The Yankees’ Five Biggest Defensive Outs of 2016

Wednesday Night Open Thread
Yo Soy Gary [2016 Season Review]
(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Yesterday we relived the five biggest hits recorded by the Yankees this season, using win probability added. It’s not a perfect measure, of course, but it does a nice job for an exercise like this. Now it’s time to turn things around and look at the biggest outs record by the Yankees this past season. Not by the hitters, silly. No one cares about those. By the pitchers and the defense.

The Yankees played more than a few nail-biters this season, especially down the stretch in August and September, so there are no boring ground outs or pop-ups here. These outs were all recorded in pretty intense late-inning situations. It should no surprise then who was on the mound for most of them. So, once again with an assist from the Baseball Reference Play Index, here are the five biggest outs recorded by the Yankees this past season.

5. Shreve vs. Salvador Perez

The Yankees had some awful luck with rain delays this year. They had an inordinate number of ninth inning rain delays that threw a wrench into their bullpen plans and cost them games. It stunk.

On August 30th, the Yankees were in Kansas City playing the second of three games against the Royals. A 59-minute rain delay forced Masahiro Tanaka out of the game after five effective innings — he only threw 71 pitches too — and of course the bullpen blew the 4-2 lead after that. Lorenzo Cain doubled against Adam Warren and Kendrys Morales had a sac fly against Dellin Betances.

The game went to extra innings, and the Yankees took a 5-4 lead on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s run-scoring single off Joakim Soria. Brian McCann and Chase Headley started that rally with singles. With his key relievers already used, Joe Girardi went to Ben Heller for the save opportunity in the bottom of the tenth. It didn’t go well. Hit batsman, stolen base, single, stolen base, strikeout, intentional walk loaded the bases with one out.

That was it for Heller. Girardi went to Chasen Shreve to face Morales, and he managed to strike him out on three pitches. Unexpected! The strikeout pitch was maybe the best splitter Shreve has thrown since last year. That was only the second out of the inning though. There was one more out to go, and thankfully Sal Perez didn’t square up a splitter left up in the zone. He hit a fairly routine game-ending fly ball to center. To the video:

That was Shreve’s first and thus far only career save. The win was New York’s fifth in the span of seven games and was part of that great 13-4 stretch that got them back in the postseason race. WPA of Perez’s fly out: +.270. (The Morales strikeout was +.264.)

4. Betances vs. Eric Hosmer

Because one extra innings game against the plucky Royals wasn’t enough, the Yankees played another one the very next day following Shreve’s save. This game was also 4-4 heading into extras, but rather than end in the tenth, it went all the way to the 13th. Shreve, Tommy Layne, Warren, Blake Parker, and Heller combined for six hitless innings in relief of Luis Cessa. How about that?

The Yankees manufactured a run in the top of the 13th — a single (Didi Gregorius), a double (Starlin Castro), and a sac fly (McCann) did the trick — allowing Girardi to give the ball to Betances for the save chance in the bottom of the 13th. Betances, naturally, walked the leadoff man. Sigh. Never easy.

Because Betances can’t hold runners, a leadoff walk usually turns into a double, but that didn’t happen. Hosmer hit a tapper back to Dellin that he grabbed between his damn legs, then turned into a rally killing 1-6-3 double play. Check it out:

And they said Betances can’t throw to bases. He did just find there la la la you can’t tell me otherwise. A Morales fly ball followed to end the game. The Yankees earned back-to-back 5-4 extra-innings wins over the Royals in Kansas City. Pretty crazy. The Royals never ever ever lost games like that from 2014-15, which is why they went to the World Series each year. WPA of the double play: +.285.

3. Miller vs. Carlos Gomez

July 25th was a pretty monumental day for the Yankees. That was the day they officially shifted gears and starting selling at the deadline. Aroldis Chapman was shipped to the Cubs in the afternoon, and later that night, Andrew Miller got into a bit of a jam in his first game back in the closer’s role.

The Yankees managed to take a 2-1 lead over Dallas Keuchel (!) on Austin Romine‘s eighth inning run-scoring double, but to start the bottom of the ninth, the left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena managed to bloop a leadoff single to left. Miller allowed 13 hits all season to lefties — I’m surprised it was that many, to be honest — and that was one of them. The Astros were in business.

