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Color By Numbers: Down the Stretch They Come

Like most championship thoroughbreds, the Yankees have always been fantastic closers. Since 1901, the team has entered September leading the pack in 41 seasons, and, in all but one, crossed the finish line first.

Yankees’ September Winning Percentages

Note: Red triangles represent first place finishes.
Source: Baseball-Reference.com

The only time the Yankees stumbled down the stretch was in 2010. After entering last September ahead of the Rays by one game, they extended the lead to three, but then lost eight of the final 11 to end the year one game behind Tampa. Under normal circumstances, such a late season swoon would have been viewed as a collapse, but that month the Yankees and Rays engaged in a much less entertaining version of an Alphonse and Gaston routine. The Rays tried to give the Yankees the division, but, unfortunately, they refused to take it.

Years in Which the Yankees Finished First Despite Entering September in Second Place

Year Record on 8/31 GB Trailing Record at Season’s End
2005 75-57 2.5 Red Sox 95-67
1978 77-54 6.5 Red Sox 100-63
1964 75-54 0.5 Orioles 99-63
1955 79-52 0.5 White Sox 96-58
1921 75-46 0.5 Indians 98-55

Source: Baseball-Reference.com

This year, the Yankees began the final month 1 ½ games behind the Red Sox, but quickly assumed the top position with a six game winning streak. Unfortunately, that burst has been slowed by two sluggish losses to the last place Orioles, but nonetheless, the Yankees remain poised to take their sixth division crown by coming from behind. Not surprisingly, two of the Bronx Bombers’ other comebacks also came at the expense of the rival Boston Red Sox, although none was quite like the epic reversal of fortunes that occurred in 1978.

A.L. East Pennant Race Graph, 1978

Source: www.alexreisner.com

So, how will the Yankees finish up this year? Because the current wild card format has all but assured the team will make the playoffs, it remains to be seen how hard they’ll battle for the top spot. However, it’s worth noting the Yankees have never advanced to the World Series when making the playoffs via a consolation, so perhaps Joe Girardi should consider going to the whip? After all, when you’re riding a front runner, it doesn’t make sense to relinquish the lead, does it?

Color by Numbers: See You in September

For minor leaguers, September 1 is like the day after high school tryouts when you check the list on the gymnasium wall to see if you made the team. After being confined to only 25 men, the active rosters expand to 40 once the calendar turns from August, allowing for reinforcements from the minors. Dating back as far as the beginning of the last century (the concept was based upon a delicate business arrangement with what was then the independent minor leagues), this tradition of promoting serviceable journeymen and/or promising young prospects marks not only a rite of passage for the players finally getting a crack at the big leagues, but also heralds the final month of the pennant race.

This year, the Yankees announced that their lone September call-up will be Jesus Montero, a 22 year-old catcher who ranks among the best prospects in the game. Although many September promotions are regarded more as a chance to give a young player a taste of the major leagues, Montero is expected to play a significant role for the Yankees as they head down the stretch. There has even been some speculation that Montero will take over as the Yankees’ DH against left handers.

Whatever role he plays, the promotion of Montero is a bit of a departure for the Yankees, who have not had a position player make a September debut since 2008. In addition, the team has not had a raw rookie compile more than 25 plate appearances in the final month since Gerald Williams came to bat 27 times in 1992. So, if Montero does in fact see regular playing time, he will distinguish himself in that regard.

Yankees’ September Call-Ups, Since 1919

Note: Only those players making their major league debut in September are considered. Years without call-ups are omitted.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Of the 84 position players that the Yankees have promoted for the first time in September, only 17 have had more than 25 plate appearances. With a few notable exceptions like Roy White, Bobby Murcer, and Hank Bauer, not many from the list went on to make a lasting impression. In fact, only a handful made much of a first one. Included in the latter group is the aforementioned Williams, who posted an OPS of 1.000. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, is Charlie Spikes, who managed an OPS of .348 in his September call-up. However, Spikes made up for his lackluster debut during the off season when he was traded as part of package that helped the Yankees acquire Graig Nettles from the Indians.

What makes Montero’s promotion different from most in the above list is the Yankees’ place in the standings. Aside from Hank Bauer in 1948 (1.5 games behind) and Fenton Mole in 1949 (three games ahead), all of the prior September call-ups were given their shot when the team was playing out the string (i.e., seven or more games out of a playoff spot).

Yankees’ September Call-Ups with At Least 25 PAs, since 1919
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Just because the Yankees haven’t had much of a meaningful impact from their position player call-ups is no reason to despair. After all, the team has promoted several impact players who were only given a September cup of coffee. Included on that list is Yogi Berra, Don Mattingly, and Jorge Posada, so if Montero falls in line, the Yankees should be more than happy.

Notable by their exclusion from the call-up list this year are Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, the two most heralded pitching prospects in the Yankees’ farm system. Once again, that’s mostly par for the course in the Bronx as only seven Yankees’ pitchers have made their major league debut in September since 1992. However, that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t had rookies make an impact on the pennant race. Mel Stottlemyre and Joba Chamberlain are two examples to the contrary, but each was promoted before the final month. When confined to September, there haven’t been many notable additions.

Yankees’ September Call-Ups with At Least 3 GS/15 IP, since 1919

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Once again, with the exception of Walter Beall in 1924 (one game behind) and Ian Kennedy in 2007 (five games behind), if a Yankees’ pitcher was given a significant look in September, it was done at a time when the team wasn’t competing for the post season. Among those with at least three games started or 15 innings pitched in their September debut, the most notable call-ups were Vic Rashi, Al Leiter, Dave Righetti, and Kennedy. It’s also worth noting that both Righetti and Stan Bahnsen won the rookie of the year award two years after their initial September call-up.

Montero’s ascension to the major leagues has been long awaited by Yankees’ fans, so expectations are bound to exceed reason. Nonetheless, the young catcher has a chance to make a rare September contribution for a Yankees’ team in pursuit of a championship. More importantly, however, the Yankees hope their wunderkind will do much more than help out this year. After all, making it the majors is often said to be the easy part for the most talented players. Remaining there is another story. A look at the Yankees’ past September call-ups illustrates that often repeated adage. That’s why what Montero does in his first month will be nowhere near as important as the impact the Yankees hope he will have over the rest of his career.

Color By Numbers: Who Wants Pie?

Entering this week’s series against the Athletics, the Yankees had a dominating 26-5 record against Oakland since 2008. Perhaps that’s why it seemed inevitable that the Bronx Bombers would rally to win each of the first two games. At least that’s how it must have felt to the Athletics. However, in both games, the comeback fell short, which gave Oakland consecutive wins against the Yankees for the first time since July 1, 2007.

The Yankees’ lack of late game heroics against the Athletics echoes a season long trend. Despite having the American League’s second best record and compiling statistics that rank among franchise highs in several categories, one area in which the Yankees have come up short (in some cases, as on Tuesday night, literally by inches) is in games played close and late. Under those conditions, the team’s current OPS+ of 107 would rank near the bottom since 1996, and lag, in some cases significantly, every championship season during that time period.

Yankees’ OPS+ in Close & Late vs. Winning Percentage When Tied or Trailing in the 7th Inning or Later

Source: baseball-reference.com

Because of the small samples involved, it’s hard to draw a meaningful conclusion about the future from this one split. However, looking back, we can probably conclude that the Yankees failure to produce late in games has cost them a few comeback victories. In fact, the team’s current winning percentage of .204 when tied or trailing entering the seventh inning is one of the lowest since 1996. When you consider that the Yankees’ bullpen leads the league in ERA and WAR (and important factor because offense alone demonstrates only a slight correlation to winning percentage in this split), the onus seems to fall squarely on the relative lack of late-game offensive production.

Yankees’ Walk-off Victories, Since 1950

Source: baseball-reference.com

Regardless of the implications of the Yankees’ muted offensive levels in close and late situations, whether looking forward or back, the team’s inability to finish off comebacks has robbed the season of one important element: the fun and excitement of the walk-off victory. To this point, the Yankees have left the opposition on the field in only three games, which pales in comparison to the 15 walk-offs recorded just two years ago. Although dramatic victories are not a pre-requisite for winning championships, they do provide enjoyable highlights over a long 162-game schedule. After all, anything that has Yankees’ fans clamoring to see A.J. Burnett must be pretty special.

Since 1950, the Yankees have had 441 walk-off victories prompted by outcomes ranging from home runs to reaching base on an error (the following pie chart, and what better way to display walk-off data, provides a break down). Just over half have come in the bottom of the ninth, with the rest occurring in extra innings, including one walk-off as late as the 20th frame: Horace Clark’s game winning single against the Red Sox’ Jose Santiago on August 29, 1967. Speaking of the Red Sox, the Yankees have left their rival on the field 57 times, more than any other opponent.

Yankees’ Walk-offs Since 1950, by Event and Opponent (click to enlarge)

Source: baseball-reference.com

Although the terminology wasn’t around at the time, no Yankee has authored more walk-offs than Mickey Mantle, who had 16 game-ending events. Among the current crop of Bronx Bombers, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez also rank in the top-10.

Tippy Martinez remains the Yankees’ most frequent walk-off victim, having surrendered five game-ending hits to the Bronx Bombers, including, most notably, Bobby Murcer’s two run double that cinched victory in the Thurman Munson tribute game. Of particular interest to current Yankees’ fans, Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon ranks among the large group of pitchers who have surrendered three Yankees’ walk-offs. Provided he remains in the American League for most of his career, Papelbon could eventually claim the victim’s mantle from Martinez.

Yankees Most Common Walk-off Heroes and Victims, Since 1950

Source: baseball-reference.com

Complaining about the lack of walk-offs from a team with a .600 winning percentage probably won’t sit too well with other teams’ fans, but those who follow the Yankees have grown accustomed to having their pie and eating it too. Besides, even though winning is fun in its own right, doing so in dramatic fashion makes it that much more memorable.

I can still vividly recall Don Mattingly’s game winning home run against Ron Davis on May 13, 1985 as if it happened yesterday. And, I am sure fans of every team can do the same. How about you?

