Watching the Yankees these days is exhausting, isn’t it? And not just because the offense is scuffling, something like 75% of the team has COVID or is otherwise incapacitated, and they’ve been underperforming for a calendar year. They are exhausting because the team seems allergic to playing in a blowout. Every game is a nail-biter! Consider the following statistics and facts about the 2021 Yankees:
- They have played 62 games decided by 2 runs or less. Given that they’ve played 112 overall, such close games comprise an astounding 55% of their games this season. That is the highest amount and percentage in Major League Baseball this season.
- Of those 62 games, about half (48%) have been one-run games.
- While the Yankees are good in these games, going 19-11 (.633) in one-run games and 21-11 (.636) in two-run games, it is exhausting to watch. It must also be exhausting to play.
- Unsurprisingly, they also play a lot of extra-innings games. Thirteen, in fact, going 6-7 in those games. That’s more than 10% of every game played so far.
- By contrast, just 24 (21%) of the Yankees’ games are considered blowouts, meaning they’ve been decided by 5 or more runs in either direction. They are 12-12 in those games. Obviously, that’s bad.
- Oddly, they’ve only had 4 blowouts since the All-Star Break: the awful 14-0 loss to Tampa, and 3 games they played against Baltimore.
Okay. So, that is a quick way to quantify something I bet we all knew already. The Yankees play a lot of close games! They don’t play in many blowouts. But this runs deeper than some fan agita. I think it has a real impact on the team. Back to the bulleted lists we go:
- Incredibly, the Yankees have thrown 412 innings in relief this season, which ranks 15th in baseball. That’s not a lot, and it’s a lot lower than I expected it to be.
- But they’ve also only thrown 993.2 innings overall, so just about 41% of the team’s innings have been in relief.
- Nearly all of those innings have been high-leverage situations. In fact, the average leverage index when the Yankees bring a new pitcher into a game (so it cannot be a starter) in 2021 is 1.24. That is the highest mark in baseball by a considerable margin. (Tampa Bay is next closest, at 1.16. Tampa has also thrown the most relief innings in the league, for what it’s worth.)
- But it’s not just the relievers who struggle here. It has to take a toll on the entire staff. Consider that the Yankees have thrown 8,907 pitches this season with the go-ahead run at the plate or on-base or with the tying run at the plate, on-base, or on-deck. That is the second most in baseball. It accounts for a ridiculous 55% of all their pitches thrown.
- If you want to remove the last qualifier there – tying run on deck – the Yankees still fare poorly. They’ve thrown 7,717 pitches in the other scenarios, still second-most in baseball.
- This actually gets worse. Let’s add in another qualifier, this time accounting for inning. I set the search this time to account for all of the above situations, limited to just the 7th, 8th, 9th, and extra innings. The Yanks lead the league in pitches thrown under those conditions, logging 2,530 such pitches. That’s nearly 100 more than Tampa Bay, the next closest team, and nearly 16% of their overall pitches.
Okay, let’s take a breath. There’s a lot to digest there. The takeaway is pretty clear, though. The Yankees play a lot of close games, and their pitchers are throwing A LOT of pitches in close games as a result. I think this is why we’ve seen so many blown games – there is no margin for error – and I also think it runs the risk of bullpen burnout by the end of the season. It can’t be easy to never enter a game in a laugher, and for every pitch to count even on days when you might not have it.
It also puts Aaron Boone, of whom I’ve been quite critical in 2021, in a tough position with the bullpen. We know they’re strict with usage, but this makes it even tougher. It’s not just back-to-back games or 3 out of 4 anymore. They’re almost entirely high-leverage, and thus high-stress situations. Those are more exhausting for everyone. And when a top reliever is on the shelf for a day, it means putting a worse, less capable arm in a big spot. It’s not ideal.
That’s the glass half-empty argument. The glass half-full argument is that the Yankees have been adept in these situations. They’ve won almost two-thirds of these games, and they’ve been one of the top performing pitching staffs in baseball by every metric. You could argue, and I suspect some will, that this makes the Yankees “playoff ready.” There is an element of truth to this, I am sure: playoff games are close, and it pays to have some experience in those situations.
But consider this: I am tired, and I’m sure the Yankees are too. It would be nice if they could go out and win a blowout game, maybe two. This would have more benefits than making you and I less tired. It might even help keep the team fresh in a grueling stretch – they have just two off-days between now and September 2nd. So, what do you say, Yanks? Think you can win a blowout game for us?