• 25 Things You Didn’t Know About The 2011 Yankees

    Posted by on September 29th, 2011 · Comments (2)

    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:

    Granderson: 54.4%
    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

    Ridiculous.

    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:

    A-Rod, 2007
    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:

    Rivera: 11.62
    Schilling: 3.57
    Smoltz: 3.11
    Pettitte: 3.06
    Ruth: 3.00

    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.

    2011 Starting Pitching

    Posted by on May 23rd, 2011 · Comments (6)

    When Cliff Lee failed to sign with the Yankees, and when Andy Pettitte retired, the Yankee rotation became a major concern. Sure, there was CC Sabathia, but after that things got shaky, especially with Burnett coming off a terrible season, Hughes’s inconsistency in the second half, Nova’s inexperience, and Freddy Garcia…well, being Freddy Garcia. I go to school in Boston, so all I heard was how the Red Sox rotation, coupled with their improved offense, would dominate the A.L. East. Who did the Yankees have? Ivan Nova? Bartolo Colon? Ha!

    Early on, things looked bleak. Phil Hughes couldn’t throw a fastball. Ivan Nova had some rough starts. But ever since Hughes went on the D.L., and Bartolo Colon took his place in the rotation, the Yankee starters have dominated. Sabathia, Burnett, Colon, Nova, and Garcia have combined for a 3.47 ERA in 42 starts. Ivan Nova’s 4.29 ERA is actually the highest in the rotation. The only time in the last 30 years that the five primary starters all had ERA’s under 4.30 was 1998 (of course).

    What was once the Yankees’ biggest concern is now their biggest strength. The Yankees caught lightning in a bottle with Colon, who has somehow found the fountain of youth and is throwing high 90′s fastballs with movement on the black. Sabathia has been his typical self, Burnett has rebounded, Nova has been effective, and Garcia has been fantastic. In fact, all five had a quality start in their last outing.

    The bullpen has also been dominant, led by Rivera and Robertson, who both have ERA’s under 2. As a team, the Yankees have a 3.59 ERA. That’s their lowest mark since 1981, when the team posted a 2.90 ERA in a strike-shortened 107-game season.

    Maybe I’m misreading the success of the starters for a wider trend throughout baseball. After all, pitchers are dominating this year. A.J. Burnett’s 4.02 ERA actually gives him an ERA+ under 100. Run scoring is lower than it’s been in 20 years. The league average is .249.

    But considering the Yankees are hitting just .254 as a team (seventh in the A.L., though their OPS and OBP are first and third, respectively), they have needed their starters to step up. All five have done so.

    It is unlikely that Colon and Garcia will continue to post ERA’s in the low 3′s for the rest of the season. Burnett and Nova might become more inconsistent as the year goes on. But for the time being, I am enjoying the success of the starters, and hopefully it continues throughout the summer.

    Thoughts On Andy Pettitte’s Retirement

    Posted by on February 3rd, 2011 · Comments (4)

    On April 29th, 1995, a relatively unknown pitcher named Andy Pettitte was called into the game with the Yankees up 5-1. It was just the third game of the year – baseball began late in 1995 following the strike. His first-ever pitch was a strike to Wally Joyner. He then retired Joyner on a flyout to centerfield. It was the first of 12,987 batters Pettitte would face in the regular season.

    I had just turned four when Andy Pettitte made his major-league debut. It would be a few years before I began to watch baseball.

    One of the first things that stood out with Pettitte was his windup. Hands over the head, left foot pivot, hands down, right leg up, coil, and fire. It was simple and effective. I did my best to imitate that motion in little league.* And then of course there was the stare. I’ve always wondered whether big-league hitters were ever intimidated by it. I’d like to think they were, since Pettitte’s VORS (Value Over Replacement Stare) was pretty darn good. And as a fan, the stare is wholly ingrained into my memory. The folks at FOX loved to zoom in on it.

    *Those Yankee teams from 1999-2003 (the height of my little league prowess) didn’t exactly have the easiest windups to imitate. I’m looking at you, El Duque.

    It’s tough to summarize Pettitte’s career using numbers, because he really wasn’t about the numbers. His 240 wins, 3.88 ERA, 2,251 strikeouts, 117 ERA+, and 50.2 career bWAR are certainly nothing to sneeze at, but during his time with the Yankees, he was never supposed to be the ace of the staff, with the exception of 1996 and 1997. In 1998, it was David Cone. From 1999-2003 it was Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. From 2007-2008, it was Chien-Ming Wang, and in 2009 and 2010 it has been CC Sabathia. Pettitte made only one Opening Day Start, in 1998.

    Instead, Pettitte has been a rock in the middle of the rotation, producing solid start after solid start. He started at least 31 games every year from 1996-2003, with the exception of 2002, when he suffered an elbow injury. And not once during that time did he produce an ERA that was below league average.

    His finest seasons with the Yankees were probably 1996 (21-8, 3.87 ERA, 5.7 bWAR) and 1997 (18-7, 2.88 ERA, 7.6 bWAR). He finished in the top six in Cy Young voting five times: 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, and 2005 (with the Astros). He also made three All Star teams (1996, 2001, 2010). He is undoubtedly one of the best Yankee starting pitchers of all time.

    And so all of this leads to the inevitable question: is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?

    According to Bill James’ Hall of Fame monitor, yes, he is. Pettitte scores a 123, 65th best all time, with the average Hall of Famer scoring around 100. However, Pettitte has a severe (and some would say unfair) advantage in this category, since the monitor awards points for World Series and playoff starts. And if you play 13 years with the Yankees, you’re bound to make some playoff starts.

    It should also be noted that the Hall of Fame monitor attempts to assess how likely (and not how deserving) a player is to make the Hall of Fame.

    Where Pettitte really separates himself is the postseason. He won one of the most important games in Yankee history, Game 5 of the 1996 World Series. He pitched into the ninth inning and allowed just five hits and three walks. The Yankees won 1-0, narrowly beating John Smoltz, and they wrapped up the series shortly thereafter.

    Pettitte holds many playoff records, including wins (19), innings (263), and starts (42). Think about those 42 starts – that’s an extra season and a half worth of high-intensity, no-room-for-error starts. And in nearly all of them* he thrived. In the 27 playoff series that Pettitte pitched in, the Yankees won 20 of them.

    *An obvious exception was Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, but I try not to think about that too often.

    Here’s the other amazing thing about Pettitte: he never really faded during the back-end of his career:

    First 8 seasons (1995-2002): 128-70, 3.93 ERA, 1584 innings, 1.390 WHIP
    Last 8 seasons (2003-2010): 112-68, 3.83 ERA, 1471 innings, 1.322 WHIP

    He actually got a little better during his later years, even with declining velocity and more injuries. If consistency is the mark of a Hall of Famer, then the case for Pettitte is pretty strong.

    But that said, Pettitte isn’t a Hall of Famer according to many conventional stats. His 240 wins is 55th all time. His 3,055.1 innings is 123rd all time. He’s 48th in strikeouts, 60th in games started, and 77th in bWAR. Even his sparkling .635 winning percentage (no doubt aided by a wealth of run support) is just 43rd all time.

    Here’s the real kicker: his 3.88 ERA is 720th all time. That’s worse than Barry Zito, Derek Lowe, and Al Leiter. It’s also worse than Vinegar Bend Mizell, Sad Sam Jones, and Egyptian Healy. Yes, those were real players.