Color By Numbers: Hit and Run

At the beginning of the year, many feared the Yankees were hitting “too many home runs”. According to the most often expressed concern, the team’s inability to play small ball would eventually prove costly in October (a myth disproven in an earlier CBN post). Well, those worried by the Yankees’ reliance on the long ball can rest easy now because the team’s offense has evolved into the most balanced in the American League.

Yankees’ A.L. Rankings in HRs and SBs, 1901-2011

Note: Yellow markers indicate years in which the Yankees led in both categories.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Over the years, the Yankees have been synonymous with power. In 37 of 110 seasons (not including the present), the Bronx Bombers have finished first in home runs, so it should come as no surprise that the 2011 team currently leads the league with 160. However, some might be shocked to know the Yankees’ 120 stolen bases are tied with the Kansas City Royals for the top spot (the team’s success rate of 76% is also tops in the A.L.).

The last time the Yankees led the league in steals was 1985, when Rickey Henderson set a then single season franchise record with 80 (Henderson would break his own record in 1986 and 1988). However, before that season, no Yankees’ ball club had finished first in steals since 1938, when the team set the pace with a relatively low accumulation of 91. In total, eight teams in franchise history have led the league in steals, which illustrates how much more the Yankees have relied on power.

Yankees’ Top-10 Seasons in Home Runs and Stolen Bases

Year HRs  Team Leader    Year SB Team Leader
2009 244  Mark Teixeira (39) 1910 288 Bert Daniels (41)
2004 242  Arod, Sheffield (36) 1911 269 Birdie Cree (48)
1961 240  Roger Maris (61) 1914 251 Fritz Maisel (74)
2003 230  Jason Giambi (41) 1912 247 Bert Daniels (37)
2005 229  Alex Rodriguez (48) 1908 231 Charlie Hemphill (42)
2002 223  Jason Giambi (41) 1901 207 Cy Seymour (38)
2006 210  Jason Giambi (37) 1907 206 Wid Conroy (41)
1998 207  Tino Martinez (28) 1913 203 Bert Daniels (27)
2000 205  Bernie Williams (30) 1905 200 Dave Fultz (44)
2001 203  Tino Martinez (34) 1915 198 Fritz Maisel (51)

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although the 2011 Yankees are unlikely to approach the franchise records of 244 home runs (2009) and 288 stolen bases (1910), they could become only the fourth pinstripe squad to finish first in both categories (the only other A.L. franchise to accomplish that feat was the 1995 Cleveland Indians). Once again, you have to go all the back to the 1930s to find a Yankees’ team that displayed preeminence in both power and speed. In fact, all three dual first place rankings occurred during that decade, although it should be noted that the leading totals were relatively low because the era deemphasized the stolen base.

American League Category Leaders by Franchise, 1901-2011

Note: Rankings for each category do not total 110 season because of ties. Teams listed in order of most cumulative category leading finishes.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Not surprisingly, the Yankees led the league in runs during each season in which they also finished first in home runs and stolen bases. The same trend also holds this season. Despite all of the publicity given to the Red Sox offense, the Yankees are the team that leads the American League in runs scored (albeit by only three). If they can hold onto that margin, it would give the Yankees the top spot in runs for the 31st time in franchise history, and the fifth time in six years, a level of dominance surpassed only by the 1926-1933 lineups, which outscored the league in seven of eight seasons.

Using the long ball and small ball, the Yankees’ offense has proven to be one of the most dynamic in franchise history. Only five other teams in club history have scored more runs relative to the league average, so the lineup’s diversification has clearly paid dividends. As a result, the Bronx Bombers’ bats have left little reason for concern, which only means Yankees’ fans will now have to find something else about which to worry.

Color by Numbers: Measuring Success by Failure

Although it often seems otherwise, Mariano Rivera is not perfect. During his career, the future Hall of Famer has been tagged with 65 blown saves and 57 losses, so there are plenty of examples available to refute the notion of his infallibility. And yet, when he doesn’t come through, it still seems like a fluke. Such was the case on two occasions this past week.

Mariano Rivera’s Save Percentage, by Team

Note: NL entry includes three saves and one blown save against Brewers when they were part of the AL.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

On Sunday night, Rivera suffered his fifth blown save of the season against the Red Sox, the team against which he has by far the most. Considering Boston’s power-packed lineup, it’s easy to see how even the great Rivera might slip up, but what made Sunday’s blown save most frustrating was the chief antagonist: light-hitting Marco Scutaro.

Walk Off Home Runs Against Mariano Rivera

Date Opponent Batter Score Inn RoB Out P (cnt)
7/14/02 Indians Bill Selby ahead 7-6 b9 123 2 6 (2-2)
7/24/04 Red Sox Bill Mueller ahead 10-9 b9 1– 1 5 (3-1)
7/20/06 Blue Jays Vernon Wells tied 4-4 b11 1 2 (1-0)
4/15/07 Athletics Marco Scutaro ahead 4-2 b9 12- 2 3 (0-2)
9/18/09 Mariners Ichiro Suzuki ahead 2-1 b9 -2- 2 1 (0-0)

Source: baseball-reference.com

Then again, maybe Scutaro’s lead off double, which led to the blown save, shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise? After all, the journeyman infielder owns one of only five walk off homeruns surrendered by Rivera. What’s more, Scutaro’s double on Sunday was his second against Rivera, giving him three extra base hits against the great closer in only 18 plate appearances.

Batters with at Least Three Extra Base Hits vs. Mariano Rivera

Edgar Martinez 20 3 0 2 6 0.625 0.700 1.188
Aubrey Huff 21 2 0 2 4 0.400 0.429 0.800
Juan Gonzalez 19 2 1 1 6 0.333 0.368 0.722
Ivan Rodriguez 22 2 0 1 3 0.300 0.364 0.550
Vernon Wells 21 1 1 1 3 0.316 0.381 0.632
N. Garciaparra 18 2 1 0 3 0.389 0.389 0.611
Marco Scutaro 18 2 0 1 3 0.250 0.333 0.563
Roberto Alomar 15 3 0 0 1 0.455 0.500 0.727

Source: baseball-reference.com

How significant is Scutaro’s relative success against Rivera? Over the course of his career, Rivera has faced 920 different batters, and of that total, only eight have recorded at least three extra base hits. For further perspective, 469 hitters, or 51%, failed to even record one hit, including teammate Dustin Pedroia, who has gone 0-10 in 13 plate appearances against Rivera. Finally, Scutaro’s .896 OPS against Rivera ranks 28th among the 156 hitters with at least 10 plate appearances versus the future Hall of Famer.

Most PAs Without a Hit vs. Mariano Rivera

Ray Durham 26 0 0 0 3 0.000
Alexis Rios 15 0 0 0 4 0.000
Marty Cordova 14 0 1 0 6 0.071
Dustin Pedroia 13 0 1 2 5 0.154
Carlos Pena 12 0 0 0 3 0.083
Ty Wigginton 12 0 1 0 3 0.250
Tony Clark 10 0 1 0 3 0.000
Randy Velarde 9 0 0 2 1 0.222
Rickey Henderson 9 0 0 2 1 0.444

Source: baseball-reference.com

After failing to close out a win in Fenway, Rivera’s next game ended in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels. This time, the culprit was Bobby Abreu and the damage was a rare home run, which broke a 4-4 tie. Since 1995, Rivera’s HR rate of 0.44 per nine innings is the lowest of any reliever with at least 275 innings, so when he falters because of the long ball, it’s even more startling. However, the gopher ball surrendered to Bobby Abreu was even more remarkable because the struggling DH entered the game with only four home runs. When you consider that Abreu had already hit his fifth earlier in the game, the chances of him going deep again, against Rivera no less, had to be slim, but when the Yankees’ closer gives it up, it often feels like a long shot coming through.

Lowest HR/9 Rates, Relievers Since 1995 (min. 275 IP)

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9  HR/FB
Mariano Rivera 1144.1 8.27 1.98 0.44 0.061
Javier Lopez 344.2 5.85 4.05 0.47 0.074
Carlos Marmol 371 12.66 5.56 0.49 0.052
Brian Wilson 315 9.51 3.91 0.49 0.060
Chad Bradford 515.2 5.46 2.39 0.49 0.078
Derek Lowe 381 7.06 2.36 0.52 0.000
Heath Bell 464 9.27 3.03 0.52 0.070
Saul Rivera 279.1 6.19 4.06 0.55 0.065
Mike MacDougal 357.1 7.58 4.89 0.55 0.087
Paul Quantrill 741.1 5.32 2.25 0.57 0.050

Source: fangraphs.com

Since he first emerged as a dominant force in the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners, Mariano Rivera’s successes have far surpassed his failures, which, ironically, is why the latter seem to better define his greatness. When Rivera blows a game, it inspires shock. When he blows two-in-a-row, it induces panic…in everyone but Rivera himself. Perhaps that’s why Mariano has had only one stretch of three straight games with either a blown save or loss (August 1997)? So, let the Chicken Littles have their say. You can’t blame them for thinking the sky is falling. In fact, it’s a testament to the greatest closer of all time.

Color by Numbers: Patience Is a Virtue

Robinson Cano has always had one of the sweetest swings in the big leagues. Even as a rookie, he was often compared to seven-time batting champion Rod Carew, but a lack of plate discipline always prevented him from reaching his full potential. In 2010, however, Cano finally put it all together. Or so it seemed. A year after establishing himself as one of the top position players in all of baseball, Cano has again taken a step back. This year, he barely ranks among the game’s best second basemen.

