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Testing the Formula

Mood Music - Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel

So, who remembers this narrative?

Now that the Yankees have signed Rafael Soriano to go along with David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Mariano Rivera, they've shortened the game.  If they're winning after the sixth inning, the game is likely over.

As has been thoroughly discussed, Soriano didn't really work out on the field or the balance sheet, but this post isn't about him.  Not really, anyway.  With the ascent of David Robertson, the usual from Mariano Rivera, two months of good Joba, and Boone Logan, Cory Wade, Hector Noesi, and Luis Ayala all exceeding expectations, the bullpen was able to withstand Soriano's lack of contribution.

In all, the Yankees pen combined to be the best in the American League in ERA (3.12), third in FIP (3.65), second in K/9 (8.46), and second in WAR (7.0).  The bullpen was an unquestioned strength for the Yankees, but did it help them shorten the game as was predicted before the season?

The short answer is no.  The long answer comes after the jump with charts and graphs.

Using some of the magic nerd-enabling on Baseball-Reference, I've compiled some data for all of the teams in the American League after six innings.  Despite the Yankees heralded back end of the bullpen, their performance late in games is aggressively mediocre.  See for yourself:


And now graphically:

To put it bluntly, that's not very good.  Despite great short-relief options and a bullpen that was very good overall, the Yankees did not distinguish themselves at all in terms of holding leads or pulling out close games.  Here's a few likely contributing factors:

  • Luck - While usually attributed to things like ghosts, will to win, and destiny, the difference between winning and losing tight games is often luck.  You rarely see a team display a pattern of being well above .500 or well below .500 in one-run games, and this year the Yankees were 21-24.  Last year they were 20-19.
  • Binder - In order for the top relievers to affect the outcome of the game, they need to be pitching with the game on the line.  Sometimes this happens in the "appropriate" inning and sometimes it doesn't.
  • Most games are over already - As seen in the table, this season 86.3% of American League games were decided in the first six innings.  The Baltimore Orioles, who spent most of the season with sub-replacement level Kevin Gregg as their closer, held on to seventh inning leads at an almost identical rate to the Yankees (87.5% vs. 88.0%).  No matter how good the guys at the end of your pen are, most games are over before they even pitch.  The Yankees won a lot of games because they had taken the lead in the first six innings 92 times.
I know that we've been conditioned to think that relievers, especially closers, being lock down is a huge asset to a team.  As a fan of the Yankees, you're likely to hear about how much Mariano Rivera contributes and how different things will be once he retires.

I'm taking nothing away from Mo, but think about this:  With the greatest closer of all time, a season of equal or greater brilliance from David Robertson, and a cavalcade of other serviceable relievers, the Yankees ability to hold leads and take close games was right in line with a bunch of other AL teams.  As good as they were, they're still overpaid, overemphasized, interchangeable parts.