What Went Right: One-Run Games

The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review pretty much all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s strong record in one-run games.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

One year ago, the Orioles snuck into the postseason thanks in part to a historic record in one-run games. Their 29-9 (.763) record in one-run contests was the best in baseball history, yet we spent all summer expecting them to crash back to Earth. It never happened. One-run games are highly volatile just because they’re so tight — one weird bounce or bad call by an umpire can change everything. Most teams walk the .500 line in one-run games.

The 2013 Yankees were the 2012 Orioles when it came to games decided by one run, though not as extreme. They didn’t make history or anything like that, but they did have baseball’s best record in those such games at 30-16 (.652). Winning those close games definitely helped them stay in the playoff race far longer than you would have otherwise expected. I think we can both admit this club had little business being within shouting distance of a playoff spot heading into the final week of the regular season.

The 46 one-run games were the fourth fewest in baseball and right in line with New York’s last few seasons. This wasn’t some kind of anomaly; they played 47 one-run games last year (.468 winning percentage), 45 the year before (.467), and 39 the year before that (.513). The Yankees didn’t play substantially more (or fewer) one-run contests in 2013, yet their winning percentage in those games went up while their overall winning percentage (across the full 162 games) came down. Outside of those one-run games, the Yankees went 55-61 (.474) and that sucks.

There’s an awful lot that goes into being successful in one-run games, with the most obvious being bullpens. When you have David Robertson in the eighth and Mariano Rivera in the ninth, those one-run cushions in the late innings tend to turn into wins. Bullpens are absolutely a factor, but there has been quite a bit of research showing their impact on one-run contests is generally overstated. The rest of the team usually has to make it a one-run game before the bullpen comes into play. The game situation controls reliever usage, not the other way around.

Offensively, the Yankees actually fared quite a bit worse in “close and late” situations this year than they did in previous years. “Close and late” situations are defined as plate appearances in the seventh inning or later where they are tied, ahead by one run, or have the tying run on deck. Here’s a quick breakdown of the team’s “close and late” performance in recent years:

PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ HR BB% K% BABIP
2013 1,002 0.227 0.299 0.348 91 20 8.6% 24.6% 0.290
2012 954 0.261 0.342 0.451 132 40 8.5% 20.6% 0.294
2011 925 0.221 0.316 0.348 95 21 11.1% 20.3% 0.261
2010 857 0.251 0.336 0.392 110 28 11.6% 21.8% 0.286

So the winning percentage in one-run games got better while the offense was terrible in the late innings of close games. Okay then. I mean, they had a lot of bad hitters on the roster this summer, so it’s no surprise they didn’t hit much late in the game. They didn’t hit much overall. Anecdotally, the Yankees did seem to score a bunch of runs early in games this year before the offense went to sleep in the middle innings, but the stats don’t really bear that out — they scored 221 runs in innings 1-3, 224 runs in innings 4-6, and 205 runs in innings 7+. This isn’t some kinda weird run distribution thing.

Without re-watching each game and figuring out exactly what happened, it’s close to impossible to explain why a team was successful in one-run games. Heck, Mariano Rivera blew seven (!) saves this year and five of them were one-run leads. They actually came back to win two of those five (by one run, of course), but the Yankees could have very easily been 31-15 (.674) or 32-14 (.696) in one-run contests had Rivera not had what amounts to a down season for him. The Bombers had baseball’s best record in one-run games this year for many reasons, and whether those reasons continue next year is a mystery. After that historic record last summer, the Orioles had the fifth worst record in one-run games this year (20-31, .392). The magic isn’t guaranteed to last, but it’s not guaranteed to disappear all together either.

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Season Review: Miscellaneous Pitchers

As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of pitchers. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.

(Elsa/Getty)

Adam Warren
After losing the long man competition to David Phelps in Spring Training, the 25-year-old Warren got his big league shot when both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte hit the DL in late-June. He made a spot start against the White Sox and got absolutely pounded, surrendering six runs on eight hits (two homers, one double, five singles) in 2.1 innings. Warren walked two and struck out one. He spent the rest of the regular season back in Triple-A but did get recalled when rosters expanded in September, though he did not appear in a game.

Chad Qualls
Acquired from the Phillies in early-July, the 34-year-old Qualls appeared in eight games with the Yankees. He allowed five runs and ten hits in 7.1 innings with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two), though he did generate a bunch of ground balls (51.9%). His most notable moment in pinstripes was probably retiring the only two men he faced (Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo) on July 13th, keeping the deficit at three and allowing the Yankees to mount a late-innings comeback. The Yankees traded Qualls to the Pirates for Casey McGehee at the deadline.