Top-10 Second basemen, Ranked by Average WAR

Dustin Pedroia      0.304      0.404      0.476      0.394 6.2 5.6 5.9
Ben Zobrist      0.278      0.373      0.499      0.384 5.5 4.3 4.9
Ian Kinsler      0.251      0.357      0.454      0.368 4.8 3.4 4.1
Howie Kendrick      0.302      0.360      0.455      0.359 4.2 2.7 3.5
Rickie Weeks      0.270      0.345      0.477      0.361 3.8 2.7 3.3
Danny Espinosa      0.234      0.321      0.440      0.339 3.4 2.4 2.9
Robinson Cano      0.290      0.333      0.499      0.360 2.8 2.5 2.7
Brandon Phillips      0.283      0.330      0.422      0.327 3.3 1.9 2.6
Neil Walker      0.269      0.334      0.405      0.326 2 2 2.0
Maicer Izturis      0.273      0.335      0.382      0.319 1.4 2.2 1.8
Jamey Carroll      0.291      0.363      0.358      0.328 1.6 1.4 1.5
Kelly Johnson      0.224      0.307      0.446      0.334 1.9 0.8 1.4

Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

The most noticeable area in which Cano has regressed is plate discipline. In 2010, the free swinging second baseman worked a walk in 8.2% of his plate appearances, but this season, he has returned to a rate of 4.5%. Although it should be noted that 14 of his career-high 57 walks in 2010 were intentional (this year he has only received four), Cano’s overall approach in 2011 has reverted back to a relative lack of selectivity, which in turn has seemingly resulted in less production.

Looking at Cano’s plate discipline statistics can be a bit misleading. For example, in 2010, when he had his best season and highest walk rate, the All Star second baseman also swung at what was then a career-high percentage of pitches out of the strike zone. For that reason, it’s hard to confidently blame his 2011 regression on this year’s rate, which at 39.8% is even higher than last year’s. However, maybe, the issue isn’t that Cano is swinging at too many pitches out of the zone, but the count in which he is doing it?

Robinson Cano’s Plate Discipline Breakdown, 2005-2011

O-Swing%= pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone; Z-Swing% = pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone; O-Contact% =  times a batter makes contact when swinging at pitches outside the strike zone; Z-Contact% = times a batter makes contact when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone; Zone% = pitches seen inside the strike zone.
Source: fangraphs.com

What jumps out most from Cano’s 2011 count-based splits is how poorly he has performed when he should be in the driver’s seat. In 134 plate appearances with the pitcher in a hole, Cano has only managed a very pedestrian line of .304/.403/.530, which equates to a situational OPS that is 5% below average. This level of underperformance is even more dramatic when you consider extreme hitter’s counts, such as after working the count to 3-0 and 3-1. In such instances, Cano has posted a sOPS+ (OPS relative to league average in the split) of 72 and -3 (!), respectively. For comparison, Cano’s 2010 sOPS+ in those counts were 109 and 137.

Robinson Cano’s Splits by Count, 2010 vs. 2011

Note: The baseline for OPS+ is 100. For example, a score of 105 is considered to be 5% above average.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In just about every count favoring the batter, Cano has underperformed last year’s output, in some instances by a dramatic margin. In fact, the All Star second baseman rates below average after working his way into every hitter’s count but 1-0 and 3-2. On the flip side, Cano has remained well above average in every pitcher’s count but 0-1. Considering his ability to make good contact on pitches off the plate, the latter isn’t much of surprise. However, Cano’s significant decline in hitter’s counts is certainly perplexing.

Based on the data above, Cano’s troubles haven’t resulted from an inability to work the count. Rather, things have gone awry once he has reached a favorable position. Without access to more granular plate discipline data, it’s hard to explain why this might be. After all, a hitter with Cano’s ability should feast on pitchers who have to throw him a strike, just as he did in 2010. However, based on observation (which, admittedly, is inherently flawed), it seems as if pitchers have been reticent to challenge Cano when behind in the count. One reason for this development could be Cano’s own reptutation, which was greatly enhanced by his MVP-caliber 2010 campaign, although the relative weakness of the hitters batting behind him in 2011 probably hasn’t helped (Yankees’ sixth place batters have hit .219/.317/.344). Whatever the reason, pitchers now seem more than happy to walk Cano. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been as willing to take it.

In order to return to the more prolific output of 2010, Cano will need to once again refine his approach at that plate. Otherwise, the Yankees will have to settle for a more muted level of production from their second baseman. Although the current incarnation of Cano is not a bad consolation prize, 2010 proved that he can be even better. Cano still has the sweet swing of Carew, but, like the Hall of Famer, can he develop more patience?

Color by Numbers: King for a Day

“Today is win day” is a clubhouse creed uttered before a game in which a truly elite pitcher takes the mound. This year, that slogan has certainly applied to C.C. Sabathia.

When their ace lefty toes the rubber, the Yankees are one of the most formidable teams in baseball. The team’s 16-5 record behind Sabathia is the highest winning percentage of any pitcher/team combination (minimum 100 innings) in the American League, and second in baseball to only the Phillies and Roy Halladay (16-4). Needless to say, the sight of the big man on the mound probably inspires as much confidence in the players behind him as the fans watching at home and in the stands.

The Yankees currently have the third best winning percentage in all of baseball, and trail the Phillies by only three games for the top spot, so, the team’s strength doesn’t rest solely on Sabathia’s valuable left arm. And yet, there’s no denying that when he pitches, the Yankees seem to have at least a little extra swagger. The same can also be said about the Phillies behind Halladay and Cliff Lee, the Red Sox behind Josh Beckett, and the Tigers behind Justin Verlander.

It’s hard to win with just one elite pitcher. Ask Felix Hernandez. Usually, over a long season, the best teams in baseball are the ones with the greatest depth and balance. But, what about on “win day”?  For just one game, which team can field the most formidable lineup?

In order to answer that question, a representative lineup along with one starter and closer was compiled for every team with a record above .500 (one exception was including the Reds and omitting the Mets). In order to be eligible for the lineup, a player had to reasonably qualify at a position (i.e., start a minimum of five games or be a recent call-up) and, if on the disabled list, be eligible to return before the end of the season. Also, closers were considered to be relievers with the most saves, not the highest WAR, because that’s how each respective manager would likely use their bullpen in our hypothetical one-game scenario. Although some variations could apply, below are the top lineups ranked by average WAR (bWAR and fWAR).

Top One Game Lineups Among Select Playoff Contenders

Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

In the American League, the pecking order for one game seems to mirror what most people would consider the season ranking. The Red Sox with Josh Beckett enjoy the highest one game average WAR of 29.1, while the Yankees and Sabathia come in second at 26.7, which makes sense when you consider the Red Sox have won all three games in which those two aces have hooked up. However, it should be noted that fWAR gives the best Yankees’ lineup more credit (for an explanation about the differences between fWAR and bWAR, click here), narrowing the gap to 30 versus 29.3.

The rest of the AL falls in line behind the two East division rivals, although the Tigers with Verlander rank within one win above replacement of the Yankees when using baseball-reference.com’s calculation. On an average basis, however, the West-leading Rangers rank as the third most formidable one-game lineup in the American League. Meanwhile, the Indians are the consensus laggard, failing to top 20 WAR in both calculations.

There are more surprises in the National League. Even with Roy Halladay’s dominance, the Phillies can do no better than tie the Brewers for the best one-game lineup. While the Phillies strength is pitching, the Brew Crew is built around offense. Milwaukee’s top three position players all average a WAR over three, something no other N.L. team can claim.

The Reds, the only sub-.500 team considered, rank third in average WAR, which illustrates their lack of pitching depth. On the other end of the spectrum, the Giants, who have the lowest average WAR, enjoy one of the league’s best records. Why? Because four of the team’s starters have an average WAR of at least 2.8. Surprisingly, the Braves also rank near the bottom despite having the second best record in the National League, a discrepancy created in large part because a one-game snapshot ignores Atlanta’s bullpen depth.

Finally, it should be noted that the Diamondbacks would have also tied for the top one-game lineup if not for Stephen Drew’s season ending injury in last night’s game. Before breaking his ankle, Drew had an average WAR of 1.6, which would have boosted the Diamondbacks score to 18.8. What’s more, if you take into account Daniel Hudson’s 0.9 WAR as a hitter, Arizona actually pushes ahead of the Phillies and Brewers.

Which lineup would you choose for win day? Just because WAR picks the Red Sox doesn’t mean it’s case closed.  Some might opt for Halladay regardless of the rest of the Phillies’ lineup, while others might prefer the Yankees’ collection of All Stars. The Reds behind a hot Johnny Cueto wouldn’t be a bad selection, nor would the Tigers with Justin Verlander. Is anyone taking the Pirates? Sometimes fate plays the strongest hand.

Listed below for comparison and further discussion are the individual lineups considered in this analysis.

AL East Top Lineups

Note: Data as of July 20, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

AL Central Top Lineups

Note: Data as of July 20, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

AL West Top Lineups

Note: Data as of July 20, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.coM

NL East Top Lineups

Note: Data as of July 20, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

NL Central Top Lineups

Note: Data as of July 20, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

NL West Top Lineups

Note: Data as of July 20, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

Color by Numbers: Stars and Pinstripes

The 2011 midseason classic had more luminaries than the night sky over the Arizona desert. In total, 84 different players were designated as All Stars, but the no shows wound up garnering more attention. In particular, Derek Jeter’s decision to skip the game caused quite a stir. A week earlier, Jeter’s selection was widely criticized as being undeserved, but after the future Hall of Famer joined the 3,000 hit club in grand fashion, it seemed as if the entire country was clamoring for his appearance in Arizona. Apparently, Minka Kelly held greater sway.

Jeter wasn’t the only Yankee to ditch his American League teammates. In fact, of the five selected players who didn’t make the trip to Chase Field, four were Bronx Bombers. Between Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, and C.C. Sabathia, the American League was forced to do without over 276 career wins above replacement, so, when this year’s World Series begins in a National League ballpark, you know who to blame. Those damn Yankees!

If not for the no shows, the Yankees would have almost been able to field their own All Star team in Arizona. Not since the franchise earned nine selections in 1958 did the Yankees have more players honored with an all star invitation, so even with the absences, the Bronx Bombers were still well represented.

Yankees’ All Star Selections by Year

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Since the inaugural All Star Game in 1933, the Yankees have had 121 (71 position players and 50 pitchers) different representatives account for 406 (282 position players and 124 pitchers) total selections, the most of any team. However, the quintessential Yankees’ All Star was Mickey Mantle. Remarkably, the Mick was selected to the play in the midseason classic during every season of his career but the first. In total, Mantle represented the Yankees in an AL record 20 All Star Games. You can just imagine how many he would have liked to skip, especially when you consider he was only on the winning side five times.

