Jul
11

Examining the RISPFAIL at the break

By

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have the best record in baseball right now but you wouldn’t know it based on their performance with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Bombers are hitting .231/.335/.418 in those spots, a .321 wOBA and 97 wRC+. They rank 27th in AVG but 15th in wRC+ because when they connect, they really connect — their .187 ISO with men in scoring position is the second best in the AL. That said, their hitting in those spots has been a problem, which is why they only* rank sixth in runs scored despite having the best wRC+ in baseball (114) by two points.

But you knew all that already, right? It’s no secret that that the Yankees have been having a hard time with runners on second and/or third, we see it game after game. The players were obviously pressing in those spots — especially in mid-May, that was ugly — and it was negatively affecting the quality of their contact. At the same time, they have the second best walk rate (12.9%) and the ninth best strikeout rate (17.8%) with runners in scoring position, so they can’t be pressing too much.

New York bottomed out at .222/.318/.399 with runners in scoring position on May 21st, a total of 419 plate appearances. They went 0-for-13 in those situations that night against the Royals, a 6-0 loss that dropped them into a last place tie with the Red Sox at 21-21 overall. It was ugly and the natives were restless. There’s nothing in baseball more frustrating than leaving men on-base and the Yankees had made it their specialty.

“The beginning of the season, we struggled,” said Andruw Jones over the weekend. “Everybody was saying that we’re old, we’re not getting the job done, but this is not a sprint. This is a marathon. We kept battling and kept playing – plug here, plug that (guy) in – until we got in a groove. We’re on a really good groove right now. We’ll take this break, take the time off, and come back in the second half and get the job done.”

Andruw was right, the Yankees did get in a groove. Dewayne Wise turned the season around (!) with a bunt single to load the bases in the fifth inning on May 22nd, which led to a Derek Jeter single that drove in the game-winning run. Since that game, the Yankees have hit .240/.352/.437 with runners in scoring position, a span of 436 plate appearances. That’s still not great, but it is definite improvement. Not coincidentally, the Yankees are 31-12 and have opened a huge lead in the division during that time. Those few extra knocks with men on-base went a long way.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the Bombers were bound to improve with runners in scoring position just because they were hitting into some bad luck. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely hitting poorly in those spots, but they were hitting poorly and getting unlucky. In those first 419 plate appearances, they had a measly .238 BABIP. In those last 436 plate appearances, it’s .269. Better but there’s still room for even more improvement. The Yankees aren’t going to stop hitting homers, they’re just going to supplement them with more non-homer hits with men in scoring position as the season continues.

* Spoiled Yankees fan syndrome, activate.

Categories : Offense

23 Comments»

  1. jjyank says:

    I said when they were really struggling that RISPFAIL would correct itself, and I maintain that it will continue to do so. Just too much talent in the line up.

  2. Ted Nelson says:

    So if you fail you’re “obviously pressing?”

    • thenamestsam says:

      I’m with you on this one Ted. This feels like the kind of manufactured narrative I’d expect to see in the Post or the Daily News, not here. No evidence that it’s anything other than bad luck, but that’s just not a satisfying answer. This is a team that has been fantastic in “Late & Close” at-bats, fantastic in “High leverage” at-bats, and yet I’m supposed to buy that they “press” too much in ordinary RISP situations?

      • Mike Axisa says:

        It’s anecdotal. It seems like some guys — not all — were swinging at pitches they usually lay off earlier in the year, expanding the zone, stuff like that.

        • thenamestsam says:

          Okay, but that is subject to almost too many psychological biases to list. You know they’re struggling with runners in scoring position, consequently you’re watching those at-bats more closely, and you’re more likely to both notice and remember when you see something (expanding the zone etc.) that could be attributed to pressing than you would be in a non-RISP at bat. The Yankees walk more and strike out less with men in scoring position than they do with the bases empty. Doesn’t seem like it fits with the theory that they’re expanding the zone.

          • Ted Nelson says:

            Yeah, the bias thing is pretty much my feeling. Could definitely be that they were pressing, but it’s one of several theories and hard (if not impossible) to prove. Even if they were swinging at balls, it could just as easily be that they were too loose as too tight.

            • eephus_pitch says:

              Just because it’s impossible to prove doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Why is it such a hard thing to believe that some hitters tense up and expand the zone with runners on, especially during a time when they’re not scoring anyway? A few players have admitted this, that they were trying to do too much.

              • thenamestsam says:

                I believe that it’s possible it’s happening, but that the effect is probably extremely small and overwhelmed by randomness. For one thing if they were expanding the zone wouldn’t we see that in the K% or BB%? In fact we see the opposite. That they take more walks and strike out less with RISP. That doesn’t sound like expanding the zone.

                Then we have the fact that the exact same group of hitters is hitting exceptionally well in situations with even more pressure – 8th best in the league in high leverage, 40% above average close & late. That doesn’t sound like a team with a bunch of guys that tense up in big situations.

                Basically, I think it’s not only impossible to prove, but actually flies in the face of the vast majority of the available evidence.

