If there is one thing we’ve learned from the first two months of the season, it’s the AL East is probably the toughest division in the majors to handicap and try to predict a champion. Every team seems capable of both winning and losing the race, and there’s little separation between the top and bottom.
How do you explain a division where every team has spent at least five days in first place and no team has had a lead of more than four games? The current third-place team has by far the best run differential in the division, and the first-place team is less than two weeks removed from losing 10 games in an 11-game span.
What it all means that even the smallest statistical edge a team can gain over its rivals during the course of the season could be the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf in October.
Sure, a good rule in life is “don’t sweat the small stuff” — but in baseball, sometimes the “small stuff” can have a big impact on a team’s season.
Let’s take a look at one “small” weakness in the Yankees offense — a flaw that might end up only costing them a win or two, but could ultimately be a deciding factor in a division race that likely will come down to the final days of the season.
Although the Yankees have tried to inject some much-needed youth and speed into lineup over the past few years, they still have the oldest average batters’ age in the major leagues this season (31.7 years old).
And, while those aging bats have largely been productive and healthy this season (hooray for 35-year-old Mark Teixeira and 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez!), one consequence of putting them in the lineup every day is that the team’s baserunning has suffered somewhat.
There are several aspects of baserunning — it’s not just about stealing bases, it also includes advancing on outs and taking the extra base on a hit. While the Yankees are above-average compared to the rest of the league in the first two components, they are among the worst teams in taking the extra base on a hit.
Per data at baseball-reference.com, the Yankees have taken an extra base — i.e. advancing more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double — just one-third of the time. The only team with a lower rate this season is the White Sox (31 percent).
The biggest culprits on the Yankees are no surprise, with the lead-footed Mark Teixeira at the bottom, taking an extra-base on just six percent (!) of his opportunities. (MLB average: 40 percent.)
The Yankees also rank 27th in the majors in Baseball Prospectus’ Hit Advancement Runs metric, which estimates the number of runs above/below average that a baserunner contributes by advancing (or not advancing) on the basepaths via singles and doubles.
According to the stat, this “small” weakness has cost them 3.2 runs in 54 games this season. While that number might seem inconsequential now, it adds up to approximately 10 runs — equal to one crucial win — over the course of a 162-game season.
And that one win might end being the difference between first and second place in the AL East, the majors’ most competitive and up-for-grabs division race in 2015.