One of the more popular refrains surrounding the Yankee offense in 2011 was that it seemed to have a good deal of trouble scoring in the later innings of ballgames. More often than not it seemed we’d watch the offense get to work immediately in the first inning — highlighted by a league-leading 115 runs scored in the 1st — only to let an opposing starter settle in over the next few frames and seem to make it through relatively unscathed before turning it over to the bullpen. If the Yankees weren’t ahead by this point in the game, it seemed as though they’d pretty much be done for. Or were they?
When I first did this study on June 3, the season was only one-third over, and I drew the following conclusions:
“The 2011 Yankees are on pace to score their highest total number of runs in the first inning in the six seasons displayed here, as well as the fifth inning. On the flip side, this year’s team is also on pace for six-year lows in runs scored in the 4th, 6th and 7th innings.
Ultimately what I think we can take away from this graph is that yes, the Yankees are indeed scoring less frequently in the later innings of games than they have in recent seasons — the significant dropoff in run-scoring in the 6th and 7th innings in particular is actually pretty shocking. Anecdotally one might expect the team to be scoring more frequently than normal in those frames, considering the fact that (a) Those innings generally represent the point in a given game where the starting pitcher should be running out of gas, if they haven’t already been removed for middle relief, and (b) Middle relief is usually a lot more hittable than specialized — 8th and 9th inning — relief.
It’s even stranger when you consider that the 2006-2010 teams each scored over 100 runs in both the 6th and 7th innings of their seasons, while the 2011 version is only on pace for 69 runs in the 6th and 75 in the 7th.
One other interesting takeaway from this chart — you already knew this, but the 2009 team was the king of the final inning triad, with the most run scored in each of the 7th, 8th and 9th of all six of these Yankee teams. Perhaps that’s why the lack of scoring in the later innings has been so baffling for Yankee fans this season — we’ve been trained to expect them to come back and pile it on late, although a closer look at the chart shows that the late-inning fade may have actually begun last season, as the 2010 team has the second-fewest runs scored in the 7th and tied for second-fewest in the 8th.
In any event, at the end of the day a lot of this could just be statistical noise, as there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme nor reason as to why a team has a tendency to score a certain amount of runs in a given inning per the random fluctuations in the above line graph, and it seems likely that the run-scoring distribution for the Yankees could very well even out as the season progresses — after all, we’re only one-third of the way through.
That being said, through the first 54 games of the 2011 season, the numbers do in fact show that the Bombers have not been as potent offensively in the later innings as Yankee fans have grown accustomed to, compared with both the American League as well as Yankee teams of recent vintage.”
Anyway, as you might expect, things did more or less even out over the course of the season. Below is a bar graph showing each team in the American League’s run distribution by inning. For those sadists in the audience, please feel free to download the spreadsheet containing my raw data here. Also remember to right-click and open graphs in a new tab for a larger view.
The Yankees were the kings of getting on the board early in 2011, leading all AL teams in run-scoring in the 1st and 2nd innings. They had the 3rd-highest tally in the 3rd inning (Boston had the highest); only the 7th-highest in the fourth inning (strangely, KC led that frame); the third-highest in the fifth (Texas took home the honors in this one); and third-highest in the 6th (Cleveland). Here’s where things get a bit more interesting: the Yankees had the 2nd-highest tally in the 7th (to only Boston); 3rd-highest tally in the 8th (Boston and Texas led); and the 8th-highest tally in the 9th (Cleveland led).
However, it’s critical to remember that 9th-inning run tallies are inherently skewed due to the fact that not every team is going to be playing the same amount of 9th innings. Given that the Yankees tied for the best home record in the AL, it should come as no surprise that they had a relatively low 9th-inning run total, as they simply had fewer ninth innings to participate in. The fact that they had the second-most runs in the 7th and third-most in the 8th should help dispel the notion that the team just stopped scoring in the later innings of games.
Back on June 3, the Yankees had below-league-average scoring tallies in the 6th, 7th and 9th innings, and were exactly at league average in the 8th inning. This also evened out:
The only inning the Yankees scored a below-league-average amount of runs in during the 2011 season was the 9th, and again, this was a function of fewer opportunities. Otherwise the run distribution was about as robust and evened out as one could hope for.
I was also curious to see how the 2011 Yankees stacked up against the Yankee teams of the past five seasons in terms of run-scoring by tOPS+, which tells us how the team did in a particular split against how they ordinarily fared, with anything above 100 meaning they did better than usual and below 100 worse.
As you can see here, the idea that the Yankees didn’t hit as much in the latter innings actually does hold some weight with respect to how the team has performed in the latter innings during the last few seasons, as the 2011 team posted its lowest tOPS+ in the 7th inning of the last six seasons, its third-lowest tOPS+ in the 8th inning and second-lowest tOPS+ in the 9th inning. The team’s also on a three-year decline in tOPS+ in both the 7th and 9th innings, lending further credence to the perception that the team struggled to score later in ballgames.
Additionally, this year’s team’s tOPS+ in the 9th inning was an almost comically low 67, which means they fared 33% worse than usual in the 9th inning of games. This partially explains the team’s poor showing in one-run affairs (21-24) and extra-inning games (4-12).
And here’s a chart comparing the last six Yankee teams’ sOPS+ by ninning, which shows how the team fared compared to the league.
As one might expect, the Yankees’ run-scoring ability across the innings has been significantly above-league-average nearly across the board during the last six seasons, with a few curious exceptions. Yankee teams of the last six seasons have zero below-average years scoring in the 1st inning, 3rd inning, 4th inning, 6th inning and 7th inning of baseball games. That’s above-average production in over half of every game’s total innings for the last six seasons. Much to my delight, Yankee fans truly have been spoiled by the team’s offense.
Strangely, the team’s performance compared to the league in the 5th inning has arguably been its “worst” — if you average the team’s sOPS+ over the last six seasons for the 5th inning its the lowest of all nine frames. The 8th inning is the second “worst.”
And how about the Yankees’ run-scoring distribution in the ALDS? Given that they lost two games by one run apiece and the third by two runs, many have suggested that the Yankees were victimized by poor run-scoring distribution. Only that doesn’t really hold water:
The team scored runs collectively in every inning of the series except the 2nd and 4th, and saved most of their damage for the second half of the games they played. Sure, the sequencing of the scoring of some of these runs might have been less-than-optimal, but that’s baseball. Scoring 29 runs over five games not to mention scoring well more than half of those runs from the 5th inning on is usually a fairly good recipe for winning; no amount of hand-wringing regarding the lineup construction can change that.
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