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With a Rough Stretch Approaching, Red Sox Look to Reinforce Their Rotation

© Ashley Green/Worcester Telegram & Gazette / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Mets aren’t the only team awaiting an ace’s return from injury. Chris Sale is scheduled to start for the Red Sox’s Triple-A Worcester affiliate on Wednesday, and if all goes well, the 33-year-old lefty could join the big club after that, in time to help a team whose rotation is looking rather threadbare as it heads into a crucial stretch of the season. While Sale pitches for Worcester, fast-rising prospect Brayan Bello — whose rotation slot Sale is filling — will debut in Boston against the Rays.

After winning 92 games and falling just two wins short of a trip to the World Series in 2021, the Red Sox stumbled to a 14-22 start, and were just 23-27 at the end of May. Though they went 20-6 in June, they actually lost ground to the Yankees, who went 22-6. After splitting their first four games of July, they’re 45-36, 13 games out of first place, and while they now occupy the top AL Wild Card spot, they’re about to face a major test. The three-game series they began on Monday kicked off a brutal 27-game stretch against teams .500 or better, with seven apiece against the Rays (44-37) and Yankees (58-23, a 116-win pace) followed by three against the Blue Jays (44-38), four against the Guardians (40-39), three against the Brewers (47-36) and three against the Astros (53-27).

That’s a weighted opponents’ winning percentage of .595 for that span, a 96-win pace over the course of 162 games, with all but Cleveland currently occupying a playoff spot. The good news for the Red Sox is that 17 of the 27 games are at home, but the bad news is that their rotation currently has three starters (Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill, and Garrett Whitlock) on the injured list and a fourth (Michael Wacha) whose status is in question after being scratched on Sunday, forcing manager Alex Cora and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to piece things together on a day-by-day basis. Hence the higher stakes when it comes to the progress of Sale and the debut of Bello. Read the rest of this entry »

For Slumping Mets, Help on the Horizon in Scherzer, deGrom Returns

Max Scherzer
Press and Sun-Bulletin

For the Mets, help is on the way at long last in the form of a pair of multiple Cy Young award winners. On Sunday, Jacob deGrom dominated in his first rehab start for the team’s Single-A affiliate, his first competitive start in nearly a year, and on Tuesday, Max Scherzer is scheduled to start for the big club for the first time in nearly seven weeks. The two aces should provide a boost for a team whose lead in the NL East has dwindled since reaching double digits at the end of May.

The 34-year-old deGrom, who had been sidelined since March 27 due to a stress reaction in his right scapula, struck out five of the six hitters he faced for the St. Lucie Mets, reaching 100 mph with his four-seam fastball against the first three of those hitters. Wearing a garish camouflage-and-stars-and-stripes jersey, he threw 24 pitches, 18 for strikes; the only blemish on his performance was hitting the Jupiter Hammerheads’ Ian Lewis in the foot with a cutter.

That was deGrom’s first competitive appearance since last July 7, interrupting what had the look of a season for the ages. Through 15 starts and 92 innings, he had pitched to a 1.08 ERA and 1.24 FIP, striking out 45.1% of all hitters, walking just 3.4%, and averaging 99.2 mph with his fastball. His elbow couldn’t handle the stress, though not until September was his “inflammation” revealed to be a low-grade sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament. The two-time Cy Young winner, who underwent Tommy John surgery back in October 2010, shortly after completing his first professional season, thankfully did not need surgery to heal this time around. “I have been told my UCL is perfectly fine,” he said in mid-March, before his shoulder injury.

By his own description at least, his shoulder is fine as well. “I felt like I had control of everything — the main thing was trying to locate the fastball and pitch off that. Everything felt good,” he said after Sunday’s start. “[My shoulder] feels 100 percent. Because it was bone… you can’t really push it. I had to wait until the bone was healed and move forward from there.”

DeGrom said he expects to make at least one more start for St. Lucie. He’ll probably need a couple of additional turns at higher levels to build his pitch count to the point of a late-July return to the Mets. Expecting him to pick up where he left off a year ago is probably a recipe for disappointment given how far off the charts that performance was, but the bar for him to improve the team’s outlook isn’t nearly that high.

As for Scherzer, he pitched to a 2.54 ERA and 2.96 FIP and struck out 30.6% of hitters through his first eight starts as a Met before straining an oblique muscle in his May 17 start. His 47-day stay on the injured list is the longest of his major league career, capped by a pair of starts for the Double-A Binghamtom Rumble Ponies late last month, with pitch counts of 65 and 80. The 37-year-old three-time Cy Young winner additionally made quite an impression by treating his teammates to a feast of bone-in ribeye, filet mignon and lobster that reportedly cost upwards of $7,000; he also purchased a pair of AirPods headphones for each teammate. In Tuesday’s return against the Reds, he’s expected to throw about 90 pitches over six innings.