    Putting it into context, his ERA+ is tied for 163rd all time. Worse than guys like Mark Buehrle and Paul Quantrill (yes, he of the QuanGorMo fame), Dolf Luque, Firpo Marberry, Sadie McMahon (yes, they were real players too). That doesn’t bode well for Pettitte.

    I’m not sure if it’s worth hashing the stats out any further. As I said earlier, Pettitte’s career shouldn’t totally be defined by the numbers (though it is interesting to look back and see where he ranks among the all time greats). For me, Pettitte was always the reliable workhorse, the guy to count on to end a losing streak, a pitcher who rose to the occasion during the most important games. I’m not sure if those are quantifiable through numbers, and I’m okay with that.

    Andy Pettitte, ol’ #46, was a part of my childhood. From pre-school through college, Pettitte has been a constant with the Yankees (with the exception of 2004-2006, but I don’t blame him for that). I remember how glad I was when he returned in 2007. If there’s one thing I love, it’s when an ex-Yankee returns to the club.*

    *With the exception of Sidney Ponson in 2008.

    I haven’t had to deal with many Yankee retirements. Bernie never formally retired. Clemens had a huge fall-out with the government. Mike Mussina was quickly forgotten once the Yankees signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Pettitte has always been one of my favorite players. I guess I’m learning that it’s not easy to say goodbye.

    Of all the things I could conclude with, perhaps this is the most revealing: it’s been 33 years since the Yankees won a World Series without Pettitte. This makes it especially hard to say goodbye.

    And yet we must bid adieu to the first of the Core Four to retire. You will be missed, Andy.

    Just eleven days till pitchers and catchers.

    25 Things You Didn’t Know About The 2010 Yankees

    Posted by on October 4th, 2010 · Comments (17)

    The inspiration for this post came from a column Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote a few weeks ago.

    I’ve enjoyed Passan’s writing for awhile now, and I thought it would be neat to write a post about 25 Yankee-specific facts. I did my best by trying to find some items that a casual Yankee fan wouldn’t know.

    I must warn you, this is going to be a long post. But I think it has to be. After all, a Major League Baseball season is long. There are so many games, so many stats to digest, so many players to talk about. And the 2010 Yankee season is no exception.

    Thanks to the invaluable resources that are Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, there are literally an infinite number of stats at my disposal. Most of the information you find here is attributed to those sites.

    And I’ll also do my best to keep you entertained along the way.

    So without further ado, here are 25 facts about the 2010 Yankees that you may or may not have known.

    1. CC Sabathia’s 2010 season was the best by a Yankee starter since Mike Mussina in 2003.

    People forget how good Mike Mussina was in 2003, mostly because he was overshadowed by Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Clemens went 17-9 and won his 300th game and got his 4,000th strikeout. Pettitte won 21 games. Both were in the final year of their contract. But it was Mussina that had the best year of any starter. Mussina threw more innings, had a better ERA, walked fewer, struck out more, and had a much better WHIP than either Clemens or Pettitte that year.

    If you’re going by WAR, Sabathia’s 5.5 is the highest since Mussina’s 6.2 in 2003.

    To put both Sabathia’s and Mussina’s dominance into perspective, here are the highest WAR totals for Yankee starting pitchers since 1998:

    1) Mike Mussina, 2001: 6.5
    2) Mike Mussina, 2003: 6.2
    3) CC Sabathia, 2010: 5.5
    4) Roger Clemens, 2001: 5.4
    5) Chien-Ming Wang, 2006: 5.4

    Mike Mussina owns the top two spots. And there is Sabathia at number three.

    But I still think Felix Hernandez should win the Cy Young Award.

    2. A.J. Burnett was either really really good or really really bad.

    Ok, you probably knew this. Early on it was pretty clear that A.J. was lights out on some days and absolutely awful on others. Burnett finished with a 10-15 record and an ERA above 5. In his fifteen losses, Burnett allowed 82 earned runs, good for a 10.35 ERA. He allowed a slash line of .352/.438/.628. So basically, in half of his starts, it was as if he faced Josh Hamiltion every time up.

    Burnett actually started off the year as one of the best pitchers in baseball. On the morning of May 9th, he had a 4-0 record with a 1.99 ERA. And by the end of May, he was still a very impressive 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA. In his ten wins, he posted a 1.08 ERA and allowed a slash line of .212/.273/.271. So he wasn’t all bad.

    3. True, he wasn’t all bad. But in 2010, he was mostly bad.

    Here are some more ugly stats about Burnett:

    In 21 starts after May: 4-13, 6.67 ERA
    In 5 June starts: 0-5, 11.35 ERA
    Number of Starts Burnett Gave Up At Least 3 Runs: 20
    4 Runs: 15
    5 Runs: 10
    6 Runs: 10
    7 runs: 5
    8 runs: 3

    4. The Yankees posted their first positive UZR season since…

    Since ever! And by ever, I mean since 2002. Fangraphs only has advanced fielding data for the past eight seasons. But 2010 was the first time (in the UZR era) that the Yankees actually posted a positive number. In other words, their defense actually saved them runs this year. Compare that to 2005, when the team’s UZR was -100.

    5. Kerry Wood’s stats with the Yankees were pretty good.

    When Kerry Wood was acquired, he was sporting a 1-4 record with a 6.30 ERA and a 1.600 WHIP. Since coming to the Yankees, Wood has turned around his season and made a positive impact on the bullpen. It’s hard to believe, but in 24 games with the Yanks, Wood has a 0.69 ERA and 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. The league is hitting .161 off him.

    It’s worth reading those numbers again.

    I don’t know what lies ahead for Wood. It will be interesting to see how he is used in the playoffs. But I think that Girardi and Co. are very confident in throwing Wood out there in big situations. And so far, he has proven his worth.

    6. Jason Giambi was better in his first two years with the Yankees than Mark Teixeira.

    Giambi, 2002-2003: .283/.423/.563, 82 HR, 229 RBI, 238 BB, 160 OPS+, 11.9 WAR

    Teixeira, 2009-2010: .274/.374/.523, 72 HR, 230 RBI, 174 BB, 132 OPS+, 10.0 WAR

    Now obviously there are a lot of caveats here. Teixeira won a World Series and delivered that huge walk-off home run in Game 2 of the ALDS last year. Giambi was basically silent during the playoffs (though his two home runs in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS were crucial in sending the game to extra innings, where Aaron Boone eventually hit that dramatic home run).

    Teixeira has also been a much better fielder. No question about that.

    So it’s pretty obvious that Teixeira is a better overall first baseman. But it’s interesting to note that Giambi actually outperformed Teixeira at the plate in his first two years with the Yankees.

    Of course, Giambi ended up playing only 80 games the next year, and God willing, Teixeira will turn out to be a better investment in the long run.

    7. Francisco Cervelli fell asleep from May through August.

    It’s important to note that he is the backup catcher, and he probably put up better numbers than most backup catchers in the league. But for some reason, Cervelli stopped hitting after May. He finished the season with a .271 average, but after May 15th* he hit .235. And from May 15th through August 23rd, he hit just .185.

    *It is worth noting, however, that on May 15th Cervelli was hitting .415.

    8. Francisco Cervelli led the team in errors.

    I don’t mean to bash on Cervelli here because I like him. I really do. I like his enthusiasm, his demeanor on the field, his old-school, no batting gloves approach at the plate. He’s the type of player that makes it fun to watch Yankee games (except when he’s hitting in a big spot). So I’ll start by saying that.