              • Ted Nelson says:

                I specifically said it could be happening. That it’s impossible to prove means you should not state it as fact. And as outside observers with no influence whatsoever on the players, it probably means we should not waste our time hypothesizing about it. As I also said already (might want to try reading the comments) it’s just as possible they were too loose as too tight.

      • Kramerica Industries says:

        I think we need to be careful not to place this blog on a pedestal that it doesn’t need to be on.

        Anecdotal, perceived notions should be allowed by Mike, Joe, Ben, and the crew just like anywhere else you read. And I’m sure you noticed Mike throwing some numbers in there to substantiate, or even degrade, his notion of how things were going.

        Not saying you said this, but there’s never been anything wrong with perceptions leaking into these entries. Especially when the entry looks at both sides of the coin.

        • thenamestsam says:

          I love this blog, it’s just about my favorite on any topic anywhere, and consequently maybe I do put it on a pedestal somewhat. Nonetheless, I take no issue with any of the guys inserting their opinions, including unsubstantiated opinions, into any piece. Part of what makes the blog great is that those guys are great, and removing themselves (for lack of a better term) from the writing wouldn’t help anything.

          But I don’t think that means that we shouldn’t question those anecdotal notions. That’s what a discussion is, and more than anything else this blog is a forum for discussion of the Yankees. I’m fine with Mike saying it. I just think he happens to be wrong. Why shouldn’t I question that?

        • Ted Nelson says:

          For my part didn’t mean to make a big deal out of it. Just felt like it was a theory (that makes logical sense but really has no proof behind it… And is one of a few explanations) more than a definite thing. Sort of nitpicking in a sense, but I think it goes to whether it’s predictive going forward. I don’t really believe it is.

          I like that here you can call out the writer even if it’s nitpicking and get some feedback. Some MSM types are good about that, but most just say whatever horseshit they feel like and you can’t really call them out on it with any real impact. And I don’t think Mike writes nearly as much horseshit as the vast majority of MSM types anyway.

        • Tom says:

          +1

          Too many people think this is a court of law and “proof” needs to be provided, vetted, and agreed to.

          Part of the problem is what people read as “facts” that need proof should be read as opinions.

          When Mike A says that hitters were “obviously pressing”, it is painfully obvious to me that that is his opinion/observation whereas others are saying “prove it”/you are stating it as a fact. Folks should be able to understand the distinction without Mike A having to put “in my view”, “probably”, “it seem like” in front of every observation he makes.

  3. Eddard says:

    It will correct and the club will go on another one of those 16-4 winning spurts and put the division away. The lineup is just too good for this to continue. Then we can start getting ready for the playoffs. Keep resting Jeter and A-Rod at least once a week. Limit use of Soriano, Robertson and Logan. Figure out the #4 starter- Hughes or Nova. I’d go with Nova and put Hughes down in that pen for another 6th and 7th inning guy.

    • DZ says:

      Are you kidding? Hughes has been a beast the past 3 months. You want him in the pen?

      • RetroRob says:

        If he’s talking about setting up the rotation heading into the postseason, then yes, Hughes is the #5. CC, Pettitte, Kuroda and Nova rank ahead, assuming Pettitte returns as expected in August from his foot injury.

      • gc says:

        I’ve been very happy with Hughes this year, and I’ve always been a huge fan of his. But if Pettitte comes back and pitches well, and Kuroda, CC, and Nova are also pitching well, and a decision has to be made for putting one of those starters in the bullpen for the post-season (should they make it that far, and I’m thinking they well), I think Hughes would be better suited for that role since he’s done it already and done it well. Now if he goes on a second half tear and starts dominating, that could change the equation a bit. I hope he does. But lets cross that bridge if and when we come to it.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Agreed. There’s half a marathon left until the post-season. A whole lot can happen. No use in deciding these things yet.

  4. Evan3457 says:

    Actually, the BAVG with RISP was .219 at one point much more recent than mid-May. Ah, think I found it: in the middle of the 2nd Mets series, it was down to .21843.

    Since then, the Yanks are hitting .296 with RISP.

    Here’s the punchline: Yanks are 10-5 in those 15 games, 6-4 when their BAVGRISP is over .250, and 4-1 when it’s under .250.

    Does that mean BAVGRISP is meaningless? No, it’s meaningful.

    But what it does mean is that if you get dominant pitching, you can do BAVGRISP whatever you want, just as the 1996 and 1998 (and to a lesser extent, the 1999 and 2000) Yankees proved in the postseason.

  5. ” Dewayne Wise turned the season around (!) with a bunt single to load the bases in the fifth inning on May 22nd.” Mike, if I had a dollar for everytime you said this I’d have at least 37 dollars =P

    Seriously though, before that game in May, and even since then, there have been a lot of guys just missing pitches with RISP. I don’t know if that’s a matter of pressing and therefore over thinking when you get a good pitch to hit, but either way eventually our hitters are good enough that eventually they will start actually making good contact on those pitches instead of just popping them up (whether it’s luck or not is an entirely different matter.)

  6. Jimmy says:

    The Yankees rank 25th in LoB (6th most) but only 20th in Runners left in scoring position (h/t Team Rankings.com). While there is no correlation between wins and LoB, its not as bad as it seems relative to other teams in the league.

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