The Yankees left on base problem

Nova dominates as Yanks take series opener
Injury Updates: Jeter, Chavez, Soriano, Colon

Listening to the game on the radio on Saturday, you’d think the Yankees have never cashed in a base runner. John and Suzyn harped on it constantly — we’ve seen this game before, they said about a dozen times — because the Yankees kept putting runners on base and then didn’t them around to score. It wasn’t so much that they were wrong, but that they were insufferable about it. But, of course, they were wrong, too.

Watching games every night, it has become a constant frustration to see the Yankees put men on base and then leave them there. It’s not as bad as it once was — for a stretch in May they seemingly didn’t bring around any runs. But even lately there have been many complaints about the Yankees ability to string together hits and bring home runners when they’re not hitting the ball out of the park.

The problem is that this isn’t a problem at all. It’s just an illusion created by the Yankees putting so many men on base in the first place. Their team .346 OBP ranks second in the AL, and is 24 points better than league average. That is, they put considerably more runners on base than other teams, so they’re working with a different baseline. There will necessarily be a lot of runners left on base, because there are so many runners on base in the first place.

To illustrate the Yankees’ actual success with runners on base, we can turn to their rate of converting runners into runs. Their 32 percent run scoring rate ranks second in the AL, behind only Boston. Most teams are within two points of the league average 30 percent, with Boston outlying at the top and Anaheim outlying at the bottom. They’re hitting .264 with runners in scoring position, which might not seem good, but which is fifth in the AL, and 10 points above league average. In other words, there might be room for improvement, but there’s not that much.

This is an instance where the stats can put into perspective something that gets obscured on a micro level. We watch every game, and while watching we feel great frustration when the Yankees fail to cash in base runners. But overall they’ve actually fared well in this aspect of the game. They’re putting more runners on than their peers, and they’re bringing them around to score at a greater rate. Sure, the home runs help, but that’s just one way of scoring runs. When taken together, the Yanks are still sitting pretty on offense.

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Nova dominates as Yanks take series opener
Injury Updates: Jeter, Chavez, Soriano, Colon
  • Dan Novick

    Question:

    When someone hits a home run, does the batter count as a runner converted into a run? (in your version of this stat)

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

      Yes.

  • Greg

    Tag on this = awesome

    • Nigel Bangs

      +1

    • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen R.

      YES. The vacay did Joe some good, this is one A+ tag

  • Jimmy McNulty

    The team BABIP is .285, that probably explains quite a bit of the “issues” with the offense.

    • It’sATarp

      I pointed this out earlier in the year too when it was even lower (in the .270’s) and every one was freaking out about how come we can’t hit with RISP or only hit Homeruns.

  • steve s

    I think the better comparison is not how this Yankee team is doing in 2011 compared to other 2011 teams but how this Yankee team compares against past Yankee teams we remember (perhaps selectively) as being “clutch” (sorry, I’m not skilled enough to do the computer research on that one). Watching Granderson strike out on ball four in the dirt in the 9th inning of the last game against Texas and Tex striking out on a similar pitch last night with Granderson on third and no one out may be an illusion but it’s a pretty painful/frustrating one.

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

      I’d love for someone to do the research, but I bet you’ll find that Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada and Tino Martinez and Scotty Bro struck out on plenty of ball fours in the dirt in the 9th inning with a runner on third and nobody out. At probably a similar rate of our players today.

      We don’t remember those various painful (at the time) losses from 15 years ago very well because eyewitness testimony is inherently flawed and memory is reconstructive by nature. The image of Charlie Hayes jumping in the air brands itself onto your memory because it was extremely emotionally impactful and a rare occurrence. Derek Jeter striking out in the clutch of a miscellaneous 1999 June game disappears because it’s fairly banal and common.

      • steve s

        I agree with what you said above but with one clarification. “Extremely emotional, impactful and rare” also conjures up negative events as well (as opposed to the Charlie Hayes extremely positive moment). For example when I think of Mo, what comes to mind for me before all the successful moments are the painful post-season moments (1997, 2001, 2004) and that game when Scutaro beat him with a 3 run homer in the 9th inning at Oak.

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

          Fair enough, and to each his own.

          • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

            The Challenger effect.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        I used to call my wife’s office and when somebody asked who was calling I would say Charlie Hayes. After they figured that out I branched into other Yankees. At her office party I walked around introducing myself as Thurman Munson.

    • It’sATarp

      because one instance of such and event means the norm? By that example you’d think Tex and Grandy are having terrible seasons based on one bad AB. Which is not the case…hell Tex is hitting over .300 with RISP with an OPS over 1000.