Justin Thomas
Plucked off waivers from the Red Sox early-May, the 28-year-old Thomas spent the rest of the summer in Triple-A before getting the call when rosters expanded in September. The left-hander appeared in four games, allowing three runs in three innings. To his credit, Thomas did retire six of seven left-handed batters he faced with New York (two strikeouts). The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear room on the roster for David Aardsma late in the season, and Thomas has since moved on as a minor league free agent.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

D.J. Mitchell
Mitchell, 25, also lost the long man competition to Phelps in camp. He went down to Triple-A for a few weeks before resurfacing when the Yankees needed an arm in early-May and then again in mid-July. He made four appearances total — two in each big league stint — and allow two runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings. Like Qualls, he walked more batters (three) than he struck out (two) but generated a healthy number of grounders (57.9%). Mitchell was traded to the Mariners as part of the Ichiro Suzuki and spent the rest of the year in the minors.

Ryota Igarashi
Igarashi, 33, was claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in late-May and managed to appear in two games with the Yankees. He allowed one run in one inning against the Mets on June 8th and three runs in two innings against the Blue Jays on August 12th. Both stints in the big leagues were very temporary, as he was sent down right away in favor of a fresh arm. It’s worth noting that Igarashi was a monster down in Triple-A, pitching to a 2.45 ERA (2.11 FIP) with 13.50 K/9 (34.4 K%) in 36.2 innings as the team’s closer. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster in August and he signed a new deal with a team in Japan earlier this offseason.

David Aardsma
The Yankees signed the 30-year-old Aardsma to a one-year, $500k contract in late-February knowing he was unlikely to contribute much this year since he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander suffered a setback in June which delayed his rehab, but he progressed far enough that the team adding him to the active roster in late-September. He appeared in just one game before the end of the season, allowing a solo homer in an inning of work. After the season the Yankees exercised Aardsma’s $500k option for 2013 and will have the former Mariners closer in the bullpen to open next season.

Season Review: Miscellaneous Position Players

As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of position players. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Dewayne Wise
He was sparingly used during his three months on the roster, but the 34-year-old Wise hit .262/.286/.492 (106 wRC+) in 63 plate appearances for the Yankees. He also retired both batters he faced while pitching in a blowout loss. The team originally recalled him to fill Brett Gardner‘s roster spot before cutting him loose following the Ichiro Suzuki trade. Wise went 9-for-18 with a double, a triple, and three homers during an eight-game stretch in late-June/early-July, but his greatest contribution to the club — besides the bunt that turned the season around — was his non-catch against Indians in late-June.

Chris Dickerson
Had the 30-year-old Dickerson not been on the minor league DL early in the season, chances are he would have been recalled to take Gardner’s spot instead of Wise. He instead had to wait until rosters expanded in September, and he went 4-for-14 (.286) with two homers and three steals in his limited playing time. Most of his action came as a defensive replacement in the late innings. I like Dickerson more than most and think he can be a useful left-handed platoon outfielder who also provides speed and defense, but it’s obvious the Yankees aren’t interested in giving him an opportunity. For shame.

(Elsa/Getty)

Melky Mesa
Mesa, 25, was the team’s only true rookie position player this year. He came up when rosters expanded in September and only appeared in three games — one as a pinch-runner and two as a late-innings replacement in blowouts. Mesa did pick up his first career hit and RBI in his first big league plate appearance, singling on a ground ball back up the middle. His most notable play was a base-running blunder, when he missed the bag while rounding third base on an Alex Rodriguez single in extra-innings against the Athletics. Mesa would have scored the game-winning run, but alas. Rookie mistake.

Darnell McDonald
The Yankees got a little cute prior to the All-Star break, claimed the right-handed hitting McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox before heading up to Fenway for a four-game set. The Sox were set to throw three left-handed starters in the four games, so the 34-year-old figured to see some playing time against his former team. McDonald instead received just four plate appearances, made outs in all of them, and collided with Curtis Granderson in center field. A run scored on the play. Embedded Red Sox? Embedded Red Sox.

Ramiro Pena
Rakin’ Ramiro was on the roster for less than a week this season. The Yankees called him up after Alex Rodriguez had his hand broken by Felix Hernandez in late-July, but he was sent back down following the Casey McGehee trade a few days later. In between, the 27-year-old infielder singled once in four plate appearances and got into two other games as a pinch-runner. Pena became a minor league free agent after the season, ending his seven-year stint with the organization.