    But honestly, it’s never a good thing when your backup catcher leads the team in errors. And in addition to his struggles at the plate, Cervelli struggled mightily in the field. He started 80 games and ended up with 13 errors. If Cervelli was in the starting lineup, you had a 16% chance of seeing him make an error. He’s a catcher. Think about that for a second.

    Second on the Yankees in errors? Jorge Posada. Posada caught 48 less innings than Cervelli but still made eight of them.

    All in all, Yankee catchers combined for 21 errors, or about 30% of the team’s total.

    9. Cano, Jeter, Rodriguez combined for 16 errors.

    Not bad when you consider that they combined for 44 errors in 2005. Yep, just five years ago the same trio committed a whopping 28 more errors. Even though A-Rod and Jeter have gotten older, they’ve certainly improved  their fielding percentage. Granted, Jeter misses most of the balls to his left, but when he does get to a ball, he is quite efficient at making the play without error.

    Robinson Cano is a whole other story.

    10. Robinson Cano had a good year.

    This is an understatement, to say the least. Let me first say this: he made three errors all year. Three! He played in nearly 1,400 innings and had roughly 770 chances to commit an error between his putouts and assists. And the guy missed only three times.

    And yeah…offensively, Cano was a beast. He continued his remarkable durability by playing in 160 games. Guess how many games he’s missed since 2007. Twenty? Thirty? Nope. Since the start of the ’07 season, Cano has missed EIGHT games. Just eight. He is the only Yankee ever to appear in 159 or more games in four straight seasons.

    Here are some other stats for you: a .319 average, 29 home runs, 109 RBI’s, 103 runs scored, 200 hits, a 141 OPS+, and a WAR of 6.0. It was quite a 2010 season for Cano. And he joins just Rogers Hornsby – THE Rogers Hornsby – as the only second basemen to have consecutive seasons of 200 hits and 25+ home runs.

    Not bad.

    11. Brett Gardner likes to take pitches.

    This was both good and bad. I think early on in the season it was good. He rarely swung at pitches out of the zone and made the pitcher throw him a strike, which is why he was hitting over .300 for most of the season. But I think towards the end of the year Gardner got too picky and took a lot of easily hittable pitches.

    Here is a stat that will blow you away: Gardner took the first pitch 97% of the time.* And of the 14 times Gardner made contact on the first pitch, he got eight hits.

    *This stat is a little skewed. He probably swung at more than 3% of first pitches, but he only hit 3% of them into fair territory.

    Overall, most hitters do hit better on the first pitch. The simple explanation for this is that the pitcher wants to get ahead and is willing to throw a strike.

    But if there’s one thing we noticed about Brett Gardner, it’s that he was not afraid to hit with two strikes. In fact, he had two strikes on him in 69% of his at bats, a number that is astronomically high. By comparison, Robinson Cano had two strikes on him in 38% of his AB’s. Derek Jeter was at 42%. A-Rod was at 48%.

    Even Mark Reynolds had two strikes on him less than Gardner. Reynolds, who struck out 211 times in 499 at bats, had two strikes on him 65% of the time.

    So my advice to Brett Gardner would be this: Brett, I like your patience. Patience is a virtue. But your odds of getting on base with two strikes go way down. Don’t be afraid to swing at the first pitch if it’s a good one. Or the second one. And while you still have your speed, try and hit as many balls into fair territory as you can.

    12. Brett Gardner is the fastest Yankee of my lifetime.

    I suppose that the above statement is, in its literal form, very true. Brett Garnder IS, most likely, the fastest player to where a Yankee uniform in my lifetime (for the record, I was born in 1991).

    But here I’m using number of stolen bases to determine the fastest Yankee since 1991. And Gardner’s 47 steals this year were the most by a Yankee since Rickey Henderson’s 93 SB’s in 1989.

    Hard to believe it’s been 21 years since a Yankee stole at least 47 bases. But for now, Gardner holds the post-1991 single season record.

    13. Ramiro Pena and his 36 OPS+ got 167 plate appearances.

    In the last 20 years, here are the lowest OPS+ numbers for a Yankee player with at least 150 plate appearances:

    Ramiro Pena, 2010: 36
    Luis Sojo, 1998: 37
    Andy Fox, 1996: 38
    Tony Womack, 2005: 50
    Mariano Duncan, 1997: 51
    Enrique Wilson, 2004: 51
    Jose Molina, 2008: 51

    I’ll leave it at that.

    14. The Yankees had seven players strike out at least 98 times.

    This is both good and bad.

    It’s a good thing because the Yankees were lucky enough to have seven players play enough games to be able to strike out 98+ times. It’s also a trend we’ve seen throughout the game. For quite a few years now, the amount of strikeouts in baseball have been rising.

    But it’s also a bad thing because all those strikeouts result in less runs and less times on base.

    For the record, the seven guys were: Teixeira, Jeter, Rodriguez, Gardner, Granderson, Swisher, and Posada.

    15. Mariano Rivera continues to dominate.

    Again, you probably knew this. His 33 saves, 1.80 ERA, and 0.833 WHIP were all very impressive, and it’s what we’ve come to expect from Mo. His SAA (slash line allowed) was an otherworldly .183/.239/.254. He threw a strike two-thirds of the time, allowed only ten extra-base hits, and continued to make hitters look silly with his cutter, all while pitching in mostly high leverage situations.

    I don’t know how he does it. I don’t know how, at the age of 40, Mo posted his second-best WHIP and his fifth-best ERA ever. He may not be as durable as he used to be (his 60 innings in relief were the fewest ever in a non-injury season), but he is still the best closer in baseball.

    I don’t know how much longer he’s got, but I will continue to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

    16. The Yankees had three complete games, but none of them were nine innings.

    This was more of a bizarre coincidence than anything else. Two of those complete games (one by Sabathia and one by Burnett) occurred in losses on the road, and Sabathia’s other one occurred because of a rainout.

    In fact, 2010 was the second time ever that the Yankees didn’t have a nine-inning complete game. It also happened in 2004.

    This doesn’t really show much, other than the fact that Yankee pitchers don’t throw nearly as many complete games as they used to (like when they threw 123 complete games in 1904).

    17. Alex Rodriguez performed a Houdini act in September.

    At the end of August, I thought there was no way A-Rod was going to continue his streak of 30-homer seasons. In fact, on September 4th, with less than a month left, he had just 21 home runs. But somehow, he managed to hit nine in a span of 21 games, and so his streak of 30-plus home run seasons (now at 13) is alive and well. It was quite the Houdini act.

    18. Speaking of A-Rod, he was really efficient at driving runners in this season.

    I wrote about this a few weeks ago.

    In 137 games, he drove in 125 runs. In fact, he drove in one run for every 4.76 Plate Appearances, by far the best rate in baseball. I know RBI isn’t the best statistic to judge a player’s success on, but when runners were on base, A-Rod upped his game. He hit .296/.368/.556 with runners on and .246/.314/.460 with no one on. Who said A-Rod wasn’t clutch?

    19. The Yankees play better on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.

    There have been a bunch of great Yankee games over the past two years, and an abnormally high number of them have occurred when the game was broadcasted on ESPN.

    Take last year, for example. Two of my favorite games were ESPN Sunday night games – the night Mariano Rivera recorded his 500th save (and also walked with the bases loaded against Francisco Rodriguez) and the game that Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira hit back to back home runs in the eighth inning off Daniel Bard to complete a four-game sweep over the Red Sox.

