How Pitching Depth Hurts Your Team in the Long Run

By Akiva Wienerkur   July 21, 2023 

How Pitching Depth Hurts Your Team in the Long Run

My Theory

I have been a “die-hard” fan of the New York Yankees for the past 13 years. All I’ve ever wanted as a Yankee fan is to see the Bronx Bombers win their 28th World Series. Prior to the 2016 trade deadline, the Yankees hit the reset button and traded away several star players such as Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, and of course the “Cuban Missile” Aroldis Chapman. The Yankees made these trades to acquire younger players such as super-prospects Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, turning the already strong Yankee farm system, consisting of future stars such as 2022 MVP Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez into an ELITE group. The Yankees then signed established superstars Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton to pair with their young core. Led by Aaron Judge’s electric rookie campaign (284 AVG. 52 HR), the “Baby Bombers” burst onto the scene and came one win short of a World Series appearance. Despite the heartbreaking end to the season, the future looked bright in the Bronx. The young guys led the team to a top-3 finish and they’re only going to get better with experience. The Yankees will most definitely win a World Series soon, right? Right? Wrong! Every year the Yankees enter the season with World Series expectations, look good to start the season, improve at the trade deadline, make the playoffs, and then fall short in October. Every year without fail.

2018: Lost to the Red Sox in the ALDS

2019: Lost to the Astros in the ALCS

2020: Lost to the Rays in the ALDS

2021: Lost to the Red Sox in the ALWC

2022: Lost to the Astros in the ALCS

With the 2023 trade deadline approaching I got to thinking: “What do the Yankees need to do differently this year in order to ensure that they don’t get sent home early again.”

Before we can talk about that I do have to mention that there already is something different about the 2023 Yankees, they’re not nearly as good as they’ve been in recent years. Thanks to the MLB’s new expanded playoff format the Yankees will probably be able to sneak into the playoffs via one of the lower wildcard seeds. However, once October comes around, they will have to go on quite the *Cinderella Run to even match their previous seasons, let alone win it all. So, I went ahead and looked at a few of the latest MLB playoff Cinderella Runs and tried to find something they all had in common, a repeating anomaly. It did not take long to find results. Every single team that performed much better in the postseason than in the regular season had one thing in common: Every team’s pitching staff was extremely top-heavy. After thinking about it for a few days I understood why that is and concluded that: Any postseason team with a top-heavy pitching staff will completely smash expectations and shock the world with a nearly guaranteed Cinderella Run.

*A “Cinderella Run” is when a team barely qualifies for the playoffs and is expected to be eliminated in the early stages of the tournament, but then, with no explanation the team beats a handful of great teams as if they were one of the top teams entering the tournament.

The Numbers

After I discovered that all these teams with top-heavy pitching staffs were going on incredible Cinderella Runs, I was asking myself the same question I assume you are asking right now: Why is that so?

A team’s pitching rotation resets every five days. Ideally, a team’s best starter pitches approximately 100 pitches on the first day, rests for four days, and then the rotation resets and he pitches approximately 100 pitches again. So, let’s look at the five-day goal of every pitching staff: Every pitching staff’s goal is to record 27 outs while allowing fewer runs than the opposing pitching staff. Throughout the regular season teams usually play five games every five days. Therefore, the five-day goal of the team’s pitching staff is to record 135 outs while allowing a minimal number of runs. Since every team in the MLB knows that, they tend to invest equally in 5-6 starting pitchers and 6-8 relief pitchers, the approximate number of pitchers necessary to record 135 outs.

Notice I highlighted the words “regular season”? That’s because that logic only applies to the regular season and not the playoffs. In the playoffs, teams only play three or four games every five days. Three games are only 81 outs, and four games are only 108 outs as opposed to 135 outs over the course of five games. Furthermore, teams only need to win two out of three to advance from the wildcard series, three out of five to advance from the divisional series, and four out of seven in the championship series and world series respectively. Therefore, if a team has the proper pitching talent to win three games every five days throughout the playoffs, they will win the world series!

Most teams in the MLB look at the 135 outs needed in the regular season and invest an equal number of resources in all 135. But if a team invests 90% of their resources in the first 81 outs, and the remaining 10% in the other 54, they will be better for a successful playoff run. I must mention that no matter how talented the pitchers for the first 81 outs are, the pitchers are still human and will occasionally lose so I cannot guarantee a championship. With that said, if your team qualifies for the playoffs despite being held back all season by the “remaining 54”, I guarantee that the team’s winning percentage will spike in the playoffs, when it matters most.

Having a good season is nice and all but what fans want to see most is their favorite team winning the “Fall Classic”. In addition, the absolute last thing fans want to see is their favorite team building up expectations all season long and letting them down in the playoffs, when it matters most (I speak from experience). Don’t say that men never experience heart break until you’ve discussed David Freese’s game 6 triple with a Rangers fan. (Please don’t actually do that, it may cause them to become violent).