Yankees’ All Stars Ranked by Total Selections and Games Started By Postion

Player Selections   Po. Player Starts
Mickey Mantle 20 C Yogi Berra 11
Yogi Berra 18 1B Lou Gehrig 5
Joe DiMaggio 13 2B Willie Randolph 4
Derek Jeter 12 3B Alex Rodriguez 5
Elston Howard 12 SS Derek Jeter 7
Mariano Rivera 12 LF Several 1
Bill Dickey 11 CF Mickey Mantle 12
Whitey Ford 10 RF Dave Winfield 5
Dave Winfield 8 P Lefty Gomez 5
Bobby Richardson 8

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although Mickey Mantle was the most tenured Yankees’ All Star, his midseason line of .233/.365/.372 suggests he was far from the most prolific. Instead, that distinction belongs to none other than Derek Jeter. In 11 games played encompassing 25 plate appearances, Jeter has batted .435/.458/.608, a level of performance just a notch above fellow Yankee Captain Lou Gehrig. What’s more, the shortstop is the only Yankee to ever be named the All Star MVP (2000). I guess Jeter really could have made a difference had he decided to play in this year’s game?

Top Yankees’ All Star Position Players, Ranked by OPS

Derek Jeter 12 25 5 10 1 3 0.435 0.458 0.609 1.067
Lou Gehrig 7 24 4 4 2 5 0.222 0.417 0.611 1.028
Dave Winfield 8 27 4 9 0 1 0.360 0.407 0.560 0.967
Bill Dickey 11 23 3 5 0 1 0.263 0.391 0.368 0.760
Mickey Mantle 20 52 5 10 2 4 0.233 0.365 0.372 0.737
Joe DiMaggio 13 43 7 9 1 6 0.225 0.279 0.350 0.629
Yogi Berra 18 43 5 8 1 3 0.195 0.233 0.268 0.501
Roger Maris 6 21 2 2 0 2 0.118 0.250 0.176 0.426

Note: Includes all players with at least 20 PAs.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Among pitchers, Mariano Rivera’s 12 All Star selections are tops in franchise history. In eight appearances, the immortal closer has not surrendered a run while recording a record four All Star Game saves. Lefty Gomez is another Yankees’ all star record holder. Not only are Gomez’ three wins unmatched in All Star history, but his five starts are tied with Don Drysdale for most all time.

On the other end of the spectrum is Whitey Ford. Like his best buddy Mantle, the Chairman of the Board didn’t exactly shine at All Star time. Ford and Mantle were known to have a good time or two when together, so, although their performance in the game wasn’t stellar, you can bet they made up for it during the rest of the break.

Top Yankees’ All Star Pitchers, Ranked by ERA

Mariano Rivera 8 0 0 8 5 1 0 5 4 0.00
Vic Raschi 4 1 0 11 7 3 3 8 1 2.45
Lefty Gomez 5 3 1 18 11 6 5 9 0 2.50
M. Stottlemyre 4 0 1 6 5 3 2 4 0 3.00
Allie Reynolds 2 0 1 5 3 2 2 2 0 3.60
Whitey Ford 6 0 2 12 19 13 11 5 0 8.25
Red Ruffing 3 0 1 7 13 7 7 6 0 9.00

Note: Includes all pitchers with at least five innings pitched
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Based on past performance, it’s easy to see why so many fans were eager to have Jeter and Rivera make an appearance at Chase Field. Among all their other accomplishments, the future Hall of Famers are also two of most successful All Star performers. Then again, maybe it was time to give someone else a chance to shine? Jeter and Rivera have always been very charitable, so perhaps their absence was a gesture of goodwill? Let’s just hope they aren’t as generous in October.

Color by Numbers: Stepping Stones

A baseball player’s 3000th hit is often referred to as a milestone, but the plateau is really more of a destination. After all, very few hitters ever reach that level, and of the ones who do, not too many travel on much further.

The real milestones are all the dinks, dunks and drives that add up to a career. Even though the round numbers at the end are what we most remember, the smaller steps along the way can sometimes create our fondest memories. So, instead of looking forward to Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, what better way to celebrate his accomplishment than by looking back over the previous 2,998?

What are your favorite Jeter moments? Listed below are some highlights culled from the Captain’s long road to 3,000.

May 30, 1995 (#1): One day after going 0-5 in his major league debut, Derek Jeter recorded his first major league hit on a ground ball pulled through the shortstop hole. The single, which came of the Mariners’ Tim Belcher, was an atypical hit for Jeter, who would quickly establish himself as a prolific opposite field hitter.

Breaking Down the Road to 3,000 Hits (click to enalrge)

Source: Baseball-reference.com

April 2, 1996 (#13): Although Jeter played 12 games in 1995, he truly announced his presence on opening day in 1996. During the spring, an injury to Tony Fernandez thrust him into the role of an everyday shortstop, leading to inevitable questions about whether the 22-year old could handle such a prominent role. By the end of the game, Jeter had provided all the answers. Not only did he make a sensational over the shoulder catch, but the lanky rookie also delivered his first major league home run off Dennis Martinez.

Derek Jeter’s Favorite Victims

Visitor Stadium Hits   Opposing Pitchers Hits   Opposing Team Hits
Camden Yards 160 Tim Wakefield 32 Orioles 303
SkyDome 139 Sidney Ponson 29 Red Sox 286
Fenway Park 133 Rodrigo Lopez 26 Blue Jays 285
Tropicana Field 120 Josh Beckett 22 Rays 268
Angel Stadium 101 Jamie Moyer 22 Angels 194
Network Associates 94 Pedro Martinez 22 Rangers 179
Jacobs Field 93 Roy Halladay 22 Tigers 173
Rangers Ballpark 92 Aaron Sele 20 Mariners 171
Kauffman Stadium 72 David Wells 20 Indians 171
Safeco Field 71 Kelvim Escobar 18 Athletics 169

Source: Baseball-reference.com

September 21, 1996 (#190): With the score tied 11-11 in the bottom of the 10th inning of a game versus Boston, Jeter singled with the bases loaded to give the Yankees a walk off victory on national TV.  The winning tally was the first of  Jeter’s six game-ending hits to date.

August 20, 1997 (#345 and #347): For the first time in his career, Jeter belted two home runs in a game. The first was a lead off homer off the Angels Mark Langston, while the second (Jeter’s third hit of the game) was a three-run blast off Shigetoshi Hasegawa that helped provide the margin of victory. The Yankees’ shortstop would match the feat on nine other occasions.

May 6, 1998 (#423): Jeter’s ninth inning home run off old teammate John Wetteland gave the shortstop his first of only three games with five RBIs.

September 25, 1998 (#585): Jeter reached the 200-hit plateau for the first time with a first inning single of the Devil Rays’ Dave Eiland. Over the course of his career, he surpassed 200 hits in seven different seasons, the most every by a big league shortstop.

Most 200-Hit Seasons by a Shortstop*

Player Yrs From To
Derek Jeter 7 1998 2009
Michael Young 4 2004 2007
Miguel Tejada 3 2002 2006
Alex Rodriguez 3 1996 2001
Johnny Pesky 3 1942 1947
Cal Ripken 2 1983 1991
Garry Templeton 2 1977 1979
Harvey Kuenn 2 1953 1954

*Based on players with at least 80% of all games played at SS.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

September 26, 1999 (#798): The Devil Rays were the victims of another Jeter milestone when Steve Sparks surrendered a double to Jeter that plated his 100th RBI. That season would be the only time Jeter topped the century mark for RBIs. Also during 1999, Jeter established career highs in just about every major offensive category.

May 23, 2001 (#1060-1064): Jeter’s 5-5 performance against the Red Sox was the first of two times he had at least five hits and the only time he was perfect in doing so. Making the game more memorable was the fact that the first three tallies came off former Yankee David Cone.

May 13, 2003 (#1392): After missing six weeks with a dislocated shoulder suffered on opening day, Jeter returned to the lineup and was greeted by loud ovations before each at bat. Finally, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jeter rewarded the crowd with a single to left field off the Angels’ Brendan Donnelly. Although inconsequential to the game, Jeter’s ground ball through the third base hole was a comforting sight for the Yankees, who had played without their Captain for almost 40 games.

April 29, 2004 (#1561): Jeter entered the game against the Athletics mired in the worst slump of his career. In addition to a shockingly low average of .161, he was also in the midst of a nightmarish 0-32 stretch, which, for the first time in his career, elicited some boos from the Stadium crowd. However, Jeter’s bat finally awoke with a lead off homerun against Barry Zito. From that point forward, the Captain returned to form by batting .313/.368/.514.

April 5, 2005 (1737): On the heels of their historic collapse against the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees opened the following the season with Boston on the schedule. In the first game, the Yankees enacted a measure of revenge behind the pinstripe debut of Randy Johnson, but when the Red Sox touched up Mariano Rivera for a blown save in the second, it seemed like the ghosts of the following season might be revisited. Instead, Jeter restored the karma by starting the ninth inning with a walk off home run versus Keith Foulke. To date, that homer remains the only walkoff in Jeter’s regular season career (he also had one in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series). Although mostly symbolic at the time, every victory over Boston proved vital as the division title was decided based on a head-to-head tie breaker.

June 18, 2005 (#1811): By 2005, Derek Jeter had accomplished just about everything. However, despite 155 plate appearances with the bases loaded, he had never hit a grand slam. That string, which at the time was the longest in the majors, was finally snapped when Jeter lined a fastball from the Cubs’ Joe Borowski over the left center field wall for a bases clearing homer.

May 26, 2006 (#2000): Jeter’s infield single off the Royals’ Scott Elarton wasn’t exactly a booming way to reach the 2,000 hit mark, but it counted just the same.

September 16, 2006 (2132): Jeter concluded a 25-game hitting streak, the longest of his career, with a fifth inning single against the Red Sox’ Josh Beckett. Over the span, which encompassed 106 at bats, Jeter batted .377/.432/.538.

