The Five Biggest Outs of the 2015 Season


Yesterday morning we looked at the five biggest hits of the 2015 Yankees season, and we did it two ways: the nerdy way with WPA and I guess what you would call the emotional way, which was based on my gut feel. Baseball wouldn’t be fun without emotion.

Today we’re going to look at the biggest outs of the season. Pitching outs, I mean. I don’t know why anyone would want to relive a bunch of Yankees hitters making crippling outs. Unlike the biggest hits post, I’m not going to bother with WPA for the biggest outs. It doesn’t work as well. The biggest outs are usually, like, +0.30 WPA, if that.

So instead this list of the five biggest outs is my subjective ranking. You’re welcome to disagree because there is no right answer. As you might suspect, these outs all came in the late innings of close games with runners on base. The kind of situation where a hit (or walk) changes the entire complexion of the game. Here’s my top five.

5. October 1st: Betances clinches a wildcard spot. (box score)
In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t one of the most critical at-bats of the season. The Yankees were playing the last place Red Sox, and they were leading by three runs when Dellin Betances took the mound of the ninth. (Andrew Miller needed the night off for workload reasons.) Also, Dellin didn’t exactly face Murderer’s Row either: Deven Marrero, Sandy Leon, and Josh Rutledge. There’s like half-a-big leaguer in there.

But anyway, this out was big because it clinched the team’s first postseason berth since 2012. It was also the 10,000th win in franchise history. If that’s not a big out, I don’t know what is. To the video:

Betances making a hitter look silly. I wouldn’t have wanted the Yankees to clinch a postseason spot any other way.

4. June 2nd: Wilson dives to turn two. (box score)
Okay, so this is cheating. This was actually two outs, not one, but they were part of a double play, so there’s no sense in breaking it up. On top of that, they were part of a really nifty play. It wasn’t a routine 6-4-3 twin-killing or anything like that. The Yankees and Mariners were in extra innings, Seattle got a leadoff man on base, then Rickie Weeks popped up a bunt. This ensued:

The Yankees had lost 13 of their last 19 games, including three of four to the lowly Athletics, and it was easy to think another loss was imminent after Kyle Seager led the inning off with a single. Lots of bad things had been happening, you know? Instead, Wilson made a tremendous play to turn two, the Yankees eventually won, and off they went.

3. June 5th: Betances avoid catastrophe against the Angels. (box score)
This was the worst win of the season, if that makes sense. The Yankees punished Jered Weaver and took a nice, comfortable 8-1 lead into the ninth. When it was over, it was 8-7 and the Angels had the tying run at third base. They scored six runs in the ninth and were a great Didi Gregorius play away from tying things up.

Boy, that inning was a total mess, and it was a total team effort. There was some sloppy defense, Esmil Rogers being Esmil Rogers, and even Betances struggled as well. Dellin retired only two of the six batters he faced, after all. That would have been a Very Bad Loss, especially since the Yankees were 8-13 in their last 21 games and sorta reeling.

2. September 22nd: Betances gets Encarnacion to miss by several feet. (box score)
Late season Betances wasn’t all that fun because he walked a ton of dudes down the stretch. A ton. In this game, which the Yankees lead 3-2 heading into the eighth, Dellin walked two batters as part of a chaotic inning. It went single, bunt, strikeout, walk, walk to load the bases. All of that happened against the top of the Blue Jays order too.

Betances, wild as ever, fell behind in the count 2-0 to Edwin Encarnacion, so this was the danger zone. It was getting bad. Dellin rebounded to get called strike one, then Encarnacion swung through a heater to even the count 2-2. Betances dropped the hammer on him next for the strikeout. A hammer way out of the strike zone. Look at this:

Jeff Sullivan used to put together posts looking at the wildest swings — swings on pitches the furthest out of the strike zone according to PitchFX, basically (here’s an example) — and I have to think Encarnacion’s hack would make the end-of-season post. I mean, come on:

Dellin Betances Edwin Encarnacion

Missed it by that much. Betances escaped the inning with the 3-2 lead intact thanks to the strikeout and the Yankees eventually won the game in ten innings. The win brought the team to within 2.5 games of first place in the AL East with a little more than a week left in the season. It was part of their last gasp.

