Well, PECOTA projects the Yankees for a record of 79-83, and who am I to argue with that? The computer knows more than me; it knows more than all of us. However, teams that beat their projections seem to share some common traits. Chief among them is a good bullpen (see: Orioles in 2014 and 2012, Royals in 2013 and 2014), which the Yankees appear to have. Dellin Betances is good. Andrew Miller is good. David Carpenter is good. So I’ll turn my nose up at PECOTA and say 88 wins for the Yankees in 2015!
Hahahahaha who’s that knucklehead? What a ridiculous, ill-informed thing to do, resting the weight of your prediction on a team’s bullpen, full of guys who are literally there because they are inconsistent, so much it’s accepted that you just don’t sign bullpen guys to long-term deals so you can build a team around them, because then you end up with a Ryan Madson or Jonathan Papelbon or whatever. Look at Fernando Rodney! In 2012, he had one of the greatest seasons in the history of pitching, and now his ERA is over 15, just because.
Oh. Uh, whoops. Last night’s 7-5 Yankees loss to the Orioles was the fault of relievers David Carpenter, Justin Wilson and Chris Martin. Their collective five-run meltdown in the sixth inning was a sharp heel turn for a staff that had ranked third in bullpen ERA before Wednesday.
Bullpen meltdowns happen. But the prospect and occurrence of them is particularly concerning for the Yankees, because their starting pitching hasn’t shown the skill or longevity that led PECOTA to project it for the top cumulative WARP in the A.L. East. The Yankees, before Wednesday, had received 36.1 innings from their bullpen, which was the most of any team in the majors. Then they got three tonight, so that ranking probably won’t drop significantly.
This was a particularly bad meltdown, of five runs in an inning, blowing a lead and ultimately leading to the team’s loss. What is the precedent for this happening to teams like the Yankees, who, if they are to make the playoffs, will have to outshoot their projections on the strength of their position, particularly the bullpen? (Because from the looks of it now, the offense sure isn’t going to pull the weight.)
The 2014 Royals are the ideal for this model for success. So, I did my own little Play Index segment (minus the Play Index, which was of no use to me for my specific query) and looked for games in which their bullpen, whether it be the fault of an individual pitcher of a combined effort, gave up more than five runs in an inning.
I found three instances: Aaron Brooks gave up six runs in the ninth against the Tigers on May 3; the Royals were already losing that game. Donnie Joseph and Michael Mariot gave up six runs in the ninth on June 16; the Royals were winning 11-2 before that inning, and the pitching debacle didn’t affect the final result. Finally, Bruce Chen gave up six runs against the Twins in the top of the 10th inning on Aug. 28…and I don’t think anything needs to be said there.
That was it. Three instances, and none of them involving guys who were actually a significant part of that bullpen. No Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Jason Frasor, Aaron Crow; you know, guys who were actually a significant part of that staff, in the same way Carpenter and Martin are for the Yankees right now.
I’m not saying that the Yankees blowing a game like this is a sign of impending doom. They’ve still got Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to hold down the back end. Betances threw a scoreless inning tonight, and while his fastball was still in the mid, rather than upper, 90s, and he was missing badly on some pitches, he got strikeouts of Chris Davis (big whoop, I know) and Manny Machado.
But, at this point, things aren’t looking peachy, either.