February 24, 2019

Tracking A Claim: Will The 2019 Yankees Have "The Best Bullpen Ever"?

In his AL East preview, after citing the Red Sox's shaky bullpen, Will Leitch of MLB.com wonders if the 2019 Yankees will have "the best bullpen ever".

Leitch states that the Yankees possess seven relievers "who would instantly become the best reliever on almost any other team" - though he names only six pitchers (Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle).

Leitch states that the Yankees are "shortening the game to an absurd level". Of course, a team "can't entirely eliminate bullpen volatility", but the Yankees "sure have come close". The entire situation is "downright unfair" to all of their opponents. And ... here comes the kicker: "If you're behind by more than two runs in the fifth inning, you may already be toast."

You may need to sit quietly for a minute before we continue. I understand.


In the meantime, a short statistical sidebar: Kahnle's ERA last year was 6.56. On which MLB team would a guy with a 6.56 ERA (which would have been 8.49 if all his runs allowed had been earned), 1.63 WHIP, and 5.8 BB/9 "instantly" be the best reliever in that team's pen? Can anyone find a frigging minor league team anywhere where that would be true? ... I'm left thinking Leitch looked only at Kahnle's W-L record, which was 2-0.)


We okay? It's true that a trailing team might be toast at that point. You cannot argue that going on to lose that game is one of two possibilities. However, Leitch is not making that literal point. No, he's offering the unadulterated nonsense you expect to hear only from an ignorant (or drunk (or both)) MFY fan.

I will state with a high degree of certainty that the Yankees' record in 2019 with a lead of more than two runs in the fifth inning (or whenever the bullpen takes over) will not be some shocking historical outlier when compared to the other top teams in MLB.

In fact, this is something I want to track this season, like last spring's silly claim, made by several writers, that there would be many, many Yankee games in which Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez would all hit home runs.

So which bullpens should we watch this year?

There were six teams with bullpen ERAs under 4.00 last year:
Astros        3.30
Dodgers       3.74
Cubs          3.96
Diamondbacks  3.98
Rays          3.99
Red Sox       3.99
A seventh team - Cleveland - had a bullpen right at 4.00. ... The Yankees were a distant 10th, at 4.13.

I think we should stay within the AL (because those teams are facing DHs most nights). How about the four contending teams - Boston, New York, Cleveland, Houston - and the Rays? The big question is whether we count games in which these teams are ahead by at least two runs in the fifth inning (even if the starter is still pitching) or if we consider the score when the first bullpen arm enters the game. Any thoughts?

Also, apropos of something:

The 2018 Red Sox bullpen had more wins than the Yankees' bullpen (40 to 35).

The 2018 Red Sox bullpen had fewer losses than the Yankees' bullpen (16 to 20).

The 2018 Red Sox bullpen had two more blown saves than the Yankees' bullpen (20 to 18), but both teams allowed 32% of inherited runners to score.

2018 Record At Start of 5th Inning
             Ahead         Tied         Behind
Yankees   71-10 .877    14- 8 .636    15-44 .254
Red Sox   60- 7 .896    25- 6 .806    23-41 .359
2018 Record At Start of 6th Inning
             Ahead         Tied         Behind
Yankees   76-10 .884    14-10 .583    10-42 .192
Red Sox   78- 7 .918    17- 7 .708    13-40 .245


Jere said...

Leitch has lost it, man.

So I posted a comment the other day here about a call I heard Dave O'Brien make in the first game, but I screwed something up and it didn't go through. But I ended up finding the video of it and tweeting it out. Needless to say he was in mid-season form in game 1 of ST.

allan said...

Needless to say he was in mid-season form in game 1 of ST.

Well, I had been looking forward to this season ... Thanks.

Jim said...

I equate writing for MLB.com with Pravda reporting on what Khruschev and the commies were up to.

Shawn K said...

It's not as if the Yanks are going to empty the bullpen of all their elite guys every time that they're up by 2 in the fifth. Not unless they want to the pen to burn out by the middle of August.

It's not a bad approach to the playoffs, but it's hardly a guarantee because (i) your starting pitching might get lit up early; (ii) the other team might, as with the Sox last year, get shut down innings from inconsistent guys like Kelly whole your guys could have an off week; (iii) your offense might be feast and famine, fit to beat up on mediocre staffs but shut down in the playoffs.

It's better to have a good bullpen than a bad one, and barring injuries the Yanks pen should be good. But it hardly guarantees a smooth path to the series.