When Scherzer landed on the IL, the Mets were 26–14, seven games ahead of the pack in the NL East. By the end of the month, they were 34–17, their third-best mark through 51 games, behind only their celebrated 1986 and ’88 teams. Additionally, their 10.5-game lead through the end of May was the third-largest of any team since division play began in 1969, trailing only those of the 2001 Mariners and ’17 Astros. The Mets couldn’t maintain that pace in June, however, going just 13–12 against a difficult schedule that included the Dodgers, Padres, Brewers, and Astros, against whom they went a combined 5–9. Though they’ve perked up via a 3–1 start in July, the surges of the Braves (24–6 since the end of May) and Phillies (21–9 in that span) have narrowed their cushion to four games.

Through the end of May, the Mets had outscored opponents by nearly a run and a half per game, but since then, they’ve been outscored by about four-tenths of a run per game:

The Mets’ June Swoon
Period W L Win% RS RA PythW-L%
April/May 34 17 .667 5.22 3.80 .641
June/July 16 13 .552 4.07 4.48 .456
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

During both segments of the season, they’ve outplayed their Pythagorean winning percentage, with a trio of particularly lopsided June losses (13–2 to the Padres on June 8, 10–2 to the Brewers on June 15, 9–1 to the Astros on June 28) distorting their run differential. Take those away and they have a 4.35 to 3.77 advantage in per-game scoring since the start of June, as well as a .565 Pythagorean percentage. Alas, those games did happen, they did count, and the pitching staff is showing some wear and tear:

Mets Pitching by Months
Starters ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9
April/May 3.83 3.76 22.4% 6.7% 1.02
June/July 4.53 3.95 26.9% 6.9% 1.45
Relievers ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9
April/May 3.50 3.52 27.7% 9.3% 0.99
June/July 3.79 4.34 25.8% 9.5% 1.44

Most of the deterioration in the team’s pitching owes to the long ball, though to be fair, there’s a lot of that going around, as the major league home run rate has risen from 1.02 per nine innings in April and May to 1.21 per nine since. The problem has been particularly acute for Carlos Carrasco (2.04 per nine in June and July), Tylor Megill (2.70) and Trevor Williams (4.26) — the last two in particularly small samples, admittedly — and has driven the overall downturn in their performances.

The 35-year-old Carrasco is the only Met to make a full complement of starts (16) thus far, that after making just 12 starts last year due to a right hamstring injury. He pitched to a 3.98 ERA and 2.79 FIP through the end of May thanks to improved results on his slider and changeup, both of which got whacked around last year. While he began June with strong starts against the Nationals and Padres, he was bombarded for seven homers and 19 runs in 17.2 innings over a four-start stretch against the Angels, Marlins, and Astros (twice), allowing more runs than innings pitched in all but the Miami start. He did pitch well against the Rangers on Sunday (5.2 innings, one run, eight strikeouts), lowering his ERA to 4.64 and his FIP to a more respectable 3.68, but batters have slugged .439 or better against all four of his main offerings (four-seam, sinker, slider, and changeup) in June and July, a trend that could be hazardous if it continues.

The 26-year-old Megill turned in some impressive outings early in the season, highlighted by his throwing the first five innings of the team’s combined no-hitter against the Phillies on April 29, but after being torched for eight runs in 1.1 innings on May 11, he landed on the injured list with biceps inflammation. Upon returning a month later, he yielded six runs in 6.2 innings over two starts, suffered a shoulder strain and was shut down; he’s now on the 60-day IL, meaning that the earliest he could return would be mid-August. As for the 30-year-old Williams, he’s been very useful out of the bullpen (2.00 ERA, 2.62 FIP in 18 innings), but his performance in the rotation (5.86 ERA, 6.27 FIP in 27.2 innings) has been erratic at best.

Fortunately, Taijuan Walker has done good work (2.72 ERA, 3.09 FIP) in making 14 starts, and Chris Bassitt has been solid (4.01 ERA, 3.92 FIP), though the latter just landed on the IL in Friday with what is reportedly a bout of COVID-19. David Peterson has done the bulk of the fill-in work in the absence of Scherzer and other injured pitchers and has been the unit’s unsung hero, posting a 3.24 ERA and 3.78 FIP in 58.1 innings.

For as fluffed-up as the Mets bullpen’s ERA has been since June, there’s been some very good news, in that Edwin Díaz has been absolutely lights out. Since blowing a save against the Giants on May 24, he’s allowed just one run in 13.2 innings, pitching to a 0.66 ERA and -0.25 FIP (yes, negative) and striking out 54.7% of batters faced. Overall, he owns a 1.93 ERA and 1.63 FIP and has allowed just one barreled ball all season. Meanwhile, Adam Ottavino is showing signs of returning from his wilderness years with the Yankees and Red Sox; since the start of June, he’s posted a 0.71 ERA, and overall for the season he’s carrying a 2.67 ERA and 3.28 FIP. On the down side, the struggles of lefties Chasen Shreve and Joely Rodríguez stand out, with the pair combining to allow 15 runs in 17 innings since the start of June. As a group, Mets lefty relievers (mainly that pair plus a couple of spot appearances) allowed a .283 wOBA through the end of May, but that’s up to .363 since, giving general manager Billy Eppler something to add to his trade deadline shopping list.