1. August 14th: Miller wins 12-pitch battle against Tulowitzki. (box score)
The biggest hit and the biggest out of the season both came in the same game. The Yankees were trying to run down the Blue Jays in the AL East and not doing a very good job of it, but, in this game, Carlos Beltran came off the bench to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead with a seventh inning three-run pinch-hit home run. It was clutch, as they say.

There were still nine outs to get after the Beltran home run, and Ivan Nova (!) and Betances were able to get three each with minimal scariness. The ninth inning went to Miller, who was still struggling after the coming off the DL. In fact, he blew his first save of the season in his previous appearance. The inning started with a fly out, but then a walk, a single, and a wild pitch followed.

The Blue Jays had the tying run at third base and the go-ahead run at second base with one out and the top of the order due up. Miller was able to strike out Ben Revere for the second out — Miller struck out 21 of the 47 lefty batters he faced this year (44.7%) — before getting locked into a grueling 12-pitch at-bat with Troy Tulowitzki. Miller went after him with sliders inside and fastballs away. Here’s the pitch plot via Brooks Baseball:

Andrew Miller Troy Tulowitzki

That view is from the catcher’s perspective. Tulowitzki took Pitch 1 down and in for a called strike, took all three fastballs for balls, and fouled off everything else before swinging and missing at Pitch 12. He might not have missed it either, I think he foul tipped it into Brian McCann‘s glove.

I could have sworn I remember seeing a video of this entire at-bat somewhere, but I guess I’m wrong. I can find no such thing. The final pitch will have to do, though that really fails the capture the intensity of the at-bat.

Those are two of the elite players at their positions locked in a thrilling battle during which it felt like the season — or at least the AL East title — was on the line every pitch. The at-bat was so big that nearly one out of every ten people in Canada watched it. Miller won. That was the at-bat of the season right there.

(For what it’s worth, the WPA on that strikeout was +0.24, the second largest out of the season. The largest? The strikeout of Revere at +0.30 WPA.)

Tuesday Open Thread

We’ve got ourselves some more afternoon baseball today, so I’m going to post the open thread a little earlier than usual again. That’s the new Star Wars trailer above in case you’ve somehow missed it. I saw the original three movies but not the last three, though I might try to catch up after the postseason is over. I dunno. We’ll see.

Here is today’s playoff schedule:

  • Royals at Blue Jays (Young vs. Dickey): 4pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Royals lead 2-1)
  • Mets at Cubs (deGrom vs. Hendricks): 8pm ET on TBS (Mets lead 2-0)

Both series have been really entertaining so far. Hopefully the Cubs can eke out a few wins in the coming days to extend the series. Sweeps are lame. The Devils and Islanders are both playing tonight as well, so talk about those games or the postseason games. Or the Star Wars trailer. Have at it.

Masahiro Tanaka undergoes surgery to remove bone spur from elbow

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka underwent surgery today to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, the Yankees announced. The team says the “bone spur was pre-existing, dating back to his pitching career in Japan,” and Tanaka is expected to be ready for Spring Training. He will spend the next six weeks rehabbing before beginning a throwing program.

CC Sabathia underwent the same procedure following the 2012 season. He pitched with the bone spur all season, had it removed in the offseason, then returned in Spring Training. The Yankees took it very easy on Sabathia in camp the following year and really limited his workload. If I’m remembering correctly, Sabathia pitched in simulated games more than Grapefruit League games so the Yankees could control conditions.

Tanaka, 26, had a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 24 starts and 154 innings this season. He missed several months last year with a partially torn ligament in his elbow, though it did not give him any trouble in 2015. As far as we know, his UCL remains intact. There was no mention of it in the bone spur press release. Tanaka missed a month with a forearm muscle issue this year and one start in September with a hamstring problem. The bone spur is an unwelcome surprise.

