Are the Yanks trying to hit fly balls?

Whither Melky, again
Open Thread: Teixeira vs. Mauer

One thing that’s become apparent over the course of this season: the Yanks are built for their home ballpark. Among their nine regulars they have just two righties. The rest are lefties or switch-hitters. Since the majority of pitchers are righties, that means the Yankees bat from the left side of the plate more often than not, which gives them a nice, short shot at the right field fence. This has led Pat Andriola of The Hardball Times to wonder whether the Yanks hitters are trying to put the ball in the air. Unsurprisingly, some players are experiencing the highest flyball rates of their careers: Mark Teixeira, Johnny Damon, and Jorge Posada, while Hideki Matsui is in the midst of his second highest rate season.

Is that necessarily good, though? Sure, Tex is just three homers behind his total from 2008 and is at his total from 2007, but it has come at a cost. Ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls, which has led Teixeira’s BABIP to fall to .289, the lowest of his career. Ditto his line drive rate, at 16.6 percent, and his batting average with runners in scoring position, .268. It’s also led to a high number of infield flies.

Also, Tex’s fly balls aren’t getting out at a greater rate. He has a 17.2 percent home run per fly ball ratio, which is at or below most of his previous years. It would make sense to swing for the fences more if the fly balls were going out at a greater rate, but they’re not. Then again, it’s tough to complain about Tex’s season at all right now. Maybe he’d be better off leveling his swing as in the past, but we just can’t know that. What we do know is that he’s battering the ball at Yankee Stadium.

Strangely, Swisher is not hitting more fly balls this year. In fact, it doesn’t look like he’s tailoring his swing to the new Stadium at all — or if he is, then it’s not working. Hey, maybe that explains his poor home splits. If he’s trying to put the ball over the short porch and is failing, well, that might explain his .206 BA and .323 SLG at home.

It’s an interesting thought, though. Considering how well the Yanks have played at home this season, it would seem to be working, if in fact that’s the case.

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Whither Melky, again
Open Thread: Teixeira vs. Mauer
  • http://anewfrontier.wordpress.com Pablo Zevallos

    Tex’s swing, in its current form, is inherently not near-level. I think any change would have to wait to the off-season. Besides, pure level swings do no good, anyway.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Well, that’s because a pure level swing is unnatural. When I, or anyone else, really, mentions “level swing,” we’re talking more “natural swing,” without any predetermined uppercut.

      • thebusiness

        Tex had more extreme fly ball splits early in the season though, no?

  • Tom Swift

    Don’t lefties bat from the right side?

    • http://twitter.com/JamalG Jamal G.

      Yes, that’s why their pull-field is right field.

  • Tony

    You should tag this with “playoffs” because I fear it becoming very relevant then.

  • Clapton100

    For the last few years, when the Yankees weren’t playing well, it seemed they were hitting like a beer league softball team. Every guy would come up and try to hit the ball 500 miles. Remember how many games last year they were held to three runs or less. Maybe they are benefitting from the unintended benefit of playing in a stadium that’s kind to fly balls.

    So I definitely think they are a fly ball team, and things are working out well in that regard. And having a bunch of strikout pitchers fits the stadium as well.

    Earl Weaver was very successful with his old Oriole teams with good starting pitching and a bunch of guys who hit home runs. Seems like that is the 2009 Yankees persona as well.

    Teams can win with any number of different styles if they have the talent to play that style really well.

  • dkidd

    considering how the park was playing in april and may, it’s easy to understand why left handed batters could become homer happy

    is it me, or has the jet stream calmed down over the summer?

    • Accent Shallow

      Maybe the answer is “There was no jet stream, and while the park appears to be more home run friendly than YSII, it’s not Coors Field circa 2000, either.”

      • dkidd

        it may have just been some fluky spring wind, but there were a bunch of routine fly balls that turned into home runs the first 20 games

  • Tank the Frank

    This is exactly what I was thinking last night. How many long fly balls or line drives did the Yankees hit last night that would have been a HR in right field or at least off the wall in CF at YSIII? It seemed – at least to me – that they were really swinging for the long ball last night and it just didn’t carry like it would at home (obviously). Tomko had about the luckiest five innings a pitcher can have IMO.

  • CB

    Some players might be trying to hit fly balls – in fact that’s likely.

    But on the whole the Yankees as a team aren’t hitting a inordinate number of fly balls.

    As a team their flyball rate is 38%. That’s 15th highest in the majors so pretty much middle of the pack (boston’s hitting fly balls at the highest rate – 43.3%).

    Where the yankees do stick out is home runs hit per fly ball. They are first in that category with 13.9% of their fly balls turning into home runs. Generally 10% is considered “average.”

    Some people don’t consider hitting home runs a true skill. It’s considered a random event related to how many fly balls are hit. This is the basis for xFIP for instance.

    That 13.9% is one of the key numbers of the team’s entire season. If that rate goes down this is a very different team. Last year only 11.4% of flyballs turned into home runs for the yanks. The year before 12%.

  • Accent Shallow

    One of the problems with looking at things like line drive rate and flyball rate is that these things vary from park to park — they’re determined by the official scorer, and making the distinction between can be pretty ambiguous. As an example, look at Melky’s walkoff hit against Joe Nathan. That ball seemed to hang up in the air forever, and Span and Gomez almost got to it. Is that a liner or a flyball? I bet you’d get a couple different answers if you asked different scorers.

    That’s one reason I’m not putting a lot of stock into Tex’s increased flyball rate — the scorers who are seeing his balls in play this year are a different set than the ones who saw his balls in play last year, since the NL East and the AL West don’t overlap the AL East too much.

    • CB

      Your point on the ambiguity of some batted balls is a good one.

      However, it’s not the official scorer who determines these things. It is the data collectors from Baseball Info Solutions and Stats Inc. who are the ones doing the categorization. That’s where those rates come from.

      So it is the same institutions that were designating the categorizations for Tex, etc. this year and last.