Embracing the flawed, first place Yankees

Yanks pound Tribe behind Wise, Cano & Kuroda
Scouting The Trade Market: Marco Scutaro
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Yankees are overly reliant on the homerun. They’ve hit a MLB-best 115 dingers through their first 72 games, the most homers through that many games in franchise history. Something like 52% of their runs this season has scored via the long ball, by far the most in the majors. They hit three more last night in their third straight win. New York lives and dies by the homer right now and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that at all.

I’m pretty sure the Yankees are the only club capable of making people try to spin hitting so many homers into a bad thing. There’s a lot of anti-Yankee stuff out there — I’d venture to say more than every other team combined — because hey, lots of people hate the Yankees and that stuff sells. I know all about the utter lack of hitting with runners in scoring position — .220/.326/.394 after a 1-for-3 effort last night — but we’re talking about 26% of their total plate appearances this season. That other 74% counts as well, and the Yankees do more damage in those situations than any other team in baseball.

Remember, “scoring position” is a cookie cutter definition applied to all players and teams. It refers to plate appearances when there is a runner on second and/or third and while that’s useful to a certain extent, the Yankees also have runners in scoring position when there’s a guy on first or even when the bases are empty. They have a roster full of power hitters and on most nights, have about eight guys in the lineup capable of putting the run on the board by themselves with one swing. Power is becoming harder to find these days and the Yankees have enough to spare.

At some point, the team’s .229 (!) BABIP with men in scoring position (the cookie cutter kind) will correct and that .220 batting average will climb. Most of the time saying BABIP will regress to some mean is lazy, because there can be some very real explanations for why someone’s rate will fluctuate from year-to-year or even month-to-month. The Yankees are nearly 30 points (!) below the second lowest team and about 70 (!!!) points away from the AL average though. Some of those guys are definitely pressing in those spots and it’s hurting the quality of their contact, but they’ve also been quite unlikely in those spots as a team. I mean really unlikely. Even getting up to a .250 BABIP with men in scoring position is going to turn a powerhouse offense into a juggernaut.

People like to say that you can’t really on the homer against quality pitching in the postseason but the Yankees have already hung 5+ runs on the likes of Johan Santana, Justin Verlander (twice), Jamie Shields (twice), David Price, and R.A. Dickey this year. Heck, last year in the ALDS they scored 12 runs in 18.2 innings off Verlander and Doug Fister. When a good pitcher makes a mistake, you have to make them pay. A walk and three singles to score two runs against a top guy just doesn’t happen. They’re great pitchers because they don’t allow extended rallies.

It’s June, and literally nothing that happens in June will tell you anything about what will happen in October. There’s still more than half a season to play and something like 20% of the roster will turn over between now and October, if not more. Hopefully the Yankees will start hitting with men in scoring position soon, but the reason they have the best record in baseball right now is because they hit the ball out of park and get quality pitching just about every night. That’s the formula every team tries to follow and the Yankees have done it better than anyone this year. Embrace the homers and don’t sweat the RISPFAIL just yet. This is a legitimately great team that still has room to improve.

Yanks pound Tribe behind Wise, Cano & Kuroda
Scouting The Trade Market: Marco Scutaro
  • Rich in NJ

    As someone once said in another more serious context: “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

    So maybe there will be more balance after the trading deadline. If not, it is what it is, and they can win with it.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Please stop making sense, Rich. Just please. What’s in italics here may be the greatest thing ever said on this site.

  • gc

    Again, I point to the article by Jay Jaffe at SI about how misleading it can sometimes be to dismiss or be worried about an offense like the Yankees which is heavily reliant on hitting home runs, both during the season and in the playoffs. It’s worth a read:


  • Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost

    I’ve never understood the ‘they hit too many home runs’ meme. Hitting home runs is a skill just like effective pitching and hitting for average. If you had a team that was full of great pitchers (a la the Giants a couple years ago) or .320 hitters you would hear people say a team is unbeatable. Yet if you have a team that can hit home runs regularly people act like it’s luck when it’s not. It just seems pretty illogical to me.

    • Will (the other one)

      The explanation I keep hearing is that a homer-happy offense is great for the long haul of a 162-game season, but when the short series of the playoffs arrive, that offense’s ability to score runs will suddenly shrivel up and die. What I haven’t yet heard is any sound logic to back up this assertion, or even a reason why scoring via home runs is likely to dry up in a short series when excellent pitching or timely RISP hitting, for instance, wouldn’t.