Season Review: The Front Office

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Just as with the manager and coaching staff, it’s difficult to evaluate a front office from the outside. Yes we can see the moves they make and speculate on moves they didn’t make, but we’ll never know the inner workings and all of the factors involved. Things like opportunity cost and the club’s internal evaluation of players are beyond our scope. Remember, a move can both make perfect sense at the time and be laughably bad in hindsight.

The Yankees started the year by making a series of front office changes in January, most notably hiring former Cubs GM Jim Hendry as a special assignment scout and promoting pro scouting director Billy Eppler to assistant GM. I’m a fan of having multiple voices in the front office and Hendry is well-regarded within the game, so I liked his hiring just as I liked the Kevin Towers hiring back in 2010. The Eppler promotion was significant because for the first time since Brian Cashman took over as GM, an obvious line of succession had been established. Eppler was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels GM job last winter and now appears to be in line to replace Cashman down the road.

On the field, the Yankees made a number of great, good, okay, poor, and disastrous moves like every other team. Signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract was a masterstroke while the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade went sour in less than three months. Low-cost, one-year stopgap solutions like Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, and Clay Rapada worked out well while others like Chris Stewart and Andruw Jones did not. Minor league free agent signings like Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise contributed while midseason pickups like Chad Qualls, Casey McGehee, and Steve Pearce were non-factors. Derek Lowe worked out fine after being plucked off the scrap heap in August.

The Yankees made one significant midseason move, acquiring Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners for two young arms. The 39-year-old agreed to a set of conditions prior to joining the team, specifically that he would move over to left field, bat towards the bottom of the order, and sit against tough lefties. Ichiro performed so well (.322/.340/.454, 114 wRC+) that he forced his way into regular playing time and a higher spot in the lineup by the end of the season. Even Ichiro’s biggest detractors (i.e. me) have to admit he gave the team a big shot in the arm down the stretch.

At the same time, I do feel the Yankees dragged their fit a bit making in-season upgrades. Obviously Brett Gardner‘s three setbacks contributed to that, but the team also didn’t act swiftly when it was obvious bullpen help was needed. Both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson went down with injuries in May, then a few weeks later Cory Wade completely imploded. The only help they brought in before the deadline was Qualls, who predictably stunk. It appeared as though the Yankees were counting on Joba Chamberlain‘s return from elbow and ankle surgery to shore up the bullpen, whether that was actually the case or not.

The Yankees intend to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014, and the front office has major work to do these next 15 months or so to make that happen. The Pineda trade was, by far, the team’s most long-term move this year and so far the worst case scenario has played out. The right-hander’s ability to rebound following shoulder surgery may be the biggest factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. The Kuroda signing and Ichiro trade worked out marvelously this year, but fair or not, the performance of the front office going forward will be heavily influenced by the results of that swap with the Mariners.

Season Review: Joe Girardi & Coaching Staff

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Evaluating a manager and his coaching staff is a very difficult thing for outsiders. The vast majority of their work takes place behind the scenes, so we’re left looking for clues in places they might not be. That pitcher learned a changeup? Great job by the pitching coach! That hitter is only hitting .250 when he usually hits .280? Fire the hitting coach! We have no idea what clues we dig up are actually attributable to the coaching staff, so we end up guessing.

Because of that, I don’t want to review Joe Girardi and his coaching staff in our typical “What Went Right/What Went Wrong” format. This review is almost entirely subjective and we can’t really pin anything (good or bad) on the coaching staff specifically. We know Curtis Granderson essentially revived his career after working with Kevin Long two summers ago, but having a specific example like that is very rare. Instead, we’ll have to take a broader approach.

Joe Girardi
I think 2012 was Girardi’s worst year as Yankees’ manager. Every manager makes questionable in-game moves during the season, but I felt Girardi made more this year than he had in any year since 2008, and it all started in the very first inning on Opening Day with the intentional walk to Sean Rodriguez. That still bugs me.

Girardi has long been considered a strong bullpen manager given his ability to spread the workload around and squeeze water out of scrap heap rocks, but this year he leaned very heavily on Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano. Working Soriano hard wasn’t a huge deal because he was expected to leave after the season, but Logan made more appearances in 2012 (80) than any other reliever under Girardi, including his time with the Marlins. Robertson appeared in 65 games despite missing a month with an oblique injury. Part of it was a lack of alternatives (blame the front office for that) and the tight race, but this was something that started before the Yankees blew their ten-game lead.

