We had three extra-inning games from Wednesday's afternoon slate, all full of that fun strategy that comes in games that go past nine frames.
In Houston, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona burned through nine relief pitchers. He'd used up all eight of his regular relievers through only 12 innings and turned to starter Cody Anderson, who finally lost the game in the bottom of 16th when the Astros' Marwin Gonzalez clocked a walk-off, two-run homer. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, the Indians became only the 43rd team to use 10 pitchers in a game since 1913 -- and only the 10th to do it in a game before the expanded rosters of September. Francona had actually done it before, in a June 2014 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In San Francisco, the Toronto Blue Jays tied it in the ninth on Michael Saunders' home run off Santiago Casilla, but then Ryan Tepera walked Buster Posey on four consecutive pitches with the bases loaded in the 13th, to give the Giants the literal walk-off win. The Toronto bullpen fell to 3-11, the most bullpen losses in the majors.
In Seattle, the Mariners were without closer Steve Cishek after a recent heavy workload, and the Tampa Bay Rays tied the score in the top of the ninth on Kevin Kiermaier's home run off Nick Vincent. Reliever Steve Johnson then escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the 10th and a one-out, two-on jam in the 11th, and Chris Iannetta hit a walk-off home run against Steven Geltz as the Mariners improved to 5-1 in extra innings.
After watching the endings of all those games, I wondered: Is there anything we can learn from extra-inning results? Are the results more or less random, or do good teams win more extra-inning games? I'm thinking of last season's Rays, for example. They finished 80-82 overall but went 2-13 in extra-inning games. Their .531 winning percentage in nine-inning games would have tied the Astros for a wild-card spot if they'd won at the same rate in extra innings. Or I'm thinking of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, who were an amazing 16-2 in extra innings and made the playoffs with a 93-69 record.
I did a little research. I looked at all teams since 2013 through Tuesday's results, checked their records in extra-inning games and then looked at the difference compared to nine-inning games.
First, here are the teams that have done best in extra innings:
1. Indians, 28-16 (.636)
2. Orioles, 30-18 (.625)
3. Royals, 27-17 (.614)
4. Padres, 26-17 (.605)
5. Diamondbacks, 38-25 (.603)
So Francona lost Wednesday's game, but his teams have actually fared the best in extra innings over the past three-plus seasons. In terms of winning percentage through nine innings since 2013, those teams rank 10th, sixth, fifth, 23rd and 25th. The Royals and Orioles have been known for their great bullpens -- they rank first and third in bullpen ERA since 2013 -- so their success in extra innings isn't a surprise. The Indians have had solid but underrated bullpens as well, and rank sixth in ERA in that span. The surprises are the Padres and Diamondbacks, both well under .500 in regulation games but superb in extras. The Padres actually have the best extra-innings ERA at 1.96. The Diamondbacks -- who have played the most extra-inning games since 2013, with 63 -- have pitched well also, with a 2.89 ERA (seventh-best), although some of their success can be attributed to the offense; I certainly remember some Paul Goldschmidt heroics.
The worst teams in extra innings since 2013:
1. Rangers, 10-22 (.313)
2. Mariners, 24-36 (.400)
2. Rays, 20-30 (.400)
4. Rockies, 16-23 (.410)
5. Yankees, 17-24 (.415)
Those teams rank 11th, 18th, 12th, 29th and ninth in winning percentage in regulation games, so only the Rockies have been a truly awful team and also awful in extra innings. But none of the five have had consistently excellent bullpens. The Yankees, Mariners and Rays have been middle of the pack at best, ranking 16th, 17th and 19th in bullpen ERA since 2013. Of course, the Mariners and Rays also haven't scored a lot of runs in this time frame, so they probably weren't lighting up the scoreboard in extras. (The Mariners have the 29th-worst extra-inning ERA, so much of their poor record has been on the bullpen).
The Yankees are an interesting case, because they've had some good late-inning relievers: David Robertson and Dellin Betances and then Betances and Andrew Miller a year ago and this season. But a lot of these extra innings are often pitched by the bottom of the bullpen, after your top guys have been used up. I'd argue that general manager Brian Cashman hasn't done a good job of constructing the final pieces in his pens, and that has hurt the Yankees.
OK, here are the biggest spreads in winning percentage between regulation and extra innings, the teams that have improved the most:
1. Diamondbacks, plus-.160
2. Padres, plus-.155
3. Indians, plus-.114
4. Orioles, plus-.090
5. Cubs, plus.071
And the teams that have declined the most:
1. Rangers, minus-.209
2. Rays, minus-.121
3. Yankees, minus-.115
4. Mariners, minus-.101
5. Dodgers, minus-.097
6. Cardinals, minus-.093
7. Tigers, minus-.085
I went seven deep there to include two teams that have been pretty successful in the Cardinals and Tigers, although the Tigers have been known for their shaky bullpens. What's interesting about this is the big-payroll teams: The Rangers, Yankees, Dodgers and Tigers are all big-market, big-payroll teams. To afford the big boys, have they gone cheap on their bullpens? I'm not sure. Or are we looking at a managerial issue? Ron Washington, Don Mattingly, Brad Ausmus and even Mike Matheny have all been some of the more maligned tactical managers in the game. Wouldn't something like that most show up in close games (and thus extra-inning games)? The Cardinals have had the fifth-best bullpen ERA but are 21-21 in extra-inning games. Maybe that's a reflection that since they also have baseball's best record since 2013, they beat up on the bad teams and play most of their extra-inning games against good teams.
Anyway, I wasn't out to prove anything here. But if you're a Mariners fan who has suffered through 36 extra-inning losses since 2013 -- most in the majors -- you have enjoy that 5-1 record so far in 2016.