Now that the regular season has concluded, it is time to look back at some of the awesome, ridiculous, and crazy moments of the 2011 season. Every year I enjoy Jeff Passan’s column on the ’25 things you don’t know about baseball,’ and I thought it was only fitting to do a similar column for the Yankees.
I’m a college student, so here’s what I did: I bought a cup of coffee, walked to the library with my laptop, and went into baseball-nerd mode for a few hours. I doubt most people would voluntarily spend a Thursday afternoon researching baseball stats, but I like math, I like numbers, and I like baseball, so I really enjoyed the few hours I spent writing this.
Much of the research I did is sabermetrics-focused, so if you don’t like sabermetrics or don’t know much about it, I highly recommend the River Avenue Blues Guide to Stats.
Before we get started, here are a few notes:
- This is a long post. But I’ll do my best to keep you entertained along the way.
- I used Baseball Reference’s version of WAR. I don’t really have a preference between B-Ref and Fangraphs, but I had to choose one.
- I did a similar post for the 2010 Yankees. You can read it here.
- Shameless plug: follow me on Twitter here.
Alright, here we go:
1. The Yankees had a team ERA of 3.73. It was their lowest since 1985.
Yup. Lower than 1996. And 1998. And 2003.
Much of this has to do with an offensive environment that has drastically slowed down, but I think a lot of the credit has to go to Larry Rothschild and the job he has done with guys like Ivan Nova and David Robertson. Also Cashman should get major props for signing Luis Ayala and Cory Wade, both of whom had ERA’s in the low 2′s.
2. Curtis Granderson was excellent hitting fastballs this year. Eduardo Nunez, not so much.
One of the things I love about Fangraphs is that they calculate Pitch Type Values, which assigns a run value for hitters against specific pitches. Here were the best hitters for each pitch:
Fastball: Curtis Granderson, 30.3 runs
Slider: Robinson Cano, 6.2 runs
Cutter: Robinson Cano, 3.8 runs
Curveball: Derek Jeter, 4.7 runs
Changeup: Curtis Granderson, 5.0 runs
Knuckleball: Jeter/Posada, 1.5 runs
And here were the worst hitters for each pitch:
Fastball: Eduardo Nunez, -9.8 runs
Slider: Eric Chavez, -3.6 runs
Cutter: Alex Rodriguez, -3.8 runs
Curveball: Eric Chavez, -3.1 runs
Changeup: Jorge Posada, -6.8 runs
Knuckleball: Curtis Granderson, -2.6 runs
3. The most effective pitch in 2011 was CC Sabathia’s slider.
Fangraphs also calculates Pitch Type Values in terms of run saved for pitchers. Sabathia’s slider saved 18.2 runs. Here is how the Yankees stacked up for other some pitches:
Fastball: David Robertson, 16.3 runs saved
Slider: CC Sabathia, 18.2 runs saved
Cutter: Mariano Rivera, 14.3 runs saved
Curveball: A.J. Burnett, 13.2 runs saved
Changeup: Luis Ayala, 3.7 runs saved
And here are the least runs saved for each pitch (excluding the fastball, which I’ll get to later):
Slider: Bartolo Colon, -7.3 runs saved
Cutter: Phil Hughes, -4.8 runs saved
Curveball: Phil Hughes, -4.6 runs saved
Changeup: Bartolo Colon, -3.9 runs saved
4. A.J. Burnett’s fastball was awful.
I mean, like, historically awful. Burnett’s fastball registered a staggering -31.4 runs saved. It was by far the worst in baseball; second-worst was Pavano’s fastball (-24.5 runs saved), followed by Bronson Arroyo (-20.8), Chris Volstad (-20.0), and Jeff Francis (-18.2).
After I found this out, I went back to see how often pitchers have a fastball that was that is worse than Burnett’s. And guess what? It’s never happened.
Well ok, that’s probably not true. Someone has most likely, at some point, posted lower than -31.4 runs saved, but the Fangraphs Pitch Type Value data only goes back to 2002. And in that time, A.J. Burnett’s 2011 fastball was the worst. Pretty amazing.
5. Brett Gardner led baseball in dWAR…by a lot.
The advanced stats love Brett Gardner. His dWAR was a staggering 3.2, by far the highest in baseball (the second-highest was Carlos Lee’s 2.1, what?).
How rare is a dWAR of 3.2? It was the 13th highest EVER in the history of baseball and also the highest ever a Yankee. Only Barry Bonds has had a higher single-season dWAR in left field (3.9 in 1989).
6. Derek Jeter, from July 9th through August 25th: .373/.427/.491
This really came out of nowhere. On June 13th, when Jeter went on the D.L., he was hitting .260 – and after struggling for most of 2010, it seemed clear that he was done as a productive hitter. But once he returned from the D.L. and collected his 3,000th hit, Jeter had one of the best stretches of his career. All things considered, it is amazing that he finished the season with a .297 average and a .355 OBP.
