The Yankees’ ever-so-slight decline against righthanded pitching

The Obligatory Yoenis Cespedes Post
Scouting The Trade Market: Gio Gonzalez

The Yankees were, once again, a superb offensive team in 2011. It can be easy to take the team’s offense for granted considering how good Yankee fans have had it over the last decade. To wit (MLB rank in parentheses):

2011 .346 (3) 113 (2)
2010 .347 (1) 112 (1)
2009 .366 (1) 117 (1)
2008 .338 (6) 104 (6)
2007 .362 (1) 120 (1)
2006 .358 (1) 115 (1)
2005 .350 (2) 116 (1)
2004 .350 (2) 113 (2)
2003 .352 (3) 115 (2)
2002 .352 (1) 116 (1)

This table is absurd. The Yankees have been the best offensive team in all of baseball in terms of wOBA in five of the past 10 seasons, and after adjusting for park and league they come out on top in six of the past 10 years. Those numbers appeared poised to rise to six and seven years, respectively, as they led the AL in both wOBA and wRC+ as late as August 23, but a quiet offensive September combined with a lightning-hot Texas offense saw the team fall to third overall by season’s end. Still, in the few years they didn’t field the very best offense in baseball, they finished in the top three every season save one — 2008, when they finished 6th.

So yes, clearly we Yankee fans have been spoiled on the offensive front. I consider myself a pretty reasonable fan regarding most aspects of the game, although given the team’s embarrassment of offensive riches the one area in which I do occasionally veer into irrational territory is when they do things like get shutdown by Jeremy Guthrie. But that’s just me.

The point of this preamble is to acknowledge that trying to poke holes in the Yankees’ robust offensive attack is nit-picking at its best, but being the offseason and all I still find it interesting to compare and contrast how the team fared in a variety of splits. In the case of facing right-handed pitching — and especially in the aftermath of the Yankees’ ALDS loss to the Tigers, in which they saw zero left-handed starters — I thought it might useful to try to find out why the 2011 Yankees posted the team’s worst numbers against RHP in the last five seasons.

(click to enlarge)

As you can see in the above chart, the 2007 and 2009 teams annihilated right-handed pitching, outhitting the league by 24% and 22%, respectively. The RHP decline began in 2010, and continued into 2011, as the team posted five-year lows in all three triple-slash categories vs. RHP as well as sOPS+.

They did continue to outhit the league, this time by 14%, so it’s not as if they were anemic vs. right-handers, but the platoon split is quite a bit more dramatic when you look at how they’ve fared against left-handers of recent vintage:

The Yankees utterly destroyed left-handed pitching in 2011, leading the Majors in both OBP and SLG vs. portsiders, and posting five-year highs in both sOPS+ and tOPS+, outhitting the league by a whopping 28%.

Culprit #1: The Offense

So why the slight drop-off against righties? Perusing the lineup’s splits, it’s not too hard to see why, as Mark Teixeira put up a .337 wOBA against northpaws (including a meager .323 OBP), Nick Swisher a .335 mark, Brett Gardner a .328 and Derek Jeter a .298 wOBA, though in fairness, Tex, Swish and Gardner were all above league average. Still, given that Tex and Swish are going to get the majority of their PAs against RHP, they have to be better than ~108 wRC+ players. Swish seems a decent-enough bet to bounce back, and he’s only a year removed from putting up a 132 wRC+ against righties.

I’m a little less sure about Tex, who’s on a three-year decline against righties, and, as the entire Yankosphere has noted in every way, shape or form, has to figure out how to fix his woes from the left side of the plate. Being that Gardner’s bat is invisible against lefties (75 wRC+), you’d ideally like him to be a bit better than average (101 wRC+) against righties, but I suppose you take what you can get from Brett. As for Derek, while it didn’t really end up negatively affecting the team — especially after his second-half renaissance — if Derek continues to struggle against righties the Yankees may actually be hurting themselves if Girardi refuses to move Jeter out of the one-hole against right-handed pitchers, as .277/.329/.338 is pretty much the exact opposite of what you want out of your leadoff hitter.

Culprit #2: Opposing Pitching

For as much as certain members of the offense are culpable, we also do need to give some credit to the pitchers the team faced. The Yankees had 4,434 plate appearances against right-handed pitching in 2011. Josh Beckett accounted for 136 of those, and threw 34 innings of 1.85 ERA ball against the Yanks. The Yankees had 150 PAs against James Shields, who pitched to a 2.33 ERA against the Yanks over 38.2 innings. Brandon Morrow faced 80 Yankees, and threw to a 1.74 ERA over 20.2 innings. Jered Weaver and Dan Haren combined for 113 PAs against the Yankees, with the former throwing 15 innings of 1.80 ball and the latter 15 2/3 innings of 2.30 ball. Heck, R.A. Dickey’s 1.64 was the lowest ERA against the Yankees (min. 2 starts) in 2011, and he accounted for 46 PAs. And of course, the enigmatic Phil Humber managed a 2.70 ERA over 13.1 innings and 50 PAs.