Joe Girardi said no players had surgeries scheduled during his end-of-season press conference, so this must be something new. Pitchers pitch with bone spurs all the time because they can be completely asymptomatic, but perhaps it started to bother Tanaka this year, or an end-of-season physical showed it was getting worse. Who knows. Either way, Tanaka had the procedure in New York today and is expected back for Spring Training.

Cafardo: Nats could make Stephen Strasburg available in a trade this offseason

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

According to Nick Cafardo, there is a “lot of buzz” indicating the Nationals could make right-hander Stephen Strasburg available in a trade this offseason. Strasburg will become a free agent after next season, and he’s a Scott Boras client, meaning he will inevitably look for the largest contract. The Nats could try to move him for a package of players now rather than lose for a draft pick next winter.

Strasburg, 27, had a 3.46 ERA (2.81 FIP) in 23 starts and 127.1 innings while battling nagging lat, oblique, and back issues this season. He was out of this world after coming back from his first DL stint: 1.76 ERA (2.16 FIP) in 13 starts and 82 innings. Strasburg has a 3.11 ERA (2.91 FIP) in 120 starts and 708.2 innings since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2011.

The Nationals figure to lose both Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister to free agency this offseason, and while you always listen to offers for every player, it would be a little odd to trade Strasburg now. Washington is still clearly a win-now team — they’re not going to rebuild with Bryce Harper three years from free agency and Max Scherzer one year into a seven-year deal — and Strasburg’s a win-now piece.

Even though he is generally considered a disappointment because the prospect hype got out of control, Strasburg is a top tier starter when healthy, one of the 15-20 best in baseball. Last offseason similar-ish pitchers Rick Porcello and Jeff Samardzija were traded one year prior to free agency, though I’d rather have Strasburg than either of those two. Porcello was traded for Yoenis Cespedes and stuff, Samardzija for just stuff.

Strasburg’s trade value is probably at an all-time low right now after his injury riddled season, which is part of the reason why I have a hard time thinking the Nationals will trade him. They’ve gone to great lengths to try to keep him healthy long-term — their intentions were good, their methods? eh, not so much — and cutting ties now would just be odd. It would make me wonder what they know that we don’t.

Anyway, yes, I think the Yankees should make a push to acquire Strasburg if the Nationals do indeed make him available this offseason. Strasburg’s stuff and command is so good (when healthy!) that I don’t think moving from the NL to the AL will affect him at all. Plus it seems like a change of scenery could do him good. The Nats touted him as the savior and made him jump through all those hoops.

The Yankees have seven starters either under contract (CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka) or team control (Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren) next season, though I’m not sure I see the makings of a championship caliber rotation there. Even one year of Strasburg is very valuable and would be a big help to the team’s chances of contention next season.

Yankeemetrics Season Review, Part I (The Team)

(Photo: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Whether you think this 2015 Yankees team underachieved — heck, they had a eight-game lead in the AL East in late July — or overachieved — among the 31 experts from ESPN, SI, CBS Sports and Yahoo! Sports, only one (Buster Olney) picked the Yankees to make the playoffs — there is no doubt that this team had its share of historic and record-breaking statistical performances.

Without further adieu, let’s kick off our season-ending “Yankeemetrics” with a few notable feats from the team (and teammates) perspective. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle some individual player accomplishments.

The Yankees finished with 87 wins, the third straight season they fell short of the 90-win mark. In the previous 17 years combined from 1996-2012, the Yankees had just two sub-90 win campaigns.

Yes, the Yankees still did make the playoffs despite only 87 wins, matching the 2000 club for the fewest wins by a Yankee team that qualified for the postseason. It was their 52nd postseason appearance, by far the most of any franchise in major-league history. In fact, no other team has even made 30 postseason appearances.

Following their three-hour cameo in the postseason party (a.k.a., the Wild Card Game), the Yankees have now lost their last five postseason games. That matches the longest postseason losing streak in franchise history, done most recently in 2006-07.