The Mets’ offense isn’t blameless when it comes to the team’s recent struggles, dipping from a 116 wRC+ through the end of May to 99 since. Unlike the rotation, there’s no cavalry on the immediate horizon, but given the 45 wRC+ they’ve received from catchers Tomás Nido, James McCann, and Patrick Mazeika, the possibility of recalling top prospect Francisco Álvarez offers some appeal. The 20-year-old backstop, who placed seventh on our preseason Top 100 Prospects list, was just promoted to Triple-A Syracuse, however, and the Mets aren’t likely to rush him to the majors.

In the grand scheme, a Mets team that has gotten a combined eight starts from its two aces through the first half of the season has played .625 ball nonetheless. The team already owns a 97.9% chance at a playoff spot and a 51.7% chance at a first-round bye, and the returns of Scherzer and deGrom will soon overshadow their June swoon.

In Knocking Over the Yankees and Mets, the Astros Got Banged Up Themselves

© Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees and Mets have the best records in their respective leagues, but both teams took their lumps in the past week when the Astros came to town. Houston even threw a combined no-hitter at Yankee Stadium last Saturday while splitting a four-game series, halting the Yankees’ streak of seven straight series wins dating back to the end of May, then held the Mets to a grand total of one run in their two-game sweep. Yet the Astros didn’t escape from New York unscathed, placing Michael Brantley on the injured list due to right shoulder discomfort and shuddering as left fielder Yordan Alvarez and shortstop Jeremy Peña left Wednesday’s game after colliding in the outfield.

Alvarez and Brantley have split the left field and designated hitter duties pretty evenly this season; with the latter sidelined, the former got the call on Wednesday afternoon. In the eighth inning, Peña and Alvarez converged towards a shallow fly ball off the bat of Dominic Smith, with the shortstop making an over-the-shoulder grab but running into the much larger left fielder (Alvarez’s listed five-inch, 23-pound advantage seems conservative). Peña’s left arm hit Alvarez’s face, while Alvarez’s right arm hit Peña’s face. Both players got tangled up, went down hard, and stayed down for a few minutes while the Astros’ training staff tended to them.

Both players remained responsive and wanted to stay in the game but were pulled, with Alvarez, who missed all but two games in the 2020 season due to a torn patellar tendon, carted off the field; Peña walked off under his own power. Both players were evaluated for concussions, with Peña known to have additionally suffered a laceration in his mouth. Chas McCormick took over in left field for the remainder of the game while Mauricio Dubón assumed shortstop duties. Read the rest of this entry »

Despite the Drama, Freeman Has Been the Dodgers’ Steady Freddie

Freddie Freeman
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of Freddie Freeman’s starring role in the Braves’ championship run, the sequence of events that landed him in a Dodgers uniform was swift and shocking. Three months later, the 32-year-old first baseman still appears to be searching for closure, but for all the drama and the concerns about where his loyalties lie, he’s remained exceptionally productive even while the Dodgers’ offense has cooled off.

Freeman spent 15 seasons in the Braves’ organization, 11 as their regular first baseman (five times an All-Star, once an MVP), and last fall helped them win their first World Series since 1995. While most of the industry assumed he and the Braves would find a way to remain together once he reached free agency, on March 14 the team pulled off a blockbuster to acquire Oakland’s Matt Olson, abruptly closing the door on the Freeman era and underscoring that by quickly agreeing to an an eight-year, $168 million extension with the ex-Athletic. The suddenly jilted Freeman agreed to a six-year, $162 million deal with the Dodgers on March 16, returning him to his native California via the team that faced his Braves in the NLCS in each of the past two seasons. For as celebratory as the occasion should have been, in his introductory press conference Freeman described himself as “blindsided” by the Olson trade, adding, “I think every emotion came across. I was hurt. It’s really hard to put into words still.”

“I thought I was going to spend my whole career there, but ultimately sometimes plans change,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Freeman and the Braves to cross paths again. The two teams squared off for a three-game series in Los Angeles starting on April 18, with the first baseman punctuating the reunion by homering in the first and third games of the series and going 4-for-11 as the Dodgers took two of three. Not until last weekend did the two teams meet in Atlanta, providing the Braves with the opportunity to present the former face of the franchise with his World Series ring. Ahead of the ceremony on Friday, a teary-eyed Freeman said in his press conference, “I don’t even know how I’m going to get through this weekend,” and had to pause several times to collect himself when discussing his time with the Braves. After the team paid tribute to him, and manager Brian Snitker presented him with his ring, Freeman teared up again while addressing the Atlanta crowd:

It was, perhaps, a bit much for the Dodgers to stomach. In discussing the Freeman tribute with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Clayton Kershaw hinted at his teammates’ impatience when he said, “It was very cool (to see Freeman’s reception Friday night)… He’s obviously been a big contributor for our team. And I hope we’re not second fiddle. It’s a pretty special team over here, too. I think whenever he gets comfortable over here, he’ll really enjoy it.”