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

    Baseball is a game full of failure. When you follow your favorite team day in and day out, you get frustrated by all the times they fail, and you tend not to look up and see that the other 29 teams fail at about the same rate your team fails.

    It is what it is. Perfection is an impossibility in baseball.

    • http://johnsterling.blogspot.com/ Xstar7

      As a matter fact, most other teams fail a lot more than the Yankees.

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

        Well, yes. Teams full of good players fail slightly less than teams full of bad players. Teams full of good players still fail a whole heck of a lot, though, that’s the key takeaway.

      • http://johnsterling.blogspot.com/ Xstar7

        *of fact

        these typos are killing me

    • Joseph Cecala

      Perfect example of players failing more often than not is batting average. A good BA is around .300. That means the player makes out 7/10 times. It is only in baseball nature to fail

      • fire levine

        Better example would be OBP

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      According to John Sterling, Brett Gardner is perfect.

      • http://twitter.com/firstheart42 Hannah Ehrlich

        I’m sure she’s not the only one who feels that way.

  • PS

    What was the last thing John or Suzyn said on a broadcast that was accurate or credible?

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

      That baseball is full of randomness. (We make fun of it as a corny shtick, but Sterling’s oft-repeated mantra is 100% correct: crazy, unpredictable shit happens in this game all the time.)

    • steve s

      Did you hear Sterling’s call of Swisher’s 3 run home run against the Cubs? It was as good, accurate and exciting call as he’s ever made.

      • Yank The Frank

        I like Sterling and don’t mind listening to him. Swisher’s shot was a no doubter which John is good at calling. It’s the maybes that get you crazy.

  • http://twitter.com/AnaMariana42 Ana

    Can this (wonderful) tag literally be applied to 80% of the commenters on this site?

    • Yank The Frank

      More like 90%. Since when does logic have to do with anything?

  • mac1

    Great article in many ways. Not only was I wondering about all this (and too lazy to research it myself) but I love the observation made about the team in May, the clear, concise presentation of the facts and stats and the overall conclusion.

    Great stuff – another example of RAB providing more insight and value than virtually any of the traditional sports media.

  • MikeD

    The best offensive teams, the ones that lead the league in runs, are always right at the top in leaving runners on base. It makes sense.

  • jay destro

    Suddenly your preconceived notions fall apart and their lack of logic is exposed

    or

    How to troll.

  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com Eric

    Great post Joe. This is an example of the confirmation bias (where we remember the failures because they fit into a convenient pattern and overlook more common success)that affects many Yankee fans (and probably fans of all teams, for that matter). My go-to example is always the tired “Yankees can’t hit pitchers they have never seen before/soft-tossing lefties” meme. We always remember the few times when they have struggled against new pitchers or soft-tossing lefties, but seem to conveniently forget the times they beat them. It’s the psychology of a sports fan, I guess.

  • tony in SI

    But what is the rate, when its 2nd and/or 3rd and less than two outs. Thats what kills me!

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

      The league vital line with a man on third and less than two outs is .319/.357/.485.

      The Yankee vital line in that split? .340/.367/.623.

      Again, what “kills you” is a totally normal and commonplace phenomenon that happens to every team (and actually happens to the Yankees a little bit less often than other teams.)

      • Tom from GA

        This seems like the best description: When they’re bad, they’re bad like everybody else. Fortunately for us, they have the third best record in baseball and are actually quite good.

        • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/ Matt Imbrogno

          When they’re bad, they’re bad like everybody else

          And there’s a flip side: When they’re good, they’re a lot better than pretty much everyone else. When they’re hitting well, the Yankees and Red Sox may as well be playing a different game than the 28 other teams.

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

          Yeah, we’d all love for the Yankees to hit .400/.500/.600 in RISP situations, or high leverage situations, or sac fly situations, etc, but that just doesn’t happen. We’d love for the Yankees to never strand a runner on third with less than two outs, but stranding a runner in that situation still happens more often than not, to ALL teams.

          The historical record says that producing at anything higher than the rate our team is producing right now is fairly rare (even for good clubs) and we don’t have much to complain about.

  • Tom from GA

    Look, you might be exactly right in your analysis, but some of the numbers got me thinking that, maybe, your statistical premise — that the Yankees have more base runners and therefore they leave more runners on — is not as significant as you are suggesting.

    For instance, the Yanks OBP is 24 points higher that the league average. Since the number goes out to three decimals, I’m thinking that means that the Yankess put 24 more runners on base per 1,000 at bats than the league’s average.

