The Yankees’ Five Shortest Home Run of 2016

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Yesterday we looked at the longest home runs hit by the Yankees hit in 2016, and now it’s time to go to the other extreme. Now we’re going to look back at the shortest home runs. The most laughable wall-scrapers of the season. These are the homers that make you feel like the Yankees just stole a run because the ball would have been caught at most other ballparks.

Thanks to right field, Yankee Stadium is very conducive to hilariously short home runs. It cuts both ways though; the Yankees hit plenty of cheap home runs into the short porch, but they also give up a lot too. So anyway, let’s get to the team’s five shortest dingers of the 2016 season. Thanks again to Baseball Savant for making this post possible.

5. Castro vs. David Huff

True story: I got my Starlin Castro home runs mixed up and wrote up a capsule for entirely separate short home run against the Angels before realizing it was the wrong one. Oops.

Anyway, the fifth shortest home run of the season came against Huff, the ex-Yankee, who I had no idea was still active, let alone spent time in MLB this year. It was June 7th and the Yankees were home against the Angels. They’d lost eight of their last 13 games — the Yankees, not the Angels — and were struggling to score runs. Hard to believe, I know.

The Yankees did rally from behind to win the previous night’s game — Castro hit a home run in that game and that’s the one I originally wrote up (d’oh) — and because Huff is not so good, they were able to open a quick 5-0 lead in this game. Three in first, one in the second, and one in the third. The fifth shortest home run of the season was run No. 5. To the video:

The Yankees cruised to relatively easy 6-3 win that day. It was the second of five straight wins, which included that four-game sweep of the Halos at Yankee Stadium. Distance: 331 feet.

4. Teixeira vs. Carlos Villanueva

Milestone homer! Mark Teixeira‘s home run off Villanueva, an eighth inning solo shot on July 7th that stretched New York’s lead to 3-1, was the 400th dinger of his career. Teixeira became only the fifth switch-hitter in history to hit 400 home runs, joining Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones, and Carlos Beltran. Here’s the video:

One inning later, Teixeira smashed a two-run home run to provided some insurance runs. That was the fourth longest home run hit by a Yankee this season. So, in consecutive innings, Teixeira hit the fourth shortest and fourth longest home runs of the season. Baseball.

Also, Teixeira gets +10 RAB Internet Points for hitting a short right field homer somewhere other than Yankee Stadium. Distance: 331 feet.

3. Austin vs. Matt Andriese

The fourth shortest and fourth longest homers of the season were hit in consecutive innings. The third shortest and third longest homers of the season were hit by consecutive batters.

The Yankees were playing the Rays at home on August 13th, the day they really went all-in on the second half youth movement. We said goodbye to Alex Rodriguez the night before and hello to Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge that day. In his first big league at-bat Austin showed off his opposite field approach and poked a home run down the right field line. Check it out:

Solid contact for sure, but yeah, that’s a double into the corner in most other ballparks. Maybe it even gets caught for an out. Hey, Austin can only hit in the ballpark that’s on the schedule that day. His home run gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and two pitches later, Judge cleared the windows of the damn restaurant in center field for a 2-0 lead. Distance: 331 feet.

2. Hicks vs. Ryan Garton

I remember every home run in the shortest/longest home runs posts except this one. Happens every year. Always forget one completely. Don’t remember this one happening at all.

The day before Austin and Judge went back-to-back, the Yankees were home against the Rays saying goodbye to A-Rod. The Yankees were up 5-3 in the seventh inning when Aaron Hicks stepped to the plate to start the inning against Garton. Unlike every other homer in this post, Hicks went to left field, not right. Check it out:

That was kind of an excuse me swing. A “will it stay fair or slice foul” ball, though it was fair by plenty. Just a weird looking play all around. The ball kept carrying and carrying. Hicks has some sneaky pop, you know. Distance: 329 feet.

1. McCann vs Kevin Gausman

The shortest home run the Yankees hit in 2016 was also the last home run the Yankees hit in 2016. It was Game 162, and it came against a guy the Yankees couldn’t touch all season. Gausman really dominated them all year. Pretty annoying, it was.

McCann’s home run led off the fourth inning with the Yankees already down 3-0. It wasn’t even that bad a pitch. It was an up-and-in fastball, and McCann was able to get his bat around quick enough to hook it into the short porch in right field.

Believe it or not, MLB.com does not have video of this home run. I guess it was too inconsequential to post. I had to make a GIF instead:

Brian McCann home run

And that was that. The Yankees lost the meaningless game — meaningless to them, anyway, it clinched a wildcard spot for the Orioles — and didn’t hit another dinger in 2016. See you in 2017. Distance: 324 feet.

* * *

Statcast only goes back so far, but as best I can tell, McCann’s home run was the shortest by a Yankee since Teixeira hit a 321-foot bomb (!) off Roy Halladay in 2010. Here’s the video:

Also, there’s a freaky amount of overlap between the shortest and longest homers list, isn’t there? Two of the shortest and two of the longest are from the same game, and heck, look at the order. No. 5 on each list was Castro. No. 4 was Teixeira. No. 2 was Hicks. No. 1 was McCann. No. 3 on each list was part of the back-to-back homers by Austin and Judge. Weird. Weird weird weird.

