As of writing this article I just returned from watching the Yankees defeat the St. Louis Cardinals in a wacky 3-2 win, and all I can think to myself is not only how absolutely bizarre this game was, but also the fact that it required such bizarre events for the Yankees to find themselves victorious. Carlos Martinez had the first eight-plus walk, eleven-plus strikeout start since Randy Johnson in 1993, and it was the first time in baseball history this happened in fewer than six innings.
That doesn’t even include the couple of wild pitches, the error from Martinez as he sailed the ball over Yadier Molina during a play at home, and Tyler Clippard nearly coughing it up in the ninth. It seemed like a classic 2013-2016 game of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but the Yankees came out on top, thankfully.
This game speaks to a larger pattern we’ve seen so far this season, especially in this most recent six-game winning streak. The Yankees have come out on top by just a run in their last three, and they’ve been buoyed by performances from Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Austin Romine, and Chase Headley.
This is against the backdrop of a lot of angst: Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius are missing significant time, Greg Bird hasn’t been producing at all, Masahiro Tanaka has been less than sharp, and James Kaprielian will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
In a normal world, these characters—Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes, Michael Pineda, and Chase Headley—aren’t your heroes, and this is by no means to be expected moving forward, so the point is you take that for what it’s worth: some banked wins when you wouldn’t have expected them.
Jeff Sullivan wrote an interesting piece for FanGraphs a few days ago about the Mariners and their (at that time) 2-8 start. He explains the obviously small but non-trivial correlation between an early start and full season winning percentage, and that a bad start can “put you in a hole” where your talent level hasn’t really changed, but it would require you to over-perform that talent level to get out of the hole.
That happened to the Yankees last year, as we know. They were 8-14 in April and it put them in a hole that they couldn’t escape from, because they were still the same, mediocre team after that poor stretch was over.
A 7-4 start is nothing drastic, but it is definitely something to be happy about considering those aforementioned circumstances. Better players are returning, so the talent level will actually rise, and I personally think Greg Bird will round into form very soon. While a slow start can sink you early, a great start doesn’t guarantee success; there’s still plenty of time to falter.