Girardi also had two notable meltdowns (for lack of a better term), lashing out at a fan following a loss in Chicago and then getting into a shouting match with Joel Sherman after calling him into his office. Maybe my conduct standards are too high, but that kind of stuff is a major no-no in my book. It stems from pure frustration and there is zero good to come from it. Girardi didn’t have a bad year as manager, he did a fine job guiding the team despite an overwhelming about of injuries, but I feel that he’s had better years in the past.

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Larry Rothschild & Kevin Long
When the Yankees hired Rothschild as pitching coach two years ago, he came to the club with a reputation of improving both strikeout and walk rates. That is exactly what has happened overall, and we can see it specifically with someone like CC Sabathia (strikeouts, walks). Obviously the personnel has changed over the last few years, but the Yankees managed to get productive seasons from scrap heap pickups like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia last year while getting better than expected production from Hiroki Kuroda and even Andy Pettitte this year. We don’t know how much of a role Rothschild played in all of this, but the team’s pitching staff has exceeded expectations the last two years.

Long, on the other hand, came under big-time scrutiny following the club’s offensively-inept postseason showing and Mark Teixeira‘s continued decline from elite all-around hitter to pull-happy, one-dimensional slugger. At same time, he remade Granderson and helped Robinson Cano go from good to great. Long does preach pulling the ball for power and apparently that contributed to the team’s poor postseason, but the roster overall is built around guys who pull the ball for power. Outside of Cano and Derek Jeter (and later on, Ichiro Suzuki), the Yankees lacked hitters who could hit to the opposite field. Like Rothschild, we don’t know how much a role Long has played in all of this, and I’m not even convinced preaching power these days is a bad thing given the decline in offense around the league.

Tony Pena, Mike Harkey, Rob Thomson & Mick Kelleher
Not really much to add here. Thomson, the third base coach, does have a knack for being a little overly-aggressive with his sends in tight games while at other times he will hold guys who would have clearly been safe, but every third base coach does that. The Yankees have had an above-average stolen base success rate in recent years (77-79%), so I guess Kelleher is doing a fine job of reading moves and relaying that info over at first base. Other than that, we have very little basis for which to judge these guys on. Despite the whole “everyone should be fired because there are obviously better coaches available!” mentality than can fester following an embarrassing playoff loss, all indications are the entire staff will return fully intact next year.

What Went Right: Andy Pettitte

(Elsa/Getty)

I can’t believe I’m actually writing a season review post for Andy Pettitte. The 40-year-old left-hander was retired a little more than ten months ago, having thrown what we thought was his final big league pitch in Game Three of the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers. He spent all of last season at home and showed up to camp as a guest instructor this year, which is pretty routine for notable former players. Little did we know what was going on behind the scenes.

While in Spring Training as an instructor, Pettitte threw a bullpen session for Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, pitching coach Larry Rothschild, the whole nine. The two sides actually discussed a substantial contract ($10-12M range) during the offseason, but Andy told the team to proceed without him because he wasn’t sure he wanted to make a comeback. That money went to Hiroki Kuroda, then in camp Andy again broached the subject of coming back to pitch. On March 16th, halfway through the Grapefruit League schedule, he signed a one-year minor league contract worth $2.5M.

Pettitte was obviously behind the rest of the pitching staff, so his comeback attempt started in the minor leagues. He made one appearance at the end of Spring Training then progressively climbed the minor league ladder. First came three innings with High-A Tampa, then four innings with High-A Tampa, then five innings with Double-A Trenton, then another five innings with Triple-A Scranton. He was ready to go by early-May and the Yankees needed him — Michael Pineda just had shoulder surgery, Phil Hughes had a dreadful April, and Freddy Garcia was so bad that David Phelps took his spot in the rotation.

Andy’s first start back came at home against the Mariners on May 13th. He allowed two two-run homers in 6.1 innings in the loss, but he looked like the Andy Pettitte of old. He was cutting his fastball, sweeping his slider, and inducing double plays at just the right time. Five days later he struck out nine Cincinnati Reds in eight shutout innings, officially putting an exclamation point on his comeback attempt. Through the end of June, his first nine starts back, Pettitte pitched to a 3.22 ERA (3.37 FIP) in 58.2 innings with ungodly peripherals: 9.05 K/9 (25.2 K%), 2.30 BB/9 (6.4 BB%), and 58.3% grounders. He wasn’t just a solid veteran starter, he was pitching like an ace.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The comeback came to screeching halt in the fifth inning of a start against the Indians on June 27th, when a Casey Kotchman hard-hit ground ball clanked off Pettitte’s left ankle. He went after the ball but crumbled to the ground, then was lifted one pitch later. Andy talked the training staff into leaving him in the game after some warm-up tosses, but it was obvious something was wrong. The diagnosis came down after the game: Pettitte had fractured his left ankle and would be out six weeks.

