Top 10 starting pitchers against the Yankees by ERA since 2009

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Yanks about to shore up offense, defense with Gardner
(photo: Rick Yeatts/Getty)

In the aftermath of yet another strong Jeff Niemann performance against the Yankees — whose seven-inning, one-run outing last night improved his career ERA against New York to 2.75 over six starts — I couldn’t help but wonder what Niemann’s overall numbers against the Bombers looked like in relation to other starters that have consistently had success when facing the team.

Going back to the beginning of 2009, here are the top 10 starters against the Yankees by lowest ERA (minimum three starts), courtesy of David Pinto’s wonderful day-by-day database:

Most of the names on this list would probably align with Yankee fans’ perceptions of pitchers the team typically struggles against — and frankly I was shocked that King Felix’s name didn’t top the list. His aberrant start last September slightly skewed his numbers, but prior to that completely out-of-character dud, no pitcher in baseball had had more success against the Yankees. Felix had thrown 40 innings of six-run ball (1.35 ERA) against the Yankees, including 24 innings of one-run ball (0.38 ERA!) at Yankee Stadium dating back to the beginning of 2010, and not having been saddled with a loss against the Bombers since May 3, 2008.

However, there are a couple of eye-openers — I can’t say I expected Carl Pavano to make the top 10, although I suppose that makes some sense given his unique brand of right-handed slop. And the other is Niemann, who, believe it or not, has the third-lowest ERA among all starters against the Yankees since the beginning of 2009, his first full season in the bigs. Now, I don’t mean to knock on Niemann, who clearly has the Yankees’ number, but it does seem a bit odd that a hurler who’s been a decidedly average — if not below-average — right-hander during his career (102 ERA-; 105 FIP-) would be so successful against the best offensive team in baseball during that timeframe.

For the most part, aside from Niemann and Pavano, almost everyone else in that group makes sense — hard-throwing, high-strikeout right-handers, but I was also curious to see whether there were any other similarities among this group that might uncover why they’ve routinely stymied the Bombers’ bats. Courtesy of Brooks’ Pitcher Cards, here’s what each pitcher in the top 10 throws and how hard they throw it:

Here’s where things get interesting. Four of the top five pitchers in this study throw a sinker more than 30% of the time, and the fifth — Niemann — just misses that cutoff, at 29% of the time. Additionally, both Pavano and Jake Arrieta are also sinker-heavy, which means that seven of the top 10 throw a sinker more than 25% of the time.

Of course, it’d be easy to say, “well maybe the Yankees just stink against sinkers,” but that’s not even remotely true, as they have the second-best wSI/C in baseball since 2009. Still, there’s something about this variety of sinkerballer — several of whom also prominently feature a curve (Hernandez, Niemann, Haren and Arrieta each go to the hook more than 10% of the time) — that seem to have the Yankees’ goose cooked.

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  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    We need a big win today cause it ain’t gonna be easy against the King on Friday. He has been pitching well.

  • Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost

    Man, what a terrific article. Well done, awesome write up!

    • Brian in NH

      i wholeheartedly agree with that. one of the better explanations for why we can’t hit certain guys.

      does a sinker and a curve look similar coming out of a RHP hand or something?

      • Adam

        Not necessarily, but who knows. they both have sinking action, but i’m not sure tbh why they would struggle with that particular combination

  • Dan

    Nice article, it also seems like many of the top pitchers in the category feature a slider somewhat frequently as well… I wonder if some of the issue might have to do with the fact that sinkers typically break down and run to the in while sliders break down and to the left so it leaves some of the Yankee hitters guessing between slider or sinker.

  • Fascinated by Scarlett

    We need to sign mr Felix when he hits free agency –/ 27 mill a year for 7 years should do it

    • Knoxvillain

      I want to say this is sarcasm but I’m not completely sure. He will never be on the Yankees, we have to get this through our head. Clayton Kershaw probably never will either. Or Lincecum. Or James Shields. And 27m for 7 years is way too much. He isn’t even a better pitcher than Sabathia.

      • Slugger27

        him and CC are about even, CC has been a beast over the last few years, and considering the division and ballpark, i may give CC a slight edge, but its damn close.

        • Knoxvillain

          They are pretty close, but not super close in my opinion. Although Hernandez has always been a great pitcher, I feel like he’s been overrated. I might take ten starters in baseball over him.

          • Jim

            The Yankees also can’t afford a pitcher like that until 2015 if the 2014 cap rumors are to be believed…

  • The Guns of Navarone

    One word: Command.

    The Yankees thrive on taking the free pass. What I see above are pitchers who are very stingy with the walks – with some slight exceptions. That’s not to say they don’t walk any Yankees during their starts, but I think it points to a general conclusion that these pitchers, in addition to having good stuff, have very good command of three or four pitches.

    • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

      Stingy with walks and stingy with hitters’ counts where HR hitters like to live.

      • BaltimoreYankee

        One more reason to hate Carl Pavano. First the guy can’t stay on the field, then when he leaves, he’s a work horse….and he kills us.

        • Knoxvillain

          It’s okay. He plays for our bitches.

  • #28 in 2012

    This is gold, Larry. Gold!

  • VCR1111

    Taking a step further with this article (which I enjoyed by the way) I’m wondering if there is a stat of some sort that shows how the Yankees fare against a fastball. Standard 4 seam fastball. If there is such a stat, I’d love to see it compared to the rest of the ML clubs. As mentioned almost all of these pitchers have 92-95mph fastballs. Maybe it’s just coincidence or maybe there is something to the Yankees inability to hit a high velocity fastball.

    • Larry Koestler

      Hi VCR,

      I don’t know how much stock you put in pitch type linear weights — which can be unreliable in small samples, but are a bit more indicative of a team’s true talent level against a given pitch over the course of a season — but based on the numbers it’s safe to say the Yankees annihilate regular four-seamers.

      Since 2009, the Bombers have the second-best wFA/C (this represents the amount of runs scored per 100 pitches) in all of baseball, at 0.77. The Red Sox are the only team ahead of the Yankees, at 0.80. The next-best team is Texas, and they’re a but further behind, at 0.54.

      So four-seamers alone aren’t the issue. It’s pitchers boasting elite four-seamers that are complemented by multiple elite pitches. Anecdotally the Yankees usually seem to tee off on four-seamer/slider types (think Alexi Ogando) and none of those types of pitchers are represented in the top 10. They may have sliders, but they all have secondary stuff they go to ahead of their sliders.