7. Derek Jeter’s on-base percentage was higher than Robinson Cano’s.
Even though Cano led the team with a .302 average, his .349 OBP was lower than Jeter’s.
Yeah, I didn’t see that coming.
8. Speaking of OBP, Nick Swisher led the team with a .374 clip.
Swisher led the team with 95 walks, and from May 29th through the end of the season, he was one of the best hitters on the team: .285/.397/.519.
Here’s an amazing stat: Nick Swisher’s OBP over the last three years has been higher than Mark Teixeira’s (.368 vs. .363).
9. When Curtis Granderson got on base, he scored a run 54.4% of the time.
How ridiculous is that? Let’s compare that percentage to some other prolific run-scorers in baseball this year:
Ian Kinsler: 47.4%
Jacoby Ellsbury: 43.6%
Matt Kemp: 41.8%
Miguel Cabrera: 36.0%
The major league average is about 32.5%. Not surprisingly, Jorge Posada was well below that.
10. The Yankees had five players (Sabathia, Burnett, Nova, Colon, Garcia) with over 25 starts. The last time that happened was 1999.
The five in 1999 were El Duque, David Cone, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Hideki Irabu. The difference was that three of those five (Pettitte, Clemens, Irabu) had ERA’s over 4.60. Only one this year (Burnett, of course) had an ERA over 4.
11. At age 41, Mariano Rivera was as good as ever.
Ok, this goes without saying. But the numbers are still remarkable: in 2011, Rivera posted his fifth-lowest WHIP, his fourth-most saves, his second-fewest walks, and his second-highest strikeout-to-walk ratio (a ridiculous 7.5).
Oh, here’s another amazing stat: 2011 was Rivera’s ELEVENTH season with an ERA under 2. And he also posted the lowest ERA (1.91) for any American League closer (only one National League closer, Joel Hanrahan, had a lower ERA). In fact, since 2003, Rivera has posted an ERA over 2 just once (2007). Absurd.
12. Mariano Rivera was otherworldly after August 15th
On August 11th, Mariano Rivera was coming off a stretch where he had allowed runs in three consecutive appearances, including a blown save to the Red Sox on August 7th and a ninth-inning loss to the Angels on August 9th. But from August 15th until the end of the season, he reminded everyone that he is still the best closer in baseball. Here is how he finished the season:
17 appearances, 16.1 innings, 14 saves, 3 walks, 21 strikeouts, 0.55 ERA
Even more ridiculous, this was the slash line of opposing hitters: .130/.148/.203
Oh, and he also set the all-time saves record.
13. As great as Rivera was, David Robertson might have had a more dominant stretch of pitching.
David Robertson had an unbelievably dominant season. The numbers speak for themselves: 70 games, 34 holds, 66.2 innings, 40 hits allowed, 100 strikeouts, and a 1.08 ERA. He gave up one home run.
‘Houdini’ made a name for himself by constantly getting out of jams and rarely giving up big hits. Robertson was already having an excellent season on July 26th, with a 1.57 ERA, but he kicked it up a notch from then on.
D-Rob, 7/26 thru the end of the season: 26.2 innings, 11 hits, ONE RUN ALLOWED (a home run to J.J. Hardy), 9 walks, 37 strikeouts. That’s a 0.34 ERA if you’re keeping score at home.
14. Speaking of David Robertson, he posted the highest WAR (3.9) by a Yankee relief pitcher* since Tom Gordon (4.0) in 2004.
*We’ll exclude Mariano Rivera.
Thanks to Joe Torre, Gordon also had the luxury of pitching in 23 more innings than Robertson. Before Gordon, the last Yankee reliever with a WAR over 3.9 was Goose Gossage in 1982.
Also, here’s an amazing stat- in 1990, when the Yankees went 67-95, the team had NO pitchers (and just two hitters) with a WAR over 1.5. The team’s best pitcher that year was Tim Leary, who went 9-19 with a 4.11 ERA.
For those wondering, this year’s team had six pitchers (and six hitters) and with a WAR over 1.5.
15. Of all the stats that speak to Robertson’s dominance, here’s one that really stands out: with a 1.08 ERA, he still allowed a .291 BABIP. That’s higher than Ivan Nova, Luis Ayala, and nearly identical to A.J. Burnett.
I went back to take a look at opposing BABIP’s for famously-low ERA seasons – Robertson’s ridiculous 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings easily make him an outlier:
Dennis Eckersley, 1990: .213
Bob Gibson, 1968: .234
Pedro Martinez, 2000: .237
Mariano Rivera, 2005: .238
Eric Gagne, 2003: .250
David Robertson, 2011: .291
Basically Robertson struck out so many hitters that it offset his league-average BABIP.