      • RetroRob

        Right. I believe offensive production decreases something like seventeen perecent in the postseason vs. the regular season. There are better quality pitchers (starters and relievers) as playoff teams generally have stronger front-end starters, more aces, and won’t be running the back-end of their rotations out to pitch. Managers also have quicker hooks and will focus even more on pitcher-batter matchups, all of which collectively serves to decrease run scoring.

        Yet it decreases run scoring for all teams. Those that hit HRs and those that need to string together multiple hits to push a run across the plate.

        • Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost

          Totally true. Let’s assume that your number about decreased offense is right. The current clip of home runs/game is 1.597 according to the data above. That means the Yanks would still be hitting about 1.33/game. Discount that further to control for the fact that maybe they’re off to a hot start home run wise (which I think is debatable) and I think you’re still easily above 1 per game.

          I couldn’t find a stat for it, but assume that each home run is worth around 1.5 runs, then you have almost a 2 runs per game on the board. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

      • boogie down

        The article that gc provided above does a great job of dispelling that notion.

      • toad

        I’d guess it’s the other way around.

        If you need three good things to happen to score a run you’re chance of getting all three drops a lot against a top pitcher. The chance of one good thing – a home run – doesn’t drop nearly as much.

    • Preston

      The idea is that the way to score runs against good pitching is to manufacture them with SB’s, sac flies and bunts. This idea is a self fulfilling prophecy, because if you give away outs like that you will only maybe eek across one run in the inning. Then you can say, look how good it is that we manufactured that run because it was such a low scoring game. I think anyone who looks at it objectively realizes that allowing hitters to hit and not running into outs is the better strategy. And the best thing you’re hitters can do is hit HR’s.

  • Paul VuvuZuvella

    Oh, good, I can stop kvetching about all those damn home runs !


    I prefer the typo’ed Google Reader version where they scored runs “off Verlander in Doug Fister”. That’s a funny mental image.

    But there’s always the old adage you can really on: lucky in cards, unlikely in love.

  • CountryClub

    I never complain about the HRs. As a fan, I’ll take runs anyway I can get them.

    I haven’t complained yet about the RISP failures because I believe they will get better in that regard. They are historically bad right now and I just can’t imagine it will continue.

    I don’t think they can win a WS if they stay THIS reliant on HRs; but as I wrote, I think they’ll regress at some point. And that makes me happy because if they start to his better with RISP and continue to hit HRs at a good clip, they’re going to very dangerous.

    • bobby two knives

      “…that makes me happy because if they start to his better with RISP and continue to hit HRs at a good clip, they’re going to very dangerous” – they will be EVEN MORE dangerous!

      • CountryClub

        well, I did say very

        • Bobby two knives

          I’m not nitpicking; sorry. I’m just enthusiastic.

  • DM

    44-28 is the stat that counts. You get in the playoffs then it becomes a crap shoot. The pressure changes the terrain for some players — but that’s part of the crap shoot. Any team can win a short series; and you can do it in many different ways. The Phillies were supposed to steam roll their way to a championship in 2011 with great starting pitching — but they didn’t. They weren’t “flawed”; they just happened to lose a short series, like any team might during the regular season.

  • Luisergi

    “Embrace the homers and don’t sweat the RISPFAIL just yet…”

    I know, it is frustrating when they leave the bases loaded and stuff like that. But they are in first freakin’ place, there is nothing else i can ask for.

    • Jobu

      I want my team to be so much in first place that the next best team is in third place.

      • MannyGeee

        yeah! I want my team to be so good that the MSM and people on the Interwebs will search tirelessly for meaningless stats that will prove to me without a shadow of a doubt that they’re really kinda bad…

        oh wait

  • jjyank

    My thoughts exactly. Preaching to the choir with me, Mike.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I should just reply to everything on this site with Rich’s quote at the start of this thread from now on, but that would get old about as fast as Mick Foley.

    There will be turnover. This team loves to shore up the bench at the deadline and Jayson Nix and DeWayne Wise will get their “thank you for getting us to August, you’re now DFA’d” papers like others have in the past. There are some potential big guns for the bullpen coming, which will make for a STACKED pen once the rosters expand. I definitely am a believer, with the rotation, that this is going to be the army that gets us there, whether you are a fan of Hughes/Nova or not. There are several combinations of a formidable three playoff starter rotation here.

