Walk-offs: Transformative or transient?

It’s very difficult to tell when an event you’re witnessing is a matter of luck or true talent. The Yankees are now 6-2 in one-run games, baseball’s best record in such games. This record, propelled by a series of last-minute, walk-off wins, has propelled a five-game winning streak. In the process, the Yankees have been transformed from a rather flat-looking 15-17 team into an electric 20-17 club that seems a good threat to surge to the top of the division. However, it is not certain if what we’ve seen was truly a transformative moment or just a transient moment.

As Bryan Hoch reported at MLB.com, the last time the Yankees made walk-off hits in three consecutive games was late August, 1972, and the last time they had three consecutive walk-off wins against the same club was way back in 1931. You won’t find those years listed on the Bathroom Wall of Champions in right field at Yankee Stadium II–the 1972 club was a mediocre outfit that went 79-76, brought down by weak pitching. The 1931 club boasted a spectacular offense (Ruth, Gehrig, Dickey–you know, those guys) and won 94 games but finished 13 games behind an Athletics club that had, relative to its league, one of the best pitching staffs of all time. In the long run, the big walk-offs did not prove to be steps on the way to a championship, but merely trivia for us to discover at moments such as this one. From our vantage point in the midst of the battle, we can’t know, won’t know until the end of the season, which we’re looking at now, harbinger or happenstance.

Some will be tempted to grab hold of these moments as evidence of superior character, fortitude, dedication, conviction on the part of the Yankees or the specific players attached to them. The presence of Alex Rodriguez on the last will probably suppress the urge on the part of some, but they’ll bend the rules this once while also handing out Medals of Courage to Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon and the Cowardly Lion. “What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk?” Damon asks hopefully.

Those that want to take the cosmic dice roll as a prism through which to view character are welcome to do so, and maybe once in awhile they’ll even see something that’s worth talking about. However, they would be wise not to place any bets on outcomes. The very rarity of these events–the vast majority of the time, the team that goes to the bottom of the ninth losing takes a loss–argues strongly that the last three days are not evidence that the Yankees have turned a corner. While it would be unfair to deprive Damon, Cabrera, and A-Rod credit for their timely hitting, especially Damon, who has been a monster in the clutch (and has also taken to YS II like he thought it was the House that Damon Built), but given similar chances if the next ten series the Yankees play, it’s unlikely that they’ll repeat the feat even once.

We see luck at work on a broader scale when looking at team records over the course of a full season. In a given season, a team’s record in one-run games does not carry over to the next year. Balls drop in on a one-time basis. The wind blows out when you need it only now and again. Now, it does seem to be true that sometimes the wind favors a particular team (fortune favoring the foolish, as Shakespeare wrote) for an unlikely span of time, even the length of a season. Maybe the Yankees have that kind of luck going for them this year, but judging by their lack of ability to deliver key hits before this recent surge, that seems to be asking a lot.

What really jumps out about the last five games after all the drama is pushed aside is the performance of the pitching staff. Its performance was only superficially good. In the 48 innings spanning those give games, the Yankees have allowed just 14 runs, less than three a game. That’s seemingly spectacular, given both the league environment and the performance of the staff to that point in the season. However, there is, here’s that word again, a lot of luck in all of that run prevention. The Yankees walked 32 batters in those 48 innings, six per nine innings, the rate rising to 6.6 over the weekend against the Twins. This is nothing new–the Yankees lead the league in walks allowed and in walks per nine innings (4.3). Given that they are also allowing an average number of hits per nine innings and the second-highest rate of home runs allowed per nine innings, all of these baserunners are more often than not going to translate into big numbers for the opposition. If that didn’t happen against the Twins on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, well, the Twins are not much more than an average offensive team. After Justin Morneau, Jose Mauer, and Jason Kubel, there’s a lot of dross in the their lineup.

Similarly, over the last five games the offense has scored five runs a game. Yes, the hits have been well timed and have included a ton of extra bases, among them four triples and eight home runs, but this is exactly a league-average mark. Give the Yankees an extra bump for facing one of the league’s two best pitching staffs in Toronto in two of those games and you still don’t have cause to rate the lineup as any better than it is.

This entry is not meant to rain on anyone’s parade, especially since for Yankees fans the last three games were no doubt orgasmically exciting. Nothing can take away from that. Nor should the enthusiasm and optimism generated by the current five-game winning streak be taken for granted. It should merely be noted that that the Yankees have miles to go before we can view these events as evidence that the team is ready to pass the Red Sox and Blue Jays. While some will want to call it proof of talent and others character, it’s possible, as Cole Porter wrote, that it was one of those bells that now and then rings–just one of those things.


  1. 4everbronx

    Whew, it’s a good thing they didn’t lose those games….What would your reaction have been?