Freeman didn’t homer during the series but he he did survive the weekend, going 4-for-12 with three walks and an extra-innings RBI double in Sunday’s rubber match as the Dodgers again took two out of three. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesse Winker’s Showing More Punch Lately

Jesse Winker
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been an eventful couple of weeks for Jesse Winker. On the heels of an exceptional but injury-shortened campaign with the Reds and then a mid-March trade to the Mariners, he hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, yet earlier this month, the team signed him to an extension that will carry him to free agency. On Sunday, Winker found himself at the center of the season’s biggest brawl, a spectacle that produced some unexpected payoffs as well as a boatload of suspensions, including a seven-gamer for the 29-year-old left fielder.

The atmosphere on Sunday in Anaheim was already tense in the wake of Mariners reliever Erik Swanson sailing a 95-mph fastball too close to the head of Mike Trout — who last week in Seattle homered five times in a five-game series, with four of the homers decisive — in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s game. Trout was understandably upset, though Swanson claimed he was merely trying to work up and in to a weak spot in the three-time MVP’s strike zone. The Angels, who lost after Trout was subsequently intentionally walked and then Shohei Ohtani retired, weren’t amused; as the epic breakdown from Jomboy Media showed, they spent a lot of time glaring and squawking as the Mariners celebrated their victory.

On Sunday, things escalated quickly. Angels starter Andrew Wantz’s fifth pitch of the day, a 93-mph fastball, whizzed behind the head of Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez, prompting a warning from home plate umpire John Bacon. Winker came to the plate to lead off the second inning and was hit in his right hip by a 91-mph fastball. After jawing with catcher Max Stassi, gesturing toward Wantz and stepping out in front of home plate, he headed toward the Angels’ dugout, where he was met by a rather large contingent. His teammates quickly joined him, and a full-on scrum ensued, with Winker and teammate J.P. Crawford among those throwing punches.

Wantz, incidentally, was a last-minute replacement for scheduled starter Jose Suarez and was making his first major league start after 32 relief appearances dating back to last year. The Mariners later said that they believed the switch was made with the intention of Wantz acting as an enforcer, and that the 26-year-old righty should have been ejected after nearly hitting Rodríguez, but in his postgame comments, Wantz denied any intent with regards either to that pitch or the one that hit Winker. Winker, for his part, felt that if Wantz had been ejected for hitting him, none of the fighting would have occurred, and that Angels manager Phil Nevin and the injured Anthony Rendon (seen hitting Winker in the face with his left — non-injured — hand) instigated the brawl from the dugout. Read the rest of this entry »

Bryce Harper’s Broken Thumb Could Derail Phillies’ Comeback

Bryce Harper
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Since firing manager Joe Girardi on June 3, the Phillies have made significant strides toward climbing back into the playoff hunt, but on Saturday night, their chances took a significant hit. In the fourth inning of their game with the Padres in San Diego, Bryce Harper was hit by a 97-mph Blake Snell fastball, fracturing his left thumb and knocking him out of the lineup indefinitely.

When Harper was hit, his hands were so near his head that initially it appeared he got hit in the face. Even after it was clear that it had not, it was apparent that his injury was a significant one:

“I kind of wish it would have hit me in the face,” Harper told reporters afterward, conveniently forgetting many a career-altering beaning. “I don’t break bones in my face. I can take 98 to the face, but I can’t take 97 to the thumb.”

The 29-year-old Harper, the National League’s reigning Most Valuable Player, was already playing through a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that was diagnosed in mid-May, after which he received an injection of platelet-rich plasma. The tear is apparently traceable to an April 11 throw from right field that had limited Harper to designated hitter duty since April 17. Last week, he missed three games due to an infected blister at the base of his left index finger.

Despite the elbow injury, Harper has thrived. He’s hitting .318/.385/.599 with 15 homers, with both his slugging percentage and 166 wRC+ ranking second in the NL — the latter mark just four points below last year’s major league-leading figure — and his 2.7 WAR ninth. This month, as the team has gone 18–6 (17–6 since firing Girardi, including wins on Saturday and Sunday over the Padres), Harper hit .359/.455/.641 (201 wRC+), practically carrying the offense. But at this writing, he’s the third of the NL’s top 10 players in WAR to be sidelined by an injury, joining Manny Machado (sprained left ankle) and Mookie Betts (cracked rib) in the virtual infirmary. Read the rest of this entry »

The Yankees Are Keeping Pace With Their 1998 Powerhouse

© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees lost a rollercoaster game to the Blue Jays in Toronto on Sunday, bringing their nine-game winning streak to an end. The streak — the team’s second-longest of the season — helped the Yankees open up a double-digit lead in the American League East; even with the loss, New York is 49-17, 11 games ahead of Toronto (38-28). Two and a half months into the season, the Yankees’ performance has called to mind those of other recent powerhouses, including their hallowed 1998 squad. Given that they’ve matched the 1998 team’s record through 66 games, it’s worth taking a closer look.