    • jjyank

      I think a front 3 of CC-Kuroda-Pettitte is good enough to win a world series with the offense. They don’t need a #5 and the #4 guy is pretty marginal anyway.

      And yeah man, the pen could be Aardsma-Joba-Wade-Logan-DRob-Soriano. Plus a long man or Rapada or something. That’s pretty insane, even without Mo.

      • RetroRob

        Just take a look at last year’s world champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. This Yankee team is more than good enough to win the World Series. Yet they probably won’t. Always bet the field over any one specific team. There are not “great” teams in either league right now, no matter how much the general media wants us to believe the Texas Rangers are.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          WE’RE THE YANKEES, championship or bust, and other assorted bullshit.

          Eh, there’s always a grain of truth to “championship or bust,” but you get the point…

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I’m fine with that. I’m fine with Nova in the mix as well. Let’s see what the rest of the season holds with Hughes. Maybe he even works himself in there, although he’s certainly my last choice out of the five now.

        Of course, there are some who won’t be happy unless we trade Charleston for Coal Hammmmmels, then lose him to the Dodgers in the off-season, which would have meant Cashman failed. You win with the army, testicular fortitude, etc.

        • RetroRob

          Hughes in the pen for the playoffs would make the Yankees even stronger.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Sure, but if he manages to improve on the starts before this last one the rest of the way….

            Not saying it’s likely, but they’ll be a stronger team if he’s pushing the argument, whether he winds up in the pen or not.

      • Kosmo

        you consider Nova as marginal ?

        • Robinson Tilapia

          You could make the argument that he’s on the outside looking in right now, but that could easily change. I certainly don’t consider him to be marginal.

          • Kosmo

            JJ said he was marginal. If Nova continues to pitch well and all things being equal then Girardi would go with a 4-man PS rotation.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              What a bastard that jjyank is. :)

              • Kosmo

                you said it !

                • jjyank


        • jjyank

          No, I said the #4 starter has a marginal role in the post season.

          • Kosmo

            OK but I still think NY would be better with a 4-man PS rotation.

            • Sweet Dick Willie

              If a team has its pitching lined up going into the post season, the 4th starter will make a maximum of 3 starts.

  • OMG! Bagels!

    As Cervelli once said, “I see-a the ball, I hit-a the ball.”

    I assume that when you hit-a the ball, your goal is to make it not land in the glove of a defensive player. Anywhere but there. Doesn’t over the fence count as “anywhere but there”? Maybe I’ve misunderstood baseball all these years.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I always miss that “style points” column in the standings.

  • OMG! Bagels!

    Yankee hate doesn’t seem to take into consideration that the Yankees coming to town fill the seats in your otherwise crappily attended ball parks.

    The MFY are coming to town! Fill the seats and move the fences!

    • JohnnyC

      The hate is intensified because they realize the Yankees are their meal ticket (Selig’s entire career as commish rests on his institution of revenue sharing and luxury tax to milk the Yankees cash cow). Even though the Yankees are the most popular team nationally and world-wide, in aggregate, the fans of other teams constitute the majority of baseball fans. And many of them grew up having their team’s playoff chances eviscerated time and time again by the Yankees (think Boston, KC, Baltimore, Toronto, Minnesota, etc.) The Gammons, Neyers, Caples, etc. spring forth from a world of generational hurt. Hell hath no fury like a 12 year old baseball fan scorned.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        I’d love to see the stats, but I don’t think its just that the MFY come to town and fill the seats, it is the MFY come to town, fill-a the seats, and hit-a the ball. Those are MFY fans coming to watch the game, not your crappy fans.

        • OMG! Bagels!

          There have been series on the road, most notably the Atlanta series, where I can’t just listen because the roar of the crowd meant the Yankees did something great, not the hometown team. When YS gets loud it’s because the Yankees are doing good things, not the visiting team.

          And in Atlanta a Yankee fan caught Arod’s grand slam ball. How great was that?

  • RetroRob

    In this day and age of the Wild Card, solid pitching and entering October as a hot team represents the best chance of winning the World Series.

    • Kosmo

      the Yanks went 3-15 in their final 18 games in 2000 and won the WS. It´s a crapshoot plain and simple.

      • RetroRob

        Yup. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but I’ll take the good pitching and the hot team. Since the Wild Card, there is a correlation between how a team is playing the last few weeks of September and how far they get into October.