Those six weeks became seven weeks when Andy pushed his rehab a little too hard and suffered a setback, so he didn’t return to the team until mid-September. He did all of his prep work in simulated games — no minor league rehab games at all — and returned to the rotation against the Blue Jays on September 19th. Limited to 75 pitches, Pettitte threw five scoreless innings and followed up with six scoreless innings on 88 pitches against the Twins five days later. Rain threw a wrench in the late-September plan, limiting Andy three starts instead of four. The Yankees lost both of Pettitte’s playoff starts but they weren’t hit fault — he allowed five total runs in 13.2 innings.

Andy’s comeback featured a 2.87 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 75.1 innings across a dozen starts, plus some of the best peripherals of his career: 8.24 K/9 (22.8 K%), 2.51 BB/9 (6.9 BB%), and 56.3% grounders. There was legitimate concern about how the year-long layoff would impact Pettitte, but I joked that maybe it did his body good and gave him ample time to rest and heal up. That’s exactly what appeared to happen, funny enough. Pettitte looked as good as ever when he was on the mound, though the ankle injury obviously took a little blush off the rose. Either way, the Yankees came into the season expecting to get literally nothing out of Andy, but he made a successful comeback and became a valuable and important member of the rotation.

What Went Right: Jayson Nix & Derek Lowe

The Yankees have developed a knack for finding value on the scrap heap, consistently turning other team’s discards into useful pieces. It’s a wonderful skill for a front office to have regardless of payroll size. As expected, the Yankees dug up two useful veterans who wound up taking on bigger than expected roles this season.

Remember the three-run pinch-hit double against the Mariners? (REUTERS/Robert Sorbo)

Jayson Nix
One of the team’s very first moves last offseason was to sign the 30-year-old Nix to a minor league contract. He had some pop in his bat and was very versatile, with experience at all three non-first base infield spots as well as the outfield corners. Nix showed the team what he could do in Spring Training, but ultimately he was sent down to Triple-A to open the season.

A minor (and unknown) injury delayed the start of his minor league season by two weeks, but he was playing in Triple-A before long. When Eric Chavez dove for a ball and had to be placed on the 7-day concussion DL in early-May, the Yankees recalled Nix to take his spot on the roster. When Eduardo Nunez‘s defensive troubles became an unavoidable issue, he was sent down to Triple-A while Nix took over as the primary utility infielder.

All told, Nix hit .243/.306/.384 (88 wRC+) with four homers and six steals in 202 plate appearances for New York while starting at least nine games at second, third, short, and left field. He produced a 97 wRC+ against left-handers, a 142 wRC+ at Yankee Stadium, and a 163 wRC+ with men in scoring position. His defense was adequate at worst as well. Nix missed time with a hip flexor strain at the end of the season and played sparingly in the playoffs, but overall he was a rock solid bench piece for a team increasingly in need of quality bench help.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Derek Lowe
The Braves ate a whole bunch of money when they traded Lowe to the Indians last offseason, and before long it was easy to see why. The 39-year-old right-hander pitched to a 5.52 ERA (4.49 FIP) with Cleveland and was released in early-August. The Yankees pounced a few days later when CC Sabathia‘s elbow forced him to the DL and the pitching staff needed help, signing the former Red Sox through the end of the season.

Lowe agreed to pitch in relief and rewarded the team’s faith in him immediately. His first appearance in pinstripes was a four-inning save against Rangers in relief of David Phelps, who had replaced Sabathia in the rotation. Lowe appeared in several low-leverage situations but had worked his way up the bullpen totem pole by mid-September. Joe Girardi was using him regularly as a stabilizing force in the middle innings by the end of the regular season, effectively deploying him as a setup man to the setup men. He was 2009 Al Aceves-esque for a few weeks.

Lowe pitched to a 3.04 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 23.2 innings for the Yankees down the stretch, though he did get hit around in his three postseason appearances. Considering his dreadful performance with the Indians, it was easy to have very low expectations for Lowe. He instead proved his worth as a battle-tested and versatile veteran arm, adding depth to the bullpen down the stretch by essentially replacing Cory Wade as Girardi’s go-to middle reliever.