When the New York Yankees entered the 2018 postseason, they did so hoping to ride their dominant bullpen to World Series Championship number 28. That did not occur, as the starters for the Bronx Bombers failed to outpitch their Red Sox counterparts, leading to a quick four-game exit from the ALDS. This should not have surprised anyone, mostly due to the fact that this club was similar to the Cubs, a media title contender. Why do I say this?
If you recall a combimetrics piece I wrote this past July, it stated that the Yankees were short on front-line starters. That turned out to be the case as the season moved along, especially when you consider Luis Severino’s decline as 2018 wore on. Speaking of Severino, he allowed six runs in three innings versus the Red Sox, which is unacceptable for a team’s number one starter pitching at home with a playoff series tied.
To illustrate how important starting pitching is in October, I am going to show you the results of each games’ starters in three categories. First will be innings pitched, then earned runs allowed, and finally if they led at their time of departure.
Here is that data:
NYY: J.A. Happ: 2 IP, 5 ER, No
BOS: Chris Sale: 5.1 IP, 2 ER, Yes
NYY: Masahiro Tanaka: 5 IP, 1 ER, Yes
BOS: David Price: 1.2 IP, 3 ER, No
BOS: Nathan Eovaldi: 7 IP, 1 ER, Yes (Magnum Start)
NYY: Luis Severino: 3 IP, 6 ER, No
BOS: Rick Porcello: 5 IP, 1 ER, Yes
NYY: C.C. Sabathia: 3 IP, 3 ER, No
* In bold is the “winner” of each category
As you can see, the starting pitchers who performed better were on the winning side in all four games. That is not by coincidence, and if you look through most postseason games this tendency will hold up as well. Milwaukee might buck the trend a touch, however, their starters are likely getting the better of who they are facing in two of three categories. On top of that New York’s relievers outpitched Boston’s in Game One, but ended up losing regardless.
So where does all of this say? That the concept of baseball becoming a bullpen-oriented game is a myth. This sport will always be dominated by those who swing the bat, defend, and most importantly start games on the mound. In other words, anyone who believes role players have somehow taken control of who wins and loses needs a serious dose of reality.
All in all, I write these pieces to help people realize that just because the media tells them something is true, it could be far from it. In many cases, such as this one, there is simply no way a sport has progressed to a point where role players are the most vital. You need to have star hitters and starting pitchers, as they set everything up for the late-inning relievers. So don’t expect your favorite team to ride its closer to October, or anywhere soon.
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