Those seven pitchers represented 13% of the Yankees plate appearances against right-handed pitching, and while that’s obviously only a small portion of the overall universe of right-handers faced, that these righties combined for an insane 2.06 ERA over their148.1 collective innings certainly had some impact on the team’s overall numbers against right-handers.

Fun (if highly unlikely) Solutions

Using Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis tool, if you plug in the 2011 team’s most-frequently-used versus-right-handers lineup with their vs. right-handed pitching OBPs and SLGs, you get a lineup averaging 5.277 runs per game. If you use the team’s most-oft-used versus-left-handers lineup, and their vs. left-handed pitching splits, you get a lineup averaging an absurd 6.131 runs per game.

Now if we do the same exercise for the 2012 team, swapping Jesus Montero in for Jorge Posada/Andruw Jones, use the Major League Equivalencies for Montero’s 2011 AAA splits (using his actual September 2011 MLB splits isn’t helpful, given how insane his numbers were), and also sort the lineups by highest OBP to lowest, we get the following:

Curtis Granderson .258 .372 .531
Alex Rodriguez .276 .361 .487
Robinson Cano .296 .347 .537
Brett Gardner .265 .345 .393
Nick Swisher .232 .343 .420
Derek Jeter .277 .329 .338
Russell Martin .248 .327 .422
Mark Teixeira .223 .323 .450
Jesus Montero .236 .285 .336
Nick Swisher .327 .442 .516
Derek Jeter .349 .423 .523
Mark Teixeira .302 .380 .587
Alex Rodriguez .277 .367 .383
Robinson Cano .314 .354 .525
Curtis Granderson .272 .347 .597
Brett Gardner .233 .344 .272
Jesus Montero .282 .339 .532
Russell Martin .211 .316 .368

That above  lineup vs. right-handers would only score 4.958 runs per game, while the “best” version of that lineup would score 5.135 runs per game. However, if you want to swap Montero’s actual AAA split against RHP (.272/.330/.399) you get 5.106 runs per game, with the “best” version — featuring Gardner leading off, followed by Grandy, Swish, Cano, A-Rod, Tex, Martin, Montero and Jeter — at 5.258 runs per game, or basically what the 2011 version did against RHP. That’s actually a pretty reasonable lineup deployment, and if you factor in presumed improved seasons from Tex and Swish I’d expect a superior 2012 team performance against righties.

While the lineup probably doesn’t need any tweaking against southpaws, just for fun, the above lineup vs. left-handers averages an insane 6.002 runs per game, and the “best” iteration comes in at 6.285 R/PG. If you swap in Montero’s actual AAA split against LHP ( .328/.392/.647), you get 6.160 runs per game, with a “best” version pounding out 6.526 runs per game, and featuring Montero at cleanup! If things go as planned, we may actually be closer to experiencing that particular bit of awesomeness than previously thought.

The Obligatory Yoenis Cespedes Post
Scouting The Trade Market: Gio Gonzalez
  • Kosmo

    A bit off topic, but Melky Cabrera was just traded for Jonathan Sanchez.

    • Larry Koestler

      Just saw that. Someone should tell Sabean that the Giants need actual hitters, not Melky Cabrera, who had a career year fueled by a BABIP .033 points higher than his career mark. No way Melky even sniffs a .349 wOBA again.

      • Al

        Does that mean that NY could have kept melky and traded him for sanchez this offseason? I would have done that deal in a heartbeat. It’s pitching that’s the worry, not hitting.

      • Kosmo

        If one can really measure the deal in relative worth I think it was an OK deal for both teams. Cain can now slip into CF and they get possibly a diamond in the rough in Sanchez. Melky is an upgrade over Torres.

    • Mike Axisa
      • Al

        but but but this is major baseball news that’s way more entertaining than an extremely tiny statistical decline article from a non Core 3 RAB writer. but alright…

        • Jesse


          • Joe Pawlikowski

            -1000 to both.

            • Slugger27

              agreed. this particular article may not be overly riveting, but a sanchez/cabrera swap is about as yawntastic as a thread on here could be.

              certainly not worth breaking the commenting guidelines over.

              • Joe Pawlikowski

                I also take offense to the non-core 3 remark. Regardless, we didn’t create the commenter guidelines to have a rule filled with meaningless text. We made ’em for a reason. This ain’t LoHud, as we used to say.

    • Slugger27

      who cares?

  • well you know

    per ESPN stats

    Yankees OPS vs RHP (regular season)

    2009 .837 (led AL by 34 points)
    2010 .784 (second by 11 points)
    2009 .771 (third by 40 points behind BOS, 27 points behind TEX)

    A decline of 66 OPS points is not ever so slight; it is quite significant and a glaring weakness for a team with WS aspirations.

    OPS vs. Tigers RHP 2011 ALDS: .723

    • well you know

      That should be 2011 next to the .771 OPS of course (not 2009 again)

    • Mike Axisa

      The 66 point decline has more to do with the league average dropping. They went from a 115 OPS+ to a 114 OPS+ vs RHP from 2010-2011.

