The Yankees reclaimed the single-season home run crown by belting 267 long balls this year. They also became the first team to have 12 men reach the double-digit dinger plateau. Individual players produced 24 multi-homer games, matching the record held by the 1961 Yankees and ‘66 Braves. On the last day of the season, Miguel Andujar tied Fred Lynn’s AL rookie mark with 47 doubles.
That’s an awesome display of firepower from the offense. The pitching staff displayed its share of power as well, setting a MLB record in the process. New York hurlers averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in high leverage situations. The improvement of one strikeout per nine from last year allowed the Yankees to re-take the record from Cleveland. New York held it in 2016 (9.6) and ‘15 (9.5).
Leverage index assigns point values depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of runners on base. Pitching in the bottom of the first, with two outs, the bases empty, and your team leading 8-0 is an example of a low-leverage situation.
On the other hand, pitching with the bases loaded, no one out, in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game is the highest possible leverage. In that scenario, one mistake loses the game. Even the kind of outs which are normally desirable could result in the winning run scoring. A strikeout is what you want in that situation.
The 2018 Yankees are the best in baseball history at getting that strikeout in such high-leverage scenarios. Why is this important? Consider this: Right behind New York on this year’s leaderboard are the other three American League teams still standing, while the four teams at the bottom all lost 95 plus games. Incidentally, the Dodgers (9.1) and Brewers (8.9) pace the NL in this category.
AL 2018: high-leverage situations
As one might expect, top relievers Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman are both averaging over 15 strikeouts per nine in high-leverage situations. Betances struck out a whopping 41 of 102 batters faced in such scenarios. For Chapman, it was 39 out of 99. David Robertson, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder also sit above the team average in high-leverage strikeouts.
Of concern, though, is Zach Britton. The mid-season arrival only struck out 7 of 36 batters faced in high-leverage spots, while averaging only 7.6 strikeouts per nine overall. Aaron Boone might do well to use Britton earlier in the game with the bases empty.
2018 Yankees: high-leverage situations
While this weapon alone isn’t enough to guarantee a World Series title, it certainly appears to be a key ingredient of championship-caliber clubs in this era of bullpens packed with high-powered relievers. Leading the majors in high-leverage strikeouts per nine last year were the Indians (10.1), Yankees (10.1), Astros (9.5), Dodgers (9.3), Red Sox (9.3), and Cubs (8.8). That group includes all four LCS participants and both pennant winners, while the other two teams were eliminated during the Division Series.
In addition to setting a new record for high-leverage punch-outs, New York fared well this season notching strikeouts in all situations, regardless of leverage. The Yankees (10.1) trail only Houston (10.4), while Boston (9.6), Cleveland (9.5), and the Dodgers (9.5) follow right behind.
We already saw the Yankees’ power pitching play a critical role in the Wild Card Game victory over the Athletics, including in high-leverage spots. Starter Luis Severino recorded seven of his 12 outs via the strikeout. With the Yankees clinging to a 2-0 lead, he struck out the side in the second, and left the bases loaded in the fourth when he notched a strikeout to end the threat.
Betances relieved Severino with two on and no one out in the fifth. Oakland came away empty again when Betances induced a pair of fly outs, and then retired MLB home run champion Khris Davis on a strikeout. Betances remained in the game, throwing a perfect sixth, while notching two more punchouts. Chapman nailed down the win with two strikeouts of his own in the ninth. Overall, Yankees pitchers struck out 13 A’s.
The Yankees boast perhaps the best bullpen ever assembled. They also possess a solid starting rotation. It will be interesting to see if the pitching staff’s strikeout dominance persists as the playoffs progress, and how the numbers correlate to what they accomplished during the regular season.