After a Game Six loss to the Astros, we’re left with countless moments fans will remember as reasons the Yankees lost. They can go as far back as the Yankees’ refusal to give up elite prospect talent to acquire Gerrit Cole before the 2018 season, or the failure to acquire anything at the 2019 trade deadline.
More specifically, one can point to the endless missed opportunities across the ALCS. Outside of Game One, every game seemed close, and the Yankees had chances to win time after time. Those lost chances may haunt the team and their fans for years to come.
It would be difficult to cover every mistake and missed chance, but here are three lessons the Yankees could learn from the 2019 ALCS.
An Overworked bullpen
During this series, we saw the effects a starting rotation has on a bullpen when they aren’t able to provide enough length. Of the total 46 innings pitched by the Yankees staff through Game Five, 23.2 were thrown by starters. That’s just over 50% before the pivotal Game Six bullpen game, after which starting pitchers accounted for just 45% of innings pitched in the postseason. Luis Severino would have needed to pitch a complete game in Game Seven just to balance the rotation’s work load with the bullpens.
No matter how you draw it up, when opponents continuously get to see the same relief pitchers come out of a bullpen in what could be a long best-out-of-seven, hitters will start making the proper adjustments. Relievers are usually two-pitcher pitchers; the more you see them, the easier they become to predict, making even the best bullpen’s a little more vulnerable. Add in a bullpen game where the Astros saw Chad Green for a fourth time and Kahnle for the fifth time, and suddenly fatigue starts to become a major factor. Zack Britton may have said it best after the loss:
“That’s why we’re relievers, not starters. You overexpose guys, it’s inevitable that eventually, they’re going to get got a little bit.”— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) October 20, 2019
Even with a shutdown bullpen, the Yankees needed better starting pitching. https://t.co/gkBEbWvEC7
You can’t have too many starters
By the time the trade deadline came around this summer, a few things were clear about the Yankees’ pitching staff. CC Sabathia’s knee was being pushed to the brink, confidence in J.A. Happ was lost, fans couldn’t wait for Severino’s return, and Domingo German was making a case to be a consistent factor in the Yankees’ staff for years to come. Overall the Yankees weren’t sure about three of their starters come the postseason, leaving Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and Domingo German as the only starters assumed to have a postseason starting slot. Even in July, it was clear the situation was murky, but the Yankees didn’t make any moves to address the situation.
If there is one lesson the entire 2019 season has taught us, it’s that you can never have enough depth. Whenever the Yankees needed an infielder like Gio Urshela, outfielder like Mike Tauchman, or pitcher like German to step up, they did. They replaced players who the Yankees depended on and didn't miss a beat. The one area the Yankees didn’t have much depth in was starting pitching.
The lack of depth proved costly in the postseason once German was taken off the active roster. In effect, the Yankees were forced to play a bullpen game with overused relievers in the most important game of the season because of a lack of urgency to get starting pitching. The pitching depth wasn’t there early, it wasn’t attended to in the middle of the season, and it cost them in the postseason. We can only hope the team has learned this lesson ahead of an offseason that could feature some extremely talented arms on the free agent market.
Put the best hitters atop the lineup
A constant throughout the Bombers season that seemed to divert during the postseason was the collection of hot hitters towards the top of the lineup. DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge maintained their spots, but the hitters behind them changed consistently. There were moments when Gio Urshela hit clean up and Luke Voit was protecting Judge. However, during the postseason the Bombers had a limited amount of productive hitters in LeMahieu, Judge, and Torres. For some reason Torres, was moved down the lineup for Games Three and Four. Watching Gardner and Encarnacion both hit infield fly balls against Gerrit Cole during Game Three instead of having Torres batting during that spot is something we will all had trouble understanding.
We can’t assume Torres would have put the Yankees on the board if he was batting third, but what we know is, at that moment Torres should have been in position to receive more at-bats than an Encarnacion or a Gardner. It’s hard to be too critical of Aaron Boone, given how many of his hitters went ice-cold at exactly the wrong time, but the Yankees’ deliberately lowered their chances just a bit by failing to maximize the odds that their best hitters came to bat as much as possible.