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The Yankees are victims of high expectations

And it’s their fandom’s fault (myself included).

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

For people who read this website and don’t already know, I am a Yankees fan. I’m of the newer, blogger generation’s mindset that you can both carry a fandom with you and maintain some sense of context and distance—forget the idea of “objectivity;” we know and shouldn’t pretend that that is some actual, tenable concept in journalism or sports.

Yet I do try to avoid to write about the Yankees because, frankly, I’m often too steeped in it. My perspective could be considered more of a close reading of the team, or it could be considered as too close to the vest. Well, today I’m going to close to the vest, aka I’m doing a meta-analysis on why Yankees fans, in general, are awful.

I have been alive for 24 years, and the Yankees have yet to have a losing record. They’ve missed the postseason a grand total of four times not including the strike, and 2013 is the only year you could consider them passably “bad.”

And even after being a genuinely uninspiring team from 2013 to midyear 2016, they very quickly flipped the script, and have a .580 winning percentage since that time. They won the 2017 wild card game and got just a game away from the World Series, and they are projected to win 100 games this year.

Considering all of that, you would think this would be a vibrant, rejuvenated fan base. I would generally agree, except if you read any Yankees article in the metro area newspaper, or Twitter, or a blog, you would likely think this team is barely going to win 90.

One way of measuring this, besides doing some sort of sentiment analysis with rolling Twitter data, is using Pinstripe Alley’s Brian Cashman approvals as some sort of proxy for team approval. It’s of note because as of now, his approval is at its lowest level (74%) since the beginning of last season.

How could you tell that this is an overreaction, though? There are definitely issues with the depth of the team, the injuries to Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Aroldis Chapman, and others, and the shakiness of the rotation, for sure. The only way to tell if the fan base by this measure is “irrational” is if their power rating as a team is higher as a proportion of approval rating over time, meaning the team is getting better than the fan’s rating of them is.

To do this, I used ELO and World Series odds as two measures, one to show the power rating and the other as a measure of how close they are to a Championship, which one would consider an “objective” measure of a Yankees team’s greatness. If you were to see ELO divided by Cashman’s approval rating over time—normalized—a “rational” fan base would see it stay as close to 1 as possible. Instead, we see a jump very recently:

While you can tell there was a brief fan panic attack in May of last season (the long gap is because we don’t have postseason or offseason data), there is at least some proximity to the fans’ ratings and ELO. But as we move through 2018, the team inched closer and closer to 100 wins, and the fans thought Cashman was actually doing worse.

The same could be said about World Series odds, which spiked very recently:

The one caveat here is that, OK, but what if expectations in separate seasons at the beginning are not tied together? What would this look like just this year?

In fact, then it makes sense, as 2018 drops from a normalized 1 to as low as 0.7 and 0.85 this season, meaning that.... maybe.... Yankees fans expectations are too high?

The reason I start with 2017 is because there is a pretty clean-cut delineation between the two years’ attitudes as evidenced here; even though 2017 started with 0.6% World Series odds, Brian Cashman’s approval was 97%. His approval was 95% to start this season, and the World Series odds were 11.5% to start the year. When team approval starts that high, it’s impossible not to disappoint when you consider that difference between even their 5% high in August and an 11.5% season start in most 100 simulations, do not make a difference. You usually lose the World Series.

The fact is that because of the amazing year the Red Sox had, the Yankees will largely be an afterthought, unless they win it all. This is a team where so much went right but where it felt like everything went wrong, and it’s where perception and reality, in the baseball viewer’s eye, very often diverge.