Yankees Errorless Streak at 16


“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”   The phrase applies to any sport where a player without the ball tries to prevent the player with the ball from scoring.  It’s cliche, boring, overused, and unequivocally true.  An NFL team hasn’t won the Super Bowl without a good defense since the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams beat the Tennessee Titans, and the score to that game was 23-16.  No offense first NBA team has won the championship since the Bad Boy Pistons starting busting heads at the end of the 80s.

In baseball, the axiom changes slightly to “good pitching beats good hitting.”  Recent history has shown us that any playoff team that gets a hot rotation has a chance to win it all.  In 2005 the White Sox pitched about 37 complete games in a row and swept the Astros.  The very next season the Cardinals rotation caught fire and blitzed the Tigers 4-1.  The late 90s Yankees had solid starting pitching and a lock down bullpen, as did both championship Red Sox teams.

That isn’t to say the defense behind the pitcher is meaningless.  Obviously good defense will keep hits and runs off the scoreboard and get you on Web Gems, but it’s more valuable than that.  A great defensive play saves a pitcher from throwing to an extra batter, so it keeps his pitch count down.  How many times have we seen an infielder boot a grounder and extend the ining by a batter or two?  Maybe it doesn’t directly lead to any unearned runs that inning, but it shortens the life of the starter that game.  The pitches he has to throw to get out of the 4th inning jam could have been pitches he threw to a batter in the 7th.  Instead, the starter only goes six and makes his bullpen throw an extra inning, which is bad news for most teams, especially the Yanks.

A good defense also effects a pitcher’s approach.  If a pitcher knows his team is going to get to a ball batted into play, he can pitch to contact more often.  This allows the pitcher to be more aggressive, which means he will throw more strikes, which in turn keeps his walks and pitch count down.  An aggressive pitcher will keep batters on their heels and force them to make swings and put the ball in play, which is exactly the pitcher’s plan.  We’ve all watched Joba nibble at the corners with a 95 mph heater and scream at the television to “JUST THROW STRIKES!”  When you have good stuff, use it!  A solid D behind a tentative pitcher can help his confidence and allow him to throw it over the plate.

Over the last few years teams have put a premium on speedy athletes who can flash the leather.  Is it a coincidence that teams are trying to play more small ball with better defensive fielders now that there are suddenly less home runs leaving ballparks?  Yes and no.  Clearly steroid testing has forced teams to be less reliant on the home run, but it’s apparent that defensive excellence leads to team success, and major league executives have taken notice.  It’s certainly no coincidence that- with the exception of the 2004 Red Sox- every World Series winner since 2001 ranked top 10 in fewest errors that year.  The Red Sox would make proving my point difficult.

The Yankees just completed their 16th game in a row without an error, a franchise record.  Over that span the Yanks are 13-3, proving that when you get good pitching and solid defense, you win ballgames.  The Yankees will try to tie the major league record of 17 errorless games set by the 2006 Red Sox tomorrow in Cleveland.  Knock on wood.  If I jinxed it, send me your hatemail.  Sorry.

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