The best defense may be a good offense, but, as it turns out, the worst defense is even better, at least for teams playing the Yankees. Repeatedly throughout the season, the Yankees’ defense has proven to be a greater threat than opposing batters, and never was that more on display than last night in Toronto.

There’s no defense for the way the Yankees played in yesterday’s 7-6 loss to the Blue Jays…literally. The comedy of errors began in the fifth inning when Derek Jeter made two crucial misplays that directly led to three runs. The coup de grâce was delivered by Yangervis Solarte in the ninth, when his throwing error on a bunt allowed the winning run to score. It was the Yankees’ first walk off loss on an error since 1997, but merely the latest of many games this year that have been marred by poor defense.

Yankees Walk Off Losses on Error, 1938-2014
Note: Play by play data is mostly complete since 1950 with gaps beforehand.
Source: baseball-reference.com

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Carlos Beltran is officially a Yankee.

An extraordinarily clutch hit has become a rite of passage for newcomers to the Bronx, and, with last night’s walk off home run against Baltimore, Beltran finally earned his pinstripes…in a big way. Not only did the struggling switch hitter rescue the Yankees from a frustrating loss, but he did so from the very brink. By performing his heroics with two outs, Beltran became only the 22nd Yankee since 1938 (based on available data) to author a walk off with the Bronx Bombers one out away from defeat, and the 10th to do it with a long ball.

Sudden Death Heroes: Yankees Come From Behind Walk Offs with Two Outs
sudden death wins
Note: Play by play data is mostly complete since 1950 with gaps beforehand. Sudden death situations are deficits with two outs in the final inning (ninth or later). Source: Baseball- reference.com

Thanks to his clutch at bat in the ninth, Beltran’s WPA for the entire game ranks as the fourth highest in Yankee history dating back to at least 1914. However, he couldn’t have done it alone. Although Beltran’s blast was the keynote, the Yankees’ ninth inning rally featured two other sudden death at bats. Without Mark Teixeira’s walk and Brian McCann’s single, Beltran would have been taking an earlier shower (without the Gatorade), so his two teammates deserve their share of credit as well. Continue Reading »

The Yankees made several questionable decisions during the offseason. Signing Brett Gardner to a contract extension wasn’t one of them.

At the time, locking the speedy outfielder up for four additional years seemed like a low risk move, but with Gardner emerging as the Yankees’ best position player, the long-term deal looks better and better each day. Although it says more about the Yankees’ overall quality than the left fielder himself, Gardner easily leads the team in both versions of WAR, and, according to baseball-reference.com, has been worth more than the Bronx Bombers’ next two productive position players combined.

Defensive and Offensive Component of Gardner’s bWAR
GARDNER WAR components

Note: oWAR and dWAR do not sum to total bWAR because each one takes into account the positional adjustment.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Gardner has always rated well in terms of WAR. From 2010-2013 (excluding his injury abbreviated 2012), the fleet-footed outfielder has averaged a bWAR and fWAR of 5.2 and 4.4, respectively. However, during that span, a disproportionate amount of Gardner’s value has been attributable to defense. What makes Gardner’s 2014 performance more noteworthy is the sustained improvement in his offensive game. Now, not only is the left fielder a threat on the bases, but he has become a weapon at the plate, giving the Yankees’ a leadoff hitter with the ability to see pitches, get on base, disrupt the pitcher with his speed, and hit an occasional home run. Continue Reading »

There’s a wolf in Bud Selig’s hen house of parity. It just happens to be wearing sheep’s clothing. With a winning percentage of only .600, and a roster lacking many household names, the Oakland Athletics don’t exactly resemble a juggernaut. However, in complete defiance of league-wide mediocrity, or perhaps because of it, the A’s are quietly having a season for the ages.

