When Mariano Rivera went down with a season ending injury, most people expected the Yankees to struggle in the ninth inning. They were right. However, the team’s hardship has had nothing to do with closing out games. Rafael Soriano has handled that job just fine. Instead, the problem has been the offense’s inability to overcome a late inning deficit.
The Yankees are currently 0-56 when trailing at the beginning of the ninth inning. Unless the Bronx Bombers are able to mount a comeback in one of the last six games, it will mark the first time since 1967 that the team has failed to pull out at least one game in the ninth inning. However, the Yankees failure to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is not for lack of trying. Or, so it has seemed.
Although the Yankees have never actually won a game in the ninth inning, most fans would swear the team has had more than its fair share of close calls. However, despite the impression that the Yankees have been a tease, the ballclub has not had a disproportionate number of opportunities with the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning.
Of the 242 plate appearances taken by the Yankees when trailing in the ninth, 27.3% have involved the tying run being at the plate, versus the major league average of 28.4%. Nineteen other teams have had a higher percentage of ninth inning plate appearances that represented the tying run, so, contrary to a widely held belief, the Yankees have actually done a relatively poor job of rallying in the final frame. What’s more, the Yankees also rank toward the bottom in converting tying run opportunities. On only three occasions have the Bronx Bombers tied or taken a lead after trailing in the ninth, resulting in a rate of 4.5% that ranks 25th among all teams.
From a historical standpoint, the Yankees’ 2012 rate of bringing the tying run to the plate is just a shade above the team average since 1996. However, the conversion rate has lagged considerably. After cashing in on only 3.7% of chances with the tying run at the plate in 2011, this year’s club hasn’t done much better, converting a meager 4.5% of opportunities. Both rates rank as the lowest since the recent dynasty began in 1996.
So, what exactly has been going in the ninth inning when the Yankees are behind? Eleven different batter have come to the plate at least 10 times when facing a deficit in the ninth, but only four have managed above average rates of production. Still, as a team, the Bronx Bombers have batted .216/.289/.413 when trailing in the final inning, which compares favorably to the league-wide rates of .223/.286/.352. However, once the Yankees have gotten to the verge of tying the score, the offense has shut down. When trailing by only run in the ninth, the team’s line of .146/.241/.291 represents a significant decline from its overall production in the inning. Meanwhile, the rest of the league has produced at very similar rates regardless of deficit. In other words, when the going has gotten tough, the Yankees have been unable to get going. At least not yet.