    The trend continued this year. I was sure the Yankees were going to lose against the Dodgers on that Sunday night game in June. The Yankees were losing 6-2 in the ninth with one out and Jonathan Broxton on the mound. Somehow, they started a rally, culminating with big hits by Chad Huffman and Colin Curtis. Talk about unpredictability. And then Cano hit that dramatic home run in the tenth off George Sherrill.

    And then I was lucky enough to attend the Sunday night game where Dustin Moseley shut down the Red Sox, while Mark Teixeira and crew clobbered their way to a win. And the Yankees weren’t done yet – last Sunday night they came back against the Red Sox and won it in extra innings on a walk-off walk.

    In fact, this isn’t really a new thing. Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off home run on a Sunday night game a few years ago. Mike Mussina was one out away from a perfect game on Sunday night. The final game played at Yankee Stadium was on a Sunday night.

    Maybe the bright lights and the national spotlight have something to do with it. Or maybe this is just a random coincidence. It’s something to keep watching in 2011.

    20. There is a lot to like about Phil Hughes.

    This was an important year for Hughes, and I think it’s safe to say that he proved his worth in the starting rotation. He’s still only 24, but he finished the year with an 18-8 record, a 4.19 ERA, and a .244 BAA. If he can limit the amount of home runs he gives up (he gave up 25), then he’ll continue to develop as a starter.

    The one knock on Hughes is that from June 13th forward, his ERA was over five. But for the most part, his 2010 season was a successful one.

    21. The Yankees only used eight different starting pitchers.

    Had Andy Pettitte not been injured, this number would have likely been less.

    This is a testament to the durability and improved conditioning of the starting staff. Three years ago, in 2007, the Yankees used 14 different starters. In 2005, they also used 14 different starters.

    Then again, those teams didn’t have CC Sabathia.

    22. Nick Swisher had an entirely different approach at the plate this year.

    And as a result, he hit for a higher average but got on base less often.

    In 2009, he hit only .249, but got on base 37% of the time thanks to 97 walks. He saw at least four pitches in 43% of his plate appearances. And he had two strikes on him in 54% of his plate appearances.

    In 2010, he hit .288, but got on base only 36% of the time. He walked just 58 times. He saw at least four pitches in 36% of his plate appearances. And he had two strikes on him in 51% of his plate appearances.

    So was this new approach good or bad?

    I think overall it was good. Even though he got on base less often, his slugging and OPS were higher. He also scored more runs. His power numbers were unaffected; he still hit 29 home runs. And he made the all star team too.

    23. Jorge Posada tied a career high in stolen bases.

    I really don’t know what got into Posada this year. You normally don’t see a 39 year old catcher tie a career high in stolen bases. But somehow, Jorge managed to steal three bases (with only one caught stealing).

    How did he do this? Mostly by feasting off the element of surprise. Few pitchers threw over (or even looked over) when Posada was on first.

    Overall, his three stolen bases tied him for sixth on the team.

    24. David Robertson continued his ridiculous amount of strikeouts per nine innings.

    I guess it would have been hard to top last year’s 13 K’s per nine innings, but Robertson still managed to strike out 71 in 61.1 innings, an average of 10.4 K’s per nine. Believe it or not, this was a career low for Robertson, and nearly a strikeout off his career pace of 11.3 K’s per nine.

    I think the jury is still out on Robertson. Overall, he has been very effective. But his WHIP of 1.500 and his 4.8 walks per nine innings are not lights-out numbers. He still has to make that next step from a good reliever to a great reliever.

    25. The Yankees have never lost to the Twins in the ALDS.

    I’d like to end this on a positive note. In 2003, 2004, and 2009, the Yankees easily beat the Twins in the ALDS. They combined to go 9-2, including a very impressive 5-0 record at the Metrodome.

    Some would say that the Twins are due to win one of these. But I think it’s pretty clear that the Yankees have the Twins’ number.

    Have anything you’d like to add? Feel free to do so in the comments section below.

    A Few Thoughts About CC And A-Rod

    Posted by on September 19th, 2010 · Comments (0)

    CC Sabathia did something yesterday that no Yankee pitcher has done in 30 years. After completing the third inning, he became the first Yankee pitcher since Tommy John in 1979 and 1980 to have back-to-back seasons with 19+ wins and 220+ innings pitched.

    But you’d have to go even farther back to find the last Yankee to win 19+ games, pitch 220+ innings, and have an ERA below 3.40 in two consecutive seasons. That hasn’t been done since Mel Stottlemyre in 1968 and 1969.

    The last Yankee pitcher to do that in three straight years? Red Ruffing from 1937-1939.

    It’s safe to say that Sabathia has been the most durable, most consistent, and most dominant Yankee starting pitcher in quite some time.

    One guy who isn’t having his finest season is Alex Rodriguez. In fact, by most accounts, A-Rod is having his worst season ever. His batting average, runs scored, stolen bases, OBP, OPS, and WAR are all career lows for a full season.

    However, one thing A-Rod has been prolific at this season is driving in runs. I’ll admit, runs batted in is not the most revealing stat; it relies more on the batters ahead of you and their ability to get on base. A guy like A-Rod will naturally have more RBI opportunities than a guy like Pedro Alvarez, the cleanup hitter for the Pirates.

    But still, it isn’t a mute stat. And driving in runs has been a strength for A-Rod this year. If you take out his otherworldly 2007 season (and I know you can’t, but just play along here), A-Rod is having his best RBI season. Not in terms of quantity, but in terms of RBI per plate appearance.

    In 2010, A-Rod drives in a run for every 4.81 plate appearances. It is the best rate in baseball. Clearly A-Rod is making the most of RBI situations.

    Sabermetrically speaking, you could argue A-Rod is having one of his best seasons in a Yankee uniform. Fangraphs developed a statistic called Clutch or “how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.” A-Rod’s ‘Clutch’ number is not only his highest in a Yankee uniform, but his highest ever.

    No, his .273 average and 25 home runs won’t impress the ladies. And they’re both far from his career norms. But a closer look at his stats reveals that he isn’t having a terrible season.

    CC Sabathia’s Dominance At Home

    Posted by on August 22nd, 2010 · Comments (2)

    CC Sabathia is making history.

    With the win today, he has made 20 consecutive home starts without a loss. He is one shy of the Yankee record held by Whitey Ford.

    Technically, CC did lose a home start in the playoffs (Game 1 of the World Series). But for our purposes, the last time Sabathia lost at Yankee Stadium was over a year ago – July 2, 2009 against the Mariners.

    Over those 20 starts, he is a remarkable 15-0 with a 2.17 ERA. In 13 home starts this year, he is 10-0 with a 2.47 ERA.

    It has been almost three months since CC gave up more than three runs in a start (May 29th was the last time he did this). He has failed to pitch six innings just three times. In comparison, A.J. Burnett has failed to pitch six innings nine times.

    Since coming to the Yankees, Sabathia has been a workhorse, averaging about seven innings per start. He pitched extremely well in the postseason last year and is on pace to win more than 20 games this year. He has been everything and more that the Yankees could have expected.

    Some Thoughts On An Off Day

    Posted by on August 5th, 2010 · Comments (5)

    Here are just a few things I have been thinking about recently:

    Robinson Cano and WAR

    Robinson Cano is leading all of baseball in Wins Above Replacement (for position players) with 5.4. Even though he is hitting just .243 since June 20th, he is still at a very healthy .325/.381/.564 clip for the year.