The Yankees not only have the majors’ highest winning percentage (.742) and largest run differential (143), they’re miles ahead of the competition. Their winning percentage is 95 points higher than that of the second-ranked Mets (.647), who are playing at a 105-win clip, while their run differential is 29 runs better than the second-ranked Dodgers (114). Through 66 games, they’re tied for the fourth-highest win total of the live-ball era (since 1920):

Best Records Through 66 Games Since 1920
Tm Year W L Win% Final W Final L Final Win% Result
SEA 2001 52 14 .788 116 46 .716 Lost ALCS
NYY 1928 50 16 .758 101 53 .656 Won WS
NYY 1939 50 16 .758 106 45 .702 Won WS
PHA 1929 49 17 .742 104 46 .693 Won WS
BRO 1955 49 17 .742 98 55 .641 Won WS
DET 1984 49 17 .742 104 58 .642 Won WS
NYY 1998 49 17 .742 114 48 .704 Won WS
NYY 2022 49 17 .742
BAL 1969 48 18 .727 109 53 .673 Lost WS
PHA 1931 47 19 .712 107 45 .704 Lost WS
NYY 1932 47 19 .712 107 47 .695 Won WS
BRO 1942 47 19 .712 104 50 .675 2nd NL
BRO 1952 47 19 .712 96 57 .627 Lost WS
PHI 1976 47 19 .712 101 61 .623 Lost NLCS
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that just two weeks ago I noted that the Yankees’ start was the best since those 2001 Mariners. Of the other 13 teams with at least 47 wins through 66 games, 12 made the postseason and 10 the World Series, with seven winning the Fall Classic. But as you can see, most of those teams precede the expansion era, with its 162-game seasons (which began in 1961-62) and postseason playoffs (which began in 1969). For a more modern perspective, here’s a look at the best 66-game starts from the Wild Card Era (which began in 1995):

Best Records Through 66 Games Since 1995
Tm Year W L Win% Final W Final L Final Win% Result
SEA 2001 52 14 .788 116 46 .716 Lost ALCS
NYY 1998 49 17 .742 114 48 .704 Won WS
NYY 2022 49 17 .742
CLE 1995 46 20 .697 100 44 .694 Lost WS
BAL 1997 46 20 .697 98 64 .605 Lost ALCS
CHC 2016 46 20 .697 103 58 .640 Won WS
ATL 1998 45 21 .682 106 56 .654 Lost NLCS
CLE 1999 45 21 .682 97 65 .599 Lost ALDS
ATL 2003 45 21 .682 101 61 .623 Lost NLDS
NYY 2018 45 21 .682 100 62 .617 Lost ALDS
LAD 2019 45 21 .682 106 56 .654 Lost NLDS
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

All 10 teams besides these Yankees made the playoffs, but only two won the World Series, which is either an argument that many of these teams peaked too early or an indictment (or at least an acknowledgment) of the tournament-like nature of the period’s postseason, where five games mean more than 162. It is nonetheless worth noting that those 10 other teams finished the year with a collective .650 winning percentage, the equivalent of a 105-win season. These were some kick-ass squads.

The current Yankees may not have the top spot on either of those lists, but they’ve matched the 1998 Yankees to this point. Their .742 winning percentage puts them on pace to win 120 games, which would surpass the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs for the single-season record. Some other hypotheticals:

  • If the Yankees go 48-48 (.500) the rest of the way, they would finish 97-65 (.599).
  • If they go 55-41 (.573) the rest of the way, they would finish 104-58 (.642), their best record since 1998. This is one win ahead of the record that we have them forecast for via our Projected Standings.
  • If they go 60-36 (.625) the rest of the way, they would finish 109-53 (.673), surpassing the 2018 Red Sox (108-54) for the best record for any team since the 2001 Mariners.
  • If they go 66-30 (.688) the rest of the way, they would finish 115-47 (.710), surpassing the 1998 Yankees for the highest win total in franchise history, while if they go 67-29 (.698), they would finish 116-46 (.716), surpassing the 1927 Yankees (110-44, .714) for the highest winning percentage in franchise history.
  • If they go 68-28 (.708) the rest of the way, they would finish 117-45 (.722), surpassing both the 2001 Mariners in wins and the AL record-holding 1954 Indians in winning percentage (.721, via a 111-43 record).
  • If they go 75-21 (.781) the rest of the way, they would finish with a .765 winning percentage (124-38), topping the 1906 Cubs’ .763 (116-36) for the all-time record.

I don’t advise holding your breath in anticipation of any of this beyond perhaps the first couple of bullet points. That said, I will note that only the last of those scenarios listed above would require the Yankees to improve upon what they’ve already done.

Prior to losing on Sunday, the Yankees had won 16 of 17 games and 42 of their past 52, with that longer streak bookended by their winning streaks of 11 games (April 22–May 3) and nine (June 9–18). Their 40-10 record over a 50-game stretch has been surpassed by only a small handful of teams in the Wild Card era, namely the 1998 Yankees (41-9), 2002 A’s (41-9), ’13 Dodgers (42-8), ’17 Cleveland (42-8), and ’17 Dodgers (43-7). The 1997 Yankees, 2001 Mariners, ’02 Giants, and ’01 and ’05 A’s all topped out at 40-10 over their best 50-game stretches. Note that most of these teams had several overlapping stretches with the same record.

