From wild pitches with runners on third being responsible for an absurd number of runs to head-scratching, month-long implosions from All-Star closers and an inability to hit home runs from a lineup designed to, well, hit home runs, the 2021 season will be remembered as a bizarre one for the New York Yankees.
I know it feels like a lot of these storylines date back to the 2020 season, and some of them absolutely do. But in a way that only 2021 could muster, there are also a number of surprising outliers that have left me utterly baffled, genuinely surprised (in a good way!), and, in some cases, disproportionately upset. Let’s dive into some of these truly peculiar stats.
Reader beware: small sample sizes afoot!
What is up with Nick Nelson’s FIP?
Before we get into things here, I need you to know two things: (1) I’m not about to tell you that Nick Nelson is having a good season, because he is very obviously not; and (2) I don’t love FIP as a stat, but this one is just too fun to pass up.
In 14.1 innings across 11 appearances, Nick Nelson has pitched to an ugly 8.79 ERA, a whopping 10.05 BB/9 rate, and ... you know what, you don’t need me to remind you how rough his season has been. Aside from watching the games, the two blue lines — representing his BABIP (a truly ugly .405) and ERA, respectively — sharply pointing upwards tell you all you need to know about his performance.
See that falling red line, though? That’s his FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, and, believe it or not, it’s actually above average. Nelson’s FIP currently sits at 4.08 (5.31 xFIP, for those counting), a far cry from his ERA north of eight and the surprisingly-better-than-league-average of 4.22. For the sake of comparison to other relievers with a similar sample size, Zack Britton is pitching to a 5.65 ERA and 4.92 FIP in 14.1 innings, and Justin Wilson (gone again, but never forgotten) pitched to a 7.50 ERA and 6.78 FIP in 18 innings with the Yankees. So, needless to say, a difference of 4.71 between your ERA and FIP is truly odd.
What contributes to this? Well, Nelson has yet to give up a home run, and he strikes out a lot of people, so those are probably the two main factors contributing to the difference. Given his downright concerning batted ball profile, though — his line drive rate is currently sitting at a truly horrifying 37.8 percent — I imagine his homer-free streak will be snapped soon. But, for the time being, this would be my favourite outlier of the season if the next one didn’t exist.
Tyler Wade, clutch performer?
Disclaimer: There are actually only four Yankees currently qualified to show up on the clutch leaderboard: DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Judge, in order. So this chart/thought experiment represents the team with minimum qualifiers turned off.
Believe it or not, Tyler Wade of all hitters has the best Clutch rating on the team, qualifiers notwithstanding. If you gave me this exact scenario and 25 guesses for each batter currently on the 40-man roster, I honestly don’t think I would’ve said his name at all. I probably would’ve guessed DJ, Stanton, and Judge five times each before I even remembered Wade was on this team.
As defined by FanGraphs, Clutch rating, naturally, measures how well a player performs in high leverage situations. His current 0.81 rating is hovering a smidge below “Great,” according to their rankings. While he doesn’t have a lot of reps hitting in high leverage situations, it’s just such a fun idea that a guy who is currently slashing .247/.322/.296 with a 74 wRC+ might lead the team in Clutch rating if he met the minimum qualifications.
For what it’s worth, though, Tyler Wade is currently slashing a red hot .563/.667/.750 (1.417 OPS!) with four stolen bases since the trade deadline. Will it last? Absolutely not. Is this the best stretch of his career? By far, so let’s enjoy it before he turns back into a pumpkin.
Maybe you’re not imagining things...
I know I promised fun at the start of this article, but this last one might infuriate some fans. It certainly made me mad. The chart you see above is the Yankees’ performance with runners in scoring position, dating back to Aaron Boone’s first year as manager. As you can see, from 2018-20, this team was quite productive with runners in scoring position. In fact, they were (unsustainably) great in 2019.
In 2021? Not so much. In 542 (2018) and 420 (2019) fewer at-bats this season, the Yankees have already hit into more double plays than they did in either of those seasons. In fact, if you were to combine all of the double plays with RISP from 2018, 2019, and 2020, you’d get a total of 95. The 2021 Yankees have already bounced into roughly 45 percent of the double plays with RISP that they hit into over three years — all in just 28 percent of the combined at-bats. While I’m certain that their failure across the board with RISP is an outlier, it’s still quite frustrating to see their struggles spelled out so clearly.
Here’s one last fun (or sobering) fact before I wrap up: the last time the Yankees have been this bad with RISP was 2016, when their lineup gave serious at-bats to basically-retired Alex Rodriguez, final-season Mark Teixeira, last-full-season Brian McCann, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, and everyone’s favourite Yankee, Jacoby Ellsbury. Needless to say, that was the last time they did not make the playoffs.
Who would have thought that not all statistical outliers are as fun as not-as-bad-as-expected (but still bad) Nick Nelson and the possibility of a clutch Tyler Wade? It’s been a wild season for Yankees fans in more ways than you can possibly count. Yet somehow, despite the perceived awfulness and heartbreak, this team is 12 games above .500, two games back of the second Wild Card, six games back of the Rays, and have the third-best odds of current non-division leaders in the American League to make the playoffs. Maybe those odds are the biggest outlier of all.