Although the Yankees’ offense went into a horrible slump down the stretch, it still made huge gains overall compared to last year. The Yankees increased their scoring by 131 runs, their largest full-season year-over-year increase since 1929-30. They also increased their homer total by 65 (!), the biggest increase between full seasons in franchise history.

On the other side of the ledger, their pitching and defense was actually worse than last year. The Yankees allowed 34 more runs than in 2014, their largest year-to-year increase since 2003-04. Their three worst pitchers for the season were probably CC Sabathia (6-10, 4.73), Ivan Nova (6-11, 5.07) and Michael Pineda (12-10, 4.37). The only other season that the Yankees had three pitchers each with double-digit losses and an ERA of at least 4.35 was 1991 — the unforgettable trio of Jeff Johnson, Tim Leary and Wade Taylor.

Another notable theme from 2015 was the influx of young guys, especially on the pitching staff (thanks to the never-ending Scranton Shuttle). For the season, the Yankees had a weighted pitchers’ average age of 27.4 years (per, their youngest group of pitchers since 1971. That team featured a rotation with five guys under age 30, headline by 29-year-olds Mel Stottlemyre and Fritz Peterson.

But it was the old guys in the lineup that powered the offense. A-Rod and Mark Teixeira combined to become the third set of teammates to hit at least 30 homers in their age 35 season or older. The others were Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa (2004 Cubs), and Jeromy Burnitz and Vinny Castilla (2004 Rockies).

This Yankees team was unique in that it didn’t have a true superstar — or at least one that played in most of the games. Despite missing nearly one-third of the season, Mark Teixeira still was the team’s leader in Wins Above Replacement (3.8). The only other non-strike season in which the Yankees didn’t have a player with at least 4.0 wins was 1908. Their WAR leader was Charlie Hemphill (3.8) and the team finished 51-103, the second-worst record in franchise history.

Following a general trend in baseball, the Yankees set a couple strikeout records — good and bad:

• their hitters finished with 1,227 strikeouts, 13 more than the franchise mark set in 2013
• their pitchers had 1,370 strikeouts, matching the franchise record established last year
• their relievers struck out a combined 596 batters, the most in a single season by any bullpen in major-league history
• overall, they had a major-league-record seven pitchers with at least 100 strikeouts — Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren and Andrew Miller.

How dominant were Miller and Betances at the back end of the bullpen? The duo became the first pair of relievers on the same team to each finish the season with at least 100 strikeouts and a sub-2.05 ERA. Ever.

And then there’s this: one of the most amazing stats from the season is that the Yankees were 81-0 when leading the game at the start of the ninth inning. That’s the best record in that situation for any Yankee team since at least 1950.

The Five Biggest Hits of the 2015 Season


After two years with no October baseball, the Yankees returned to the postseason in 2015, albeit briefly. They were knocked out in the wildcard game by the Astros. Still, it was fun to have meaningful baseball back in the Bronx this year, even if we all pulled our hair out waiting for the Yankees to clinch a postseason berth and then home field advantage in the wildcard game.

As always, getting to the postseason required some huge hits, and this season was no different. The Yankees had plenty of memorable hits in 2015. In this year’s annual biggest hits post, we’re going to look at those big hits two ways. First we’ll use WPA since that adds some context regarding the game situation and whatnot. Then we’ll look at the what I think are the five biggest hits on an emotional “holy crap that was huge” level. Make sense? Let’s start with the WPA.

5. September 14th: Heathcott gives the Yankees the lead. (box score)
The Yankees were in the middle of their September fade when they arrived in Tampa for a three-game series in the middle of the month. Heading into that September 14th game, the team had dropped five of their last six games, and they were falling further behind the Blue Jays in the AL East. Then, with one swing, Slade Heathcott temporarily made things all better with this go-ahead blast against the Rays:

The Yankees were losing that game 1-0 heading into the ninth, and they actually had the bases empty with two outs before rallying. Brett Gardner drew a walk, stole second, and scored on Alex Rodriguez‘s double to right-center. An intentional walk to Brian McCann brought Heathcott to the plate. Slade was only in the game because he replaced Rico Noel, who pinch-ran for Carlos Beltran the previous inning. That three-run dinger had a +0.48 WPA.

