Things are going pretty well for the Yankees right about now. They're fresh off a sweep of the Twins, they have a powerful grip on the top AL wild-card berth and they're still a threat to overtake the Red Sox in the AL East. If you stop there, though, you might be giving the 2017 Yankees short shrift. We all know that any team that makes the playoffs is a threat to hoist the trophy -- it's baseball, and you should suffocate your assumptions once the postseason begins. Still, you can make a case that the current Yankees model is one of the true power teams in baseball right now, even though they don't seem to be generally regarded as such. Here's why you should start thinking of them as just that ...
They're dominating at the runs scored/runs allowed level
At this writing, the Yankees have scored 811 runs and allowed 625 runs. That comes to a run differential of +186, and that figure trails only that of the Indians. Yes, the Yankees have a better run differential than the Dodgers, Astros, Nationals and any other team that doesn't play its home games in Cleveland. Run differential can be a better indicator of success moving forward than a team's actual record. On that point, it's worth noting that that Yankees, despite a record of 85-67, have played, at the runs scored and runs allowed level, like a team that's 95-57. That scales to a 102-win season.
So why the divide between the Yanks' actual record and their run differential? For one, they're 17-25 in games decided by one run. The best evidence suggests that records in one-run games that deviate wildly from the .500 mark are a function of luck, bad or good. In the Yankees' case, it has been bad luck.
Drill down further, and they're still dominant
If you're interested in a getting a gauge on team quality that goes beyond runs scored and runs allowed -- and we are -- then you can turn to the BaseRuns system at FanGraphs. BaseRuns drills down to the plate appearance level and corrects for some of the sequencing and clustering effects inherent in run differential. Sometimes it gives you a different picture. In the case of the 2017 Yankees, it sees a team that should be 94-58 instead of that actual record of 85-67. The Indians are tops in the current BaseRuns standings, and the Dodgers are second at 95 wins. The Yankees, of course, check in just behind them. The broader takeaway is that both run differential and BaseRuns see the Yankees as being significantly better than their actual record. That has meaning as we head toward the postseason.
The schedule has been a tough one
Thanks to the unbalanced schedule and interleague play, we see some differences in strength of schedule. That has indeed been a factor for the Yankees this season, as they have the third-highest opponents' average winning percentage in all of baseball. So they've built that impressive run differential and BaseRuns mark against a fairly tough docket of opponents, on average.
The roster is stronger than ever
General manager Brian Cashman was of course quite active leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline. Todd Frazier is now pinning down third base. Sonny Gray has solidified the front of the rotation, and Jaime Garcia gives them depth. As well, adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to a relief corps that already includes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Chad Green gives manager Joe Girardi the makings of an absolutely dominant playoff bullpen. Matt Holliday is back. Greg Bird is healthy again and slugging a respectable .452 since his return. Aaron Judge has arrested his second-half decline and is now going off in September. Too often, when we contemplate a team's strength heading into the postseason, we get lost in the body of work. It's really more about the current roster, and the Yankees' current roster is an impressive one.
For all these reasons, you probably need to stop thinking of the Yankees as a team flush with high-ceiling young talent that slipped into the postseason a bit sooner than we expected. Instead, you should think of them as being on the short list of best teams in baseball and viable threats to win the World Series.