Last week I looked at how the 2011 Yankees turned one of the 2010 team’s more vexing issues — a seeming inability to hit with runners in scoring position — around, and ended up as the top-hitting team with RISP in the AL compared to the league (though in fairness, they weren’t a bad team with RISP in 2010, just not as good as they’d been in other recent seasons).
Today we’ll take a look at the 2010 team’s other major bugaboo, one that longtime TYA/Yankeeist readers have been beaten over the head by and that I’m probably unhealthily obsessed with — getting owned by Starters-They’ve-Never-Seen-Before™ — and see how the 2011 team fared against this subset of pitchers and whether they were able to shake this particular shortcoming.
While RISP Fail wound up being the result of confirmation bias more than anything else, the 2010 team’s struggles against the notorious Pitchers-They’ve-Never-Seen-Before demographic were very real, as seen in this Jay Jaffe piece from this past June. Per Jaffe, the 2010 team faced 14 pitchers for the first time, and went 5-9 in those contests while those starters pitched to a collective 3.29 ERA/3.68 FIP over 82 innings (though it should also be noted that some of this success was probably partially luck-induced, as the pitchers also collectively recorded a miniscule .216 BABIP).
Even more vexing was that this group of first-timers wasn’t exactly a who’s-who of the league’s top pitchers — save perhaps Clayton Kershaw and new Yankee-killer Max Scherzer — and included names like Hisanori Takahashi, Kyle Kendrick, Sean O’Sullivan, Bryan Bullington (pictured above) and Josh Tomlin. For me, the Tomlin game was a breaking point, and really made it seem as though whoever might face the Yankees in the postseason — assuming they got there — could guarantee themselves of a sweep by simply calling up their four greenest Triple-A pitchers and starting them against the Bombers.
Jaffe followed the aforelinked Baseball Prospectus piece up with another important read at the Pinstriped Bible, and found the following:
“It’s worth noting that others have taken a look at fresh faces against the Yankees and gotten different results using different criteria. William J. at the Captain’s Blog found that if you’re looking at relatively inexperienced pitchers facing them — those with 60 or fewer starts in their career — the Yankees have actually beaten them pretty handily over the past decade. Meanwhile Sean Forman (the Baseball-Reference.com founder) wrote at the New York Times about how pitchers facing the Yankees for their major league debuts — as Josh Tomlin had then just done — had enjoyed an inordinate amount of success from 2000-2010. So it depends on how you frame the question, and what you focus upon. In my study, the Yankees have struggled against the newcomers, in large part because those pitchers have gotten exceptional, unsustainable support from their defenses.”
William also had previously posted two excellent pieces regarding this phenomenon in his own inimitably comprehensive fashion, If at First You Don’t Succeed: A Look at the Yankees’ Performance Against “First-Timers”, posted on August 17, 2010, following the Bullington game; and In Coming! It’s Duck and Cover for the Yanks When Facing a Debutant, posted on July 28, 2010, after the Tomlin game. All of these pieces are well worth your time.
In any event, that brings us to the 2011 season. I culled the below table from Baseball-Reference, containing all of the starting pitchers the Yankees faced in 2011 that they had never previously seen (as a starter), and sorted by Game Score. The column all the way on the left denotes where that starter’s game ranked among all 162 outings against the Yankees.
|7||Philip Humber||2011-04-25||CHW||W 2-0||7.0||1||0||2||5||0||78||0.509|
|14||Carlos Carrasco||2011-06-13||CLE||W 1-0||7.0||5||0||3||7||0||71||0.508|
|15||Matt Moore||2011-09-22||TBR||W 15-8||5.0||4||0||1||11||0||69||0.102|
|25||Jeremy Hellickson||2011-07-19||TBR||W 3-2||7.0||5||2||1||7||1||65||0.080|
|29||Ubaldo Jimenez||2011-06-24||COL||W 4-2||7.0||4||2||4||7||0||64||0.253|
|32||Zach Britton||2011-05-18||BAL||L 1-4||7.0||6||0||3||4||0||64||0.239|
|35||Carlos Villanueva||2011-05-23||TOR||W 7-3||5.0||2||1||1||5||0||63||0.175|
|42||Alex Cobb||2011-07-18||TBR||L 4-5||6.0||3||1||4||3||0||59||0.104|
|54||Brian Duensing||2011-04-05||MIN||W 5-4||7.0||6||4||2||7||2||54||-0.182|
|64||Dillon Gee||2011-07-02||NYM||L 2-5||7.0||7||4||3||7||1||51||-0.144|
|71||Travis Wood||2011-06-20||CIN||L 3-5||7.0||8||4||1||6||0||50||-0.172|
|73||Michael Pineda||2011-05-27||SEA||W 4-3||5.0||3||3||5||5||1||49||-0.104|
|75||Mike Leake||2011-06-22||CIN||L 2-4||6.0||5||4||1||4||1||49||-0.274|
|77||Charlie Furbush||2011-09-13||SEA||L 2-3||5.1||7||3||0||6||1||48||-0.136|
|82||Jonathon Niese||2011-07-01||NYM||L 1-5||6.0||9||3||2||7||0||47||-0.095|
|92||Randy Wells||2011-06-19||CHC||L 4-10||6.0||5||4||4||3||1||45||-0.127|
|95||Juan Nicasio||2011-06-26||COL||L 4-6||5.0||4||4||1||2||2||44||-0.213|
|102||Tyler Chatwood||2011-08-11||LAA||L 5-6||5.1||8||2||2||1||1||43||-0.063|
|107||Alexi Ogando||2011-04-17||TEX||L 5-6||6.1||6||5||1||1||3||41||-0.395|
|124||Henderson Alvarez||2011-09-17||TOR||L 6-7||6.0||9||5||1||1||1||34||-0.065|
|126||Felipe Paulino||2011-08-15||KCR||L 4-7||5.1||8||5||5||4||0||31||-0.489|
|128||Garrett Richards||2011-08-10||LAA||L 3-9||5.0||6||6||2||2||2||31||-0.260|
|136||Jo-Jo Reyes||2011-05-25||TOR||L 3-7||3.0||5||5||2||0||2||27||-0.262|
|145||Aaron Cook||2011-06-25||COL||L 3-8||5.2||12||5||1||1||0||23||-0.250|
|150||Scott Diamond||2011-09-19||MIN||L 4-6||4.0||10||5||3||1||1||20||-0.247|
|158||Danny Duffy||2011-08-16||KCR||L 7-9||3.0||8||8||2||3||1||12||-0.741|
Phil Humber wound up being the 2011 version of Josh Tomlin, throwing the seventh-best start against the Yankees all season. However, that’s about where the similarities to 2010 end. We’re dealing with a significantly larger sample here — 26 games to 14 — which would seem to favor the hitting team. And while Carlos Carrasco, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Ubaldo Jimenez turned in memorable debut performances against the Yankees, the overall results of this group of tyros is a far cry from how Pitchers-They’ve-Never-Faced fared in 2010.
After going 5-9 in 2010, the 2011 Yankees went 18-8 in the 26 games started by newbies, and by my calculations, the 2011 group threw 149 innings of 5.13 ERA ball. That’s quite the turnaround from 3.29 in 2010, and far, far more like it.