4. April 10th: Headley ties it up in the ninth. (box score)
The fourth biggest hit of the season came in the fourth game of the season, a game the Yankees lost, believe it or not. It was the nightmare 19-inning game against the Red Sox. The Red Sox were nursing a 3-2 lead in the ninth and had the Yankees down to their final out when Edward Mujica left a splitter up in the zone to Chase Headley. Headley tied the game with a dinger.

The Red Sox took the lead in the 16th, though the Yankees again tied the game in the bottom half of the inning on Mark Teixeira‘s solo homer. The WPA of Teixeira’s blast was +0.44. The WPA of Headley’s to tie the game? +0.49. Too bad the Yankees went on to lose the game in the 19th. That was a memorable game for annoying reasons, not happy ones. The loss dropped the Yankees to 1-3 in the early going. Womp womp.

3. August 18th: A-Rod‘s go-ahead grand slam. (box score)
For me, this was the forgotten big hit. It seems to happen every year when I write this post. I completely forget one of the five biggest hits by WPA. The Yankees were playing well in mid-August, winning four of five heading into this August 18th game. The Twins jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the seventh when Miguel Sano hit a go-ahead two-run homer off CC Sabathia. They stretched the lead to 4-1 later in the inning.

The Twins are the Twins though, and they always seem to find a way to lose to the Yankees. In the bottom of the seventh, generic lefty reliever Ryan O’Rourke loaded the bases with one out on a single (Headley) and two walks (Brendan Ryan, Gardner). The bottom of the order got the rally started. A-Rod capped it off with a go-ahead grand slam:

The Yankees took a 5-4 lead on Rodriguez’s four-run home run, which resulted in a +0.51 WPA swing. They tacked on some insurances runs — yes, the Yankees actually did that a few times this year — and won the game 8-4. That was the middle game of a three-game sweep over Minnesota. Unfortunately, that was also the last series of the season in which the Yankees were in first place in the AL East.

2. April 13th: Drew’s go-ahead grand slam in Baltimore. (box score)
Two of the five biggest hits of the season came in the span of four days. The Yankees started very slowly this year, losing four of their first five games, but they crushed the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball on April 12th to get things moving in the right direction.

The next night the Yankees mounded an impressive late inning comeback against the Orioles, who were the reigning division champs. The two teams traded runs early before Adam Jones gave the O’s a 4-2 lead with a sixth inning two-run home run off Michael Pineda. In the top of the seventh the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs against Tommy Hunter on two singles (Chris Young, Jacoby Ellsbury) and a walk (John Ryan Murphy). Stephen Drew then gave the Bombers a 6-4 lead with two-out grand slam. Here’s the video:

Drew started the year in a 2-for-17 (.118) funk before hitting that grand slam. He was actually pinch-hitting for Gardner, who took a pitch to the wrist earlier in the game. Gardner remained in and tried to bunt in his next two at-bats because he wasn’t comfortable swinging, then Joe Girardi went to Drew off the bench. Boy, did it pay off. The grand slam had a +0.56 WPA. The Yankees went 13-5 in their next 18 games.

1. July 3rd: McCann’s walk-off homer through the fireworks. (box score)
This came awfully close to being a Fourth of July walk-off home run. The Yankees and Rays played 12 innings on Independence Day Eve, and it was roughly 11:45pm ET when McCann won the game. Of course, the game doesn’t go to extra innings without another big hit earlier in the game. Teixeira tied the game 3-3 with a three-run blast in the eighth inning. That one had a +0.42 WPA. Here’s the video:

The Yankees had played pretty damn well in the first half, but they hit a bit of a slump in late-June/early-July, and they went into this July 3rd game with a 3-7 record in their previous ten games. They weren’t scoring at all either. They scored six runs total in their previous four games, and three of the six came in one game.