Derek Jeter’s Longest Hitting Streaks

Strk Start Strk End G H BA OBP SLG
8/20/06 9/16/06 25 40 0.377 0.432 0.538
4/8/07 5/3/07 20 32 0.364 0.418 0.466
5/5/07 5/25/07 19 30 0.417 0.517 0.597
9/13/07 4/2/08 17 30 0.385 0.395 0.615
6/5/07 6/23/07 17 27 0.415 0.493 0.631
7/30/04 8/17/04 17 25 0.338 0.380 0.486
9/7/96 9/25/96 17 28 0.412 0.438 0.574
5/17/09 6/2/09 16 30 0.429 0.487 0.600
5/9/02 5/25/02 16 24 0.348 0.400 0.507
5/4/99 5/22/99 16 22 0.344 0.432 0.531

Source: Baseball-reference.com

September 16, 2008 (2531): Jeter’s first inning single off the White Sox Gavin Floyd was his 1,270th at Yankees Stadium, passing Lou Gehrig for the most ever by any player at the House that Ruth built. With the Yankees’ scheduled to head across the street in 2009, Jeter entered the final home stand needing 10 hits in 11 games, but after three consecutive games with 3 hits apiece to start the stretch, the record breaker soon became inevitable.

September 11, 2009 (2,722): On the anniversary of 9/11, Jeter provided a reason to celebrate when his third inning single moved him past Gehrig into first place on the Yankees’ all-time hit list.

Color by Numbers: I Love (Hate) the 80s

With the Milwaukee Brewers having left town after their first visit to the Bronx in 14 years, I can’t help but think of the 1980s. Something about the team’s light blue home pinstripes and cartoonish ball-in-glove logo must have made an indelible mark on a young fan growing up in the decade.

Unfortunately, the 1980s isn’t the best period for a Yankees fan to take a trip down memory lane. After starting off with consecutive division titles and an A.L. pennant, the team began a gradual descent into one of the darkest periods in franchise history. As a result, when the decade ended, the Yankees were without a World Series championship for the first time since moving to the Bronx.

Even though the team failed to win a ring during the 1980s, things really weren’t all that bad. As George Steinbrenner was fond of reminding everyone, the Yankees actually won more games than any other team over those 10 years (the Brewers were the only team against which the Yankees had a losing record). What’s more, the team also played host to Hall of Famers like Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson, not to mention a beloved fan favorite like Don Mattingly. However, each year, there always seemed to be at least one other team that was better.

During the 1980s, 11 of the 14 teams in the American League finished in first place at least once, an impressive level of parity in the two-division format. Perhaps that’s why a sentimental journey back to the era evokes just as many memories about opposing players as heroes in pinstripes. So, in honor of the decade and its many great players, listed below is an all-1980s team selected on the basis of how well they performed against the Yankees (all stats were compiled at the designated positions). I apologize in advance if any of these names cause the 30-somethings among the Yankees’ fan base to cringe a bit.

C – Ernie Whitt, Toronto Blue Jays: 1980-1989

252 226 70 13 37 0.31 0.368 0.540 0.908

Although one of the more beloved players in Blue Jays history, Whitt was never really a star…except when he played the Yankees. In fact, the only team against which he posted better numbers was the Minnesota Twins.

Honorable Mention: Regardless of what color Sox he was wearing, Carlton Fisk was always productive (.804 OPS with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs) against the Yankees. Perhaps that’s why the Yankees tried to acquire him from Chicago after the 1985 season. Unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, the heavily rumored trade fell through and Fisk finished the decade hitting .295/.357/.534 against them.

1B – Darrell Evans, Detroit Tigers: 1984-1988

130 107 34 11 23 0.318 0.431 0.654 1.085

Evans spent most of his career in the National League with the Braves and Giants, but a resurgent 1983 season made him one of the hottest free agent commodities on the market that off season. Seventeen teams, including the Yankees, put in a claim for Evans in the free agent re-entry draft, but the Tigers came away the winners. Despite being 37 in 1984, Evans continued to produce throughout his time in Detroit, and the Yankees were one of the teams he most enjoyed facing.

Honorable Mention: No first baseman had more plate appearances against the Yankees during the 1980s than Eddie Murray, but despite posting solid numbers, the future Hall of Famer never seemed to really torment the team. For example, despite ranking in the top-10 in all-time RBIs, Murray never knocked in more than three in one game against the Bombers.

2B – Bobby Grich, California Angels: 1980-1986

236 197 60 10 30 0.305 0.401 0.523 0.924

Continuing a theme, when Bobby Grich became a free agent after the 1976 season, Yankees’ manager Billy Martin implored the team to acquire the second baseman. George Steinbrenner overruled him, however, and the Yankees opted to sign Reggie Jackson. Mr. October contributed to three pennants and two championships during his tenure, so the Yankees had to be happy with that decision. However, throughout the 1980s, Grich reminded the team of what they missed out on.

3B – George Brett, Kansas City Royals: 1980-1989

277 248 74 12 45 0.298 0.368 0.524 0.892

When you think 1980s and the Yankees, George Brett is one of the first opposition players to come to mind. Just ask Goose Gossage. Their epic battles were a thing of legend, sometimes quite literally, as the Pine Tar Game will attest. Ultimately, however, Brett’s bat is what left the biggest mark on the rivalry between the two teams. With his plate appearances as a first baseman and DH include, Brett ranks third during the decade in home runs (23) and RBIs (75) against the Yankees. His combined OPS of .920 also ranks fourth among players with at least 150 plate appearances.

Honorable Mention: If it seemed like the Yankees never got Wade Boggs out, well, that’s because they rarely did. In over 400 plate appearance, Boggs had an outstanding OBP of .431, not to mention a .503 rate at Fenway Park. Fortunately, most Yankees’ fans now remember Boggs riding atop a horse instead of lining balls off the Green Monster.

SS – Scott Fletcher, Chicago White Sox: 1983-1985, 1989; Texas Rangers: 1986-1989

268 238 79 0 27 0.332 0.385 0.416 0.801

Considering the caliber of short stops who played in the 1980s, Fletcher’s name might strike some as a surprise, but not if you grew up watching the Yankees during the decade. Whether with Texas or Chicago, the scrappy short stop always seemed to get a hit against the Yankees. Among players with at least 150 appearances, only Boggs topped Fletcher’s batting average of .332.

Honorable Mention: Alan Trammell knocked in 66 runs against the Yankees during the decade, while Cal Ripken Jr. belted 12 home runs. The highest OPS belonged to Robin Yount. Nonetheless, those Hall of Famers (Trammell’s current exclusion notwithstanding) still take a back seat to the unheralded Fletcher.

LF – Jim Rice, Boston Red Sox: 1980-1989

351 317 102 19 69 0.322 0.382 0.587 0.969

Contrary to popular main stream media opinion, particularly emanating from Boston, Jim Rice wasn’t the most feared hitter in American League…unless you happened to be wearing a Yankee uniform. During the 1980s, when Rice’s skills were in a steady decline, the powerful right handed hitter still managed to haunt the Yankees. Including his games as DH, Rice’s line improves to .324/.392/.607, while his home run and RBI increase to 24 and 82, respectively, totals surpassed only by teammate Dwight Evans (who had over 100 more plate appearances). Without question, Rice was the Yankees’ chief tormenter during the 1980s.

CF – Lloyd Moseby, Toronto Blue Jays: 1980-1989

398 347 101 13 45 0.291 0.374 0.478 0.853

In the middle of the decade, Lloyd Moseby was often the forgotten man in the Blue Jays heralded outfield that included sluggers Jesse Barfield and George Bell. Perhaps that’s why, of all the players on this list, Moseby’s inclusion surprises me the most. Nonetheless, Moseby’s impressive output in almost 400 plate appearances is undeniable.

Honorable Mention: Had Robin Yount not split the decade between short stop and center field, he would have earned the nod at either position. Combined, Yount’s 141 hits against the Yankees trails only Paul Molitor and Willie Wilson, who each had 142, while his 75 RBIs are tied with Brett for third. In other words, Yount’s honorable mention at two positions is well deserved.

RF – Larry Parrish, Texas Rangers: 1982-1988; Boston Red Sox: 1988

154 142 45 10 31 0.317 0.357 0.585 0.942

How many fans during the 1980s confused Larry Parrish with Tigers’ catcher Lance Parrish? When it came time to preparing a scouting report, maybe the Yankees did as well? In his 36 games as a right fielder against the Yankees, Parrish had prolific power and RBI numbers, which look even more impressive (17 and 61 respectively) when combined with his totals from other positions.

Honorable Mention: Dwight Evans had the most home runs (26) and RBIs (90) against the Yankees in the 1980s. However, he also had the most plate appearances, over 100 of which came at a position other than right field. Of all the candidates for this all-decade opposition team, Evans probably has the best case for being promoted to starter, but Parrish’s short-term dominance seemed a better selection. Or, maybe I just didn’t want two Red Sox in the starting lineup.

DH: Harold Baines,Chicago White Sox: 1980-1989; Texas Rangers: 1989

120 103 31 6 22 0.301 0.392 0.573 0.964

Harold Baines actually had over 300 plate appearances against the Yankees as a right fielder, but he saved his best hitting against them for when he was the DH. Combined, Baines’ 15 home runs and 65 RBIs rank among the top-10 of all Yankees’ opponents during the 1980s.

Honorable Mention: Hal McRae was a Yankees tormenter long before the 1980s, but he continued to do damage (.310/.368/.490) to the Bronx Bombers throughout that decade as well.

Starting Pitcher: Teddy Higuera, Milwaukee Brewers: 1985-1989

12 2 0.857 2.45 17 136 108 9 101 1.07

The term Yankee killer is often overused, but during the 1980s, no one embodied that moniker more than Brewers’ left hander Teddy Higuera. Whenever the two teams would meet, you can be certain that every Yankees’ hitter scoured the box scores to see if the lefty was on target to pitch in the series. During the decade, Higuera not only tallied the most wins (tied with Floyd Banister, who had nine more starts) against the Bronx Bombers, but he also posted the highest winning percentage and lowest ERA (among all pitchers with at least 65 innings).