    Despite his great season, Cano might lose the MVP race to Josh Hamilton or Miguel Cabrera. The leading WAR’er has failed to win the MVP only twice in the past ten years (Albert Pujols in 2003 and 2006).

    Robinson Cano and Games Played

    One of the reasons Cano is leading in WAR is that he plays every day. He has missed just two games in the last two years, and he’ll likely play in 159+ games for the fourth straight year.

    No Yankee has ever played in 159 or more games for four straight years. Not Derek Jeter. Not Don Mattingly. Not Bernie Williams. No one. It’s a testament to Cano’s work ethic and his willingness to play every single day.

    This might be unfair to some of the pre-1961 players, but not even Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, or Mickey Mantle managed four straight 150+ game seasons. Lou Gehrig, of course, was the exception.

    Mariano Rivera and WHIP

    Mariano Rivera failed to allow a hit or a walk in yesterday’s 5-1 win. Why was this significant? His career WHIP dropped below 1.

    Only Addie Joss (who pitched from 1902-1910) has a better career WHIP than Rivera. Joss had a 0.9678 WHIP, while Rivera’s is 0.9994.

    Among pitchers who have pitched since 1920, here are the closest anyone has come to a career WHIP under 1:

    Pedro Martinez, 1.0544
    Trevor Hoffman, 1.0558
    Juan Marichal, 1.1012
    Dick Hall, 1.1019
    Sandy Koufax, 1.1061

    It really is amazing that Rivera is having one of his finest seasons at the age of 40. Hitters are hitting .144/.194/.200 against him, and his 0.91 ERA would be a career low.

    The Yankee Starters

    The Yankees are having a down year offensively, but they have still maintained the best record in baseball primarily due to the health of the starting pitchers. With the exception of Andy Pettitte, no starter has had a stint on the Distabled List, and only seven different pitchers have started games.

    The last time the Yankees used as few as seven starters in a season was in 1994. The last time they used as few as eight was in 1997.

    For comparison’s sake, the Yankees had fourteen different starting pitchers in 2005 and 2007.

    The Upcoming Series Against Boston

    The Yankees have swept Boston at some point in August in three of the last four years. There was the memorable five-game sweep at Fenway in 2006, a three-game sweep in 2007, and last year’s unforgettable four-game sweep at home.

    I’m expecting much of the same this weekend.

    Thanks to Baseball Reference for the information.

    2010: The Year Of Defense

    Posted by on July 27th, 2010 · Comments (10)

    It seems that everyone has labeled the 2010 baseball season as “the year of the pitcher.” And rightly so: offense has been down this year as a result of more dominant pitching. This is especially characteristic of the Yankees: their 3.94 team ERA would be the lowest since 2002.

    But what has been overlooked is the rise in solid defense in baseball. This has been a trend for quite some time now. In 1975, the average errors committed per game was 1.9. Now, that number is about 1.2.

    You can attribute any number of factors to that: better field conditions, better training, more strikeouts. As far as the Yankees are concerned, the 2010 season might be their best defensive season…ever. Take a look at the number of errors Yankee teams have made since 1974:

    I used this cut-off because Fangraphs only has fielding data back to 1974.

    First, a few explanations: the data for 1981, 1994, and 1995 are considerably low because they were strike-shortened seasons. And obviously, the data for 2010 is low because the Yankees have only played 98 games.

    The Yankees have made 41 errors this year, which means they are on pace to commit about 68. That would be the lowest since 1974, including the strike-shortened years.

    The infield, especially, has been excellent this season. Here are the amount of errors the starting infielders are on pace to make this year:

    Mark Teixeira: 3
    Robinson Cano: 2
    Derek Jeter: 7
    Alex Rodriguez: 10

    And this is the amount of errors the starting infielders made in 2005:

    Tino Martinez/Jason Giambi: 15
    Robinson Cano: 17
    Derek Jeter: 15
    Alex Rodriguez: 12

    But the amount of errors per season doesn’t reveal everything. A fielder could take a safer route to a ball to avoid committing an error. An official scorer can rule an obvious error a hit under a number of circumstances. Just because a team commits less errors doesn’t mean it is a better fielding team (though it does help).

    I went to another fielding stat to analyze the Yankee defense: UZR. For those that may not be into sabermetrics, UZR stands for Ultimate Zone Rating. It puts a run value to defense, so the UZR from a player or team would be the amount of runs saved or given up over a certain period of time. I don’t understand how it is calculated, but it works.

    Fangraphs has UZR data back to 2002. Here are the Yankees’ UZR totals since then:

    2002: -36.3
    2003: -61.2
    2004: -72.0
    2005: -138.0
    2006: -79.9
    2007: -22.9
    2008: -42.1
    2009: -4.7
    2010: 5.8

    Pretty revealing stuff. The 2010 season is the first season (in the UZR era) that the Yankee defense has actually saved runs. It’s a far cry from 2005, when the Yankees had the worst defense in baseball with an absurd -138 UZR.

    Based on those numbers, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Yankees struggled in the playoffs from 2005-2008 and succeeded in 2009 with significantly better defensive stats.

    But above all, the Yankees have just gotten better over the past few years. Mark Teixeira is a huge upgrade at first over Jason Giambi, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner have been much better in the outfield than guys like Bernie Williams or Bobby Abreu were (or Gary Sheffield and Bubba Crosby), and Robinson Cano has emerged into one of the best second basemen in baseball.

    There are still 64 games left, so anything can happen. But it’s safe to say that the Yankees will continue playing solid defense. And I imagine that when the season is over, the Yankees will have their first positive UZR season ever.

    The Best First Half Moments

    Posted by on July 12th, 2010 · Comments (2)

    The Yankees finished their first half with the best record in baseball at 56-32. This year’s team might not have as many fancy walk-offs or pie celebrations that last year’s team had, but there were still some unbelievable moments over the first half of the season.

    Here are the top 5 moments, using WPA as the criterion. Each play increased the Yankees’ chances of winning by over 40%. As a result, you won’t see any moments that occurred in blow-out wins.

    5) Alex Rodriguez’s Two-Run Single against Seattle, 7/8 (Video) and Nick Swisher’s Go-Ahead Home Run against Minnesota, 5/26 (Video)

    Each of these plays increased the Yankees’ chance of victory by 41%. Alex Rodriguez’s two-out, two-run single off David Aardsma turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning. Swisher’s home run against Minnesota was hit with two outs in the top of the ninth inning at Target Field. In each game, Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect ninth inning.

    4) Robinson Cano’s Two-Run Home Run off George Sherrill, 6/27 (Video)

    This game is probably more remembered for the ninth inning rally the Yankees put together off Jonathan Broxton, but Cano’s home run in the tenth was the biggest play of the game. The home run increased the Yankees’ chance of victory by 42%. The WPA graph suggested that the Yankees only had a 0.4% chance of winning at one point.

    3) Marcus Thames’ Game-Winning Home Run off Jonathan Papelbon, 5/17 (Video)

    Thames’ walk-off home run led to the first pie of the year, and it also came off Jonathan Papelbon and the Boston Red Sox. The home run sealed the victory, increasing the odds from 57% to 100%. This was probably my favorite game of the year.

    2) Alex Rodriguez’s Game-Tying Home Run off Jonathan Papelbon, 5/17 (Video)

    Before Thames had a chance of hitting a walk-off home run, Alex Rodriguez hit a dramatic, game-tying home run that turned a 9-7 deficit into a 9-9 tie. A-Rod’s home run increased the chance of victory by 46%. Suffice it to say, Jonathan Papelbon did not have a good game.

