The Yankees and pitches in the strike zone

Yanks in need of a shake-up (that isn't coming)
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(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Yesterday I wrote about the Yankees and their increasingly impatient offense, showing that they haven’t been working the count this season like we’ve seen in the past. It’s unlikely that seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance is the root cause of the team’s recent offensive woes, but I do think it’s a contributing factor. Not getting in favorable counts and swinging at the pitches pitchers want you to swing at will drag down anyone’s numbers.

Plate discipline isn’t just swinging at strikes and laying off balls though, it’s also about swinging at quality strikes. Not every strike is one you can drive. Here’s a PitchFX breakdown of the team’s plate discipline tendencies — swing and contact rates on pitches both in and out of the strike zone — over the last four seasons…

Notice the in-zone stats I’ve highlighted in yellow. Starting with 2009, the Yankees have swung at more pitches in the strike zone each season but have made less contact. We’re talking about a three percentage point difference in each category over a four-year span so it’s not a huge change, but it is a change for the worse. The Yankees have become more aggressive within the strike zone in recent years but have less to show for it. Simply put, their swing-and-miss rate within the zone is climbing.

As a whole, pitchers around the league have not changed their overall approach against the Yankees since 2009…

Other than the expected year-to-year fluctuations, the Yankees have seen the same percentage of fastballs and offspeed pitches over the last few years. They’ve also seen the exact same number of first pitch strikes, so it’s not like they’re falling behind in the count more often. Pitchers may be pitching them differently in different counts and in specific situations (men on base, etc.), but that’s beyond my PitchFX capabilities at the moment. That would help explain the in-zone plate discipline issues, however.

The Yankees are anything but an offensive powerhouse these days and there are many reasons why. Missing more hittable pitches in the strike zone could be one of those reasons, though the little bit of data above hardly confirms that. The team is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to making contact on pitches in the strike zone, and some of those misses very likely came on pitches they should have hit hard somewhere.

Yanks in need of a shake-up (that isn't coming)
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  • Midland TX

    Thanks for doing this research! The First-pitch Strike % table does a great job showing that, over the course of the season, pitchers haven’t really changed the extent to which they pound the zone early to take advantage of Yankee selectivity.

    • Jim_M

      >Notice the in-zone stats I’ve highlighted in yellow. Starting >with 2009, the Yankees have swung at more pitches in the strike >zone each season but have made less contact.

      Mike – any idea how the Yanks stack up against the league average for each year? This would give a better indication if it’s a Yankee thing or a league-wide trend.

      • Mike Axisa

        AL Swing Rate in Zone
        2009: 61.3%
        2010: 61.0%
        2011: 61.7%
        2012: 60.9%

        AL Contact Rate in Zone
        2009: 88.2%
        2010: 88.5%
        2011: 88.1%
        2012: 87.1%

        So the league average has declined slightly, not as the same pace as NYY.

        • Midland TX

          Decrease in 2012 AL Contact Rate solely attributable to A.J. Burnett trade.

          Source: my imagination

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Excellent statistical work.

    I have noticed a slight uptick in swings and misses in the zone, especially Swisher, Tex and Alex. Grandy too.

    A-Rod still is struggling with fastballs, while the other 3 are being done in by offspeed.

    Would calling up Mustelier and letting him play LF for a few weeks be a bad thing? That way, Ibanez stays the DH, and all the rest and half-days you’ve given to Alex and Jeter can be put to good use by having them play everyday in the field. Enough with Dewayne Wise.

    • LiterallyFigurative

      Dunno why work came up as a link.

  • David Ortizs Dealer

    I am ok with being more aggressive if its smart aggression, ie not taking a 3-0 pitch because you should if it means taking a 88MPH fastball in the heart of a hitters zone.

    I agree with the Wise comment,… at most a defensive replacement / pinch runner.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Which is exactly why he’s a part of the organization and sticks around the MLB. His expanded role is because of injury.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I will gladly eat crow if he becomes Tony Fucking Gwynn, but ohmyfrigginlord on the Mustellier talk. We simply cannot help it on here but grab a bone and chew on it until we shit it back out and begin to chew on that.

    You’re all welcome on that visual, by the way.

    Other than that, great piece, Axisa.

    • LiterallyFigurative

      “He’s either a Hall-Of-Famer, or a bum.”

      The Yankee way.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        And he’s always a Hall-Of-Famer until he proves he’s a bum!

        • Robinson Tilapia

          ….and then, he’s the biggest bum you’ve ever seen.

          I’m sure LF was poking fun at my comment, but also has seen the wave of names that tend to dominate the conversation at any one given time about what the team HAS to do or HAS to acquire or else they’re just not doing enough. This is the latest example.

