MLB Odds: Yankees Heading For Negative Regression Amid Historic Run?

The Yankees are great, but *this* great?

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With more pitchers and hitters making adjustments as we approach the halfway point of the season, a lot of intriguing statistical profiles — on both a team and player level — are showing signs of positive or negative regression.

For this week’s Regression Report, I’ll keep it simple and highlight one positive and one negative for a team.

Positive Regression

Chicago Cubs offense: It has been a long season at the corner of Clark and Addison, with seemingly no end in sight. I’m not exactly sure if there are reasons to be optimistic about the pitching staff, but the Cubs offense has been incredibly bad in one of the most important areas of the game, and that shouldn’t continue to the same degree.

How many guesses would it take before you said “Cubs” for the team with the second-most plate appearances with a runner in scoring position? I’d set the over/under at 15. The Cubs entered Tuesday’s action with 706, a distant second behind the Boston Red Sox, who led with 742, but seven ahead of the San Diego Padres in third.

Here’s the problem: The Cubs are batting .216 with runners in scoring position. To be second in plate appearances and 29th in batting average is a really hard pill to swallow. Furthermore, the Cubs are actually second in walk percentage in that split but rank dead last in slugging and 28th in OPS. The chances have been there, but the Cubs, despite good at-bats based on a high walk rate and a reasonable strikeout percentage, just haven’t had the batted-ball luck or driven the baseball for power.

The Cubs’ top two players in plate appearances with RISP are Patrick Wisdom (86) and Frank Schwindel (82, now on the IL). Those two have wRC+ marks of 86 and 74 in that split. Ian Happ (80) and Willson Contreras (57) have 141 wRC+ marks.

It’s gotten even worse lately. The Cubs are batting .152 in June over 196 plate appearances with RISP after batting .222 in 292 PA in May. Their June BABIP in that split is .198 with a 22 wRC+. That is unsustainably bad.

The Cubs are seventh in wOBA with the bases empty, which is how they’ve generated so many RISP chances. This phenomenon is obviously frustrating for the players but also for the front office, which can do precisely what I’ve done: Look at the numbers and see signs for optimism. At some point, the Cubs’ fortunes should turn. That will make this team a lot more competitive than what we’ve seen recently.

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Negative Regression

New York Yankees pitching: The Yankees offer lots of reasons to look for regression. They are 12-4 in games where they’ve scored two or three runs, while the rest of the league has a record of 184-349 in those games. They are also 14-5 in one-run games, which is the highest win percentage in the majors. This is a great team, but not as great as what we’ve seen so far. They’re on pace for 121 wins!

With runners in scoring position, opposing teams have a .221 BABIP against the Yankees, who are not a great defensive team by any means. The Yankees’ defense grades out about average or slightly below if you compare all of the metrics together. That .221 BABIP is the best in baseball by six points over the Houston Astros, who are 18 points better than the St. Louis Cardinals, so we’re talking about a couple of significant outliers.

This doesn’t mean I’d fade the Yankees every game or that they’re somehow going to have a dramatic fall from grace. It’s simply to say they’re on a historic pace, which takes a lot of outliers to achieve. They have only used eight different starting pitchers, as five of their starters have made at least 12 starts. They’ve had some oft-injured starting pitchers stay healthy.

Let’s see what happens when Nestor Cortes, who hasn’t thrown more than 110 innings since 2018, gets deeper into the season. Luis Severino has thrown 29 1/3 innings over the last three seasons but has already thrown 66 this season. We should soon see this team come back to earth a little.

None of this changes the fact that the Yankees are World Series contenders and maybe the best team in baseball. It just means this pace is unlikely to continue.

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