Lest anyone think that the current Yankees have been playing only the majors’ dregs during those runs, their two long winning streaks have included three-game sweeps of the Guardians and Rays, and series wins over the Blue Jays (twice) and Twins — all teams in playoff positions now. They’re 18-7 against those teams; they have yet to play the Astros, the other AL team occupying a playoff slot. Overall, they’re 20-8 against teams with a .500 or better record, and 24-11 within the AL East, a division that has three other teams with a .537 winning percentage or better, two of which would qualify for the playoffs.

The Yankees can win all types of ways. They’re 14-3 in blowout games, those decided by five or more runs; their .824 winning percentage in that context is the majors’ best, though both the Dodgers (16-4) and Twins (16-14) have more wins (and losses) in such games. Meanwhile, they’re 14-5 in one-run games, where their .736 winning percentage is again tops, though the Blue Jays (17-8) have more wins (and losses) in such games.

In terms of run differential, the Yankees have outscored opponents by 143 runs, 2.17 per game, the fourth-largest margin of the live-ball era, and they have the second-best Pythagorean record of that period:

Highest Pythagorean Winning Percentages Since 1901
Team Year W L W-L% Dif/Gm pythW-L% Result
NYY 1939 106 45 .702 2.70 .734 Won WS
NYY 2022 49 17 .742 2.17 .731
LAD 2020 43 17 .717 2.27 .712 Won WS
NYY 1927 110 44 .714 2.43 .709 Won WS
NYY 1942 103 51 .669 1.91 .698 Lost WS
STL 1944 105 49 .682 1.80 .697 Won WS
STL 1942 106 48 .688 1.76 .696 Won WS
LAD 2022 40 25 .615 1.78 .687
BAL 1969 109 53 .673 1.62 .679 Lost WS
HOU 2018 103 59 .636 1.62 .675 Lost ALCS
SEA 2001 116 46 .716 1.85 .672 Lost ALCS
CLE 1948 97 58 .626 1.74 .672 Won WS
LAD 2021 106 56 .654 1.66 .672 Lost NLCS
CLE 1954 111 43 .721 1.55 .672 Lost WS
NYY 1998 114 48 .704 1.91 .670 Won WS
PHA 1929 104 46 .693 1.89 .668 Won WS
NYY 1953 99 52 .656 1.68 .668 Won WS
NYY 1936 102 51 .667 2.15 .666 Won WS
NYY 1937 102 52 .662 1.96 .666 Won WS
CHC 2016 103 58 .640 1.56 .665 Won WS
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Since I’m comparing a team that has played 66 games against ones that played 154 or 162, I left the 2020 Dodgers in the mix, as they serve to remind that extremes can be reached in smaller samples. That said, the second-highest Pythagorean winning percentage from that pandemic-shortened season belonged to the Padres, whose .633 is just 64th among all teams since 1920, so it’s not like the leaderboard was overrun due to my choice or that those Dodgers’ dominance was illusory.

(Note that Baseball Reference, from which all of this data was culled, uses the 1.83 exponent in its Pythagorean formula [(RS^1.83 + RA^1.83)/(RS^1.83)], whereas our site uses the PythagenPat formula, in which the exponent is derived from the league’s per-game scoring environment via the formula X = ((RS + RA)/G)^.285. By the latter formula, the Yankees’ Pythagenpat winning percentage is .730, though when I started writing this the difference was a few points larger. No matter; by either formula, they’re only about one win shy their actual record, which is to say that whatever they’re doing isn’t particularly fluky.)

Inevitably, since they’ve matched the 1998 Yankees’ record to this point, the comparisons have already begun, particularly in a YES Network broadcast booth that often features David Cone and/or Paul O’Neill. Yes, it’s hard to set aside what we now know about the way that the careers of the “Core Four” — Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera plus Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada — as well as the memorable supporting cast (including Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre), turned out. While all but Posada had played critical roles in the team’s championship two years earlier, the Core Four and the rest of their roster had not yet solidified their places in history circa 1998. Those Yankees were merely on their way to becoming the dynasty that would win four titles in five years, with some even bigger campaigns and legend-defining October performances awaiting them individually.

Keep in mind that in 1998, AL teams averaged 5.01 runs per game, whereas this year, they’re averaging 4.17 per game, so any comparison of raw statistics is misleading; one needs to adjust for the scoring context. With that, the numbers tell us that so far, the current Yankees have been better on both sides of the ball relative to the league — particularly on the run prevention side.

