The lost art of the come-from-behind victory

The RAB Radio Show: May 23, 2011
Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

In the aggregate, the 2011 Yankees are not much different than our beloved 2009 team. After 44 games the teams are separated by just one game (the 2009 team was 25-19), and both had gone through rough losing streaks earlier in the season. Yet there one major, noticeable difference between the two teams that is evident even at this point. The 2009 Yankees had mastered the art of the comeback, while the 2011 team has struggled to erase deficits.

Just one time this season the Yankees have won a game when trailing after seven innings. They’re 2-14 when trailing after six, so that counts the victory over the Mets yesterday. Perhaps the most damning of all records is their 2-12 mark when trailing after five. That is, with 12 outs remaining, they’ve managed to erase just two deficits all season long. That doesn’t seem to be the mark of an elite team.

The Yankees’ mantra of patience is well known by now. Make the starters throw a lot of pitches so you can get to that vulnerable relief corps. Even if they don’t score runs in bunches off the starter, they can get to the weaker pitchers by making sure he throws 100 pitches in five or six innings. This year, however, that has not worked in their favor. The third time through the order against a starting pitcher the Yankees have hit .254/.320/.446. The first time facing a relief pitcher in a game they’ve hit .233/.318/.416. That’s not exactly taking advantage of lesser pitchers. Unsurprisingly, the 2009 team trashed relievers the first time they saw them, hitting .279/.373/.477. That’s how you stage late-inning comebacks.

Just how bad is the Yankees’ current record when trailing after five? The 2010 Pirates, the worst team in baseball, went 13-79 when trailing after five, a .141 win percentage. That’s essentially where the Yankees are at right now. Even the 2010 Yankees, who didn’t seem to have the same comeback luster of their year-earlier counterparts, had a 14-47 record when trailing after five, a .230 winning percentage.

(Of course, even those comeback-happy teams had a .273 win percentage when trailing after five.)

There are two ways of viewing this, of course. One is to take the first 44 games as a portend for the season and declare that the Yankees lay down too easily. The other is to realize that they’re probably not going to fare as poorly as a 100-loss team. Their record when trailing after five currently stinks, but it is not necessarily predictive of anything. In all likelihood, they’ll start to beat up on relievers more often and mount some late-innings comebacks. That should add a few more wins and a greater sense of aura, if you will, to the team.

The 2011 season has been frustrating for many reasons, and the team’s inability to score runs off of crappy relievers is just one of them. It is, thankfully, one area that they’re almost certain to turn around. It won’t get worlds better; as we saw, the 2009 team still lost the great majority of their games when they trailed after five. But rest assured that they’re not doomed to fail in these situations. Sometimes early season results can be more frustrating than indicative of true talent.

The RAB Radio Show: May 23, 2011
Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
  • MikeD

    Randomness. I take it as a positive. Similar (and perhaps related to) the RISP issue, this should correct as the season progresses.

    • Total Dominication

      /gambler’s fallacy’d

  • AndrewYF

    What I want to know is where are all the people who view the Yankees lack of luck in this category as a positive going forward? I don’t know about anyone else, but I can definitely remember plenty of folks discounting the 2009 team because coming from behind meant that they had to be behind in the first place, and that with normal luck they might not have even won the division.

    Which may or may not be true. The 2009 team was obviously special (that offense was truly amazing), but a true 100-win team? Not with 3 total viable starters (counting good-AJ and Joba as half each).

  • icebird753

    What if they trade Jeter for Melky? Jeter has lost his clutch ability, and Melky is as clutch as they come and affordable. Move Granderson to short, as he is of course a very skilled, raw athlete, and have Melky in center.The Yanks will be 10x more clutch, I guarantee it

    • Xstar7

      Then they should trade Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos for Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. You know, since those guys were so clutch all the time.

  • jefflevi

    their comeback ability should improve as the season goes along the relievers on the bad teams will be worn down come the summer and be more ripe for the picking

  • first time lawng time

    In all likelihood, they’ll start to beat up on relievers more often and mount some late-innings comebacks

    We don’t know that for sure, though.

    Does this really seem like something that’s going to correct itself?

    • first time lawng time

      Not just going to, but can.

      Can it correct itself?

  • A-Rod’s Wingman

    The stalwarts on offense aren’t getting on base as often. Jeter, Cano, Posada and Granderson all have a sub .330 OBP and Swisher’s right at the mark. When more than half of your offense has an OBP ? .330 you’re probably not going to be able to stage a late inning rally. A-Rod’s well below his career average OBP

  • Rookie

    “Sometimes early season results can be more frustrating than indicative of true talent.”

    And sometimes early season results can be indicative of three players in the lineup — including the leadoff hitter, the cleanup hitter, and the designated hitter — showing their age (and/or being injured) at the same time.

    • bexarama

      they were old in 2009 too

      • Rookie

        And I would have thought something similar in 2009 and been wrong, too. But that’s two years ago. And Jeter had an MVP year (and wasn’t the low OBP/high groundball machine he’s been on again/off again this year), I believe ARod was coming back from hip issues and had a monstrous postseason (not hitting relatively ineffectively for no apparent reason like this year) and Posada wasn’t playing, but had been hitting to an OPS to this point of .986, not .657.

        Jeter looks like he could prove me wrong, but ARod and Posada are at this point looking worse than I expected.

        I’m not guaranteeing that all three won’t return to the form of their youth. But given their age, I don’t think that’s the way to bet (although I do think ARod is injured and hopefully will heal and return to form at some point).

        I think that it may go a long way in explaining this year’s Yankees’ comeback woes. Of course, I may be wrong. That’s why I repeated Pawlikowski’s “can be indicative of” phrase instead of being more definitive and saying that it is the reason.

        If you and Joe are right, the ball will start bouncing the Yankees’ way (as it did in the third game against the Mets) and the Yankees (including the older Yankees) will return to their old form. If my concerns are correct, they probably won’t. We both can only watch and opine in forums such as RAB. Time will tell who’s right. (I’m hoping that you and Joe are right and I’m wrong.)

  • Yank The Frank

    In spite of it all we are in first place. BooYa!!!

  • YanksFan

    While I agree w/ the analsyis the question I have it how behind were they then compared to now. Were they overcoming 1 run deficits or 4 run deficits. The years blur into one another & I don’t want to misremember my comebacks.

    That year was magnified w/ a few 9th inning comebacks as well as extra-inning walkoff’s.

  • Bunting?…More like Punting If You Ask Me

    The title of the article is turning me on. Big time.