          I hope, as a paisan, Ronnie Mustellier goes into the HOF in pinstripes.

          • LiterallyFigurative

            The Tony Gwynn part kind of solicited a response.

            We don’t know if Mustelier is the answer to our current woes. But given the lack of production from Dewayne Wise or Nix, it’s kind of a low risk move, at least till Gardner gets back.

            And trust me, I’ve seen enough bat-shit insane ideas on these boards for the better part of a month. Got people saying they should call up Mason Williams.

    • Ted Nelson

      He’s done nothing but rake since he signed and if easily the most exciting high minors prospect right now… Of course people are talking about him. Why shouldn’t they be?

  • Kish


    Have the starters the Yankees have faced this year pitched appreciably further into games against them than in previous years? I know it’s only a quarter of the season and that there’s selection bias in remembering the examples that confirm the trend, but the James Shields start where he was at 100 pitches in the 5th inning last week seems like the outlier this year, as opposed to the norm in previous years. Given how few quality bullpen arms teams have, getting to face 3 innings a game from their bullpen for a three game set gave the Yanks essentially a quarter to third of their AB’s in that series against weaker pitchers (non-starter, non-closers), while this year we seem to be seeing the starter and then the closer an awful lot. It’s a secondary effect of taking fewer pitches, but one that would add up over the course of a series, let alone a month.

    • http://yes jim

      I’m not Mike…but, do the names Chen, Millwood mean anything. If you’re a new pitcher, have a high ERA, or haven’t had a hit or a homer…(Note both Royals catchers hit long flies verse the staff) The Yankees will get you straightened out. I know when Gardy, and Robertson come back this year, and Mo, Pineda, Chamberlain come back next year, the first thing Girardi will do is give them a day off. You’ve day’d off them to last place! (How has the pitch count, innings thing worked for Banuelos?….Kennedy was lucky to get away) PREDICTION: Yankees sign Cody Ransum.

      • Ted Nelson


        • LiterallyFigurative

          Sarcasm (I hope to God it’s sarcasm)

      • Rainbow Connection (futurely Dummies Playing With Balls)

        ive seen nonsense on this site, but this takes the cake, if only because it comes across as someone actually attempting to be serious and/or logical as opposed to obvious satire.

  • http://yes jim

    In the postgame a couple days ago, Girardi said “how high do you want me to put him?” (Ibanez) Seeing as how his AB’s would’ve driven in at least a run instead of a long fly with two outs.(How about fourth?) Then, “I can’t have seven lefties in a row.” Why not? You have Grandy and Cano back to back, why not three? All three can hit lefties. (And they’re not our lefties) Praise be A-Rod for a two for four night. It amazes me that he can do it with no stress of runners on, but, the best he can do with RISP is a weak grounder to short. I was stunned to see his HR, RBI stats equal with our lead-off hitter.(One of our two .300 hitters. More hitting under .200. Gary Denbo anyone? What’s Manny Jaramillo doing?) It has to be a joke that in the last five games, two bases loaded, no out situations come up, and no runs. Last night…two strikeouts. I know Cano’s was a ball, but, let’s face it….he’s swung at worse. The game before, Ibanez hit a long fly, which, would’ve netted a run. I just hate hearing how it will turn around when number 11 gets back. Come on! On another subject, let’s trade Rothschild for Eiland, Guidry, Gil Patterson,…is ‘Rockin’ Leo busy?

  • Manny’s BanWagon

    Great piece.

    Not only are they missing more pitches in the strike zone but they also seem to be swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone while making less contract on those pitches as well though who knows if a couple of percentage points in each direction is just a normal fluctuation and if it isn’t, does it correlate with a drop in run production.

  • NashFil

    Claiming that the differences in the “In Strike Zone Contact%” (or any other column for that matter) from year-to-year is statistically significant is absurd. And tying that fictional difference to the Yanks stinky recent offense is extra absurd. Their main problem is Girardi should pull Sabathia after 2 HRs an 2 BBs in an inning.

    • Matt

      I don’t think that’s the main problem with this team right now.

      • NashFil

        Obviously, the last sentence is a joke (although it is “kidding on the square” as they say, cuz he should have pulled CC). My main point; that parsing miniscule differences in questionable data is a fool’s errand, remains.

        More broadly, I like the idea of breaking the game down statistically but for a group of stat geeks, you guys seem to not be familiar with basic statistical concepts like standard deviation, etc. In the hard sciences people test the results to determine if an apparent differences are real. In many discussions of baseball stats, that process is absent. If you don’t establish statistical significance, any subsequent discussion is a waste of time.