Wondering how long a Yankees starting pitcher will go on any given night in these playoffs?
Do what the pros do. Consult your favorite proprietary analytical software (for the non-Ivy layman, FanGraphs or Brooks Baseball) and punch up a statistical breakdown of that pitcher’s in-game history: inning-by-inning numbers, escalating pitch counts, third time through the order, etc.
Do not consider that night’s current performance (an outlier), the quality of his pitches (prone to rapid deterioration) or past October success (small sample size) in “big games” (totally subjective concept).
And above all else, remember: More bullpen is never enough, so always take the under.
Not that complicated, right? What do you think is in those binders, anyway?
Truth is, whether you enjoy these rotation cameos or not, the Yankees’ formula works, and it’s going to keep working, because they were on to this bullpen concept long before the Rays, A’s and the rest of the copycat league turned “openers” into something other than what you use to pop the cap off your imported beer.
The difference is, the Yankees have more than just a reliable parade of shutdown relievers, as starters Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka demonstrated in their first two playoff victories (we’ll assume J.A. Happ, the designated Sox-killer, had an off night Friday in Game 1). And if the Yankees can get four or five solid innings out of these guys, this is going to be a looong October run.
Case in point: Tanaka’s impressive yet surprisingly brief performance in Saturday night’s Game 2 victory at Fenway Park.
Going in, Aaron Boone preached about Tanaka’s ability to shine on the huge stage, and how he trusted him to rise to the occasion despite stumbling to the finish line of the regular season (9.00 ERA in his last two starts).
And as his manager said, Tanaka did just that, holding the Red Sox to three hits and one run through five innings to keep the Yankees ahead 3-1. Tanaka’s vaunted splitter was back, the Sox hitters were chasing, and he struck out four with a walk in five innings.
But after throwing only 78 pitches, Tanaka did not return for the sixth. No going with the gut here, no rolling the dice in the Division Series. Sending Tanaka back out — with Dellin Betances already warm and ready — would be considered lunacy in 2018.
Betances, formerly known by the antiquated term “setup man,’’ is being deployed this October as a midgame neutralizer, and on Saturday night, he handled Boston’s Nos. 2-9 hitters. That left the final six outs to a pair expertly suited to handle them: Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
“One of our overwhelming strengths is our bullpen,” Boone said afterward. “And when you get into these postseason games, especially when you have some off-days sprinkled in, you don’t worry as much about the workload. You know you can protect guys.
“That said, I’ll be happy if a starter can go out there and give us seven or eight strong. I’m in on that, too. But we’re going to be really aggressive, especially around the off-days.”
The schedule has panned out in the Yankees’ favor in that regard. By clinching home-field advantage for the AL Wild Card game Sept. 28, they could ease up on the gas pedal through the final weekend, so the pen was fresh for the A’s on Wednesday. As a result, Boone pulled Severino after only four innings-plus despite the fact that he had allowed zero runs and two hits.
Severino goes again Monday night in Game 3, and after the day off, he’s likely to be already showered and dressed by the time a Broadway actor belts out “God Bless America.”
What would it take for a Yankees starter to convince Boone otherwise?
“It may be score-dictated,” Boone said. “It may be how efficient, how easy it seems they are going through lineups, things like that. There’s so many things that go into it. So I wouldn’t rule it out.”
The algorithms disagree.