Yankees pitchers have been praised for overcoming injuries to 4/5 of the starting rotation (Michael Pineda now back) and keeping the team within reach of a playoff spot. The park and league-adjusted ERA and ERA estimators with ranks in parentheses: 96 ERA- (tied for 11th), 95 FIP- (tied for 6th), and 91 xFIP- (tied for 2nd). They have given up only 558 runs. What doesn’t seem to be getting enough play is the fact that Yankee pitchers, as a whole, are putting up an historically good season. The 2014 staff is recording the second best K/BB ratio since 1900. Their 3.41 mark trails only the 2014 Nationals who are at 3.52.
Strikeout and walk rates are some of the first measures to look at when determining the quality of hitters and pitchers. Commanding the strike zone from the batters’ box or pitchers’ mound is the one of the greatest indicators of future success. For pitchers, strikeouts are the best type of out to record and walks are best to be avoided. Caveats for the strikeout to walk ratio metric include the idea that the strike zone has changed throughout the past 110 years, playing styles have changed (batters now sacrifice contact in exchange for power), pitcher’s velocity has increased, bullpen specialists were created, among other things. This is reflected in that 29 of the top 30 teams in K/BB ratios since 1900 have occurred since 2000 with the 1966 Dodgers being the lone exception. Additionally, K/BB ratios are informative, but there is evidence that it is better to look at K% and BB% individually rather than just dividing strikeouts by walks. An extreme example to illustrate this point: a guy with 300 Ks and 100 BBs is much different than a guy with 120 Ks and 4 BBs, but they have the same exact K/BB ratio. The fact remains that the 2014 Yankee pitchers have been controlling the zone and missing bats while keeping runs off the scoreboard.
Individual success stories include Pineda (7.50), Masahiro Tanaka (7.11), Brandon McCarthy (6.22), and Dellin Betances (5.52). In fact, every pitcher with more than 30 innings pitcher has a K/BB higher than 2 except for long-man David Huff. This pitching staff isn’t just good relative to expectations; the staff is one of the best in the league and one of the best since 1900 in an important metric. If this team received anything close to a league average offense- 93 wRC+ and only 532 runs scored- they would be a legitimate playoff contender. The struggling offense shouldn’t overshadow what’s going on with the great pitching staff.