The Most Clutch Hits of 2011

As the “too many homers” myth carried on through the season, it seemed like there were two things that this narrative suggested: the Yankees were a) unable to hit with runners in scoring position and b) the Yankees could only score was via home run (also c) that scoring via the dinger doesn’t work in the playoffs, but that’s an argument for another day). Now, the great thing about the season being wrapped up is that we have the entire season to look back on. We can compare predictions to what actually happened, we can figure out how certain moves worked out, and we can talk about the highlights of the season.

Like a good nerd living in my mom’s basement, I can’t simply be satisfied by separating the statistical highlights by WPA. That would be boring. Instead, I decided to separate the top five plays by leverage. For a quick and dirty definition, the leverage is how “clutch” the play is and is independent of the outcome; the WPA measure how valuable the hit or out was within the game. Therefore, a home run with two on and two out in the ninth has a much higher value/WPA than a single with two on and two out in the ninth, but the at-bat has the same leverage. This is also a interesting stat to measure the intensity of the situations relievers end up in (see my article on David Robertson earlier in the year), but that’s another story, maybe for tomorrow. I present to you, the top five highest-leveraged hits of the year. For reference, anything about 1.5 is considered “high leverage,” and anything above 3.0 is considered “very high leverage.” You can calculate your own leverage situations here.

T-1: May 11: Curtis Granderson’s RBI single in the bottom tenth off Joakim Soria: 6.05.

AJ Burnett went seven, er, strong innings, allowing only one run while walking six (!) and striking out five. David Robertson gave up a run (!!) in 0.2 IP, though he also struck out two. The game was tied going into the top of the tenth when Buddy Carlyle came in. A walk, a wild pitch, and a Frenchy double later, the Royals had the lead going into the bottom tenth. Ned Yost sent out Joakim Soria to close it out, but a walk and TWO!! bunts later, Russell Martin was standing at third looking to re-tie the game. Curtis Granderson, the man himself, drove him in, as a man with 100 RBIs and having the year that Grandy is having is wont to do. That retied the game.

Unfortunately, the Yankees lost the game in the eleventh thanks to an Eric Hosmer sacrifice fly. Bummer.

T-1: May 24: Curtis Granderson’s RBI single in the bottom ninth off Frank Francisco: 6.05

If I didn’t know better, I would say Curtis Granderson knows how to come up in a big spot.

CC Sabathia was busy throwing himself a complete game on a mere 103 pitches, but the 4 runs he had given up were just one more than the three from the combination of Rickey Romero (7 IP), Casey Janssen, and Marc Rzepczynski. Luckily, the Blue Jays decided for some absurd reason that the pretty crappy Frank Francisco was going to be their closer, and so it was up to him to protect a one run lead in the ninth. Jorge Posada banged a pinch-hit double, and Chris Dickerson ran for him. Jeter moved him to third with two outs and the Grandyman coming up. And, like clockwork, Granderson singled up the hole between first and second to tie the game up. I am personally all right with him coming up in important spots.

The Yankees then promptly won when Granderson stole second and Teixeira singled him home. By the way, the Jays weren’t playing the shift on Tex, and they might not have lost if they were.

3. July 18: Brett Gardner’s RBI single in the top of the eighth off Kyle Farnsworth: 5.41

Though the Yankees had taken an early lead, the ever, er, reliable AJ Burnett dug the Yankees into an early hole against the Rays’ rookie Alex Cobb. Luckily, Cobb came out in the fifth to be replaced by Joel Peralta and Cesar Ramos. Peralta started off the inning giving up a single to Cano and a walk to Swisher followed by an out to the pinch-hitting Andruw Jones, so Maddon pulled him for his closer, Kyle Farnsworth. With the Rays up 4-2, it was a save situation for the man who Yankees fans remembered extremely unkindly. With Tampa, however, Farnsworth had so far posted an impressive 1.86 ERA.

Lucky for the Yankees, Farnsworth had flashbacks to his Yankees years and allowed two straight singles, the first to Russell Martin to load the bases with one out, and the second to Brett Gardner, a clean single through the shortstop hole opened up by the bases being loaded. This brought the score up to 4-3.

