The Pinstripe Blues: Yanks Trending Downward
By Patrick Gunn
The Yankees might have revealed something about their team in their latest series loss. Yes, Hyun Jin-Ryu (7 scoreless innings) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (three hits including a solo home run) highlighted the Blue Jays’ attack in their 4-1 win to clinch a return to the playoffs. But this performance begged me to ask the question: is this Yankees team built for an October run?
Flat performances like this one lead me to believe that the answer would be no. Given their playoff positioning (currently the fifth seed, but they could finish as low as the eighth), the Yankees likely will start their postseason on the road. The Bombers have played to an 11-18 (.379 winning percentage) record away from the Bronx this season. Yikes.
Even against the Twins, that road record is staggering, and the Bombers have played sloppily away from Yankees Stadium this season.
Case in point, the Bombers went 2-5 in Buffalo against the Blue Jays this season, while being outscored by 34 runs. They’ve allowed 46 runs to the Blue Jays in Buffalo while allowing 9 home runs in 58 innings (1.4 HR/9). Imagine that pitching staff going up against the Twins (.439 slugging percentage this season) or the White Sox (.459 slugging percentage) this season (both stats via Baseball-Reference)
Normally, I’d feel more confident about the Yankees bullpen, but they’ve been inconsistent as well this year. Take this game again, against the Blue Jays, when Adam Ottavino came on to relieve Jordan Montgomery with a runner on first in the sixth inning. He gave up three hits and let the Blue Jays double their lead up to 4-0. With Ryu’s dominance to that point, that felt like a death blow.
(Side note: Jordan Montgomery pitched a solid final outing of the year, striking out 8 Blue Jays without walking a batter in 5.1 innings. His ERA and home run rates are high, but he’s also in the top-10 in lowest exit velocity allowed via Baseball Savant, so he should be a starting option for the Yankees in the playoffs).
That’s been the story of the bullpen’s season. Fangraphs lists the Yankee’s bullpen as 21st in the league with just a 0.5 WAR, along with a 4.75 FIP and only 69.6% strand rate (that ranks 23rd in baseball). Ottavino’s had a tough year (6.00 era, 4.5 BB/9), but he’s not alone. Remarkably, the Yankees are in the top-10 in the league in rotation FanGraphs WAR. It’s their bullpen that lagged behind this season
As for their lineup, well everyone is healthy, but they’ve struggled when they’ve needed to score. This game, they went 1-7 with runners in scoring position. Ryu threw dominantly, but Blue Jays reliever Anthony Bass did not (three walks in two-thirds of an inning). With two outs and the bases loaded, the struggling Gary Sanchez came up with the bases loaded. He took a two-strike pitch out deep to left-center. However, he just missed the pitch, and Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.
Now, that’s not the complete Yankees picture; Fangraphs as the Yankees’ hitters at seventh in all-purpose WAR this season. Also, they’re fourth in the league with 118 weighted runs created plus. With that said, the Yankees have, offensively, struggled away from Yankees Stadium, posting a .672 OPS on the road with only a .354 slugging percentage (to put that into perspective, the Yankees have a .925 OPS and a .558 slugging at home this season, via ESPN).
So, the struggling bullpen and the poor performances away from the Bronx all point to a short October for the Yankees this season. Their final series of the season is at home against the surprise Marlins. They’re going to have to rebound against Miami to regain my confidence in the team going into the playoffs this year.