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 »

It wasn’t the best start of Phil Hughes’ career, but it probably was one of the most satisfying. Not only did the Twins’ right hander shut down his former team, but he did so at Yankee Stadium, which had become a house of horrors for Hughes over the past few seasons.

Phil Hughes Road/Home Splits, 2007-2013
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The weakened Yankees’ lineup probably made it easier for Hughes to dominate in his old haunts, but by exercising the demons of Yankee Stadium, he also added validation to his 2014 turnaround. Hughes’ outing also made a little bit of history. The righty’s game score of 72 was the fourth highest by a former Yankee (minimum 750 innings in pinstripes) in his first start against his ex-mates. Hughes had a pretty good relationship with the Yankees, so “sweet revenge” isn’t the best way to describe his triumphant return, but you can bet there were some feelings of vindication.

Ex-Yankees in First Start Against Former Teammates, 1901-2014
Note: Includes the first start by a pitcher after throwing at least 750 innings for the Yankees.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

More important to the Twins than Hughes’ place in former Yankee history is how the right hander will pitch going forward. Has Hughes’ finally turned the corner? During his time in the Bronx, the righty had occasional flashes of brilliance, but they never lasted very long. Still, Hughes’ seven straight starts with a game score of at least 50 is the longest such streak of his career, and his peripheral numbers suggest the best may be yet to come. You can’t blame Yankee fans for being a little skeptical, but so far, at least, the Twins have to be happy that Hughes was never able to put it all together in pinstripes.

The 1953 Yankees drive for five straight World Series titles was temporarily sidetracked by a nine game losing streak, the longest ever by an eventual champion.

The 1953 Yankees’ drive for five straight World Series titles was temporarily sidetracked by a nine game losing streak, the longest ever by an eventual champion.

Defending a World Series title isn’t always easy. The 2014 Boston Red Sox can attest. Last year’s World Series victors just completed a 10-game skid, becoming only the fifth defending champion to post a double-digit losing streak. Can they recover in their title defense? The track record of teams with such a long stretch of losing isn’t good, so a Red Sox repeat doesn’t seem to be in the offing. However, if there is solace to be had, the Fenway Faithful may be able to find it over 60 years ago in the Bronx.

Longest Losing Streaks by a Defending World Series Champion
Defending WS Champ Losing Streak
Note: Bold numbers indicate team had more than one losing streak of the stated length.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In 1953, the Yankee dynasty was going full-bore. Casey Stengel’s crew was coming off four consecutive World Series titles, and the current season was shaping up to be one of the franchise’s best. Over the first two months, the Bronx Bombers ravaged the American League, at one point winning 18 in-a-row to push their record to an astounding 46-13. No team had ever gotten off to a faster start, but the Yankees’ drive for five was about to hit a speed bump.

Best W-L Records After 59 Games
Best record after 59 games2
Note: Bold indicates team went on to win the World Series.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

On June 21, 1953, the Yankees lost the second game of a double header to the Tigers. The loss was unremarkable, until the White Sox came to town and swept the Yankees in three straight. Then, it was the Indians turn to run the table in the Bronx. A trip to Fenway provided no reprieve. The Red Sox beat the Yankees in the first two games of their midweek series, and, all of a sudden, the invincible Bronx Bombers seemed incapable of winning a game. The nine game slide was not only tied for the worst in franchise history, but it set a new low for a defending champion. Break up the Yankees, which had become a rallying cry throughout the league, had taken on a new meaning. Continue Reading »

Chicago is a favorite destination for most visiting players, but for three seasons, the city of broad shoulders has treated the New York Yankees rather rudely. The Bronx Bombers have not celebrated a victory at U.S. Cellular field since 2011, when Ivan Nova notched his 10th win of the season and Hector Noesi, last night’s starter for Chicago, closed out the game. Eight straight losses have followed that distant victory, one shy of the Yankees’ longest stretch of futility when visiting the White Sox in the Windy City.

Yankees’ Longest Road Losing Streaks vs. A.L. Teams Past and Present
Yanks Road Losing Streaks

Note:  In 1902, the Yankees were the Baltimore Orioles. In 1912, the Twins were the Washington Senators. In 1918-19, the Orioles were the St. Louis Browns.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and proprietary

The Yankees have suffered double-digit road losing streaks in Texas, Boston, St. Louis (Browns), Baltimore, and Oakland. Come Sunday, will Chicago be added to that list? Even if the Yankees get swept in the current series, and push their slide at U.S. Cellular to 10 games, it won’t be close to the franchise’s longest road losing streak against one team. From 1989 to 1991, the Yankees lost 15 straight games against the Texas Rangers at Arlington Stadium, beginning with a defeat at the hands of the legendary Nolan Ryan, who struck out 11 Yankees and bested Andy Hawkins for the 284th victory of his career. That loss snowballed into a four game sweep, followed by six consecutive losses in 1990, and five more in 1991 before the Yankees broke the Texas schneid with a 3-2 victory in their final game at Arlington that season.

Needless to say, no tears were shed in the Bronx when the Rangers said goodbye to their old ballpark in 1994. The Yankees ended up going 58-68 over 22 seasons at Arlington Stadium, but with the opening of Globe Life Park in Arlington (as it is called now), the Yankees have had a lot more fun when visiting Texas. The Bronx Bombers have gone 49-35 at the Rangers’ new ballpark, not including five of seven victories in the post season. So, if the Yankees continue to struggle at U.S. Cellular, they might want to help the White Sox campaign for a new stadium.