The Yankees would tie the game on Eduardo Nunez’s groundout to short (which was only not a double play due to Gardner’s tough slide) and then win the game on a bases loaded walk from Alex Torres.

4. September 21: Jorge Posada’s RBI single in the bottom off the eighth off Brandon Gomes: 5.29

Here’s one everyone will remember. After struggling through a year in which he was relegated to DH, platooned, then benched, Joe Girardi gave Jorge Posada the chance to clinch the AL East title by pinch hitting him for Jesus Montero with the bases loaded. The game had been tied 2-2 up until this point, though Jake McGee had worked himself into a little jam with first and second and one out. Robbie was intentionally walked to load the bases and Maddon brought in Gomes.

Posada, of course, ripped a solid single into right, clinched the AL East, and proved that he is the most amazing no-catch all-hit super slow catcher/DH of all time. Yay for Jorge.

5. April 24: Russell Martin’s RBI single in the top of the eleventh off Jason Berken: 5.21

Jake Arrieta had allowed two runs in the first and a run in the fifth while Freddy Garcia through six scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and two walks (and we all assumed it was just because it was the Orioles). Joba Chamberlain came in, gave up two runs, making it 3-2, and Mo blew the save while the Orioles bullpen held the Yankees scoreless (!). To extras!

Jason Berken came in in the eleventh inning and allowed a Cano double, and a Cano stolen base before striking out Swisher and intentionally walking Chavez. This brought Russell Martin to the plate. Keep in mind that, at this point in the season, Martin was batting .328 with an OPS of 1.099. In this particular game, he had four at-bats with only a walk to show for it. On his fifth at-bat, he lined a ball to Robert Andino, who airmailed a throw to Brian Roberts at second, letting the Yankees take the lead. This was very generously scored a hit, to say the least. Either way, Martin gets credit for the high-leverage hit, and the Yankees beat up on Berken a little more to win the game 6-3.

Leverage is the closest thing to measuring clutch that we have to measure: high leverage hits are more “clutch” than low-leverage ones. The problem is that part of leverage factors in the inning, and it seems like you should be able to be clutch in the second inning as much as you can in the eighth.

Cashman: Sabathia will start Game Three on Monday

Via Ken Rosenthal, Brian Cashman said that CC Sabathia will start Game Three of the ALDS on Monday night. The team has ruled him out for Game Two tomorrow after he threw 27 pitches in the game and 48 pitches in warm-ups before the rain last night. Justin Verlander will start Monday for the Tigers, meaning each team will only get one full start from their ace. For shame.

2011 ALDS: Previewing Doug Fister

(Jason Miller/Getty)

Five of the Yankees’ first eight picks in the 2005 draft have reached the big leagues, and one of those picks was Doug Fister. Taken in the sixth round out of Fresno State, Fister did not sign with New York and instead went back to school for his senior year. The Mariners took him in the seventh round the next year, and put him in their rotation three years later. Two years after that, they traded him to the Tigers. Two months after that, he’s starting Game Two One of the ALDS against the team that first drafted him.

Fister will inherit a somewhat unique situation following last night’s suspension, entering the second inning of a 1-1 game. The Tigers still have 24 defensive outs to get, the Yankees just 21. Let’s get to know the former Yankees’ draft pick…


A command and control monster, Fister posted a 57-5 K/BB ratio in 70.1 IP across ten starts (and one relief appearance) after the trade to Detroit. His 1.79 ERA with the Tigers is stellar, and his overall season numbers were very good: a 6.07 K/9 with a 1.54 BB/9 and a 47.5% ground ball rate. Fister doesn’t have much of a platoon split.

Pitch Selection

(via Texas Leaguers and FanGraphs)

A five-pitch pitcher with two different fastballs, the name of Fister’s game is contact and quick outs. Linear weights indicate that his two breaking balls are just a touch below-average, less than one-third of a run below-average for every 100 thrown. FanGraphs lumps the two fastballs together, but collectively they’re almost a full run better than average over the course of 100 pitches. The change is his most effective and also least used pitch, leading me to believe the linear weights data might be falling victim to some sample size noise.