1998 Yankees vs. 2022 Yankees
1998 5.96 6444 .288 .364 .460 116 36.1 3.6
2022 5.15 2496 .249 .328 .444 122 14.8 3.9
1998 4.05 1061.1 3.85 85 4.11 91 18.4 3.5
2022 2.98 366.2 2.80 73 3.26 80 8.0 4.4
1998 4.05 395.1 3.76 83 4.24 94 2.8 1.4
2022 2.98 225.2 2.95 77 3.20 79 3.4 3.0

On the offensive side, the 1998 squad was certainly more balanced, with left field (where Chad Curtis shared the job with Tim Raines, with Ricky Ledee, Darryl Strawberry, and Shane Spencer also making notable contributions) the only one without a regular with a wRC+ of 100 or better. Bernie Williams (158 wC+) led the way on the offensive side but played in just 128 games due to a knee injury. Behind him were a quartet of full-timers in the 122-129 wRC+ range in O’Neill, Jeter, Scott Brosius, and Tino Martinez, as well as a roster with incredible depth, with Torre able to call upon the likes of Strawberry, Raines, and later in the year Spencer and Chili Davis. Jeter topped the team with 6.2 WAR, with O’Neill (5.4), Brosius (5.0) and Williams (4.9) not far behind.

That team didn’t have anybody performing in the stratosphere of Aaron Judge, who’s hitting for a 189 wRC+ and is currently on pace for 61 homers and 9.3 WAR. Three other full-timers have a wRC+ of 135 or higher in Anthony Rizzo (142), Giancarlo Stanton (140) and Gleyber Torres (137), and catcher Jose Trevino (132) has been nearly as good in part-time duty. Yet this lineup has gotten underwhelming offensive contributions from left field (Joey Gallo‘s 96 wRC+) and shortstop (Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s 86 wRC+), and center fielder Aaron Hicks (90 wRC+) struggled so much early that Judge has started there 30 times.

As for the pitching, I wrote about the current Yankees’ rotation recently. The unit has been the key to the Yankees’ success thus far, consistently turning in good-to-great starts. All five starters — Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon, and Luis Severino — currently have an ERA- ranging from 51 (Cortes) to 87 (Severino), and a FIP- ranging from 70 to 92 (same guys), which is to say that they’ve been substantially better than league average. The 1998 Yankees’ big three (Cone, David Wells, and Orlando Hernandez) were every bit as good, but Pettitte (95 ERA-, 95 FIP-) was not at his best that year, and Hideki Irabu (88 ERA-, 115 FIP-) and fill-in Ramiro Mendoza (85 ERA-, 97 FIP- in 14 starts) were solid but more erratic. The older group averaged almost a full inning more per turn (6.55 vs. 5.56), but on a per-inning basis, the younger group has been stingier — and more valuable, at least as measured by our version of WAR.

That’s true of the bullpen as well, where it’s important to note that for as good as Rivera had already become, the 1998 season was not his best; his 77 FIP-, as strong as it was, would stand as the worst of his career besides his rookie season, 15 points higher than his eventual career mark. Lefty setup man Mike Stanton (120 ERA-, 103 FIP-), whose 79.1 innings was second among the relievers, was uncharacteristically subpar, and righty Jeff Nelson (84 ERA-, 87 FIP-) was only healthy enough to throw 40.1 innings; he missed over two months due to lower back woes.

While this year’s unit has lacked a dominant Aroldis Chapman, Clay Holmes (7 ERA-, 38 FIP-, and no, those aren’t misprints) has been ungodly thanks to his incredible sinker; in fact, his streak of consecutive scoreless outings (29) and innings (31.1) recently surpassed Rivera’s franchise records, set in 1999. Michael King (63 ERA-, 45 FIP-) has been dominant in a multi-inning role thanks to his four-pitch mix. The real question is whether the unit can continue to withstand the losses of Chad Green to Tommy John surgery and Jonathan Loaisiga to a shoulder strain, and whether Chapman is past his Achilles woes. It may take more than what’s on hand to keep this unit afloat.

It’s a long summer, and the season still has nearly 100 games to go. Regression lurks around every corner for a team playing at such a blistering clip as these Yankees; a losing streak or a couple of sluggish weeks at any point could put an end to the type of history-minded comparisons I’m making. On the other hand, continued play at this pace could invite more detailed comparisons than the thumbnail sketch I’ve provided. These Yankees’ pace and performances to date tell us that they have a chance to join the pantheon of great ball clubs. Solidifying their spot will be another matter.

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 6/17/22

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks! Welcome to the Cape Cod edition of my Friday chat, as I am nearing the halfway point of my stay in Wellfleet.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: This week has been a mostly working one. Today I wrote about the two no-hit bids that were broken up in the ninth, along with some history…. A friend reminds me that I missed a chance for a Roger Angell tie-in with his coverage of Mike Mussina’s near-perfecto from 2001

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Yesterday I covered the dreadful Tigers offense,…, and earlier this week I hit the Braves’ winning streak… and Walker Buehler’s injury

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I have yet to see a Cape Cod League game — the plan is to do so Tuesday, but I’m just back from the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, which I highly recommend

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Connecting it back to baseball, official MLB historian John Thorn sent this along

@jay_jaffe @dgoold Everything connects to baseball, of course.
17 Jun 2022
Avatar Jay Jaffe: It’s from a drawing done for Sports Illustrated in 1983…

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Miles Mikolas and Tyler Anderson Both Had Close Encounters with No-Hitters

Miles Mikolas
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In a season that has already produced two no-hitters (as well as two that would have counted as such before Major League Baseball tightened its definition of the feat), this week produced two near-misses on consecutive nights. On Tuesday night in St. Louis, the Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas came within one strike of no-hitting the Pirates, and on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, the Dodgers’ Tyler Anderson fell two outs short of no-hitting the Angels. It’s fair to say that we’ve never seen anything quite like this.