16. Wait, I have a few left over stats on David Robertson.
- With runners in scoring position, hitters hit .140 (13-for-93) with 47 strikeouts
- With the bases loaded, hitters were 1-for-19 with 14 strikeouts
- Left-handed hitters against Robertson: 122 at bats, 19 hits, 58 strikeouts
- In high leverage situations, Robertson’s opposing slash line was .126/.236/.171 (127 plate appearances).
I think he’ll get a few Cy Young votes.
17. Curtis Granderson led the league in RBI’s and runs. That doesn’t happen very often.
As Joe Posnanski pointed out on Monday, the RBI/runs combination has only happened eight times in the American League the last 50 years. Twice it was done by a Yankee:
Ken Griffey Jr., 1997
Albert Belle, 1995
Don Baylor, 1979
Reggie Jackson, 1973
Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
Frank Robinson, 1966
Roger Maris, 1961
Six of those eight won the MVP. I suspect Granderson won’t win the MVP this year,* probably for three reasons: 1) he hit .262, 2) so many others are having MVP seasons in the A.L., and 3) the writers are continuing to put less emphasis on conventional stats like RBI’s and more emphasis on advanced stats.
*I obviously don’t have a vote for MVP and Cy Young this year, but if I did, here would be my ballot:
A.L. MVP: Verlander
A.L. Cy Young: Verlander
N.L. MVP: Braun
N.L. Cy Young: Kershaw
Feel free to agree or disagree as you please.
18. Granderson also set the all-time Yankee record for single-season strikeouts.
As good as Granderson was in 2011, he struck out once every 3.4 at bats, and his 169 strikeouts are an all time Yankee record. I’ll give him a pass because the guy was so good otherwise.
19. The Yankees made 33 more errors in 2011 than they did in 2010.
But here is where advanced stats can show a deeper truth. We’ve learned that errors aren’t everything – in fact, they’re mostly at the discretion of the official scorer. So if you go by errors, then yeah, the Yankees were worse in 2011.
But if you look at UZR, the Yankees were actually better, despite making 33 more errors.
UZR, 2010: 20.5
UZR, 2011: 22.9
Oh, and just to bring back some good memories, their UZR in 2005 was -138.1.
20. Brett Gardner had 588 plate appearances. He swung at the first pitch 34 times.
And he actually faired pretty well those 34 times: he hit .382/.485/.559.
But basically, if you’re a pitcher, there’s no reason not to throw Brett Gardner a first-pitch strike.
Gardner, after a 1-0 count: .300/.419/.430
Garnder, after an 0-1 count: .203/.258/.285
21. Brett Gardner’s 49 steals were the most by a Yankee since 1989.
Gardner stole 47 bases last year, which was the most ever in my lifetime. This year he stole two more (despite being caught four more times) to lead the league. The last Yankee with more than 49 SB’s in a season was Rickey Henderson, who stole a ridiculous 93 bases in 1989.
22. From August 3rd through September 5th, the Yankees had a team ERA of 4.69.
And yet they still managed to go 20-11 over this stretch.
Why did they fare so well with poor pitching? The offense was unbelievable: as a team, they hit .286/.369/.500.
Yes, the team slugged .500 over a full month of the season. I doubt that happens very often.
23. CC Sabathia won at least 19 games for the third straight year. And his 6.9 WAR was the highest by a Yankee pitcher in 14 years.
Here are the highest WAR’s by a Yankee pitcher since 1998:
1) CC Sabathia, 2011: 6.9
2) Mike Mussina, 2001: 6.5
3) Mike Mussina, 2003: 6.2
4) CC Sabathia, 2010: 5.5
5) Roger Clemens, 2001: 5.4
The last Yankee with a higher WAR was Andy Pettitte in 1997.
It really can’t be overstated how great Sabathia was this year: 33 starts, 237 innings, 230 strikeouts, a 3.00 ERA. He was every bit the horse the Yankees needed him to be.
24. Jesus Montero became the fifth Yankee ever to hit four or more home runs in his first 15 games.
The other four: Shelley Duncan, Steve Whitaker, Oscar Azocar, and Kevin Maas.
Let’s hope Montero’s career ends up better than these guys (though Shelley Duncan is still going strong!)
25. Mariano Rivera’s career postseason WPA is 11.62.
This isn’t really a stat about the 2011 season, but I thought it was a good way to wrap up the post.
I read this stat a few days ago over at Beyond the Box Score, and what really stands out is how far in front of everyone else Rivera is. Here are the top postseason WPA’s ever:
Let’s just hope that Rivera will continue to build on his WPA lead this October.
Phew. We’re done! Thanks for reading, and if you have anything you’d like to add feel free to comment below.