Could the Yankees break MLB’s wins record?

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The mighty New York Yankees went 16 innings without a hit over the weekend, allowing them to lose eight clean outs in consecutive games. What happened next? A comeback, walk-off win over the Houston Astros on Sunday. Then a four-run comeback win over the Oakland Athletics on Monday, New York’s 54th win of the season, that continued the team’s flirtation at record pace.

The Yankees have the most wins in baseball seven more than their crosstown rival New York Mets. The Bronx Bombers have scored the most runs per game (5.1) and allowed the fewest (3.1). How high are the expectations? Historically high.

The Yankees’ win percentage of .726 Monday was the 10th-best start to a 73-game MLB season, with only one of the 13 teams to reach that mark — the 2001 Seattle Mariners — having had such a run this century. These Mariners tied the record for victories in a 162-game season with 116, matching a mark set by the Chicago Cubs in 1906. If the Yankees maintain that 162-game win rate, they would basically win 118 games, an amazing number.

The 1906 Cubs accomplished their feat in a shorter season (152 games), leaving Chicago with the best winning percentage in baseball history (.763) that the Yankees are unlikely to threaten. And the Dodgers went 43-17 (.717) in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season for a slightly better winning percentage than the Mariners of 2001 (.716). Either way, New York has a chance to eclipse the Mariners’ mark as they chase for the franchise’s 28th championship.

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So how likely is it that New York will match or surpass that hefty winnings total? To gauge the Yankees’ chances, we can look at two factors on average. The first is the team’s win rate in the base runs compared to the closest opponents. Base runs give us a good estimate of a team’s performance by reducing the impact of at-bat sequencing on results. For example, if a team were given four consecutive walks, it would almost certainly result in a run. However, if the same four walks were scattered throughout a game, there’s a good chance the walks themselves wouldn’t generate runs. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees’ base runs suggest they should have won 49, not 54, of their first 74 games, illustrating the luck they’ve had.

The second factor is the relative strength of the team as reflected in the betting markets. Much like we derive sportsbook NFL team ratings from their publicly available point spreads, we can do the same with baseball moneyline odds. (This involves using a solver tool to go through each completed game and minimize the error between the known implied odds and our estimates based on the teams involved. In plain English, we track how odds makers rated each team in each game as measure of strength.)

Using the average of these two talent indicators, the Yankees have a 27 percent chance of winning at least 117 games and breaking the MLB record.

The record would be nice, but a World Series title is obviously more important to the franchise. With a win rate of over 70 percent — which equates to 113 wins in a 162-game season — the Yankees certainly deserve the right to be the frontrunner. Since 1900, only 10 teams have finished with such a win rate. Eight appeared in the World Series and five were crowned champions.

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However, according to FanGraphs projections, the Yankees have only the fourth-best chance of winning the World Series (12.3 percent), behind the Astros, Mets and Dodgers and tied with the Atlanta Braves. The fact that the Yankees have won more games than their raw numbers suggest plays into this estimate. The Dodgers, by comparison, have won three fewer Plays as expected, indicating they are stronger than they appear in the overall rating. The Mets have accomplished as much as the Yankees (five more wins than expected), but they should soon have three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer back — and maybe two-time winner Jacob deGrom, too.

FiveThirtyEight is more optimistic about the Yankees, who are given the best chance of winning a title at 22 percent. The betting markets fall somewhere in the middle. The consensus odds going forward for the Yankees to win the World Series is +445, meaning you would win $445 for every $100 wagered. That implies an 18 percent chance of a title, which drops to 16 percent after subtracting the amount charged by a sportsbook for accepting a bet.

As the odds suggest, it’s a little surprising that the Yankees are playing This Good. The Astros were favorites to win the American League pennant from November through April, and the Toronto Blue Jays were favorites to win the AL East from April through May. New York was the third pick behind Los Angeles and Toronto to end the season with the best record in baseball.

Obviously, having Aaron Judge on the line for 51 home runs and Anthony Rizzo for 35 helped, and any drop by either hitter will hurt the Yankees’ chances of the winning record — or the title. Until then, however, Judge’s proclamation seems fair: “We have the best team in the world,” he said after one of New York’s recent moves toward history.

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