As we start closing in on the All-Star Game, it has become apparent that the Yankees pitching staff is putting up the type of numbers that are historic. It is not hyperbole to say that the Yankees have put up the best pitching numbers in all of baseball. Anyone that has watched a Yankees game, even the lackluster performances, has seen a pitching staff that always manages to keep games close. This begs the question — just how much better is the Yankees pitching staff than the rest of baseball, and how does this team’s pitching compare to the historically great Yankees teams like the 2009 and 1998 World Champions?
2022 Yankees versus other 2022 teams
Are we still sure that MLB has not changed the baseball in some way to increase the effectiveness of pitchers? The pitching numbers for the league, writ large, are ridiculous. The Yankees have a mind boggling 2.92 ERA across the first part of the season. Just think about this for a moment, Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and John Smolt had a 2.89 and 2.90 ERA during the 1998 season. Functionally, the Yankees pitching staff have the type of numbers that Hall of Famers put up. That is not on an individual basis, but as a whole. This goes beyond simple ridiculousness. It’s mind blowing.
Going beyond how odd the pitching performances have been across the league this year, the Yankees hold the best pitching staff in nearly every single metric. Only three teams in all of baseball even come close to the Yankees. The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers have put up some truly excellent numbers, but their results do not match up to the Yankees. Both sport ERAs higher than the Yankees, though the standardized ERA+ comes out slightly higher for the Dodgers, being 142 versus 130 for the Yankees. Notwithstanding that metric, the Yankees have lower FIP, better WHIP, and lower home runs per nine innings. This all combines to indicate that the Yankees have a truly world class pitching staff.
Now that it’s clear that the Yankees are one of the best, if not the best, pitching staffs in the league, how does their pitching performance stack up to notable previous Yankees teams that won the World Series?
2009 feels like a lifetime ago, but that was the last time the Yankees won the World Series. This team should offer some good insight into how well the 2022 staff has pitched. Frankly, the 2009 pitching staff does not hold a candle to the current iteration. In most ways, the 2009 staff was fairly average, with a mediocre 4.26 ERA. Among the starting pitchers, only CC Sabathia had a good year with a 3.37 ERA and a 137 ERA+. Though, this team more relied upon a very good bullpen headlined by Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson. But even when comparing that bullpen to today, most of their relief pitchers had an earned run average over three, apart from Mariano Rivera who had a 1.76 ERA. As a whole, the 2022 Yankees seem much better prepared to pitch deep into the postseason than the 2009 version.
The 1998 Yankees stand as one the highest points for the modern day Yankees, with exceptional play in pretty much every single category. There is a strong argument to be made that the 1998 team was the best baseball team to ever play the game in the current era. How does the 2022 staff stack up to the 1998 staff that won it all?
The answer is, somewhat surprisingly, that the 2022 team has out pitched the 1998 team. From a pure ERA perspective, the 2.92 ERA of today well outpaces the 3.82 of yesteryear, even when considering that the average ERA league-wide was nearly half a run higher in 1998. The ‘98 team was never considered the best pitching rotation in baseball. That honor goes to the Atlanta Braves featuring Greg Maddux (Hall of Fame), Tom Glavine (Hall of Fame), and John Smoltz (Hall of Fame). Instead, the ‘98 Yankees featured a good pitching staff to go with an otherwise excellent team. Their pitching staff still did well across the entire season. The lowest ERA among their starting staff was Orlando Hernandez with a very good 3.13 ERA over 141.0 innings, with the next lowest going to David Wells at 3.49 ERA over 214.1 innings. David Cone rounded out the top three with a, still very good, 3.55 ERA over 207.2 innings.
Notwithstanding the fact that none of the Yankees current pitchers will get even close to 200 innings, the current starting pitchers match or exceed the best ERA from the 1998 team. Nestor Cortes has a 2.51 ERA over 79.0 innings, with Gerrit Cole having a 2.99 ERA over 87.1 innings. On the high end, Severino, Taillon, and Montgomery have ERAs between 3.27 and 3.35. Even more mind boggling is the 0.49 ERA that Clay Holmes currently sports. Baseball Reference has him listed as having 775 ERA+ which just does not seem correct, but nonetheless indicates his absolute dominance out of the pen. Over the first half of the season, the current Yankees have absolutely dominated on the mound. They have exceeded the pitching of the 1998 Yankees in pretty much every aspect except length of start per game.
If the Yankees pitching staff can keep up a semblance of the performance that they have had up until this point, then they stand a very good chance of being a better pitching team than both the 2009 and 1998 world champions. Both their starting and relief pitching stand a fairly good chance of exceeding those excellent teams. In fact, the pitching is so good, that it stands a chance of being one of the very best pitching seasons for any team. They have been that good.