So, is the Yankee pitching staff really elite?

Nick Laham

Keith R.A. DeCandido takes a look at the Yankees' pitching compared to the rest of the league, and wonders if they're all that and a bag of chips.

Everyone's been talking this year about how the Yankees are depending entirely upon their excellent pitching. The Yanks have a pretty good rotation, a strong bullpen, and no offense to speak of, so that sounds plausible.

But how does the Yankees' pitching stand up to the rest of the American League? Is it enough for them to be in the top five (in other words, a playoff team)?

I decided to take a look at some quick and dirty measurements of where the Yanks stand in relation to the rest of the AL in a few categories (and may I heap thanks and praise to Baseball-Reference.com, without whom I'd have had to come up with something else to write about this week). For the rotation, I looked at percentage of quality starts, and for pitching staffs overall, I looked at ERA+ (where 100 is league average), strikeout-to-walk ratio, walks per nine innings, and strikeouts per nine innings.

What I wanted to know was, basically, is the Yanks' staff really elite? Or does it just seem that way because the offense is so bad?

Quality start percentage

This is the percentage of games where the starting pitcher went at least six innings and gave up three, two, one, or no runs.

Detroit Tigers: 69%

Boston Red Sox: 59%

Oakland A's: 58%

Seattle Mariners: 58%

Kansas City Royals: 57%

New York Yankees: 56%

Chicago White Sox: 56%

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 54%

Texas Rangers: 53%

Tampa Bay Rays: 48%

Baltimore Orioles: 46%

Cleveland Indians: 45%

Toronto Blue Jays: 40%

Houston Astros: 39%

Minnesota Twins: 37%

Three of the teams the Yanks are looking up at, as well as the one they're even with, are unlikely to be playing meaningful baseball in October. That leaves the A's, Sawx, and Tigers, all of whom are good teams that are likely to be in the playoff hunt. I honestly thought the Yanks would rank higher here, but there are a bunch of strong rotations flying around the league...

Walks per nine innings

This measures how many walks the entire pitching staff gives up per game (well, okay, per nine, since away teams that lose only go eight, but it's close enough for jazz).

New York: 2.5

Oakland: 2.5

Seattle: 2.6

Detroit: 2.7

Minnesota: 2.7

Kansas City: 2.8

Texas: 3.0

Tampa Bay: 3.1

Chicago: 3.1

Baltimore: 3.2

Toronto: 3.4

Los Angeles/Anaheim: 3.4

Boston: 3.7

Cleveland: 3.7

Houston: 3.7

Now we're starting to see what the Yankees' super power is: they don't walk anybody. This is a return to the good old days of 2002-2003 when the pitching staff was made up entirely of control artists (plus Roger Clemens). Of the other teams on the upper portion of this list, only Detroit and Oakland are serious contenders.

Strikeouts per nine innings

See above.

Detroit: 9.7

Boston: 8.9

Cleveland: 8.6

New York: 8.3

Tampa Bay: 8.3

Texas: 8.2

Seattle: 8.1

Chicago: 7.8

Los Angeles/Anaheim: 7.4

Kansas City: 7.3

Oakland: 7.2

Baltimore: 7.1

Toronto: 6.9

Houston: 6.4

Minnesota: 5.8

Of course, you also have to strike people out (unless you're the Twins). The Yanks are still in good company here, though I was surprised to see Cleveland's total so high (if only the rest of their game was as good).

Strikeout-to-walk ratio

This puts it all together, comparing strikeouts to walks.

Detroit: 3.63

New York: 3.31

Seattle: 3.08

Oakland: 2.90

Texas: 2.72

Tampa Bay: 2.65

Kansas City: 2.59

Chicago: 2.50

Boston: 2.43

Cleveland: 2.32

Baltimore: 2.24

Los Angeles/Anaheim: 2.20

Minnesota: 2.19

Toronto: 2.00

Houston: 1.71

Y'know, for a rotation that I was thinking of as Justin Verlander and the four dwarves, Detroit has themselves a mighty strong staff there... Anyhow, this is the Yankees' bread and butter, goosed on by a starting staff that doesn't walk a lot of people, and a bullpen that is filled with strikeout machines, with only David Robertson being a serious threat to give a free pass. As expected Mariano Rivera is being particularly parsimonious with the base on balls; as not so expected, so are Boone Logan and Preston Claiborne (the latter has yet to give up a walk this year).

ERA+

This is a stat that measures a pitcher's earned-run average versus the league average and is weighted based on home park. (So Felix Hernandez gets dinged for working in the pitcher's haven of Safeco where Yu Darvish is given bonus points for pitching in the Bandbox At Arlington.) 100 is league-average, so you want to be above that.

Texas: 124

Detroit: 119

Kansas City: 118

Boston: 116

Chicago: 116

New York: 114

Oakland: 106

Toronto: 97

Minnesota: 95

Baltimore: 93

Seattle: 91

Tampa Bay: 91

Cleveland: 88

Los Angeles/Anaheim: 88

Houston: 83

By the way, any time we get frustrated with the Yankees, just remember, we could all be Astros fans.

Of course, the part that matters isn't that the Yankees be better than a lot of teams, they only really have to be better than the other teams in their division. Sadly, Boston's fall to the cellar last year seems to have been on a bungee cord, and they're right back on top. Not only is their pitching superb, but they're on top of the league in OPS+, runs scored, and OBP.

Which means that if the Yankees have a hope of making it to the playoffs, they have to keep not walking people, keep striking people out, and keep preventing runs. And then hope that the Red Sox come back to Earth or, failing that, the other AL wild card team (probably whoever comes in second in the west, since I don't see any of the non-Detroit teams in the central pulling it off) has a bad day on the 1st of October.

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