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, and Ben Francisco induced reactions that varied from laughter to cringing.
You can point to the pitching—Hiroki Kuroda, as one example, has been fantastic—but while good, the Yankees don’t crack the top five in team ERA, quality starts, and are middle-of-the-pack in home runs allowed. No one, really, is going to point to the offense—again, the Yankees are middle-of-the-pack in runs, hits, average, and slugging, and towards the bottom in on-base percentage. Average pitching, average offense, and you’d expect an average baseball club, not one of the only three teams with a winning percentage higher than .610 (and, of this writing, .600).
Is everyone else just that bad? The Marlins, Astros, and Brewers really are bad, and the southern California teams aren’t much better. That said, other teams being bad doesn’t automatically make the Yankees good. The Yankees did play the Astros, after all, and they didn’t sweep the series. Some of the luck might be the schedule the Yankees’ have played so far, with large doses of AL Central and non-Ranger AL West opponents; bigger tests will certainly come when they face Texas and Boston.
One of the fun things about baseball is that sometimes things happen that defy all rational explanation—that’s one of the reasons @cantpredictball exists, after all. Perhaps, then, this Yankees team is one of those things—we can’t really explain, so it’s better to just sit back and enjoy it. People will try, of course; there is no other American sport so obsessed with statistics and arguments over which ones are better, as is baseball. Perhaps it’s all smoke and mirrors right now and in a month or two the length of the season will catch up and regression will rear its head; perhaps not.
If the winning does continue, though, the team will be faced with some interesting, albeit likely only philosophical questions. There’s no question Derek Jeter would be better in the lineup than Jayson Nix, but Alex Rodriguez’s slash line last season was barely better than that of Youkilis this year. What if Vidal Nuno has another stellar start or two, and Nova’s ready to come off the DL but Hughes is still struggling? It seems far-fetched before, but how many of you could have imagined a first-place Yankees team that had Jayson Nix batting second?
I can’t tell you why the Yankees keep winning (except that, well, they’re the Yankees and insert joke here about it being physiologically impossible for the Great M. Rivera to retire after a losing season), but if anyone ever does discover the secret to the Yankees’ magic, I’ve got a football and soccer team I’d love to try it on…