  2. dino15

    its literally almost laughable to read this post and take it seriously. as a D-1 college baseball player whos career was derailed by injury i can tell you first hand or anyone else who ever played the game at a high level a win is a win no matter how it happens…..if you dont think that these wins has anything to do with grit and a never say die attitude coupled with some big hits from some key guys (damon, arod) then your not watching…..if u think damon and arod were the benefecieres of wind aided homers then thats a joke……these wins build character and ingrain the players minds that this can happen for them at anytime they are trailing late. while it wont happen everytime the fact that they have done it a bunch and won a slew of one run games has to be encouraging…..this pitching staff (cc, aj, joba and even pettite) have proven they can work out of jams due to superior strikeout stuff for cc, aj, and joba, and moxy and veteran savviness from pettite…..in no way am i saying that these games are a sign the team will win 100 games, but to deny or try to make weird excuses for the wins is just plain stupid…….cc, aj, and joba are supposed to K people with runners on….thats not luck its superior stuff combines with good pitching…..the twins are going to win the central div so ur shitting on them is premature……this yankee team as gauged from the eyes of an actual baseball person, not a baseball stat nerd (no offense as i have great respect for the new era of stats and what not created by nate silver and the sabermetrics u champion) the team is clearly feeling its way towards a successful summer. combine the recent quality play, winning 8 of 10 and the return of bruney with wang shortly on the way and jorge not to far behind, this team by early to mid june should be completely assembled as was anticipated…..i know ur down on molina as a back up, but what cervelli has done, defensively, the enrgy he brings and the command he has calling the game and working the pitchers has made molina expendable….whether he hits or not is irelevant as molina doesnt either…..i know u love to call out commenters for bad grammer and spelling and what not, but im so stoned on valium i dont care to spell check, so ridicule me if u want, but ill soon have a law degree so im kinda smart……i read ur blog cause i believe u argue ur points in good faith and are sincere in ur analysis, but if u cant find something positive out of the last 10 games then there is something is wrong with you…anyone who thinks the rotation is gonna be gettin wacked around all summer is crazy…….as the weather heats up so do the good clubs…….after all the crap the yanks endured injuries and what not, guys like ramiro pena and cervelli who u **** on all the time have actually made some serious contributions…..if only they would get rid of berroa and call up linden for some more versatiity…..also, dump veras and edwar, call up robertson and melancon and let them pitch…..aslo if wang is ready would it be the worst thing to have hughes in the bullpen or would u send him down and have him start in AAA…..im curious ur take on cervelli so far as his catching, enrgy and enthusiam seems to me to be a huge boost for the club…..they look different with him back there, hes active and a great defender with a cannon…..ill always read the blog, just trying to continue the discourse and i mean no disrespect in anything that may seem that way…..im an avid reader of urs and will continue to be…..lets just hope that these 6 in a row, 8 in 10 is the start of something big, and when some injured guys get back the team can start to role as the pitching should dominate the summer.

  3. richiekusterbeck@yahoo.com

    I agree that these wins are a fortunate occurrence, but every team needs them on occasion. This team is still coming together, but I think eventually the starting pitching will round into form and take some of the strain off the bullpen. It looks like they are going to need another arm out there if they are to compete with Boston and Toronto. I think it fair to only hope Wang can give 7 innings and 4 runs, I heard he is only throwing 92, and I think he needs to be around 95 to be successful, or else he is going to have to get smarter. I’d be interesting to hear opinions of the pitching coach. I like Melky and Gardener in the outfield, they contribute. I think the clock is beginning to tick on Hughes.

  4. paulp15

    So Steve, have to reconsidered Cervelli yet? Or maybe I should ask if you feel you have enough to base an evaluation on him yet? Personally, I think he’s better than Molina, and has shown the ability to lay down a sacrafice, which would be fine for the bottom of the order. Ramiro certainly has shown the ability to field whatever position he is at, looking like he’ll be a fine defender some day, if not a punch and judy hitter.

  5. sivananda3@hotmail.com

    yeesh…. first you’re writing about testicles, now things are orgasmically exciting…

    maybe you should lay off the late-night cinemax?

    anyway, the stars are aligning for the yanks in the same way they had been mis-aligning for them about 2 weeks prior when you wondered every time they had the lead (WHEN they had the lead) just how they were going to lose it… and they didn’t disappoint.

    i think it’s best to be like jeter in times like these… know that it’s best to not get overly excited by these types of wins and not to get overly down when you lose these types of games.

    keep up the insightful writing (not so much with the testicles, though).


  6. paulo720

    I don’t see these wins as anything more than wins the Yankees desperately need to stay in the race (as well as a furtherance of Bronx misery for the Twins). It’s true that the Yankees are walking too many people. The final lines show that the Yankees pitched well but it was an adventure nearly every game. I know a win is a win but the walks are something that needs to be addressed; as Mr. Goldman suggests, the Yankees aren’t often going to get away with walking everyone.

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