Anyway, the game eventually went to extra innings after Teixeira’s homer, and the Rays took a 5-3 lead on two walks and two singles in the 12th. It would have been worse had Headley not made a nice play to turn an inning ending 5-4-3 double play. The Yankees started to chip away in the bottom of the 12th, getting a run when Teixeira singled in Gardner, who drew a leadoff walk. Teixeira had a pretty huge game and absolutely no one remembers it.

Following Teixeira’s single, the Yankees had runners on first and second with one out, so a single probably would have tied the game. (Gregorio Petit pinch-ran for A-Rod.) Singles are for the weak though. McCann clobbered this no-doubt walk-off three-run home run. To the action footage:

Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Pretty good call by Michael Kay too. That was the Yankees’ first walk-off win of the season — they picked up their second the very next day, so I guess they did get that Fourth of July walk-off after all — and it sent them on another extended run of dominance. The Yankees won 14 of their next 19 games. McCann’s home run was the biggest hit of the season at a staggering +0.67 WPA. Yowza.

* * *

Now that we’ve gone through the five biggest hits according to WPA, let’s add some personal touch. WPA is a fine story telling stat, but it does lack context. It doesn’t know the division race situation, doesn’t know who’s on the mound, doesn’t know the Yankees lost three of their last four games, stuff like that. All of that definitely affects how big a hit can feel while watching a game live.

Anyway, so all things considered, here is my list of the five biggest hits of the season. This is totally subjective, of course. Feel free to disagree:

  1. August 14th: Carlos Beltran’s three-run homer in Toronto. (video) (box score)
  2. September 14th: Heathcott’s homer against the Rays.
  3. July 3rd: McCann’s walk-off homer against the Rays.
  4. June 2nd: Jones’ go-ahead 11th inning homer against the Mariners. (video) (box score)
  5. July 25th: A-Rod ties the game with his third homer of the night. (video) (box score)

The Beltran home run is pretty self-explanatory, right? The Yankees were swept at home by the Blue Jays the weekend prior to this game and it felt like the AL East was slipping away. Beltran came off the bench to pinch-hit and gave the team a colossal go-ahead three-run home run. Gosh, that was fun. The WPA of that dinger was a healthy +0.45.

The Heathcott homer ranks second because again, the Yankees were struggling and in the thick of the postseason race, plus Heathcott has been through an awful lot over the years. He’s a real easy guy to root for. Had someone else hit that home run, it still would have been awesome, but the fact Slade did it made it even more special. Seeing him have some success at the MLB was fun.

The Garrett Jones home run to me was huge, obviously. That’s why it’s No. 4. The Yankees did win the first game of that series in Seattle but had still gone 6-13 in their previous 19 games. They needed a big hit, and Drew gave it to them with a game-tying single off Fernando Rodney in the top of the ninth (video). Jones then won the game with a three-run home run off the lefty Joe Beimel in the top of the 11th. That homer had a +0.45 WPA and was by far Jones’ best moment in pinstripes.

Maybe I’m overrating the A-Rod home run. The Yankees were 9-3 in their previous 12 games at the time, after all. It’s not like they were desperate for a win. But still. It was the third of A-Rod’s three home runs on the night and it tied the game in the top of the ninth. Murphy won the game with his first home run of the season later in the inning. Alex’s third homer had a mere +0.34 WPA. It was still pretty damn awesome though.

Monday Night Open Thread

The postseason continues tonight with Game Three of the ALCS between the Blue Jays and Royals. Kansas City leads the series two games and none, though now the scene shifts to Rogers Centre in Toronto. As Yankees fans, we all know how tough it is to win there. Game Three (Stroman vs. Cueto) is scheduled to begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on FOX Sports 1. Make sure you tune into the pregame show. Alex Rodriguez will be a guest analyst.

Anyway, here is Monday’s open thread. The Giants and Eagles are the Monday Night Football game, plus the (hockey) Rangers are playing as well. Talk about those games, Game Three of the ALCS, A-Rod‘s analyst debut, or anything else here.