      • well you know

        OK but TEX and BOS, the most pertinent competition, both went against the trend to improve their OPS vs RHP. The trend isn’t inexorable, comes down to the players.

    • Larry Koestler

      The “ever-so-slight” was in relation to 2010; but yes, the decline is a steeper if you go back to 2009.

      However, it’s also important to remember that few teams have ever had as ridiculous an offensive year as the 2009 Yankees — an .837 OPS against righties is the exception, not the rule.

      • well you know

        I think 2009 is significant because that’s when Matsui, Damon and Melky left and Cashman replaced two of those parts with Gardner and Nick Johnson: a defensive player and a soon to be non-factor.

        The Yankees will need an exceptional lineup to win a WS again before the current players are too old.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Tex and Swish cannot hit changeups from the left side.

  • I wonder

    I wonder…if the Yankees faced these pitchers (who I have selected because of their tendency to shut the Yanks down ugh!) how would they fare?

    1- Brandon Morrow (Don’t know what it is, but the Yankees just can’t hit this guy. Reminds me of Burnett when he was a Blue Jay.)
    2- Jeremy Guthrie (See article mentioned in this story)
    3- Max Scherzer (Even before the “ace” performance in the 2011 ALDS, his fastball seems to avoid any Yankee bat)
    4- Rodrigo Lopez (Remember him from the Oriole Days. He seemed to always pitch well against the Yanks)
    5- Chuck Finley or Victor Zambrano (Both are now retired but I have a feeling even if they’re in their 90s they’ll still throw 7.2 shutout innings against the Yanks)


    • Jesse

      You may want to double check number four.

    • Mike Axisa

      Number two as well.

    • I wonder

      Gentlemen gentlemen gentlemen…I was merely hinting on the idea posted by the author of the article where he states, and I quote: “I consider myself a pretty reasonable fan regarding most aspects of the game, although given the team’s embarrassment of offensive riches the one area in which I do occasionally veer into irrational territory is when they do things like get shutdown by Jeremy Guthrie. But that’s just me.” These are guys that throughout the years have produced some rather unusally good games against one of the most productive offenses in the game. Sure I can find games where a Brandon Morrow, Rodrigo Lopez, or Jeremy Guthrie didn’t fare so well but that’s just not as fun now is it!

      • bexarama

        Jeremy Guthrie has a 5.15 ERA against the Yankees in seventeen career starts against them. He’s given up seventeen home runs in those seventeen innings. Just because a guy got whiny about a game that was an exception and not the rule doesn’t mean you should ignore facts.

        • I wonder

          To be honest I only used Guthrie because he was mentioned in the story…I had a real problem finding pitchers who “own” the Yankees. My original post was just to voice some of the pitchers I thought annoyingly pitch well against the Yankees. We all have those guys we think are “Yankee Killers”. I didn’t have time to look through Baseball Reference or a baseball encyclopedia to check their numbers. This was constructed from recent memory so no one is ignoring facts. By the way, does everyone know what “Lol” means? In case you don’t it means laughing out loud!

  • Monteroisdinero

    Find a righty starter who can throw a changeup/splitter with confidence behind in the count and you have the answer for this year’s performance against righties.

    Scherzer, Forbush, Morrow, Shields etc.

    • Mike Axisa

      Furbush is a lefty.

      • Monteroisdinero

        My bad Mike. I meant Fister.

        Those 2 names!

  • Joe

    That Texeira .223 is disgraceful for the player the Yankees thought they were signing. If he continues on that lovely trend I hope Montero is giving a 1b mitt soon and is given the platoon with Tex since he can only his LHP apparently. .220’s against RHP in Yankee Stadium and you’re paid as one of the top players in the game? Sooner or later the fans will turn on him hard if he doesn’t snap out of this.

  • Urban

    An issue heading into 2012 is the loss of Posada against righthanded pitching.

    Posada (Majors): .269/.348/.466/.814
    Montero (AAA): .272/.330/.399/.729

    That’s nearly 85 pts. in OPS lost against righthanded pitchers, and for no logical reason I’m giving Montero the benefit of the doubt by assuming he’ll produce on the MLB level at the same rate he produced in AAA.

    As Mike noted above, his MLBe OPS against righthanders was only .621, a staggering loss of nearly 200 pts. That’s concerning considering righties start 2/3rds of games.

    As many are here, I’m positive on Montero, although I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to the expectations on the kid. His regression in AAA during his second year after the league could fully scout him and the fact he came to camp two years in a row not in peak shape when he had a chance to make the roster concerns me.

    He’s going to need to produce against righthanded pitchers better than he did in AAA in 2011. If not, he’s going to quickly become a platoon player.

  • Professor Longnose

    It’s definitely something to keep an eye on in the years to come. I don’t think we can expect much of an improvement for Jeter in the next three years. Martin is an offensive downgrade against righties from Posada and there isn’t any reason to think he won’t continue to be. Teixeira, Swisher, and Rodriguez could all have bounceback seasons, but for Teixeira and Rodriguez the last few years have been significantly problematic. The Yankees have been great at upgrading around them the last couple of years, but there’s not much that can be done with them except to hope.