Because of injuries, the Yankees’ pitching staff has been widely regarded as the area in most need of improvement. And yet, even with three starters currently on the DL and no timetable for their return, the rotation has more than held its own. However, the same can’t be said about the offense. After last night’s 3-2 loss, Joe Girardi was unwilling to tip his cap to the opposing pitcher once again. “We’ve ran against three pretty good starting pitchers,” the frustrated Yankees manager stated, “but I know we’re capable of hitting better than this.” Girardi’s optimism is commendable, but is it warranted?

After 46 games, the Bronx Bombers haven’t come close to living up to the name. On an aggregate basis, the Yankees have scored fewer runs than the AL per game average, a level of mediocrity achieved with remarkable consistency. Continuing a trend from early in the year, the Yankees have failed to score more than four runs in 63% of their games to date. If pro-rated over the full schedule, that percentage would rate among the franchise’s worst offensive seasons. At the end of April, it was too early to jump to conclusions about the offense, but now that May is drawing to a close, the time is coming for the Yankees to at least acknowledge their lineup’s noticeable limitations.

Yankees’ Percentage of Games Scoring 4 or Fewer Runs, 1901 – Present
rate of 4 or fewer
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Another potentially foreboding early trend regarding the Yankees’ offense has been its relative struggles on the road. The lineup’s 0.768 OPS at home is currently .084 points higher than away from the Bronx, representing the sixth greatest differential and fourth highest tOPS+ (team relative OPS) for the franchise since 1914. The lineup has also homered more than twice as often at Yankee Stadium despite playing four more games on the road. Have the Yankees built an offense so tailored to their home ballpark that it isn’t capable of scoring enough on the road? The peripherals suggest that might be the case, but ironically, the Yankees have actually scored fewer runs per game at home, which means the team is either overdue for a breakout at the Stadium or fortunate to have scored “so often” on the road. Continue Reading »

Chase Whitley vs. Jacob deGrom? Maybe, in Durham, North Carolina for the 2014 Triple-A All Star Game, but certainly not New York City during the Subway Series. Guess again. Thanks to their early season success and a spate of injuries suffered by the Yankees and Mets, the two young right handers were diverted from Tobacco Road to Broadway, and each pitcher did more than enough to earn an encore.

Whitley and deGrom weren’t on the Yankees’ or Mets’ radar this season, so each’s promotion from the minors to the spotlight of the Subway Series is remarkable in its own right. That the two pitchers wound up facing each other as starters makes the matchup historic. Since 1914, debuting starters had faced off in only 14 major league games, and for the Yankees, it was the first such occurrence since 1908, according to Elias.

Double Debuts: Matchups Between Starters Making First Big League Appearance
Double Debuts
Note: On 5/13/2004, Daniel Cabrera and Felix Diaz made their debuts in different games of a doubleheader between the Orioles and White Sox.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Whitley and deGrom did more than just toe the rubber last night. Thanks to their efforts, the Yankees and Mets played the first 1-0 game in Subway Series history. Whitley, who was lifted in the fifth before surrendering a run, and deGrom, who limited the Yankees to one run over seven full innings (and broke the Mets’ pitchers’ equally historic stretch of hitless at bats with a single), combined to record a game score of 131, the second highest total among the aforementioned 15 games featuring debuting starters. Separately, deGrom’s game score of 69 and Whitley’s 62 were better than 90% and 78% of all major league debuts, respectively. It clearly wasn’t the script the Yankees and Mets had in mind entering the series, but it proved to be a noteworthy finale.

Aggregate Performance of All Starters Making MLB Debut, 1914-Current
Source: baseball-reference.com

Whitley and deGrom will likely earn an additional start or two as the Yankees and Mets lick their wounds, but will the two pitchers ever face each other again? It seems fanciful to think that what started as a novelty could become an annual Subway Series tradition, but even if the two righties never cross paths in the future, they’ll always have New York, which is a bit more glamorous than Durham.

What you think of the Yankees’ pitching staff probably depends on the statistic used for evaluation. By traditional measures, the Bronx Bombers’ pitchers are decidedly mediocre, while more advanced metrics place them among the best in the league. What explains this divergence? And what does the variance portend?

In terms of runs allowed per game, the Yankees rank fifth from the bottom, with an average rate that is one-quarter run higher than the rest of the league. Earned run average is a little kinder. The Yankees’ ERA of 4.31 is also below average, but when adjusted to ballpark, the resultant ERA+ of 99 suggests a pitching staff more in line with the mean. When it comes to fielding independent pitching (FIP) stats, however, the Bronx Bombers’ pitchers start to standout. The Yankees’ FIP of 3.78 ranks in the top half of the American League, while the adjusted version of that metric (xFIP) moves the Bronx Bombers to the head of the class. If only the Yankees could figure out how get the strength of their pitchers’ peripheral performance to match what is reflected on the scoreboard.

Yankees’ Pitchers vs. American League


Note: BABIP multiplied by 100 for scaling purposes.
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

The Yankees’ pitching staff has had two glaring problems this season: it has allowed the most home runs per nine innings in the majors and suffered the fourth highest BABIP. That’s why the team’s pitchers rate much better when using FIP statistics, which assume the normalization of home runs allowed and batting average on balls in play. If the theory holds, the Yankees can expect improved aggregate performance from their pitching staff. However, when it comes to BABIP, there is reason to believe the team’s inflated rate isn’t about to level off anytime soon. Continue Reading »

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