    How long does it take to amass 1,000 at bats? Based on an OBP of .346 and games that last 27 outs, that means the Yankees average almost 40 plate appearances per game, fewer for home wins and more for extra innings. But let’s say 40 per game because the division is easy. That means it takes 25 games to reach 1,000 at bats, and therefore, with their 24 point OBP advantage over the league average, the Yankees average one extra runner per game.

    On top of that, the Yankees’ OBP average is inflated by the games when they are racking up pinball scores. Those games are great fun because everybody hits — except Cervelli, and it seems like everyone scores. But when the Yankees are playing a tight game, stranding a bunch of guys, hitting into a ton of doubleplays, acting like more of a league average team, maybe John and Suzyn aren’t so far off base about how inept they seem at getting guys home.

    And now I will go to therapy to figure out how I wound up defending the ramblings of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman.

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

      On top of that, the Yankees’ OBP average is inflated by the games when they are racking up pinball scores. Those games are great fun because everybody hits — except Cervelli, and it seems like everyone scores. But when the Yankees are playing a tight game, stranding a bunch of guys, hitting into a ton of doubleplays, acting like more of a league average team, maybe John and Suzyn aren’t so far off base about how inept they seem at getting guys home.

      This happens to other teams too. The Red Sox, Pirates, Mariners, Astros, Giants, etc. occasionally erupt for 8+ runs and then follow that up with a shutout loss.

      Peaks and valleys of offensive production are not a Yankee problem, they’re a baseball team problem. So, again, the Yankee offense being streaky and thus making RISP failures more stark in nights when the offense is weak is not a unique phenomenon, it happens to all teams.

  • steve s

    I think you’ve got this backwards a little. It’s because Tex and Grandy are having very good to excellent seasons that makes their inexplicable failure in the situations described above lead to what Joe describes as the “illusion” that the Yanks are not converting their scoring opportunities as compared to other teams. It may very well be that it is an “illusion” but before I’d conclude that I’d like to know the scoring rate comparison of the 2011 Yanks against some of the recent past Yankee teams (1998 comes to mind) that most of us may subjectively remember as being “clutch”.

    • steve s

      Sorry, this was supposed to be a response to It’sATarp above.

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

      It may very well be that it is an “illusion” but before I’d conclude that I’d like to know the scoring rate comparison of the 2011 Yanks against some of the recent past Yankee teams (1998 comes to mind) that most of us may subjectively remember as being “clutch”.

      To paraphrase our old conversations with Alex Gonzalez, “It was a different era. No way to compare”.

      Seriously, though, the 1998 Yankees converting baserunners into runs at a 40% clip (which I’m sure they didn’t) doesn’t tell you much about if the 2011 Yankees 32% clip is good/bad/otherwise, because it’s a different offensive environment. You’d need to compare the 1998 Yankees to other 1998 teams, not to the 2011 Yankees.

      • Tom from GA

        No statistics to share here, but Tommie is right to resist comparing 1998 — with its historically high offensive numbers perhaps supplemented by steroids — with 2011, where run-scoring throughout MLB has sunk back down to a level that is much closer to historical averages.

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

          I mean, in 2011, the entire league is hitting .252/.320/.390. In 1998, the entire league hit .266/.335/.420.

          Apples and oranges.

  • Monteroisdinero

    There seems to have been a reduction in gidp’s lately but I could be wrong.

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

      30 GIDP in April, 21 in May, 19 so far in June.

      • Cris Pengiuci

        With several more games remaining in June, seems there will be more GIDP in June, but probably fewer than in April. Guess that means the team is about at “average”.

  • Tampa Yankee

    Come on everyone, you don’t have to go into all this “statistical” analysis. The Yankees have not left a single man on base since Nunez has taken over at short thus making these stat look better then when old man Jeter was at short. He wills every batter to knock in the runner(s) on base! Don’t hate!

    /nunez fan baiting

    • http://twitter.com/AnaMariana42 Ana

      All kidding aside, the more stats I look up on Nunez, the less I want to see him play. What kills me is that one of nunez fan’s lines was “just look up the stats” in reference to how allegedly awesome Nunez is.

      • Cris Pengiuci

        Hey, Nunez is what he is, at this point in his career: An acceptable replacement for your starting SS. On some teams, he might even be an acceptable starter. Probably not on the Yankees, however.

        • http://twitter.com/AnaMariana42 Ana

          He’s worth negative WAR with an OBP and wOBA under .300, and absolutely atrocious defense. We’re winning while he’s in the lineup so it’s not the worst thing ever, but he’s definitely not someone you want playing for you every day if you’re a major league team.

          • Bobby two knives

            agreed, regardless of the “wonderful” hype given him last night by the ESPN game booth personalities, describing him as someone the Yankees are so very high on for their future. I really don’t think so, at least at this point.