The Yankees Are Overwhelmingly Powerful

As expected, the Yankees beat the Twins in the AL Wild Card game last night. Unexpectedly, they won by asking four relievers to get 26 outs after Luis Severino couldn’t get out of the first inning. And in that victory, it was essentially impossible to not notice the difference in power between the two clubs.

Aaron Judge is the game’s most powerful player, so New York always has some kind of lead when it comes to raw strength, but this team isn’t defined just by their hulking right fielder. This Yankees team is built around power everywhere.

Brett Gardner, who came up as as speed-and-defense specialist, hit a home run into the second deck in right field. Didi Gregorius, who the team acquired as a fielding-first shortstop, launched a three run bomb of his own to tie the game after Severino put them in a hole. And Judge, of course, did Aaron Judge things to the baseball. Six of the Yankees eight runs scored on the long ball.

But the team’s primary display of power came on the mound. After Severino — the starter with the highest average fastball velocity this season — got chased in the first inning, Joe Girardi turned to Chad Green to shut the door on the Twins and keep the game close. And Green did exactly that, striking out the first four batters he faced, showing why he had become one of the team’s most trusted bullpen arms.

When Green ran into trouble in the third inning, in came David Robertson, who then struck out 5 of the 13 batters he faced in his longest career relief outing. Tommy Kahnle then came in to get seven outs himself before Aroldis Chapman finished the game by striking out the side. In total, the four Yankee relievers struck out 13 of the 33 batters they faced, a nifty little 40% strikeout rate.

And they did it with overwhelming velocity. The Yankees threw 171 pitches in last night’s game, and Statcast had the average velocity of all their pitches at 93.1 mph. That isn’t their fastball velocity; that includes every breaking ball and off-speed pitch they threw.

If we exclude all the bendy pitches, the average velocity of a Yankee fastball last night was 97.1 mph. The Twins didn’t throw a single fastball that hard all night. The 60 pitches with the most velocity thrown last night were all thrown by the Yankees.

This is a pitching staff unlike we’ve ever seen before. There’s more velocity than there has ever been in baseball, of course, so even the Twins throw harder than most teams in prior years, but no one has ever stacked this kind of velocity in their bullpen and forced their opponents to confront a never-ending string of power arms.

They won’t be able to do this every game. Given that Green, Robertson, and Kahnle faced 29 hitters between them, all three might unavailable in the first game of the ALDS against Cleveland. And no one else in the rotation throws as hard as Severino, so their velocity will tone down just due to the nature of changing starters.

But if Robertson needs a night off, that just means the team will have to see how Dellin Betances‘ command is doing. Betances’ average fastball this year was 99 mph, and he’s been one of the game’s elite relievers for a few years now, but the team’s absurd depth of arms gives them the luxury of using Betances in relatively lower leverage situations until they see him show off better command that he’s had of late. Betances, an established elite reliever with his own top-shelf velocity, is now something like the fifth guy on Joe Girardi’s reliever depth chart.

The Twins gave it their best shot, but they just didn’t have the arms the Yankees have. When Ervin Santana got chased from the game, they had to piece the other seven innings together with guys who throw regular-hard, not extra-super-hard like the Yankees had. And in the end, the Twins were just never going to win a bullpen battle with New York.

The Indians might be able to, since they have their own crazy deep collection of guys who can dominate. And the rest of their team is strong enough that they might not need to get into a bullpen battle at all. Especially because they taxed their best four relievers in the Wild Card game, the Yankees shouldn’t assume they’ll be able to repeat last night’s performance in the division series.

But it felt impossible to watch last night’s game and not see the Yankees as an imposing threat to everyone they face. They’re the most powerful team we’ve ever seen, and last night, they just overpowered their opponents. It probably won’t be the last time they do that this October.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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5 years ago

Not saying the Yanks will do this, or need to do this, but theoretically with the built in days off they can pitch their top 6 BP arms 4-5IP per game without over working them. Of course this will require more than .1 IP from their SP, but asking for 4+ innings from the staff isn’t asking for a lot.

5 years ago
Reply to  scott

I’d say rotate them through, so one or two guys (out of Chapman, betances, Robertson, khanle, green) get a rest each game. This means also rotating your “closer” for the day, set up guy, etc. Hopefully starters can go 5-6 innings and not require such a long bullpen game. Warren, Shreve, and whoever else they have can pitch in lower leverage spots to spell those arms. As long as there aren’t any more first inning meltdowns, they can ask the bullpen for 4 innings a night and not be overworked.

5 years ago
Reply to  phoenix2042

For sure. They really don’t need to use more than 3 of the 6 to get 4-5 IP on a given day. And like you said, not every game is going to be tight to the point where you need to use only those top 6 guys. Even with heavy pen reliance, I don’t see any individual arm pitching much more per week than they did in regular season with 6-7 games per week.

5 years ago
Reply to  scott

Overworking RP arms didn’t work out for CLE last year. Andrew Miller was a shell of himself in the World Series, especially in game 7 when they really needed him. Asking your RP arms to pitch too many innings is just a theoretical exercise and not a good idea in practice. If those guys pitch too many inning, then they get exposed for what they are, which is failed starters more often than not. The reason they are good is that they pitch very little – everything plays down when they work more often.