    1) Mark Teixeira’s Three-Run Home Run off Tony Sipp, 5/30 (Video)

    After giving up a grand slam to Robinson Cano earlier in this series, Tony Sipp served up a three-run home run to Mark Teixiera that turned a 3-2 deficit into a 6-3 Yankees lead. The home run changed the outcome by a season-high 48% and led to an eventual Yankee win.

    Brett The Jet

    Posted by on July 5th, 2010 · Comments (4)

    The 2010 season has featured a lot of surprises. The success of Brett Gardner has to be near the top. He had a decent season last year, where he hit .270 with 26 stolen bases in 108 games. He posted a 93 OPS+ which for a number 9 hitter isn’t awful. All things considered, he was very good last year.

    This year, he has been one of the best players in the American League, a borderline All Star. He dipped a bit in May but came roaring back in June, hitting .383 with an on base percentage close to .500. For the most part, he has put up great numbers from month to month:

    April- .323/.397/.385
    May- .286/.367/.375
    June- .383/.472/.533

    Last weekend, he accomplished the rare feat of hitting a grand slam and an inside the park home run in back to back games. He also stole home on Opening Night in Boston, his first of 24 stolen bases this year. Yes, Brett Gardner has had quite the 2010 season.

    The most surprising number has to be his OPS+. It’s 130. That’s higher than Joe Mauer. And Nick Markakis. And Victor Martinez. And Ian Kinsler. And many others. Perhaps most surprisingly, that’s higher than Mark Teixiera AND Alex Rodriguez.

    Yes, it’s July 5th, and Brett Gardner has a higher OPS+ than Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Who saw that coming?

    Gardner debuted almost exactly two years ago. He hit just .228 in limited action that year. Tonight, Brett Gardner hits leadoff as the Yankees take on Oakland out west. He has certainly come a long way.

    The Best Pitchers In The Year Of The Pitcher

    Posted by on June 29th, 2010 · Comments (2)

    Here’s a question for you: Which pitcher would you rather have?

    Pitcher A: 108 IP, 1.83 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 107 SO, 4.1 WAR
    Pitcher B: 113 IP, 1.83 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 102 SO, 4.5 WAR

    Pretty close, right?

    Player A is the Marlins’ Josh Johnson, who has a 0.83 ERA over his last nine starts. Player B is the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez, who has hit a bit of speed bump lately, but is still having an amazing season overall.

    Both players are having near identical seasons. The difference is that Jimenez is 14-1 while Johnson is 8-3.

    Yet another reason why pitching wins and losses never tell the whole story.

    He’s A Friend Of Mine

    Posted by on June 16th, 2010 · Comments (8)

    What do Joe Mauer, Lance Berkman, Prince Fielder, Brian McCann, Derrek Lee, Chase Utley, Jason Bay, Pablo Sandoval, Matt Holliday, Jorge Posada, Brandon Phillips, and Nick Markakis have in common?

    They all have fewer RBI’s than Francisco Cervelli.

    I know that the RBI in general isn’t the greatest stat to measure a player’s success. And Cervelli also has the luxury of hitting in a lineup that posts the highest OBP (by far) in baseball. But it’s clear that Cervelli has a knack for hitting with runners in scoring position.

    In any event, with the return of Jorge Posada behind the plate, Cervelli’s playing time will most likely drop off. But for now, it’s amazing to see the guys he is ahead of in the RBI category.

    Dropping The Ball – One Year Later

    Posted by on June 12th, 2010 · Comments (5)

    One year ago today, I went to my first ever first Subway Series game.

    The energy was electric, and the crowd of 47,967 was the largest since Opening Day. There was definitely a different vibe around the Stadium.

    The Luis Castillo Game will forever be remembered as one of the most extraordinary endings to a baseball game. Throw in the increased hype of the Subway Series and you’re looking at a classic.

    But so much went on even before the ninth inning. Had Luis Castillo caught the ball, it still would have been an incredible game.

    It all began with a strike to Alex Cora from Joba Chamberlain. Joba went on to have one of the more unusual pitching lines in recent history: 4 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs, 5 walks, 3 strikeouts. The one run scored when he hit Ryan Church with the bases loaded.

    He threw exactly 100 pitches (52 for strikes), an atrocious rate of 25 pitches per inning. He actually retired the Mets in order in the first inning. But then he was all over the place the rest of the night. He threw 48 pitches in the third inning alone.

    The third inning also included a series of arguments (and about thirty mound visits) between Joba and Posada. They constantly disagreed on pitch selection and were still bickering even after Joba had exited. Consequently, Francisco Cervelli started behind the plate for Joba’s next two starts, one of which included a home run that propelled the Yankees to an important win over Atlanta.

    The game included a lot of highs, including a three-run home run from Hideki Matsui that gave the Yankees a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the sixth. But there were also lows. The Yankees blew leads of 1-0, 3-2, and 7-6. And Joba’s performance left a lot to be desired.

    One of the more frustrating maneuvers was Joe Girardi’s decision to bring in Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning. I rarely criticize Joe Girardi, which I think puts me in the minority. But this was a clear case of over managing.

    For those that don’t recall, Phil Coke had recorded the first two outs in the top of the eighth on five pitches. With two outs and no one on, Girardi decided to bring in Rivera. Granted, it’s never a bad thing when you bring in Mariano Rivera (that might be the most obvious statement of all time). But it was one of the only times I have ever seen the crowd boo prior to an appearance by Mo. The move really wasn’t necessary. Clearly the 47,000+ fans in attendance agreed with that.

    Of course, once they played Enter Sandman, the crowd was back on its feet.

    Rivera came into the game and walked Carlos Beltran. Then, with two strikes on David Wright, Rivera surrendered an RBI double that gave the Mets an 8-7 advantage. It was a very rare performance from Mo, but to his credit, he retired the Mets in order in the top of the ninth that kept the deficit at one.

    So even before the bottom of the ninth inning, even before one of the most bizarre and preposterous baseball plays of all time, the game included a number of big hits, go-ahead home runs, and questionable managerial moves. Even though the Yankees trailed going into the ninth, it was already a thrilling game.

    The bottom of the ninth started with a foul pop-out from Brett Gardner off Francisco Rodriguez. At this point, the Yankees only had a 12% chance of winning the game. Then, Derek Jeter singled, which increased the chance of victory to 22%. Johnny Damon, who didn’t start the game, pinch-hit for Nick Swisher and struck out on a 3-2 pitch. Jeter stole second in the process, but the chances of winning the game were still only 15%.

    Mark Teixeira was then intentionally walked, which I thought was strange because it put the winning run on base. Isn’t that an unwritten rule? I was under the impression that a pitcher never purposely puts the winning run on base.

    In any event, that brought Alex Rodriguez up to the plate. A-Rod worked the count to 3-1 and then popped up to second. He slammed his bat down in frustration and K-Rod let out a shout of elation.

    You know the rest. Castillo dropped the ball. Jeter scored the tying run. Teixiera, who had been hustling around the bases from the moment of contact, scored the winning run.

    There was no pie. Just giddy men who were happy to win a game. “I couldn’t believe what I saw,” A-Rod said after the game. “I’ve never seen that before.”

    Neither had we. And it might be awhile before we see anything like that again.