Top-10 Teams Ranked by Relative Run Prevention, 1901-2014
Best run preventers
Note: Rates are not park adjusted. League R/G rates are either AL or NL, based on each respective team.
Source: baseball-reference.com and proprietary calculations

The Athletics currently lead the American League in both runs scored and runs allowed, and, in both cases, by a healthy margin. In fact, the A’s relative ability to both score and prevent runs has been historic. Only 4% of all teams since 1901 have outscored the league average by a higher margin than the Athletics are currently trumping their AL counterparts. And, that’s nothing compared to the stinginess of the team’s pitching staff. Oakland’s astounding ERA of 2.83 is impressive enough, but, when compared to the league average, it yields the fifth best ratio in modern major league history (out of 2,376 seasons). Summing the Athletics’ prowess at scoring and preventing runs yields a relative advantage of over 45%, which is also the fifth best mark all time. Continue Reading »

After 62 games, the Yankees are a .500 team…and lucky to be so. The Bronx Bombers have been outscored by 31 runs, which equates to an expected winning percentage of .450, or three wins fewer than the team has now. Being outscored by one-half run per game might not seem significant, but the cumulative differential of -31 represents the franchise’s eight worst deficit after 62 games.

Yankees’ Top-10 and Bottom-10 Run Differentials after 62 Games, 1901-2014
run dif first 62
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even at smaller sample sizes, such a low run differential rarely bodes well.  With 62 games in the bank, the historical tea leaves become even more ominous. Of the 24 Yankee teams to get outscored over their first 62 games, only one recovered to make the postseason (1995), and the highest win total was only 89. A more normal path for such teams is a continued descent, and, so far, that seems to be the direction in which the 2014 Yankees are headed. Continue Reading »

Who is Jacob Lindgren? The Yankees’ first selection in yesterday’s draft is probably an unknown to most fans, but because the 5’ 11” left hander was recently converted to a reliever, the initial reaction from many Yankee fans has been disappointment.

Lindgren may not profile as an early round draft pick, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t well thought of among those who follow the amateur game. An aggregate ranking of five scouting sources placed Lindgren 62nd overall, so, based on collective wisdom, if the Yankees over drafted, it wasn’t by much. Still, that neither justifies nor condemns the pick. Presumably, the organization performed more due diligence on the available players than all of the media scouts and fans combined, so, until proven otherwise, the Yankees deserve the benefit of the doubt.

The main criticism of the Yankees’ decision is that by selecting a reliever, the team limited its upside. Because even the best relievers contribute on a smaller scale than starters and position players, Lindgren isn’t likely to become the franchise-changing prospect about whom most fans dream on draft day. Of course, the uneasy truth about the baseball draft is once you pass the first round, such players are few and far between.

Top Players Selected with the 55th Overall Pick, 1965-2014
55 pick

Note: Other includes nine additional players with major league experience. 33 players had of have no major league experience to date.
Source: Baseball-reference.com
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You can add the bullpen to the Yankees’ growing list of problems. Until recently, the relief corps had probably been the most reliable part of the team, but after three consecutive losses in which the Yankees succumbed late in the game, Joe Girardi can’t take anything for granted.

Yankees Winning Percentage with Late Leads, 1996-2014
late leads

Source: Baseball-reference.com

It’s a little misleading to refer to the Yankees’ bullpen collectively. Although Girardi has used 15 different pitchers out of the pen, there are really only three he trusts: Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, and David Robertson. This dominating trio has been one of the key reasons why the Yankees have been able to defy their ominous negative run differential and maintain a winning record. However, since the calendar turned to June, Betances, Warren and Robertson haven’t been automatic. Before Sunday, the trio had combined to allow only 15 earned runs in 78-plus innings, but since then, they have surrendered nine runs in only six innings. Is Girardi’s bridge not as strong as it seemed, or has it fallen into disrepair because of overuse?

Among all major leaguers, Betances and Warren currently rank second and fifth, respectively, in innings pitched. At their current pace, both pitchers would top 90 innings, becoming the first Yankees’ relievers to pass that plateau since Scott Proctor threw over 100 innings in 2006. That name alone is enough to make Yankee fans cringe, but can you really blame Girardi for calling upon the core of his bullpen so often? Continue Reading »

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