Hitting Aces

To find out, I looked at the ten Yankees games so far this year against the top starting pitchers in the A.L., measured by xFIP.  xFIP stands for “Expected Fielding Independent Pitching”, and this is an advanced statistic that measures a pitcher’s ability to control those factors for which a pitcher is supposed to be responsible: walks, hit by pitches and strikeouts. Based on xFIP, the top pitchers faced by the Yankees so far are James Shields, David Price, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander (twice), Trevor Cahill, Ricky Romero (twice), Michael Pineda and Jered Weaver (note that Beckett does not make this particular list). The Yankees have won 5 of these games, and lost 5. Interestingly, the opposing starter won two of these games, lost two of these games, and there were six no-decisions, indicating that a lot of these games were close encounters. Four of the five Yankees losses in these games were by one run, and the fifth was by two runs.

Another fun factoid: the Yankees went nearly a month (between Opening Day against Verlander and April 29 against Romero) without facing one of these top pitchers. But the Yankees faced these pitchers 7 times in May. So if you’re wondering why May seemed like a tougher month for the Yankees than April, here is one reason.

But let’s get back to the main question: how well do the Yankees hit against these top pitchers? The answer is, pretty well. The Yankees have scored 30 runs in the 62.2 innings thrown by these top pitchers in these 10 games, meaning that these pitchers have averaged a 4.31 E.R.A. against the Yankees. That’s approximately one run a game less than the Yankees have produced in their other 47 games (not counting last night – this morning’s game). But this 4.31 E.R.A. is nearly half a run higher than the A.L. average of 3.92, and more than a run better than the average E.R.A. for these pitchers overall.

The news here is really no news. The Yankees are a good hitting team so far this year, even against top pitchers (other than Beckett), but top pitchers hold down Yankees production (so far) by about a run a game. Just about what you’d expect. Predictably rational reporting from your friends (sober and depressed as they may be) here at IIATMS.

9 thoughts on “Hitting Aces

  1. The most depressing part was I was at that game. Waited thru the rain. Looked good till the seventh happened. Never felt comfortable with a two run lead. And boom…game fell apart. I'm am sober and depressed also and finally off to bed at two in the morning…was at the stadium for seven 1/2 hours…yes Yankee/boston games are long lol

  2. Everyone struggles against elite hurlers. That's why they're elite hurlers….

  3. Larry, you never cease to amaze me. Thank you! I can sleep better tonight…not well, but better. Oh, and I promise I WON'T be reading either the NY Post or Daily News tomorrow ;-)

  4. Thanks for your research, Larry. You have (kinda) answered my questions; although adding Beckett to the list and making it the top 11 pitchers would have skewed your results more toward what I would have expected.

    I gave up and crashed – I saw we were safely ahead, we were to the 7th – was surprised to wakeup to a dozen emails from my RedSox friends. Drat. We need more cupcakes, less real teams to face.

  5. William, swapping out Cahill for Beckett would give the Yankees a 3.27 ERA against this revised top 10 list — the swap costs the Yanks about a run a game. That's significant, perhaps even "stark in the other direction" as you say.

    But the Yanks' results against Beckett are a true outlier: 2 runs scored against him in 21 innings of pitching. The next most successful pitcher on the list, Rick Romero (3 runs in 13 innings), was not half this successful (and the Yanks won one of the two games when he pitched). Jered Weaver was nearly as successful as Romero – 2 runs in 7 innings. After that, the Yanks have done about what I said or better against the top guys: 3 runs in 7 innings against James Shields, 4 runs in 7 innings against King Felix, 6 runs in 12 innings against Justin Verlander …

    It's not uncommon to exclude outliers from a statistical study. Besides, I came up with this methodology before the game started (I had plenty of time!). I did not choose this methodology to exclude Beckett To include Beckett in a list of top league pitchers, even with last night's results included, I would have had to consider the top 23 pitchers in the A.L. by xFIP. I don't have time this morning to consider the Yanks' results against these top 23 (it will be results against less than 23 pitchers, because this year the Yanks haven't faced top pitchers such as Dan Haren and CJ Wilson), but we would get to include results like the Yanks' 4 runs in 6 innings against Gio Gonzalez, 4 runs in 6 innings against Scott Baker, 5 runs in 6 innings against Alexi Ogando, etc. If I just toss those 3 results into the Beckett for Cahill mix, the ERA rises to a pretty much league average 3.88.

    I won't argue that there are other ways to slice and dice the data, and other conclusions you might reach. But look at the Yankees' results against David Price (5 innings, 5 runs) or Michael Pineda (5 innings, 3 runs), and consider whether the Yanks' struggles against Beckett are really typical of their results against top pitchers.

  6. You would. ;)

    But good to know that Beckett is an outlier – I had never thought he was that good – we used to do pretty good against him.

    Either way, you're pretty good crunching numbers – thanks