    Derek Jeter’s 2010 Season

    Posted by on May 30th, 2010 · Comments (2)

    Derek Jeter’s 2010 season can really be divided into three parts so far:

    First 23 games: .333/.367/.510
    Next 16 games: .169/.234/.211
    Last 9 games: .415/.455/.585

    A lot has been made about the struggles of Derek Jeter this year. But even after a rough stretch in the early parts of May, Jeter is still hitting a very solid .294 on the season. He has the sixth most hits in the American League and is on pace to have the best fielding percentage of his career. Granted, he has been slow going to his left. He is also on pace to strike out about 100 times. But for a guy about to turn 36, Jeter is having another typical Jeterian season.

    It really is amazing how well Jeter has played and how consistent he has been over his career. This year, he is on pace for over 200 hits, 100 runs, and 35 doubles. It would be Jeter’s eighth 200-hit season and thirteenth 100-run season. No one has ever done that.

    He has also been remarkably durable. He has only had one major DL stint (thanks, Ken Huckaby) in fifteen seasons. Only four active players have a higher career WAR than Jeter’s (69.7). And of the top 15 in active career WAR, Jeter is the only one without a 30 home run season.

    So yeah, you get it. Derek Jeter is a good player.

    But what has gone unnoticed is that he has actually been a lot better in 2010 than people think. I have read a lot of negative articles about Jeter (and Mariano Rivera) this year. People tend to think that they are losing their touch. And while they are aging, they seem to be right on track with their career norms.

    The Core Four

    Posted by on May 3rd, 2010 · Comments (8)

    The Core Four is a phrase that has often been thrown around when discussing Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte. I don’t remember when exactly people started referring to them as ‘The Core Four.’ I think Michael Kay had something to do with it.

    It’s pretty self-explanatory how the name ‘The Core Four’ was created. Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte have been important cornerstones on championship teams. They’ve played with each other for nearly two decades. There’s four players. It rhymes. It sounds good.

    Last week, SI had a cover story on The Core Four. I’m sure you’ve all read the article by now and have seen the picture that headlines it. If you haven’t, it’s definitely worth a look.

    With the advent of free agency and the inevitable pitfalls of age, it’s amazing that they have remained together for so long. Only a team like the Yankees would be able to consistently sign four superstar players to lengthy and expensive contracts. This wouldn’t – and couldn’t – happen in Kansas City or Cincinnati or Oakland.  Jeter, Posada, and Rivera are the only trio of teammates to play 16 consecutive seasons together – in any sport. Pettitte would be in there too if not for a three-year stint with the Astros from 2004-2006.

    What makes the situation unique is that they all came up around the same time (they all debuted in 1995), they are all similar in age (Jeter is the youngest at 35, Rivera the oldest at 40), and they are all in the upper echilon of the game’s greats. Two of the four are sure-fire Hall of Famers (Jeter, Rivera), one (Posada) has a very good chance of being enshrined in Cooperstown, and one (Pettitte) has an outside shot.

    I think Yankee fans tend to agree that Posada should be in the Hall of Fame. He has a career slash line of .278/.379/.482. He is a five-time All Star. He’s been on four World Championship teams. He has been extremely durable (he has caught 1,507 career games as of today). He also caught a perfect game. The case for Jorge Posada’s Hall-of-Fame candidacy is definitely strong.

    But what really stands out is Posada’s comparatives to other catchers. Take a look at his OPS+ numbers in comparison to some other current and future Hall of Famers:

    Mike Piazza- 142
    Johnny Bench- 126
    Jorge Posada- 125
    Yogi Berra- 125
    Carlton Fisk- 117
    Gary Carter- 115
    Ivan Rodriguez- 108

    Posada’s OPS has been above the league average in every full season he has played, except 1999. This, while playing in one of the biggest offensive eras in the game’s history.

    And unlike 99% of catchers, he has aged very well. Some would argue that he’s gotten better (offensively, not defensively) throughout his career. He had his best season in terms of OPS in 2007 (his age 35 season), and even though he’ll be 39 later this year, he is still hitting close to .300 with five homers and twelve RBI’s through his first 19 games of 2010.

    Non-Yankee fans tend to believe that Posada just hasn’t been good enough to merit Hall of Fame enshrinement. He has never really been looked at as the best catcher in baseball. During the early part of his career, Pudge Rodriguez was the best. In the last few years, it’s been Joe Mauer. So it’s understandable why people don’t think he belongs in. He never has been dominant.

    That said, I think he should be a Hall of Famer. And I think in time, he will get elected. I think the numbers speak for themselves – and he’s still not done yet.

    Anyway, back to the main point. People always talk about how the Yankees of the early ’90′s were terrible. And they were. The emergence of guys like Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte really allowed the team to erase their bad memories from the early ’90′s and transition into a period of dominance. But when you think about it, the struggles of the early ’90′s were necessary in order for the Yankees to obtain such good talent. Derek Jeter, for example, was a first-round pick (6th overall) in 1992. If the Yankees hadn’t had such an awful season in 1991, Jeter would have fallen into the hands of some other team.

    Guys like Posada (24th round), Pettitte (22nd round), and Rivera (not even drafted, signed as a free agent in 1990) basically fell into the hands of the Yankees. Good scouting had a lot to do with it. But it’s amazing when you think about how many teams passed up on them.

    And now here we are, close to twenty years after some of these guys were signed. The Core Four have remained together all this time (Pettitte took a vacation from 2004-2006). They are still putting up big numbers and have shown few signs of slowing down. Four players, five championships, sixteen seasons. One team.

    I don’t think we’ll ever see this again.

    One Year

    Posted by on March 3rd, 2010 · Comments (7)

    It’s amazing how things play out over the course of a year.

    No one lets us know this better than John Sterling. At least once per broadcast, he’ll emphasize that no one can predict baseball. We cannot predict this game. And that’s why I love John Sterling. Sure, he’s cliché. Yes, he can be corny. But he also speaks the truth. Baseball relies too much on the human element. No one will ever be able to predict what will happen. Here’s to you, PECOTA.

    Last March, things were astronomically, exponentially, infinitely different in Yankee-land. Over the last 525,600 minutes, the annals of time have progressed in a way none of us could see coming.

    Yes, the team is mostly the same. Derek Jeter still plays shortstop. CC Sabathia is still the #1 starter. Joe Girardi is still the manager.

    But consider these changes. Last year at this time, we were fretting over Alex Rodriguez’s hip injury (it really is amazing how A-Rod’s offseason progressed last year. The “A-Fraud” comment in Joe Torre’s book was a big news story. Then came the report that he was switching to the Dominican Republic for the WBC. Then came the news that he took steroids. Then came his interview with Peter Gammons, where he admitted using steroids with Texas. Then came his hip injury that was originally supposed to sideline him for the entire 2009 season. And then came the news that he would only miss ten weeks. All of that developed within a one-month span).

    Last year at this time, this video was a hit. And that guy was also our starting third baseman.

    Last year at this time, we were excited about CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher. Neither of them had even played a game yet.

    Last year at this time, Team USA beat the Yankees 6-5 in an exhibition game. Derek Jeter beat the Yankees.

    Last year at this time, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera were coming off surgeries.

    Last year at this time, we were looking at pictures of the new Stadium and waiting with bated breath for the first game.

    Last year at this time, Angel Berroa was on the team.

    The point is, things were very, very different last March. All of us were frustrated with the team’s poor performance in 2008, and we were hopeful for the 2009 season. This March, we’re riding on the heels of a memorable postseason run. The Yankees won the World Series. Alex Rodriguez was the postseason MVP.