        • Kosmo

          there is a correlation ? I´ve not heard of it .

          • RetroRob

            It’s loose. Just one study I read heading into last year’s postseason. I think he based it more on run scoring than any actual wins and how well teams did in October. It was interesting, although not enough for me to take it as gospel, especially considering September call-ups, resting players, etc. Yet it was there. I’ll see if I can find it.

      • OMG! Bagels!

        Yeah, but they played the Mets.

  • Fernando

    Complaining about winning with too many homers is like complaining beacuse you got paid a million bucks in one dollar bills. You still won and you are still a millionaire.

  • Guest

    “When a good pitcher makes a mistake, you have to make them pay. A walk and three singles to score two runs against a top guy just doesn’t happen. They’re great pitchers because they don’t allow extended rallies.”

    Love me some of THIS. I have never understood the argument that you need a bunch of scrappy singles hitters to score in the playoffs. David Eckstein has 12 good games in the World Series and all of a sudden logic goes out the window. (G-d, I sports-hate that guy.)

    Seriously, what’s more likely, Verlander going all bad AJ for an inning or two, or Verlander missing his spot only a few times for the entire game? I’d say option two is actually more likely. He’s just that good.

    So what would you rather have happen with your meager helping of mistakes, a single or a big fly?

    Now, I haven’t actually seen any numbers proving this hypothesis is correct, and I am willing to change my mind if the evidence necessitates. But the HR’s don’t help in the playoffs assertion seems ridiculous.

    I blame Eckstein.

    • RetroRob

      The Jay Jaffe/SI link above that gc posted pretty much shows that teams that hit HRs do better in the postseason.

      It’s not that the Yankees hit too many HRs; it’s that they’re not hitting as well as they should with RISP. I’m not concerned. It’s frustrating, but not worried since a trend like that can disappear in one game. Let’s hope when it does they also continue to hit HRs!

  • steve s

    As much as I’d like to I can’t agree with Mike’s last sentence that this year’s Yankee squad is a “legitimately great team”. I think they are playing extremely well (over-achieving quite frankly) but this team, offensively, is on a pace to score less runs than any non-strike Yankee team in 20 years. Pitching-wise they’ve been very good but do we realistically expect the bullpen to continue to perform as well as it’s done so far? Bottom-line is I wouldn’t want the front-office to trade youth just to push this year’s team over the top. Stay the course and try to make it to the playoffs with the current over-achieving guys which would still be very satisfying.

    • Brian S.

      Who is overachieving on this team? The bullpen? Logan and Soriano are legitimately top tier relief pitchers. The offense? Cano is having a career year but that’s it. In fact, half the offense has under performed if you ask me. The pitching staff? Nope, everything checks out.

      • RetroRob

        Yeah, I agree. Collectively, the offense has underperformed. Who in the offense if overperforming? Jeter might be the only one based on age, and even now with his slump the last five weeks he’s come back down to earth. There’s a better chance they’ll get better, not worse. The starters, too, are not overachieving by any stretch, although they’ve come around of late. CC is certainly not overperforming. The bullpen? They’re good, but Girardi’s bullpens are always good. It could regress some, but by then other parts of the team should even out.

        I do agree that I wouldn’t call this a legitametly great team, but that’s just a question of semantics and how and where one draws the line on what is great. To me a team that is winning as much as the Yankees when they’re not hitting on all cylinders is a positive. There’s plenty of room still for improvement.

      • steve s

        What I mean by “over-achieving” is that being on a 99 win pace after 72 games is “over-achieving” to me, as a group, since every offensive performer is “under-achieving” to date (perhaps only Swisher is performing offensively as expected; Cano is hardly having a career year).

    • Adam Parker

      Offense is down across the entire sport, it isn’t just the Yankees.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    I don’t really care how the runs are scored, because in baseball you aren’t trying to hit homeruns, You are trying to hit the ball squarely, and depending on where it makes contact with your bat, it cound be a single up the middle, a double to the gap, or a big fly.

    Y’know what would be funny?

    The Yankees go the entire month of September not hitting homeruns, yet hit singles in RISP situations. Rather than scoring 5 or 6 runs due to HR’s, they only score 3-4 runs with their shiny RISP success. They lose games 4-3 instead of winning them 5-4. All the “TOO MANY HOMERZ!!” loons will wonder where all the power has gone when the offense shrivels up.