Honorable Mention: Despite posting an 8-9 record, Blue Jays’ right hander Dave Steib had a 2.93 ERA in more than 208 innings against the Yankees, including nine complete games and three shutouts. What’s more, on August 4, 1989, Steib almost made history by tossing a perfect game against them, but his attempt at immortality was thwarted by a Roberto Kelly double with two outs in the ninth.

Relief Pitcher: Dan Quisenberry, Kansas City Royals: 1980-1988

4 2 0.667 1.61 16 64 61.2 24 1.23

Dan Quisenberry was one of the most dominant relievers during the 1980s, and his outings against the Yankees were no exception. During the decade, no other reliever had more saves against the Bronx Bombers than the side-arming righty, who also recorded the lowest ERA among all relievers with at least 35 innings.

Honorable Mention: In 34 1/3 innings covering 17 games in the early 1980s, the Yankees only scored two earned runs off the Angels’ Andy Hassler. However, the Angels only won five of the games in which he pitched.

Color By Numbers: Choosing Sides

The DH has been around for almost 40 years, but baseball fans still seem to enjoy debating its merits. While some prefer the increased offense associated with the American League style, others favor the small ball strategies accentuated by the National League approach. In many ways, the give and take is baseball’s equivalent of the old “Less Filling, Taste Great” debate. What side one comes down on is merely a matter of personal preference.

Although statistics can’t answer whether having a DH is better than allowing the pitcher to hit, we can use numbers to address another popular (and related) debate: who has the advantage in interleague play?

Top-10 Pitchers in Interleague Play, Ranked by PAs

American League National League
Pitcher PA OPS SH Pitcher PA OPS SH
Freddy Garcia 59 0.378 14 L. Hernandez 54 0.478 8
Mike Mussina 54 0.381 1 Greg Maddux 50 0.495 9
Mark Buehrle 54 0.264 8 Matt Morris 43 0.382 8
J. Washburn 53 0.524 7 Tom Glavine 38 0.680 7
CC Sabathia 53 0.661 1 Jason Schmidt 36 0.220 8
Andy Pettitte 49 0.299 5 W. Williams 36 0.897 3
Bartolo Colon 49 0.217 3 Kirk Rueter 34 0.590 3
Kenny Rogers 45 0.406 2 R. Dempster 33 0.034 4
Tim Wakefield 44 0.291 5 Jon Lieber 32 0.321 3
Roy Halladay 41 0.158 3 Al Leiter 32 0.218 4

Note: Data as of June 21, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Anyone who has watched the Yankees on YES should be familiar with one side of the debate, which is frequently argued by Michael Kay. According to the broadcaster, the advantage belongs to the National League because its pitchers are more adept at handling the bat. As a result, when American League teams hit the road during interleague play, the drop off between DH and pitcher acts like a ball and chain.

Top-10 DHs in Interleague Play, Ranked by PAs

American League National League
David Ortiz 348 1.063 16 Mike Piazza 213 0.903 10
Frank Thomas 260 1.013 22 Barry Bonds 172 1.034 10
Edgar Martinez 254 0.973 11 Carlos Lee 126 0.735 5
Travis Hafner 219 1.033 12 Chipper Jones 117 0.837 7
Mike Sweeney 156 0.933 6 Larry Walker 116 1.084 7
Jim Thome 150 0.790 7 Cliff Floyd 112 0.709 3
Brad Fullmer 136 0.922 9 Moises Alou 107 0.92 5
Hideki Matsui 135 0.756 6 Pat Burrell 106 0.534 2
Rafael Palmeiro 134 0.882 7 Craig Biggio 98 0.71 2
V. Guerrero 127 0.886 5 Ken Griffey 89 0.655 3

Note: Data as of June 21, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

A counter to that position suggests that because National League pitchers aren’t very good at hitting anyway, the advantage they enjoy is minimal. However, when the games are played in American League ballparks, having a defined DH gives teams in the junior circuit an edge over their National League counterparts, which frequently employ a bench player in that role (even when a defensively challenged player is used as the DH, a bench player is still needed to take his place in the field).

Both sides of the debate seem to have anecdotal merit, so, what do the numbers say?

Relative Performance of DHs and Pitchers in Interleague Play

Note: Data as of June 21, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

As expected, American League DHs have posted an OPS that is 0.084 points higher than their temporary NL counterparts, while NL pitchers have bested their junior circuit peers by 0.070 OPS points. At face value, the advantage seems to belong to the American League, especially because DHs bat almost twice as much as pitchers during interleague play (2.0x in the NL and 1.7x in the AL). However, because the OPS difference for pitchers is working off a lower base, the National League actually enjoys a 22% edge in that regard, compared to the American League’s 11% advantage in terms of DH production.

Because it doesn’t look as if we’ve settled the debate just yet, let’s throw in one more wrinkle: pinch hitters. Is the American League better off in an NL ballpark because it can use a quality hitter (the DH) off the bench? Or, does the National League get the edge because its reserves often get substantial playing time and have more experience serving as a pinch hitter? Once again, a case can be made for either argument.

Relative Performance of Pinch Hitters* in Interleague Play

*Based on all pinch hitters used to replace a batter hitting in the ninth slot. Pinch hitters used for pitchers batting in other slots have been omitted, and pinch hitters replacing a ninth place batter who is not the pitcher have been included.
Note: Data as of June 21, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Neither league has really had much luck with pinch hitters during interleague play. Surprisingly, even star DHs like David Ortiz (1 for 16), Frank Thomas (2 for 14), and Hideki Matsui (1 for 10) have struggled when called upon to take one at bat. At the same time, experienced NL pinch hitters like Lenny Harris (3 for 24), Mark Sweeney (1 for 24), and Matt Franco (2-15) also did poorly.  Apparently, coming off the bench isn’t such an easy task when facing the other league (having to face unfamiliar pitchers probably doesn’t help).

Aggregate Performance of DHs, PHs and Pitchers in Interleague Play

Note: Data as of June 21, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

In 13,852 interleague-related plate appearances, National Leaguers have produced a line of .220/.288/.342. Meanwhile, in 14,145 such plate appearances, the American League’s output has been .218/.292/.348. Considering the voluminous sample size, the similarity in performance is astounding.

Select Statistical Totals for DHs, PHs and Pitchers in Interleague Play

AL Interleague Total 14145 340 1422 1217 3481 435 275
NL Interleague Total 13852 314 1371 1074 3191 507 215

Note: Data as of June 21, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Before concluding, it’s worth pointing out there are two areas in which the National League has enjoyed an advantage: sacrifice bunts and double plays (see chart above). So, with all else being equal, perhaps the senior circuit’s small ball philosophy has given it a slight relative advantage? Unfortunately for the NL, those fundamentals haven’t been enough to overcome the AL’s overall interleague superiority, which, as this analysis shows, is not derived from having an extra hitter.

Historical Interleague Record

Note: Data as of June 22, 2011
Source: MLB.com

After crunching the numbers, it’s apparent that both leagues enjoy a significant statistical advantage when playing interleague games in their home ballparks. What’s more, the respective edges seems to cancel each other out when considering all participants impacted by the different set of rules. So, as it turns out, both sides of the debate are correct. Or, maybe they’re both wrong? Here we go again.

Color by Numbers: Drawing a Blank

On Tuesday night, Scott Shields, Jeff Weaver and Justin Verlander all threw a complete game shutout, and then for good measure, the Pirates had six pitchers combine on a 1-0 whitewash. In the not too distant past, four shutouts in one day would have made headlines, but lately, goose eggs have becoming increasingly common. In fact, over the first 77 calendar days of the season, there has been at least one shutout in 66, including two days in May that featured six.

Run production has been down significantly in the major leagues over the past two seasons, so the increase in shutouts shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. However, the pace being set this year would not just turn the clock back to before the steroid era, but wind it in reverse by over 30 years.

Comparison of AL, NL Run Production and Number of Shutouts, 1901-Present

Note: All data as of June 14. 2011 shutout totals are pro-rated.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

If major league pitchers maintain the current pace, there will be 346 shutouts this season. On a per team basis, that would equate to approximately 11.5, a rate that would not only rank as the highest total in the big leagues since 1978, but also fit right into any period since the dead ball era. What’s more, this season, the American League has finally caught up to the National League. In 2010, the typical club in the senior circuit was involved in four more shutouts than their A.L. counterparts, but so far this year, that gap has been reduced to one-half game.

Only 67 games into the season on average, every team has already been shutout at least once. However, no team has taken the trend to the extreme more than the San Diego Padres. In the team’s first 70 games, the Padres’ lineup has been blanked 11 times, putting them on target for 25 shutouts. If the San Diego offense does achieve that ignominious feat, it would be tied for the 16th highest total in major league history (a ranking mitigated a little by the longer 162-game schedule) and represent the greatest single season tally since the 1972 Texas Rangers.

On the other end of the spectrum, every team’s pitching staff has also recorded a shutout. Leading the pack in this regard is the Tigers, who have shutout the opposition in nine ballgames. Although not as historically unique as the Padres’ futility, Detroit’s current pro-rated target of 22 shutouts would still rank among the top 3% in big league history and represent the highest total since the 1992 Atlanta Braves recorded 24.

2011 Shutout Breakdown by Team

Note: All data as of June 14, 2011.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Why have there been so many shutouts over the past two seasons? I am ashamed to admit that I am completely drawing a blank. Perhaps, after years of marketing the home run, baseball has now adopted an entirely different strategy? In the past, there have been rumors of juiced balls, so maybe the sport has decided to surreptitiously shift the balance back in favor of the pitcher? Whatever the reason, you can bet Bud Selig is delighted to see a clean break from the stigmas of the steroid era. Whether the fans agree is another story, but if the shutout really has become the new home run, baseball is set for a banner year.

Color By Numbers: Inside the Yankees’ Draft WAR Room

With the 2011 MLB Rule IV draft finally concluded, hundreds of amateur baseball players will now embark on their professional careers. For many, however, the promise of draft day will soon give way to the harsh reality of the minor leagues, and most will likely never see the light of day in the majors. That’s why it’s almost impossible to accurately assess the quality of a team’s draft until well into the future. So, while we wait to pass judgment on the likes of Dante Bichette Jr., Sam Stafford and Jordan Cote, let’s instead take a look at how well (or, in some cases, not so well) the Yankees have drafted in the past.