Had either Mikolas or Anderson pulled off the feat, they would have joined Tylor Megill and four Mets relievers, who combined to no-hit the Phillies on April 29, and the Angels’ Reid Detmers, who no-hit the Rays on May 10. In the first of several coincidences that run through this tale, Detmers was actually Anderson’s opposite number on Wednesday, though he exited in the fourth inning after being roughed up for four runs. The Pirates, as it turns out, were already held hitless in a game on May 15 by the Reds’ Hunter Greene and Art Warren, but because they scored the game’s only run and didn’t need to bat in the ninth given that they were at home, the effort did not count as a no-hitter based on a 1991 ruling by MLB’s Committee for Statistical Accuracy.

(In the other non-no-hitter this year, six Rays pitchers held the Red Sox hitless for nine innings on April 23, but a seventh pitcher allowed a hit in the 10th inning.)

The 33-year-old Mikolas started the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader against a team that owns the NL’s weakest offense (3.42 runs per game) and its second-lowest batting average (.220). He only got as far as the second inning before allowing his first baserunner; with one out, he hit Canaan Smith-Njigba in the left foot with a slider, then erased him when Diego Castillo grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Mikolas need another double play in the third after leadoff hitter Hoy Park reached on an error, as third baseman Brendan Donovan, who fielded his grounder, pulled Paul Goldschmidt off first base with a high throw. Yu Chang followed by working a seven-pitch walk before Michael Perez grounded into the needed 4-6-3 double play and Tucupita Marcano struck out, one of six punchouts on the night for Mikolas.

That 20-pitch third inning was the St. Louis righty’s most labor-intensive of the night. By comparison, Mikolas needed only 10 pitches in the fourth, which began with another error by the Cardinals’ defense; this time, Bryan Reynolds‘ fly ball glanced off the glove of left fielder Juan Yepez. He took second on the error, then came around to score after groundouts by Jack Suwinski and Daniel Vogelbach.

By that point, the Cardinals had already plated seven runs, and Suwinski’s grounder began a string of 17 consecutive batters retired that carried Mikolas to within one out of completing the no-hitter. He passed the 100-pitch mark while facing Castillo, who led off the eighth inning by battling for eight pitches before striking out. By the end of the frame, Mikolas had matched his MLB career high of 115 pitches, set on May 29 in a 5.2-inning grind against the Brewers (Lord knows how high he went during his three years in Japan).

Mikolas needed just two pitches to dispatch Perez on a grounder to start the ninth, and six more to get Marcano to fly to right. Facing Cal Mitchell for the final out, he fell behind 2–0, then got a called strike on a fastball and a swinging strike on a down-and-in curve. Mitchell fouled off another fastball, then hit a deep fly ball to center field. Gold Glove winner Harrison Bader leaped in pursuit of the ball but just missed as it went over his head and bounced off of the warning track and over the wall for a ground rule double. Mikolas exited to a hearty ovation from Busch Stadium’s 33,977 fans, leaving Packy Naughton to record the final out. Read the rest of this entry »

An Historically Bad Offense Is Just One of the Tigers’ Problems

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

A Tiger hit a home run on Monday night. Normally, that wouldn’t qualify as news, and in this case it didn’t even lead to a victory, but Willi Castro’s leadoff homer off of Lance Lynn — on the White Sox starter’s first pitch of the season — was Detroit’s first home run since June 2, and just its second in 11 games this month; in the two games since, they haven’t hit another. At this point, just about any time the Tigers score seems noteworthy given that they’re averaging a major league-low 2.71 runs per game, putting themselves in the company of some of the worst teams in recent history. That’s hardly the only thing that’s gone wrong for a team that’s barreling towards its sixth straight sub-.500 campaign.

After winning 77 games last year under new manager A.J. Hinch, their highest total since 2016, the Tigers made a big splash before the lockout by signing righty Eduardo Rodriguez and shortstop Javier Báez to pricey, long-term deals, with the righty getting five years and $77 million and the shortstop six years and $140 million, the team’s largest commitments since the 2015-16 offseason. Along with the Rangers, Mets, and Phillies, they were one of just four teams to commit at least $75 million in total salary to two players. Once the lockout ended, the team added lefty reliever Andrew Chafin (two years, $13 million) and righty Michael Pineda (one year, $5 million) as well and, three days before Opening Day, traded for outfielder Austin Meadows. According to RosterResource, the team’s payroll increased by $47 million over last year, from $88 million to $135 million. Our preseason projection for 77 wins and 12.1% Playoff Odds didn’t indicate a forthcoming powerhouse, but between those moves and the decision to open the season with 2020 first overall pick Spencer Torkelson at first base, the team at least showed a laudable commitment towards improvement. Read the rest of this entry »