Last night, the Yankees lost to a pitcher making his major league debut, an all too common occurrence as any Yankee fan can attest. In fact, the sight of a pitcher making his first start against the Yankees is enough to make those who follow the team let out with an audible groan. Based on the results that often follow, one wonders if those in the lineup do the same.
Sometimes, perceived trends emerge in baseball, but in reality, they are really myths. For example, the idea that Miguel Cairo is a clutch hitter who always comes up big can gain a life of its own. Despite evidence to the contrary, what sticks out in most people’s minds are events that defy expectations, so when a poor hitter like Cairo comes through, it becomes indelible. Similarly, the notion that the Yankees never hit new pitchers is prone to the same effect. Everyone expects the Yankees to pound the wide-eyed rookie, so when he turns in a strong outing, we all remember. The only problem with that theory is the evidence actually supports the myth, at least with regard to pitchers making their major league debut.
Listed below is a chart that displays every major league debut by a starting pitcher against the Yankees since 2000. In the 11 games the Yankees have played against pitchers making their debut, the Bronx Bombers are a paltry 3-8. And, it’s not just that the Yankees lose to their green mound opponents, but they seem to be dominated by them. In the 11 starts, the collective ERA is an astoundingly low 2.32. What’s more, only one pitcher from among the group, the Royals’ Eduardo Villacis, posted a game score lower than 52.
Yankees vs. Starters Making Their Major League Debuts, Since 2000
One of the theories advanced for this strange phenomenon is the Yankees are a veteran team that is used to using their familiarity with a pitcher to out think him while at the plate. Another reason put forth is the Yankees’ resources allow them to accumulate an inordinate amount of scouting materials, but that advantage becomes mitigated when their isn’t as much history upon which to draw. Of course, if both of those theories were true, you’d expect the team to also struggle when facing relievers who are making their major league debuts. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t cooperate. Even though it should be noted that in 20 of 35 appearances no earned runs were charged to the reliever, the analysis does not take into account inherited runners and leverage. Nonetheless, the chart below provides a snapshot of how the Yankees have performed in the particular situation.
Yankees vs. Relievers Making Their Major League Debuts, Since 2000
Finally, it is entirely possible that if the Yankees struggle against debuting starters, then maybe everyone does. Again, however, the numbers do not comply. Since 2000, 381 starters have made their major league debuts, but the results have been somewhat lackluster. In total, the team record in the aforementioned sample was 190-191, while the ERA of the pitchers involved was 5.29 and the average game score was 45.6 (see below for comparison to Yankees).
Relative Performance of Starters Making Their Major League Debuts, Since 2000
|vs. MLB – Yankees||182||188||1898.3||2010||1213||1138||897||1283||300||45.3||5.40|
Now that we have established that the Yankees’ lack of success against debuting starters is contrary to the general experience around the league, let’s take a look at how their own freshly minted pitchers have done. Well, maybe it would be better to look away? In the 16 starts made by Yankee pitchers just breaking into the big leagues, the team has managed to go 9-7 despite some absolutely horrendous outings. In total, the 16 pitchers have accounted for less than five innings per game to go along with an ERA of 6.54 and an abysmal average game score of 36.4. To be fair, the last three Yankees to make their major league debuts have had success, but otherwise the landscape has been littered with land mines.
Yankees Starters’ Performance in Their Major League Debut, Since 2000