    Who would have thought that would happen?

    I suppose that in March 2011, things will be even more different. But that’s to be expected. Time breeds change. And that’s the fun in being a fan.

    You just cannot predict baseball.

    Does Baseball Need A Salary Cap?

    Posted by on February 19th, 2010 · Comments (21)

    About a week ago, I heard that Matthew Berry of ESPN was going to give a talk about his life in the sports world and how he made it there. Yesterday, Berry made the long trip from Bristol, Connecticut, to Boston to interact with a bunch of college students. I was excited to hear him talk about what it’s like to work at ESPN. And then he introduced himself.

    “Hi, my name is Matthew Berry. Before I start, I just want to let everyone know that I hate the Yankees.”

    The room exploded into applause. I suppose this is to be expected considering we’re at the heart of Red Sox Nation. I sat and looked down at the floor. My anti-Yankee buddies made it a point to clap especially hard. Ah, college.

    For the next hour, he gave a very interesting talk about his struggles and successes in his life. He’s a funny guy, and he had some zingers that probably shouldn’t be repeated here. He then took questions. I was one of the first to ask a question.

    “Why do you hate the Yankees?”

    I’ve asked this question several times in my life. To friends. To family (my dad is a Red Sox fan. It’s horrible). But I had never asked this question to a guy who works for ESPN, so I was intrigued as to what his answer would be.

    “Because they’re arrogant,” he immediately said. “They throw money at players and if they don’t succeed, then they just throw money at another player. Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kei Igawa. No other team in their right mind would throw multi-year, $40 million contracts at these guys, but the Yankees do because they can. I just don’t like it.”

    Ok, fair enough. I didn’t really like his answer, but I don’t think I would have liked any answer he gave. Plus, I wasn’t in a position to argue with the guy. So I asked a follow-up question. “Does baseball need a salary cap?”

    “I think it does,” he said. “I think it’s unfair that the Yankees spend so much more than other teams. I think the game would be better off with a salary cap.”

    And then he went on to the next question. For the next hour, he answered questions ranging from his favorite Sportscenter anchor (he likes the combination of Josh Elliot and Hannah Storm the best) to his opinion of Ian Kinsler (he’s overrated).

    As this was going on, I was struggling with the idea of a salary cap in baseball. I’ve always been against a salary cap, and I suppose every Yankee fan is against a salary cap. But would the game be better off with a cap? Obviously, the Yankees wouldn’t. More teams would probably benefit. I didn’t want to admit that in my head. But perhaps it’s true.

    I decided I needed to get more perspective on the issue. I talked to one of my dorm-mates about it. He’s a Twins fan. First, I asked him, “Are the Yankees arrogant?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Why? Give me an answer that doesn’t involve money.”

    “Well, one of your best players of all time said that he wanted to thank the good Lord for making him a Yankee. I think that’s pretty arrogant.”

    This quote has always stood as a symbol for the Yankees franchise. If anything, it has added to Joe DiMaggio’s legacy as one of the greatest Yankees of all time. I always thought it was appropriate that players touched the sign before games. But I never thought of the quote as arrogant.

    My friend went on, “Joe DiMaggio – hell of a baseball player. But just an awful man.”

    We laughed.

    Then I asked about the salary cap. And as I expected, he complained that the Yankees spend too much money, which makes the game unfair. “The game that needs a salary cap the most doesn’t have one,” he said. “I hope the Yankees win the next five World Series. Then people will realize that something is wrong.”

    A lot of our opinions were challenged yesterday, and I say “our” because I know that many of you agree with me that baseball does not need a salary cap. But I’d like to hear your thoughts on the issue. What would be the benefits of a salary cap? What would be the problems with one? Try to be objective and look at the game as a whole, not just from the perspective of a Yankee fan.

    UPDATE: Mr. Berry actually responded to my question on ESPN.com. You can read his response here:

    http://espn.go.com/espn/page2/index?id=4982033

    Thoughts On Being A Yankee Fan

    Posted by on February 8th, 2010 · Comments (11)

    First off, I just want to say that I am honored to become a contributer here at WasWatching. When Steve asked me to join his site, I immediately jumped on board. The idea of sharing my thoughts with hundreds, maybe thousands of Yankee fans is more than enticing. At the least, it allows me to offer my views on the Yankees from a slightly different perspective.

    I’m a freshman at Boston College, but I grew up in New York. For eighteen years, I only interacted with Yankee fans, Met fans, and the occasional Red Sox fan (it’s the sad state of things, but even the suburbs of New York cannot avoid the occasional New England straggler). So when I arrived at college, I was surprised to  find fans of other teams. Yes, there are actually Braves fans. Giants fans do exist. Brewers fans are not a myth. In fact, a good number of people I have met are from the Minnesota area and root for the Twins. For the first time in my life, I interact with people who are fans of different teams. And it’s eye-opening.

    Since so many people I knew in high school were Yankee fans, it was easy to criticize the team in an open setting. From 2005-2007, I would chastize the Yankees’ inability to get out of the first round of the playoffs. The 2008 season felt like a massive failure. I criticized the front office, Joe Girardi, the bullpen, the starting pitching, the offense, the defense, and the chemistry of the team. I yelled at my television set when the team lost a game (for the record, I don’t consider myself a yeller, and I have never actually yelled at a television set. But I yelled in spirit). And between me and my friends, this was fine, because we were all fellow Yankee fans longing for number 27. Complaining about the Yankees was acceptable. Nearly a decade of futility was unacceptable.

    And then I arrived at college. And when the Yankees lost a few games last September, I would sometimes make a remark about the team. I’m really worried about the fourth starter in the postseason*, I would say over a pulled pork sandwich at lunch. And soon I got the notion that people thought I was spoiled.

    *As it turned out, we** didn’t need a fourth starter. We became the first World Series winning team since the ’91 Twins to use three starters throughout the entirety of the playoffs.

    **Another side note- I’m not a fan of people referring to their team in the possessive form. As much as I’d love to be the crafty middle reliever on the Yankees, I am not part of the team. We didn’t the World Series. The Yankees did.

    Speaking of the Twins, those Twins fans I mentioned would really go into me. The Twins haven’t won a championship since 1991. Our GM was forced to trade Johan Santana because we couldn’t afford to keep him. The Yankees’ problems were nothing compared to the problems facing the Twins and the other 28 MLB franchises.

    And then came the obvious assertions from non-Yankees fans. You guys can spend millions more than anyone else, so you’re supposed to win. You take winning for granted. You wouldn’t be a fan of the Yankees if they didn’t win every year. It was hard going to dinner after hearing that.

    What I’ve learned is this: as Yankee fans, we have been able to experience more than a lot of people do in a lifetime. We think nine years is a long World Series drought, and perhaps it is in Yankee years. But there are people out there who have never seen their team win a World Series. Or win a pennant. Or reach the Championship Series. For the majority of baseball fans, a playoff berth is something to cherish.

    More than anything, I have realized that as a Yankee fan, I do take things for granted. We all take things for granted when it comes to the Yankees. We think a playoff berth isn’t good enough. We accept nothing less than a World Series championship. And ultimately, that’s great. That’s why the Yankees are the best franchise in sports, and it’s a reason why I am proud to be a Yankee fan. But sometimes we have to accept that the Yankees won’t win every year. And that doesn’t  mean that the season was a failure. Sometimes we just have to enjoy the ride and accept where that ride leaves us off.

    Only ten days until pitchers and catchers.