The usage patterns indicate that Fister attacks all hitters generally the same way, just with a few more fastballs to righties and a few more changeups to lefties. The overall lack of swings and misses isn’t surprising considering how around the plate he is. Fister’s a huge dude (6-foot-8), and he gets good downhill plane on everything judging by the strong grounder rate.

Pitching Pattern

(via FanGraphs)

Another straight forward guy, Fister doesn’t pitch backwards as much as you might expect someone with his stuff to. He will get ahead with the fastball, but is just as likely to throw his slider as he is his curveball and changeup with one strike. The slider seems to be his go-to pitch with two strikes.

Extreme strike-throwers like Fister always throw a wrench into things because the Yankees can’t sit back and wait for him to paint himself into a corner. Well, they can do that, but they’ll be behind in the count before you know it, and that leads to defensive at-bats rather than aggressive attempts to do damage. Luckily, Fister will allow the Yankees to put the ball in play, and Detroit’s defense is nothing to write home about (especially in the outfield corners and at both short and first).

ALDS Game One suspended

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

MLB exec Joe Torre announced that ALDS Game One has been suspended due to rain. The game will resume at 8:37pm ET on Saturday at the same point they left off tonight: tied at one in the middle of the top and bottom halves of the second inning. Game Two will be pushed back to Sunday at 3:07pm ET, so the teams lose that off day. Absolutely brutal.

The two clubs will use their Game Two starters tomorrow night (Ivan Nova and Doug Fister), and then their Game Three starters on Sunday (Freddy Garcia and Max Scherzer). Justin Verlander will start in the new Game Three on Monday, and CC Sabathia is likely to start that game as well. He threw 27 pitches tonight and intends to lobby for Sunday’s start.

The loss of the off day means the Yankees will need a fourth starter, and Joe Girardi indicated that he’s leaning towards A.J. Burnett for Game Four. Jim Leyland said that Rick Porcello will start a potential Game Four, and both teams would presumably bring back tomorrow’s starters for a potential Game Five on normal rest. Ken Davidoff says the teams will be allowed to revise their rosters, so the Yankees could choose to add Bartolo Colon if they want. There’s also the issue of bullpen rest now; forget about going nuts with Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Mariano Rivera.

Tomorrow’s weather forecast calls for rain, and Torre indicated that MLB will consider a doubleheader if they have another delay/suspension  not allow a postseason doubleheader. Leyland doesn’t plan to make any immediate lineup changes even though they will no longer be facing a lefty on Saturday.

ALDS Game One: Tigers @ Yankees

Five years later, the Yankees will have their chance at revenge. The Yankees took Game One of the 2006 ALDS but fell flat the rest of the way, losing the next three. Alex Rodriguez infamously batted eighth in the fourth and final game.

Only a handful of players will play in this series after playing in that one, and most of them wear pinstripes. One of them played for the Tigers in 2006 and will play for the Yankees in 2011. Gone are the likes of Gary Sheffield, Bobby Abreu and Randy Johnson, replaced by Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and CC Sabathia. Joe Torre has been replaced by Joe Girardi, a manager that has guided his team to wins in four of his five playoff series. It’s not so much revenge as it is the start of a new rivalry between two clubs that figure to contend for many years to come. Here are the lineups…

Detroit Tigers
Austin Jackson, CF
Magglio Ordonez,  RF
Delmon Young, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Alex Avila, C
Ryan Raburn, 2B
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Brandon Inge, 3B

Justin Verlander, SP

New York Yankees
Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF

CC Sabathia, SP

It’s chilly and windy in New York, and there’s a chance of rain a little later tonight (around midnight or so). The game is scheduled to begin at 8:37pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on TBS and listen on either WCBS 880 or ESPN Radio. Remember, we’re trying to win a ring around here.

Recapping today’s content

It’s been a busy day, and the playoffs haven’t even started for the Yankees yet. Let’s take a second to recap all of the content from earlier today, just so no one misses anything…