Miller bounced back to strike out rookie Alex Bregman, then he coaxed what could have been a game-ending 5-4-3 double play from Evan Gattis, but the Yankees instead got zero outs. Zero. Replays showed Castro stepped off second base a little too early when he made the pivot, and Gattis beat out the back-end of the play. Could have been game over! Instead, Houston had the tying run at second and the winning run at first with one out.

Thankfully, Miller is insanely good, and he got the punchless Carlos Gomez to ground into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play. This one the Yankees turned perfectly. Here’s the video of the two double plays, the failed one and the successful one:

Textbook turn to end the game. Not the kind of play you’ll remember over the course of a long season. Not even close. But in the grand scheme of things, those were two huge outs for the Yankees. The win was part of what I was worried would be the most poorly timed winning streak in history, an 8-2 stretch following the All-Star break. Thankfully, the Yankees sold anyway. WPA of the double play: +.330.

2. Chapman vs. J.D. Martinez

Ugh, this game. It was June 2nd and the Yankees were in Detroit to play a makeup game against the Tigers. Remember that snow-out in April? This was the makeup game. The Yankees went from Toronto to Detroit to Baltimore in a three-day span.

In this game, the Tigers did something no other team did this season: they scored against Betances, Miller, and Chapman. The Yankees had a 5-1 lead thanks to their four-run seventh inning — Ellsbury’s two-run triple was the big blow — but Detroit chipped away, scoring a run against Betances in the seventh and another against Miller in the eigth. Girardi handed Chapman a 5-3 lead in the ninth.

The ninth inning did not go so well. I mean, the Yankees won, but still. In the span of 12 pitches, Chapman loaded the bases with no outs on a single (Mike Aviles), a walk (Jose Iglesias), and a single (Cameron Maybin). There was a wild pitch mixed in there too. Not great, Bob. That brought Martinez to the plate and he’s the kind of hitter who could have easily won the game with one swing.

Chapman executed pretty much a perfect pitch, a 101 mph fastball at the knees. Martinez did the only thing he could do with it, and that was beat it into the ground. Gregorius ranged to his left to start what was probably New York’s prettiest double play of the season. Check it out:

Twist-ending: that didn’t end the game! That got the first two outs of the ninth inning and a run scored to trim the lead to 5-4. The tying run also moved to third base. Chapman then picked up the save by getting Miguel Cabrera to bounce out to second base to end the game. I remember thinking the Yankees should have intentionally walked Miggy and gone after Victor Martinez. Shows what I know. WPA of the double play: +.339.

1. Betances vs. Edwin Encarnacion

This was the best game of the season that I completely forgot about. It was August 15th, and the Yankees earned a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium (!) because Chad Green struck out eleven in six innings (!!!). How did I forget that? Also, the Yankees scored the game’s only run on Aaron Judge‘s double. I feel stupid for forgetting this one.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Yankees-Blue Jays game without some serious late-game drama. Betances started the ninth inning by walking No. 9 hitter Josh Thole. Annoying! Devon Travis popped up in foul territory for the first out of the ninth inning, but Josh Donaldson followed with a ground ball single back up the middle, which put runners on the corners with one out. The tying run was a sac fly away.

The ninth inning meltdown suffered a quick death. On the very next pitch after the Donaldson single, Encarnacion hit into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play that was as pretty as it was clutch. To the very necessary video:

Heck of a play there by Headley to first stop the ball, then to make the throw to Castro at second to start the game-winning twin-killing. That was a close one. The Yankees won the game, gained some more ground in the standings, and gave us a few weeks of excitement in the second half. What a play that was. WPA of the double play: +.374.

* * *

In case you’re wondering, and I know I was, the final out of that crazy September 6th game against the Blue Jays, registered at +0.230 WPA, making it the team’s ninth biggest defensive out of the season. This was the Brett Gardner catch at the top of the left field wall. You know what I’m talking about, right? Of course you.

That felt like the biggest out of the season, because it was. WPA doesn’t factor in the context of the postseason race. The Yankees were playing maybe their best baseball of the season at that point — they’d won eight of their previous dozen games — and the win moved them to within 3.5 games back of a playoff spot. Losing that game to Toronto, one of the teams the Yankees were chasing in the wildcard race, would have been crushing. Instead, it was a win.

Wednesday Night Open Thread
Yo Soy Gary [2016 Season Review]