When talking about starting pitchers, baseball announcers will often say the key to a quality start is avoiding the big inning, and it's true that keeping the opposition to ones and zeroes on the scoreboard will usually lead to success. On the other side of the coin, filling the scoreboard with crooked numbers when on offense will also lead to a win more often than not. In order to see which inning has typically been most successful for the Yankees, let's take a look at the graph below which tracks their runs scored and allowed by inning this season. (Data from Baseball Reference through Friday's games)
What's clear here is that the Yankees are taking care of business at the very beginning of games. Managers will often say that it's important their team get out to any early lead and in that case, Joe Girardi must be ecstatic. They are scoring runs in the first inning at a rate that's about 50% higher than the MLB average and have outscored their opponents by a total of 67 runs in the first two innings alone. That's more than three quarters of their +86 run differential for the season. Table setters Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are getting on base with high frequency to start games off and, more importantly, the big bats behind them are making sure they find their way home.
The Yankees are also finishing games strong to protect the early leads that they build. In the seventh inning their scoring rate is more than 40% higher than league average as the aforementioned big bats take advantage of weaknesses in opposing bullpens. While that scoring rate takes quite a dip in the eighth inning, it's counterbalanced by the presence of Dellin Betances who has become one of the team's most valuable assets. Thanks to the big righty, the Yankees are suppressing runs by nearly 25% compared to league average and are outscoring opponents by 22 runs in the eighth. As effective as Andrew Miller has been in the ninth, Betances has been the real difference maker at the back of the Yankee bullpen.
The biggest area of weakness here are the third and sixth innings. The lineup becomes human as the bottom three hitters take their turn at bat, but they still maintain average production. The real problem is the spike in runs allowed seen during those two innings. In each case the Yankees are about 30% worse than league average. In general, that would suggest that Yankee starters struggle as they see the top of the order for the second and third times. More specifically for the sixth inning, it may also suggest that they haven't fully figured out the link between the starters and the big guns in the bullpen. After beginning the year in the rotation, Adam Warren is becoming the solution to that problem.
So as you prepare to watch the Yankees take on the Rays this holiday weekend, your best bet is to stay tuned for the first two innings, nap, and wake up in time to catch the final three frames. Chances are you'll be pleasantly surprised. Happy Labor Day everyone.