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Last night in the Bronx, the Yankees allowed their first unearned run in more than a month. With two outs in the ninth, Sean Murphy reached on catcher’s interference and came around to score on an Elvis Andrus single. Clay Holmes got the final out in the Yankees’ 2-1 win. The Jose Trevino mistake cost the Yankees their 12th shutout of the season, but in the end the game was the team’s 21st, in 75 games, in which they allowed no more than one run. As you might expect, the Yankees are 21-0 in these contests. Surprisingly, that does not lead the league.
Shutdown Games (most games allowing zero or one run, 2022)
Dodgers 24 23-1
Astros 22 22-0
Yankees 21 21-0
Twins 20 19-1
Angels 20 18-2
It would have taken me a lot of guesses to peg the last team on that list.
The Yankees’ run prevention has been incredible this season. Even while losing a number of stalwart relievers to injury, with Chad Green out for the season and both Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loaisiga missing time, the Yankees have allowed the fewest runs in baseball, 229. They have the lowest FIP and xFIP in the game. Their starters are in the top three in ERA, FIP, and xFIP, and they’ve thrown the second-most innings in the game, behind only the Padres. The team’s bullpen has the lowest ERA and third-lowest FIP. Yankees’ relievers lead MLB with a 49.9% groundball rate, and they have a chance to be one of the few bullpens to have at least a 50% groundball rate since we started tracking in 2002.
Ground and Pound (single-season GB% by RPs, 2002-2022)
1. White Sox 2015 53.4%
2. Giants 2012 52.6%
3. White Sox 2014 52.1%
4. Pirates 2013 52.0%
5. Athletics 2002 51.9%
19. Yankees 2022 49.9%
A big part of this is the emergence of the reliever who closed out Tuesday night’s win, Clay Holmes, Holmes has become a right-handed Zack Britton, someone whose pitches are hard to hit and nearly impossible to elevate. Here’s how Statcast would put it.
Worm Burning, Pt. 1 (Lowest Launch Angle allowed, 2022, min. 50 batted balls)
Clay Holmes NYY -10.0
Framber Valdez HOU -3.9
Tim Mayza TOR -3.7
Sam Hentges CLE -3.5
Andre Pallante STL -3.1
That’s breaking the scale. The difference between Holmes and Framber Valdez, 6.1 degrees of average launch angle, is the difference between Valdez and #19 on the list.
We’re nearly halfway through the season, and Holmes has allowed seven fly balls and nine line drives, total. I mentioned Zack Britton above...see if you can figure out why.
Worm Burning, Pt. 2 (Highest GB%, 2002-2022, min. 30 IP)
Clay Holmes NYY 2022 81.8%
Zack Britton BAL 2016 80.0%
Zack Britton BAL 2015 79.1%
Zack Britton NYY 2019 77.2%
Aaron Bummer CHW 2021 76.1%
It’s all about the sinker. With the Pirates, Holmes was a three-pitch pitcher, using a two-seamer, slider and curve. Since being traded to the Yankees last summer, he’s junked the curve and turned the slider into a secondary pitch, leaning more and more on that sinker. In 2022, he’s thrown the sinker four out of every five pitches, and gotten more ground balls than any pitcher in recorded history.
You know what’s crazy? The Yankees could get Britton himself back late this season and for the playoffs. The two best groundball pitchers in recorded baseball history might be coming out of the same bullpen this fall.
All of this puts the Yankees in position to be the best run-prevention team ever in a DH league. Through 75 games, they have allowed 229 runs. With a good week, they could top this list...
A Good Start (fewest RA through 81 games, DH leagues only, non-strike years)
Astros 2018 246
Angels 1989 261
Angels 1973 274
Yankees 1976 276
Orioles 1973 277
...which would position them to top this one:
A Good Start (fewest runs allowed, DH leagues only, full seasons)
Astros 2018 534
Athletics 1974 551
Orioles 1975 553
Mariners 2014 554
Orioles 1973 561
The Yankees actually have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done since 1972, and hasn’t been done in a non-shortened season since the Year of the Pitcher in 1968. Since the first expansion in 1961, which brought with it 162-game seasons, just eight teams have allowed fewer than 500 runs. Two did it in 1972, when the players’ strike lopped a week from the season. (The 1972 Orioles allowed 430 runs in 154 games and somehow finished third in the AL East.) Six others did it from 1966 through 1968, when the strike zone was defined as “if the ball gets here intact, it’s a strike” and pitchers were airlifted to the top of the mound.
We still have quite a ways to go, but as they take the field in the Bronx today, the Yankees are putting together one of the best pitching seasons in baseball history.