Anybody can run their mouth about how they would make a great GM. Therefore, I’ve researched the three most extreme examples of my theory over the past five years. To show the size of the differences between the pitching staffs’ performances in the regular season compared to their playoff performances, we’ll use a stat called ERA. ERA measures the amount of runs the pitcher allows per nine innings pitched. The lower the ERA, the better the pitcher. 

2019 Washington Nationals

First and foremost, the 2019 Washington Nationals won 93 games in the regular season, tied for 8th most in the MLB. The Nationals barely snuck past the 89-win Brewers and advanced to the NLDS. The Nats blew by 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and had no trouble against the 91-win St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. Then, against all odds, the 93-win Nationals defeated the 107-win Houston Astros in the World Series, completing the ultimate Cinderella Run. You might be asking, “how is that possible?” Let’s take a look at their pitching stats and compare them to my theory.

The Washington Nationals team ERA in the 2019 regular season was 4.27. In the playoffs, the team’s ERA dropped to 3.47. That happened because in the regular season, only 1,762 out of 4,318 (40%) outs were recorded by the Nationals’ four best pitchers: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez, and Sean Doolittle. The four’s regular season combined ERA was 3.53 compared to the rest of the pitching staff’s 4.77. In the playoffs, the four recorded 284 out of 459 (62%) outs, a whole 22% higher than over the course of the regular season. In the playoffs, the four’s combined ERA was 2.18 compared to the rest of the pitching staff’s 5.55. The 2019 Washington Nationals’ sudden playoff success makes much more sense now.  

2021 Atlanta Braves:

To the naked eye the 2021 Atlanta Braves Cinderella run seems less astonishing than the 2019 Washington Nationals since the Braves won their division, and the Nationals didn’t. However, if you look at the standings you will find that the 2021 Braves only won 88 regular season games, 5 less than 2019 Nats 93. 88 regular season wins was 12th most in the MLB but then the playoffs came around. The Braves defeated the 95-win Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS and cruised past the 106-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. The Braves faced the 95-win Houston Astros in the world series and made quick work of them. You might be asking, “how is that possible?” Let’s look at their pitching stats and compare them to my theory.

During the 2021 regular season, the Atlanta Braves’ team ERA was 3.88 with 1,337 out of 4,232 (31%) outs recorded by the Braves’ four best pitchers: Charlie Morton, Tyler Matzek, Ian Anderson, and Will Smith.  However, in the playoffs, the four recorded 181 out of 420 (43%) outs for a combined ERA of 1.79 compared to the rest of the pitching staff’s 4.40, a whole 2.51 runs lower. The 2021 Atlanta Braves’ sudden playoff success makes much more sense.

2022 Philadelphia Phillies

 Unlike the previous teams I discussed, the 2022 Philadelphia Phillies lost in the world series. However, they only qualified for the playoffs because the MLB expanded its playoff format to include an extra wildcard team. The 2022 Philadelphia Phillies won 87 regular season games, 11th in the MLB and the least out of our three teams. The Phillies swept the 93-win St. Louis Cardinals in the NLWC and cruised past the 101-win Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. They made quick work of the 89-win San Diego Padres in the NLCS before inevitably losing to the 106-win Houston Astros in the world series. You might be asking, “How is that possible?” Let’s take a look at their pitching stats and compare them to my theory.

The Philadelphia Phillies’ team ERA in the 2022 regular season was 3.97.  In the playoffs, the team’s ERA dropped to 3.24. That happened because in the regular season, only 1,693 out of 4,285 (39%) outs were recorded by the Phils four best starting pitchers: Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez, Aaron Nola, and Zack Wheeler. The four’s regular season combined ERA was 3.22 compared to the rest of the pitching staff’s 4.45. In the playoffs the four recorded 260 out of 450 (57%) outs, a whole 18 percent higher.  In the playoffs, the four’s combined ERA was 3.01 compared to the rest of the pitching staff’s 3.55. The difference between the Phillies’ top guys and the rest of their staff is not very large due to Aaron Nola’s meltdown against the Astros in which he allowed 8 runs while only recording 25 outs, costing his team the World Series/ Meltdown aside, the Phillies’ top guys playoff ERA was 2.41. The 2022 Philadelphia Phillies’ sudden playoff success now makes much more sense.


The answer to my question is now clear. In my opinion, the Yankees must realize that their army of B and C-tier pitchers, such as Luis Severino, Franky Montas, Domingo German, etc. isn’t doing the team any good. The Yankees must get rid of as many of these pitchers as they can. In addition, there are a handful of A-tier pitchers nearing the end of their contracts, especially Shohei Ohtani, Julio Urias, Aaron Nola (2022 Phillies), and Max Scherzer (2019 Nationals). In my opinion, the Yankees must give a king’s ransom in order to trade for or sign at least two of these pitchers to pair with Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes. Only once the Yankees have four elite pitchers will they be able to win their 28th world series.

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