In yesterday’s double header against the Cubs, the Yankees allowed no runs and nine hits while recording 17 strikeouts in 18 innings. It was the first time since 1987 that the Yankees swept a doubleheader without allowing a run, but the most impressive statistic wasn’t listed in the box score. It was the age of the Yankees’ two starting pitchers.
Yankees’ Recent Double Header Shutouts
Source: New York Times archive (pre 1917) and Baseball-reference.com (post 1917)
Twenty-five year old Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda were responsible for 14 shutout innings in yesterday’s twin bill, an effort that lowered their respective ERAs to 2.05 and 1.00. Although it would be foolish to predict similar success over the rest of the season based on only three starts, the Yankees nonetheless have every reason to be optimistic. And, those positive feelings could extend well beyond the 2014 season.
The Yankees have always been an older team, but last year, they were particularly long in the tooth, especially in the starting rotation, which had a weighted average age of 32.5 years. Entering the off season, the team’s starting staff was a major concern, especially because the league-wide trend of locking up young players to long-term deals had left the free agent market devoid of aces. However, thanks to the addition of Tanaka, recovery of Pineda, and continued progress of Ivan Nova, the long-term outlook for the Yankees’ starting staff is now much brighter. With a trio of twenty-somethings in their midst, the Yankees are now looking at a starting rotation that is not only capable of helping the team win now, but, if health abides, could become part of a new long-term core.
Average Age of Yankees Starters, 1994 to 2014
Note: Average age is weighted based on season age and number of starts.
Before getting too caught up in the future, it’s worth emphasizing how important the Yankees’ starting staff will be to the team’s success this year. Through the first 15 games of the season, the Yankees have an equal ERA+ and OPS+ of 112. However, those numbers are misleading. Although the aggregate rates suggest an equal contribution from pitchers and hitters, a game-by-game analysis reveals something different. The Bronx Bombers have scored more than the league average of 4.12 runs on only four occasions, but the team’s pitchers have allowed the same in only three games. As a result, the Yankees have won three of the seven games in which they have scored three or fewer runs. At a winning percentage of .429, that might not seem impressive, but over the last decade, the Yankees have only won 23% of such games (vs. all of baseball at 21%). So, if the first two weeks are any indication, the Yankees just might be a team carried by their pitching staff, particularly the starting rotation.
This time last year, it would have been unfathomable to think that one of the Yankees’ potential strengths would be young starting pitching, but, each time the rotation takes a turn, that increasingly seems to be the case. Although it would be unreasonable to expect Tanaka and Pineda to continue their dominance, if they join Nova to form a trio of effective, reliable, and healthy starters just entering their prime, the Yankees will not only be in good shape this year, but they could also have a solid foundation for sustained future success.