Yankees’ Draft History, Cumulative WAR by Year

Note: Reflects players drafted, but not necessarily signed, by the Yankees.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Not unexpectedly, the Yankees have had a very uneven draft history. Over the first 10 years of the draft, the team netted at least 10 WAR in all but two years (1966 and 1974), and selected such future all stars such as Steve Rogers, Thurman Munson, Fred Lynn, Ron Guidry, Scott McGregor and LaMarr Hoyt. In addition, the Yankees also drafted such useful contributors as Stan Bahnsen, Doc Medich, Mike Heath, Willie Upshaw and Jim Beattie. However, in the one year the Yankees had the first selection, they opted for Ron Bloomberg and bypassed on the likes of Ted Simmons, John Mayberry and Bobby Grich.

With the advent of free agency in 1976, the team’s focus shifted away from developing amateur players to signing established veterans. As a result, the Yankees’ drafts were relatively barren over the next five years. During that span, however, the Yankees did unearth a 19th round gem in Don Mattingly, but otherwise the only other notable selections were Howard Johnson and Greg Gagne.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 1965-1979

Source: Baseball-reference.com

In 1981, the Yankees had one of their strongest drafts ever. In addition to selecting perennial All Star Fred McGriff, the team also picked up Bob Tewksbury, Eric Plunk and Mike Pagliarulo, a trio of players who would all contribute to the team during the decade. That year, the Yankees also selected a player who made it to the Hall of Fame despite never playing a single game in the majors. In the second round, the team opted for a two-way athlete named John Elway, but after a brief stint in the minors, the outfielder decided instead to play quarterback in the NFL.

The Yankees also had an impressive draft class in 1982, but most of the players selected, like B.J. Surhoff, Jim Deshaies and Bo Jackson, found success on other teams. Only Dan Pasqua spent some time in pinstripes, but he was eventually traded to the White Sox for Rich Dotson. Over the rest of the decade, the Yankees’ drafts were relatively poor, not the least of which was because the team had a first round draft pick in only two years (1984 and 1985). Despite the handicap, the Yankees often managed to find one nugget in the later rounds, but that player was usually traded before they could reap the rewards.

From 1983 to 1989, Todd Stottlemyre, Al Leiter, Hal Morris, Brad Ausmus, Fernando Vina and J.T. Snow were the only players drafted by the Yankees who posted a double-digit WAR, but none from that group made a meaningful contribution in pinstripes. With an aging major league roster and a farm system devoid of prospects, it’s no wonder that soon thereafter the team plunged into one of the worst four-year periods in franchise history.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 1980-1989

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees were terrible on the field in 1990 and 1991, seasons that concluded with the fourth and fifth lowest winning percentages in franchise history. However, in the front office, the suspension of George Steinbrenner brought about a return to normalcy. So, under the watchful eye of Gene Michael, the Yankees slowly began to rebuild their farm system via the draft.

In 1990, the Yankees had their most successful draft in terms of total WAR. Although first round selection Carl Everett would have a successful career away from the Bronx after being selected by the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft, the Yankees really hit the mother lode in the middle rounds. With the 22nd and 24th picks, respectively, the Yankees selected a left handed pitcher named Andy Pettitte and short stop named Jorge Posada. By the middle of the decade, those two players would become key components of a brand new Yankees’ dynasty.

For the first time since 1967, the Yankees had the overall first round pick in 1991. When they selected Brien Taylor, a high school left hander who reportedly could throw over 100 mph, most observers predicted that the Yankees had acquired their ace of the future. Unfortunately, less than two years into his development, the young fire-baller dislocated his left shoulder in a bar room fight. Taylor was never able recover from the injury, and his once promising career was over before it started.

The Yankees rebounded from the disastrous 1991 draft class, which produced only player with a positive WAR (Lyle Mouton at 1.5), by adding the crown jewel to their burgeoning dynasty with the selection of Derek Jeter in 1992. This time, the team’s can’t miss prospect didn’t.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 1990-1999

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Jeter, Posada and Pettitte, along with international free agents Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, wound up forming a homegrown core that by 1996 had already won a championship. While the Yankees were having historic success on the field, however, the team’s drafts weren’t as accomplished. From 1993 to 2004, the Yankees drafted only seven players who contributed a WAR of at least 4.5, and three of those players (Casey Blake, Mark Prior and Daniel Bard) didn’t sign with the team. In several years during that span, the Yankees failed to produce even one player who made a positive contribution in the majors. However, thanks to combination of savvy trades, opportunistic free agent signings and an increased focus on the international market, the Yankees were able to sustain their regular season success.

In 2005, the Yankees extended the contract of General Manager Brian Cashman, and in the process gave him more control over baseball operations. At the same time, the team promoted Damon Oppenheimer to scouting director. Since then, the Yankees have drafted several players who have made an early impact in the majors, including Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Dave Robertson and Drew Storen. The team also added several players now considered to be promising prospects, such as Dellin Betances, Austin Romine, Slade Heathcott and even Gerrit Cole, who, after spurning the Yankees in 2008, was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in this year’s draft.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 2000-Present

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Who knows, maybe somewhere within one of the team’s recent drafts is the core of a new dynasty? Only time will tell, but like the players selected this week, it doesn’t hurt to dream.

Color By Numbers: In the Clutch

Before the 2009 post season, Alex Rodriguez was frequently vilified for his alleged inability to get a hit when it really mattered. Following a historic clutch performance that October, which included three game tying homeruns in the seventh inning or later, many of the skeptics were quieted. Since then, however, some of the doubters have gradually started to re-emerge, with many emboldened by Arod’s extended slump earlier this season.

The debate over Arod’s “clutchability” has involved a countless number of hours over the last eight years, so perhaps it’s time to settle the issue once and for all? Off the bat, let’s circle back to Win Probability Added (WPA), and see what that metric says about Arod’s context-based contribution to victory.

WPA Leaders, Yankees and MLB, 2004-2011
Player WPA PA
Alex Rodriguez 25.6 4727
Derek Jeter 12.7 5262
Jason Giambi 10.4 2314
Hideki Matsui 9.6 3121
Gary Sheffield 9.1 1525
Player WPA PA
Albert Pujols 44.1 4986
Lance Berkman 31.8 4464
Miguel Cabrera 30.8 4970
David Ortiz 28.6 4676
Alex Rodriguez 25.6 4727

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Since Arod joined the team in 2004, he has easily been the Yankees’ most productive player in terms of WPA. In fact, his total of 25.6 wins added is not only greater than the next two closest Yankees combined, but also fifth best among all major leaguers. So, if Arod really has been a failure in the clutch, his production in low leverage situations would have to be off the charts.

Because there isn’t one statistic* that can help us settle the debate, we have no choice but to take a closer look at every HR and RBI Arod has accumulated as a Yankee.

*There is a WPA-based stat called “clutch”, but it is a relative metric that essentially penalizes a player for performing well in lower leverage situations. Therefore, it isn’t useful for our purposes (click here for a more detailed explanation of “clutch”).

Arod’s HR and RBI Breakdown, 2004-2011

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011. Outer circle displays RBIs; inner circle displays HRs. Colors get lighter as score differential increases.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

The donut chart above helps to dispel that myth that Arod does most of his damage “when the team has a 10-run lead” (he only has six home runs when the Yankees have been ahead or behind by 10 runs).  In fact, almost 50% of his HRs and RBIs have come with the score either tied or within one run, rates that are not only above the team average during Arod’s tenure, but either in line with or better than a selection of comps from the recent dynasty era.

Percentage of HRs and RBIs When Score is Tied or Within 1-Run, Team and Select Players, 2004-2011
Player HR Player RBI
Derek Jeter 61.0% Jason Giambi 53%
Paul O’Neill
Paul O’Neill
Jason Giambi 54.1%
Alex Rodriguez
Tino Martinez
Tino Martinez
Bernie Williams
Bernie Williams
Alex Rodriguez
48.7% Mark Teixeira 48%
2004-Present 48.1% Jorge Posada 46%
Mark Teixeira 46.6% 2004-Present 45%
Jorge Posada 46.4% Derek Jeter 45%
Hideki Matsui 43.6% Hideki Matsui 43%
Robinson Cano 41.3% Robinson Cano 41%

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

A tie game in the first inning isn’t quite the same as a knotted score in the ninth, so another way we can break down Arod’s performance is by leverage. Based on this comparison, Rodriguez once again compares favorably to both the team average during his time in pinstripes as well as our select group of Yankees’ standouts.

Leverage-Based Performance, Team and Select Players, 2004-2011

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Leverage can be an abstract concept, so perhaps the misconception about Arod stems from a lack of high profile moments? Once again, however, that theory fails when confronted by facts. Since 2004, the Yankees’ have hit 58 homeruns in the ninth inning or later that either tied the game or gave the team a lead/walk off. Of that total, Arod has accounted for 15, or over one-quarter. Not only is that twice as many as Jason Giambi’s seven over the same span, but it’s also the fourth highest amount in franchise history since 1950. What’s more, the Yankees have hit 20 such home runs in their post season history and Arod has two of them (both occurring in 2009).

Clutch HRs/Hits in the Ninth Inning or Later, Since 1950

Player HR PA Player Hits PA
Mickey Mantle
27 9909
Mickey Mantle
40 9909
Yogi Berra 19 7086 Yogi Berra 35 7086
Graig Nettles 18 6247 Graig Nettles 30 6247
Alex Rodriguez 15 4727 Bernie Williams 28 9053
Bernie Williams 11 9053 Don Mattingly 26 7721
Don Mattingly 11 7721 Elston Howard 24 5485
Jason Giambi 11 3693 Bobby Murcer 24 4997
Elston Howard 8 5485 Alex Rodriguez 20 4727
Bobby Murcer 8 4997 Roy White 19 7735
Jorge Posada 8 6921 Dave Winfield 17 5021

Note: Data as of May 31, 2011. Includes all HRs/hits that either tied the game or gave the Yankees a lead/walkoff.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Over the last eight years, so many great Yankee moments have been punctuated by Alex Rodriguez. However, because of the expectations inspired by both his immense talent and enormous contract, the myth about Arod’s inability to hit in clutch will likely persist. Although the debate can be grating, it really doesn’t matter anyway. Those with a firmer grasp of reality know full well just how potent Rodriguez has been in pinstripes. Everyone else is just clutching at straws.

