Sabathia's key number tonight: 65
What in the world are we talking about?
You may have heard some buzz about the Bill James statistical metric Game Score, which measures starting pitcher effectiveness based on innings completed, hits allowed, runs allowed, strikeouts and walks. The formula rewards longevity and strikeouts and punishes pitchers who get knocked around a bit. Starting pitcher tallies have been kept all season and for the past few seasons for every game on ESPN.com's box scores.
Baseball-Reference.com has the history of Game Scores for every postseason game, and the talk of the LDS in the sabermetric community was how Tim Lincecum's 14-strikeout game rated a 96 (among the all-time best) and Roy Halladay's no-hitter tallied only a 94 (also an all-timer, but a notch below). That's because of the way the system rewards strikeouts (Lincecum had 14, Halladay had eight).
Getting back to what this has to do with the Yankees, a quick search of Baseball-Reference.com's databases yielded the following nugget.
The Yankees have never lost Game 1 of a postseason series in which their starting pitcher scored better than a 64. They are 20-0 in such Game 1s all-time, winning most recently in last year's ALCS opener when Sabathia scored a 76, allowing one run and four hits in eight innings in a win over the Angels.
The highest Yankees score in a Game 1 is shared by legends Allie Reynolds (1949 World Series) and Whitey Ford (1961 World Series), each of whom threw a two-hit shutout, and scored an 88.
The highest Game Score recorded by a Yankees starter in a Game 1 loss is by Sabathia -- a 64. His two-run, four-hit effort in last year's World Series opener wasn't enough to beat the Phillies and Cliff Lee.
Now it should be noted that 64 is a pretty good score, and anything above it is really good (Sabathia had 15 starts of better than 64 in the regular season). This isn't high school, with a 65 representing a passing grade.
A Game Score of 65 is an above-average start, the score John Burkett got when he beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the 1996 ALDS, the last time the Rangers beat the Yankees in a postseason game. Burkett scattered 10 hits and two runs in his complete game. That's one way to score a 65.
Another would be to allow three runs and four hits in seven innings, while striking out eight, which Rangers owner Nolan Ryan did in getting a no-decision for the Angels in Game 1 of the 1979 LCS against the Orioles.
But a 65 or better is no guarantee that your team is going to win -- The other 29 franchises are a combined 109-32 (.773 win percentage) when their starting pitcher records a Game Score higher than 64 in a postseason series Game 1. That's pretty good. But it's not the 20-for-20 level of perfection that the Yankees have previously achieved.
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