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The Yankees Should Have Won the 2019 ALCS

The Yankees tried their best to make their first World Series since 2009, but ultimately lost to the Astros in six games. It is the first time since the 1910s that the Yankees have not appeared in a World Series within a decade. Many fans and analysts alike blame the Yankees for their starting pitching woes, poor outings from the bullpen, and not being able to cash in with runners in scoring position as reasons why they lost the ALCS. 

Of course, this assertion does have some truth to it; the Yankees had four outings where their starter did not even go five innings. In fact, the only games the Yankees won were when Masahiro Tanaka went six innings in Game 1, and James Paxton went six innings in Game 5.

Relievers such as Adam Ottavino pitched terribly in the ALCS (11.57 ERA in five games and a blown save), and two of the Astros walk-offs came off starter-turned reliever J.A. Happ in Game 2, as well as closer Aroldis Chapman in the clinching Game 6. 

Despite having a league best .294 batting average with runners in scoring position (RISP) thanks to players such as DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela, the Yankees had just a .200 average in the ALCS. It didn’t help that Carlos Correa threw out DJ LeMahieu at home, who would have been the go-ahead run in Game 2. In Game 3, Gerrit Cole walked five batters, and the Yankees ended up 0-6 with RISP. Besides, in Game 4 the Yankees had the bases loaded twice, but only managed to get a run on a bases-loaded walk. 

Although the Yankees’ vulnerabilities were displayed in the ALCS, they actually played better than the Astros. In fact, in nearly every hitting and pitching category, the Yankees outclassed them. Below are two charts of the Yankees and Astros hitting and pitching: 

Yankees vs. Astros Hitting

CategoryRS YRS AALCS YALCS A% Diff Y% Diff A
RISP.294.268.200.10932.0% ↓59.3% ↓
BA.267.274.240.17910.1%↓34.7%↓
OBP.339.352.320.2839.44%↓19.6% ↓
SLG.490.495.432.31813.4%↓35.8%↓
OPS.829.848.752.6019.29%↓29.1%↓
R/G5.825.683.503.6740.0% ↓35.4% ↓
HR/91.911.771.671.3312.6%↓24.9%↓ 
K/98.967.1810.478.8916.9%↑23.8%↑

Although the Astros bested the Yankees in nearly every offensive category during the regular season, as the table shows, the Yankees outplayed the Astros in the ALCS. Despite the Astros’ regular season numbers, in the ALCS the Yankees surpassed the Astros in every category except for R/G and K/9. While both teams regressed in every category, the Astros had a much steeper regression than the Yankees as evident by the % diff category. As a matter of fact, the Astros’ % diff was at least ten percent worse in every category (besides R/G and K/9).

Yankees vs. Astros Pitching

CategoryRS YRS AALCS YALCS A% Diff Y% Diff A
ERA4.313.663.133.4427.5%↓6.01%↓
S ERA4.513.613.653.7111.5%↓2.77%↑
B ERA4.083.753.484.0314.7%↓7.47%↑
WHIP1.301.131.151.2011.5%↓6.19%↑
HR/91.551.421.321.6414.8%↓15.5%↑
K/99.2510.018.8910.473.89%↓4.60%↑

Similar to the hitting chart, the Astros were superior in every pitching category. However, in the ALCS the Astros only had a better K/9 than the Yankees. Besides the K/9 category, the Yankees outperformed the Astros in every other category as evident by the % diff.

Even though the Yankees were statistically stronger than the Astros throughout the ALCS, they still failed to capture their 28th ring. One of the main reasons the Astros won the ALCS was because the Astros made the most of their opportunities, such as Correa’s Game 2 walk off, Jose Altuve’s Game 6 walk off, and Gerrit Cole still pitching seven strong innings despite not having his sharpest outing in Game 3. Another explanation, not listed on the charts, can be explained by the Astros taking advantage of the opportunities that arose with runners in scoring position. Despite hitting .109, the Astros still managed to hit three home runs. Two of these homers were go-ahead homers from George Springer’s three-run jack in Game 4, and Yuli Gurriel’s three-run bomb in Game 6. Capitalizing on openings such as these led the Astros to their second pennant in the last three years.

After the surprising loss of the series, many fans and analysts believe that the Yankees should be active in the offseason. Yes, some activity is warranted; for example, if they can afford Gerrit Cole, he should be worth the investment. In addition, if they can retain free agents Didi Gregorious, Dellin Betances, and Brett Gardner, they can bring back a productive core. Such expenditures would be useful, but it should not be forgotten that the Yankees were a 103- win team, while having a MLB record 30 players on the Injured List. Because key hitters such as Miguel Andujar, Luke Voit, Gary Sánchez, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton missed extended periods of time during the regular season, but should be healthy for 2020, the Yankees’ offense can be expected to be stronger. On the pitching side, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and James Paxton were all effective in September. Furthermore, the Yankees missed nearly a full season of Luis Severino, and on a lesser note, Jordan Montgomery, both of whom should return to the rotation. Meanwhile, pitchers such as Domingo Germán, Jonathan Loaisiga, and even top-pitching prospect Delvi Garcia can all see time in starting roles. As a result, the Yankees don’t necessarily have to make many major changes this offseason; with their current roster, they should be just as strong or even better than in 2019.

Key:

ALCS: American League Championship Series. A best-of-seven series where the winner gets to play in the World Series.

RBI: Run Batted In

RS Y/A: The Yankees and Astros regular season performance in a specific category.

ALCS Y/A: The Yankees and Astros ALCS performance in a specific category.

% Diff: The percent difference between the RS and the ALCS performance. In terms of hitting, a large decrease indicates a high regression (except for K/9 in which case a large decrease indicates a better performance than the regular season). In terms of pitching, a high decrease indicates a better performance than the regular season (except for K/9 in which case a large decrease indicates high regression from the regular season).

BA: Batting average. The number of hits divided by the number of at bats. MLB average in 2019: .252 BA.

RISP: Runners in Scoring Position. The batting average when there are runners on second or third base. MLB average in 2019: .261 BA. 

OBP: On base percentage. Hits+walks+hit by pitches divided by plate appearances. MLB average in 2019: .322 OBP

SLG: Slugging percentage. (Singles+Doubles*2+Triples*3+Home Runs*4)/At Bats. MLB average in 2019: .435

OPS: On base percentage + Slugging Percentage. MLB average in 2019: .757 OPS.

R/G: Runs per game. MLB average in 2019: 4.83 R/G

HR/9: Home Runs per nine innings. The average number of home runs allowed in a nine-inning game. MLB average in 2019: 1.41 HR/9.

K/9: Strikeouts per nine innings. The average number of strikeouts in a nine-inning game. MLB average in 2019: 8.38 K/9.

ERA: Earned Run Average. The average amount of earned runs allowed in a nine inning game. MLB average in 2019: 4.49 ERA.

S ERA: Starter ERA. MLB average in 2019: 4.54 ERA.

B ERA: Bullpen ERA. MLB average in 2019: 4.43 ERA.

WHIP: Walks + Hits in Innings Pitched. MLB average in 2019: 1.26 WHIP.

Sources:

http://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/team/_/stat/batting

http://www.espn.com/mlb/stats/team/_/stat/pitching

https://www.mlb.com/scores

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