Color by Numbers: Too Much of a Good Thing?

How many times when you were growing up did your parents tell you not to eat too much ice cream? You’ll spoil your appetite, or maybe even get sick, they warned. After all, too much of even a good thing can be bad, they reasoned. Did you believe them? Neither did I.

Apparently, home runs are baseball’s version of ice cream because the conventional wisdom of late has suggested that hitting too many is a bad thing. From broadcasters to beat writers to even the players who knock them out of the park, a common lament about the Yankees’ offense has been it relies too heavily upon the home run. According to those “in the know”, more runs would be scored in the Bronx if the Yankees did less bombing and more bunting, or something along those lines. Although such a philosophy seems inherently illogical, many around the game still espouse it, so let examine the main arguments more closely.

The easiest way to test whether too many home runs can be a drag on run production is to determine the correlation between the two statistics. Over the last decade, the Yankees have exhibited a mild, but meaningful positive link between homers and runs, while all of baseball has experienced an even stronger relationship between balls leaving the park and runners crossing the plate. Of course, every statistician will tell you that correlation doesn’t mean causation, but at the very least, there is good reason to suspect that home runs inflate, not depress, the amount of runs scored.

Correlation Between Runs and HRs, Yankees and MLB, 2001-2010

Yankees R/G HRs MLB R/G HRs
2010 5.302 201 2010 4.380 4613
2009 5.648 244 2009 4.610 5042
2008 4.870 180 2008 4.650 4878
2007 5.975 201 2007 4.800 4957
2006 5.741 210 2006 4.860 5386
2005 5.469 229 2005 4.590 5017
2004 5.537 242 2004 4.810 5451
2003 5.380 230 2003 4.730 5207
2002 5.571 223 2002 4.620 5059
2001 4.990 203 2001 4.780 5458
R= 0.4434 R= 0.8244

Note: R is the correlation coefficient, which ranges from -1 to +1. A score of 0 implies no relationship, while scores approaching each parameter imply an increasingly meaningful direct (positive) or inverse (negative) relationship.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

To be fair, most people who would prefer to see the Yankees score via small ball or timely base hits fret more about the percentage of runs scored via the homer than the actual number of home runs. According to the theory, scoring a disproportionate number of runs with muscle leads to an overreliance on the home run, which furthers results in an unsustainable offensive approach. Once again, we can test this argument by determining the relationship between total runs scored and the percentage of tallies plated by the homer.

Percentage of Runs Scored Via the HR, Yankees and MLB, 2001-2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com

As you can see from the chart above, the percentage of runs scoring on a home run in baseball has steadily decreased over the past decade. However, the Yankees’ rate has seemed to fluctuate without any noticeable relationship to runs scored. In fact, the year the Yankees scored their highest run total in this span was also when they recorded the lowest percentage of runs scored via the home run. Because of this randomness, we can’t definitively determine a link between total runs scored and those coming on homer, at least not for the Yankees. Using aggregate team data for all of baseball, however, reveals a strong positive correlation between total runs scored and the number crossing the plate via the homerun. Why doesn’t this relationship hold for the Bronx Bombers? Perhaps that’s a post for another day.

Correlation Between Total Runs and Runs via the HR, MLB, 2001-2011

Year R/G %R from HR
2011 4.17 32.3%
2010 4.38 34.4%
2009 4.61 35.5%
2008 4.65 34.5%
2007 4.8 34.2%
2006 4.86 36.1%
2005 4.59 36.2%
2004 4.81 37.0%
2003 4.73 35.9%
2002 4.62 35.8%
2001 4.78 36.8%
R= 0.7507

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Correlation Between Yankees’ Run Total Relative to MLB and Runs Scored via the HR, 2001-2011

Year vs. MLB R/G %R from HR
2011 130.7% 49.4%
2010 127.2% 38.2%
2009 128.9% 41.0%
2008 108.9% 35.7%
2007 131.3% 34.3%
2006 124.1% 39.0%
2005 125.0% 44.0%
2004 120.5% 43.4%
2003 119.1% 41.8%
2002 127.0% 41.2%
2001 108.6% 40.2%
R= 0.2397

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Based on the data presented above, there really is no reason to believe that too many home runs are hampering the Yankees’ offense. But, what about the often repeated argument that even if an overabundance of homers doesn’t limit run production in the regular season, it will eventually catch up to the Yankees when they face better pitching in the playoffs? Is it really more difficult to score runs with a home run when facing an elite pitcher? If so, the Yankees might be better off trying to manufacturing runs so they’ll be better prepared to win in October.

Percentage of Runs Allowed on Homers by Ace Pitchers, 2010

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The list above is composed of each league’s 10 best pitchers in 2010 (based on WAR) along with the percentage of runs they allowed via the home run. From Josh Johnson at 17.6% to Johan Santana at 46.3%, there is a wide range of rates, suggesting that ace pitchers are not unanimously averse to being touched up by a long ball. In fact, the accumulated totals of the top-10 in each league are pretty much in line with each respective league average.

We’ve shown that home runs and runs scored via homers have a positive correlation to total offensive production. In addition, evidence from 2010 suggests that ace pitchers are not immune to being scored upon via the long ball. In other words, there really is no such thing as too much of a good thing, at least when it comes to home runs. Nonetheless, no analysis, regardless of how thorough, is likely to dispel what has become a very popular misconception. So, instead of trying to convert the remaining holdouts, I say let them eat cake…and save the ice cream for the rest of us.

Color by Numbers: When the Going Gets Tough…

Over the last few weeks, a spate of losing has sent the Yankee Universe spiraling into a state of depression. So, what better time to take a look at a statistic called WPA?

Although many new sabermetric tools can be intimidating, Win Probability Added, or WPA, is a fun stat. Basically, it tries to determine the impact of every play on the outcome of an individual game. Instead of getting too caught up in the derivation, it’s better to simply think of WPA as a metric that identifies the pivotal points that often go unnoticed in a regular box score. In a sense, it is the mathematical equivalent of the late Bill Gallo’s classic “Hero and Goat” cartoons that appeared in the New York Daily News for over 50 World Series.

Unlike most context neutral statistics, which are generally favored in the sabermetric world, WPA rewards (or punishes) a player as much for the contributions of his teammates as his own performance. It also shifts the focus from what a player does to when he does it. As a result, it’s most useful for measuring the impact of a particular play, not the value of an individual player. At the risk of opening a whole new can of worms, WPA can also be considered a measurement of clutch, provided you define the concept in terms of the event that transpired and not the person who performed it (i.e., a clutch hit doesn’t necessarily imply a clutch hitter).

Last night’s 15th inning tug-of-war between the Yankees and Orioles is the perfect game to illustrate the usefulness of WPA. As evident in the win expectancy chart below, just about every play in a close game can have a significant impact on a team’s chances of winning. However, certain moments always emerge as turning points, and that’s what WPA helps to identify.

Yankees vs. Orioles, May 18: Win Expectancy Chart (click to enlarge)

Note: Probability is for winning team (Yankees).
Source: Baseball-reference.com

By taking these game-by-game snapshots and compiling them into a cumulative total, WPA highlights the players who have most often come through in the clutch. To no surprise, Curtis Granderson has boosted the Yankees fortunes more than any other batter*. His 1.4 WPA is not only almost three times the next closest contributor, but the total is good for sixth best among all American League hitters (although less than half of Jose Bautista’s league-leading 3.0). On the other end of the spectrum, several key Yankees have underwhelmed in terms of WPA. In particular, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Derek Jeter have all posted a significantly negative contribution to win probability, which helps explain why the Yankees’ offense has been sputtering for so long.

*WPA is also calculated for pitchers, but we’ll save them for another post.

Yankees WPA Scores (Offense): Cumulative and by Outcome

Player Total Wins Losses
Curtis Granderson 1.381 1.242 0.139
Eric Chavez 0.483 0.587 -0.104
Russell Martin 0.468 0.636 -0.168
Mark Teixeira 0.414 1.064 -0.650
Robinson Cano 0.352 0.763 -0.411
Francisco Cervelli -0.001 -0.082 0.081
Jorge Posada -0.005 0.098 -0.103
Gustavo Molina -0.066 -0.039 -0.027
Chris Dickerson -0.082 -0.082 NA
Eduardo Nunez -0.099 -0.255 0.156
Alex Rodriguez -0.192 0.874 -1.066
Andruw Jones -0.331 -0.018 -0.313
Nick Swisher -0.701 -0.252 -0.449
Derek Jeter -0.921 0.190 -1.111
Brett Gardner -1.083 -0.211 -0.872

Note: As of May 18, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Looking at cumulative WPA can sometimes be misleading because several smaller contributions can be overshadowed by one epic result. In order to get a better idea of who has been “coming through” on a more consistent basis, it’s often better to look at WPA scores for individual games instead of one combined total.

Brett Gardner’s and Curtis Granderson’s Daily WPA

Note: As of May 18, 2011
Source: Baseball-reference.com

As evident from the graph above, the Yankees’ leader and laggard in terms of WPA have both earned their status over the course of the entire season. Granderson’s consistent contributions to winning are noted by the dominant splashes of blue above the x-axis, while Gardner’s frequent failures at key moments are outlined in red.

Finally, returning to concept of goats and heroes, the table below lists the number of times each player has had either the highest WPA in a win or the lowest WPA in a loss. Although rudimentary in terms of analysis, these classifications usually match closely with observation and sometimes help explain why a particular player has earned a positive or negative reputation when it comes to pressure situations.

Heroes and Goats: Players with the Highest/Lowest WPA in Wins/Losses

Source: Baseball-reference.com

So, how does WPA jive with your observations?

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver