Once again, Yanks are tops at working the count

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Not too many homers, too many double plays
(AP Photo/Matt Strasen)

It’s been kind of a weird season for the Yankees offensively, in that they’ve often looked sluggish and still have the best statistical performance around. They’re first in the game with 5.31 runs per game, and they lead baseball in OPS (.800) and wOBA (.352). Their .252 team batting average is being held back by a .266 BABIP, something that should correct itself as the season progresses, but they still lead the league in OBP (.339) thanks to a gaudy 10.7% walk rate, the best in all the land. They’re a power and patience club, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they swing at the fewest pitches out of the zone (23.7%) and have the largest ISO (.209) in the game. Once that BABIP gets back to normal, it’ll be glorious.

As a team, the Yankees have seen 3.92 pitchers per plate appearance, the third most in the AL. Curtis Granderson has seen the second most pitches per plate appearances in the game (4.51, behind only Carlos Santana at 4.53), and Brett Gardner isn’t too far behind him at 4.30. Nick Swisher (4.22) and Mark Teixeira (4.09) are also over four pitches per trip to the plate, then you’ve got Russell Martin (3.93), Alex Rodriguez (3.90), and Jorge Posada (3.90) right behind them. Considering that the league average is 3.83 pitches per plate appearance, that’s pretty good. Robinson Cano is the only real eye sore on the team, he’s seeing just 3.20 P/PA. That ranks 193rd out of the 194 batters that qualify for the batting title (only Orlando Cabrera is worse at 3.07). I believe the word is: Yikes.

The concept of working the count isn’t just about drawing walks or getting the starting pitcher out of the game early. The point of the game is to score runs, and the easiest way to score runs is by getting hits. Batters that take pitches are waiting for a good pitch to hit before pouncing, essentially trying to get themselves into hitter’s count (2-0, 3-1). The more pitches they see, the better the chance of getting their pitch, i.e. a mistake. Walks are just a byproduct, or they should be, anyway. Of the Yankees’ 1,210 team plate appearances this year, 503 of them have ended when the batter was ahead in the count, or 41.6%. The other 13 AL teams average 35.8%. They’ve ended a plate appearance in a pitcher’s count 305 times (25.2%, 31.0% lg avg) and the other 402 times when the count was even (33.2%, exactly lg avg). It’s not a coincidence that the Yankees lead the league in offense and are the best at getting into hitter’s counts.

That graph (click for larger) shows the team’s wOBA by pitch of the plate appearance vs. the league average. The big difference comes on the third pitch of the at-bat, which has a lot to do with the Yankees working themselves into a 2-0 count 4.13% of the time, far greater than the league average (2.87%). They’ve also been surprisingly productive in 0-2 counts, hitting .243 with a .122 ISO compared to .157 and .063 for the AL as a whole, respectively. That will probably even out as we get deeper into the season though. The dips on the third and fourth pitches have to do with players simply taking pitches in 3-0 and 3-1 counts more than anything else. The old saying is that the longer the at-bat, the more it swings into the hitter’s favor, and judging by the performance of the both the Yankees and the league on the 6th+ pitch of the encounter, that certainly holds true.

The last two weeks haven’t always been pretty offensively, but that has more to do with some drastic slumps (Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada in particular) than the team being flawed as a whole. They’re not going to hit .242/.336/.453 with men in scoring position all season (that, by the way, is 18% better than league average) just because a .242 BABIP in those spots is pretty unsustainable. The Yankees just have to stick with their game plan of taking pitches and getting into the good hitter’s counts, and the rest will take care of itself.

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Not too many homers, too many double plays
  • Will F.

    Good stuff!

    P.S: Where did Robbie’s plate discipline go? He’s hacking away at the first pitch.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Cano’s P/PA:

      2005: 3.05
      2006: 3.22
      2007: 3.42
      2008: 3.35
      2009: 3.39
      2010: 3.47
      2011: 3.20

      It’ll probably move up slightly as the year progresses, but Robinson’s probably never going to be a 4 P/PA guy. It’s not his hitting style.

      I’m not overly concerned, either. With his supreme contact skills and solid power, if he wants to jump on a hittable pitch early in the count, let him do it. A career .308/.345/.492 means he’s probably pretty good at being aggressive at the plate.

  • Ellis

    While pitches-per-PA is a nice general rule for predicting hits/walks/success, we can’t blanket over every player. Robbie is the proof in the pudding – he’s barely seeing any pitches, but he’s leading the team in AVG (.290), hits (36), and RBI (24).

    Granted, his OBP (.313) could use some help, but he is finding pitches to hit.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      It is nice to have a team full of high P/PA guys, though; while a more patient approach isn’t directly causally tied to more hits, it does generate more walks and more total pitches thrown, both of which are intrinsically tied to extending innings, pushing the opposing starter out of the ballgame prematurely, and getting into the soft underbelly of middle relievers.

      You want to mix in good hitters with your patient hitters, but luckily we have a nice overlap of the two.

  • the Other Steve S.

    “3.92 pitchers per plate appearance”

    That’s a lot of beer.

  • Big Apple

    my kid had a baseball game last night…machine pitch to 7 year olds…these kids swing at everything…everyone once and awhile they’ll take a pitch but its most likely due to them adjusting their helmet or cup.

  • tom

    As much as everyone here (me included) likes David Cone, I thought this was one thing he got wrong the other day. He kept saying the Yankees need to get back to their old-style, grind-it-out form, which to me equates to working the count, driving up pitch counts — and, as this post indicates, they’re DOING that. They’re just, for the moment, not getting the maximal results from it, thanks to that low BABIP. Cone is mostly good at not missing the forest for the trees, but one that one issue I think he did.

    • CS Yankee

      Although they lead the league in working the count they have two free-swinging hitters in Jeter and Cano…

      this has worked out really well for their careers, but I think it is safe to say that Jeter should avoid the early inside heat and Robbie should lay off the outside pitches.

      The HR’s are depressing our BABIP as well. Good problem to have unless you alter your mechanics (which in general we haven’t seen) to do so.

  • Fairweather Freddy

    Problem is, they are at the bottom of the list in delivering clutch hits or even Sac flies.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      False.

      The Yankees 11 sac flies are middle of the pack (clutchtastic, uber-fundamentals Boston is last with 4). And the team’s 0.4 Clutch rating is also middle of the pack (and Boston is again, at the bottom).

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        And we also have the fewest number of games played and plate appearances to boot. So it’s not even a matter of having more opportunities to skew the counting stat numbers.

        • CS Yankee

          I know we are 2-3 games shy of the norm however with the lead in BB’s & runs they should be above the Mets, Astros, & Mariners of the world in PA’s, right?

      • Fairweather Freddy

        how many times on that road trip alone did the Yanks fail to get runners in in scoring position? Thats been a problem all year. Thos stats you gave are quite misleading.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          The stats aren’t misleading, they’re the accurate, unbiased historical record of what has actually happened.

          If something seems misleading to you, it’s probably your memory. The human memory is prone to doing that.

          On that road trip, yes, the Yankees often failed to get runners in from scoring position and didn’t hit as many sac flies as they possibly could have. Looking at it with an unbiased historical record, however, tells you that the Yankees are not markedly worse at driving in RISP or hitting sac flies as other teams are. Those other teams whose road trips you didn’t watch every inning of also had numerous times where they failed to deliver with RISP or make productive outs.

          It’s baseball.