At the tail end of last night’s discussion regarding Andy Pettitte’s brilliant start, I marveled at the Yankees second half record, 32-11. That’s 3.5 games better than the next-best AL team, the Anaheim Angels at 29-15. The next closest team after that is Texas at 24-19. The Yanks are, as the saying goes, firing on all cylinders. But perhaps no cylinder is no more important than the pitching one.
Since the All-Star Break, Yankees pitchers have posted a 3.88 ERA, best in the American League. It’s 0.23 better than the next lowest, Texas, though Texas’ number got decimated last night when they wouldn’t let the Blue Jays stop scoring. Then again, the Yanks number is skewed itself. It contains two absolute stinkers by A.J. Burnett, a rough series opener against the Sox last time out in which they allowed 11 runs in a win, and all of Sergio Mitre’s starts. Despite this they’ve been able to keep their team ERA under 4.00, which is a remarkable feat in this year’s American League. In fact, no other team currently has a sub-4.00 ERA in the second half.
How is the staff doing it? Part of it is keeping people off the basepaths — they have a .245 BAA, best in the AL — but a lot of that is preventing balls from entering the field of play — their 364 team strikeouts leads the AL by 35. At the same time, they’re keeping their walks in check relative to those strikeouts. While three teams have walked fewer batters (Rays, Indians, Twins — and the Jays have the same total), none of those come close to the Yanks in K/BB. The Rays are at 2.6, the Indians are at 1.9, and the Jays and Twins are at 2.3. The Yanks are up at 2.8.
(Also note that while the Indians and Rays have considerably fewer walks than the Yanks, they’ve pitched about 20 fewer innings in the second half, so there’s plenty of time for them to make up those numbers.)
They say pitching wins championships, and to that end the Yankees are obviously doing great. Even better, their two biggest playoff rivals, the Angels and the Red Sox, have been pitching horribly in the second half. The Sox rank 10th in the AL with a 4.71 ERA, and the Angels are 11th with a 4.84 ERA. With those types of numbers and the Yankees offense, how can anyone be afraid to face them in a playoff series?
Speaking of that offense, it’s contributed just as much as the pitching to this incredible run. They’re far off the top mark in second-half runs — that mark goes solidly to the Angels. But still, the numbers don’t bear out such a large difference, 34 runs. The Yanks are second in the league in batting average, .291 to Anaheim’s .302. They’re second in OBP to the Angels, but this time it’s a gap of one-thousandth of a point (.363 to .362). The next closest team, the Indians, is at .347. The Yanks lead the league with a .500 SLG in the second half, and that’s not particularly close. The Angels, second highest, are at .476. So while the Angels are out in front by a lot in runs, I wouldn’t expect that to last for long.
We’re used to the offense. Over the past few years, save for 2008, the Yankees have had one of the top offenses in the league. It’s the pitching that’s making the difference this year. The offense is back on top, and expectedly so. The pitching, though, has greatly improved from the past few years, and the Yankees are noticing it in the wins column. They’ve set themselves a nice cushion, allowing them to give their stellar staff ample rest heading into the playoffs. At this point, is there any team that should really scare the Yanks? I’d say not.