The Yankees’ Five Longest Home Runs of 2016

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

For whatever reason, baseballs flew out of the ballpark at a near record pace this past season. An average of 1.155 homers per game were hit in 2016, up from 1.010 last year and 0.861 just two years ago. In fact, 2016 was the second most homer happy season on record. Only in 2000 were more homers hit per game (1.171). My guess is the ball is juiced, but who knows.

Anyway, the Yankees certainly benefited from the home run spike as a team. They hit 183 home runs in 2016, which is down from last year (212), but way up from both 2014 (147) and 2013 (144). Also, the Yankees hit the ball farther on average this season too. Every team did, which lends some credence to the juiced ball theory. Giancarlo Stanton hit a 504-foot home run this summer, for example. It was the longest in baseball since 2009.

As we do every year, it’s time to look back at the five longest home runs hit by the Yankees this season. There are some meaningful and milestone blasts in here too. These aren’t five garbage time shots against random Triple-A arms. Pretty nice mix this season. Shout out to Baseball Savant for making this post possible. Let’s get to it.

5. Castro vs. Jason Motte

New York’s fifth longest home run of the season was a walk-off. How about that? I told you there were some meaningful dingers in this post. The Yankees and Rockies played a wild back-and-forth game at Yankee Stadium on June 22nd. Look at the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees scored four runs in the second inning on a Chase Headley grand slam of all things. The Rockies then rallied to score two in the third, three in the fourth, and three more in the fifth. CC Sabathia and Anthony Swarzak were responsible for that. So, after falling behind 8-4, the Yankees then put up another four-spot in the seventh inning to tie the game. Carlos Beltran‘s three-run dinger was the big blow, but a run-scoring single by Didi Gregorius is what tied the game.

The score remained 8-8 until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Starlin Castro waited all of two pitches to win the game. He clobbered a walk-off home run into the second deck in left field against Jason Motte. To the action footage:

The Yankees had lost two straight and six of their previous nine games, so they were reeling. Taking a 4-0 lead early in the game and then blowing it really stunk. Castro sent everyone home happy and helped spark a three-game winning streak. Distance: 443 feet.

4. Teixeira vs. Kevin Quackenbush

I thought this was Mark Teixeira‘s 400th career home run. Alas, it was No. 401. Teixeira hit his 400th home run earlier in the game, against Padres righty Carlos Villanueva. Unfortunately, No. 401 wasn’t all that dramatic. It was a tack-on blast in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees were already leading 4-1. Here is Teixeira’s long two-run blast (0:54 mark):

On the bright side, I did get to say Quackenbush, so it’s not a total loss. Teixeira’s home run was the Yankees’ fourth longest of the 2016 season. Distance: 444 feet.

3. Judge vs. Matt Andriese

Now this is what I’m talking about. August 13th was one of the most important days of the season. The Yankees officially released Alex Rodriguez that day, after his farewell ceremony the night before, and the move helped clear a spot for Aaron Judge. The club’s top prospect drove all night from Rochester to the Bronx and was in the starting lineup for the 1pm ET game.

Judge wasted little time showing fans why he is so highly regarded. Two pitches after Tyler Austin, who was also called up that day, poked a line drive home run into the short porch in his first career at-bat, Judge launched a missile to dead center field for a solo home run in his first big league at-bat. Here’s the video:

Good gravy that was hammered. Austin and Judge became the first teammates in history to hit home runs in their MLB debuts in the same game, and they did it back-to-back. Incredible. What a fun afternoon. Judge’s home run cleared the windows of the restaurant in center field entirely. He hit it over the damn windows. I mean, look:

Aaron Judge home run

That was so fun, wasn’t it? The A-Rod farewell game the night before was pretty awesome, then the Yankees quickly turned the page and we all got a glimpse of the future. Alex was gone but Judge (and Austin) had arrived. Definitely a fun afternoon. One of the best of the season. Distance: 446 feet.

2. Hicks vs. Rick Porcello

Judge’s home run is actually tied for the second longest hit by a Yankee this season. Don’t ask my why I listed it first. I guess because it’s chronological. Or reverse chronological. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees were absolutely reeling on May 6th. They went into that night’s game against the Red Sox having lost 15 of their previous 20 games (!), and the day before they were walked off by the Orioles. Morale was low. The Yankees looked like one of the worst teams in baseball.

Naturally, the Yankees fell behind quickly in this May 6th game. Michael Pineda allowed a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first inning. Of course he did. The Yankees rallied though, scoring one run in the bottom of the first on Brian McCann‘s double, and another in the bottom of the second on Dustin Ackley‘s single. Dustin Ackley! Good for him.

The game did not devolve into a slugfest, oddly. Both Pineda and Porcello settled down and the score remained 2-2 into the seventh inning. Heading into that seventh inning Porcello had retired seven straight and 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, so he was cruising. Then he left a changeup up to Aaron Hicks, and this happened:

Hicks had done absolutely nothing as a Yankee up to that point. He’d gone 0-for-1 in the game prior to the home run and was hitting .091/.143/.091 on the season. It was bad. Bad bad bad. Hicks came through big in that spot with his long home run over the bullpen and into the right field bleachers. The Yankees won the game and seven of their next ten. Distance: 446 feet.

1. McCann vs. Brandon Kintzler

How about this for a buzzkill: the Yankees’ longest home run of the season came in a loss! To a Twins team that lost 103 total games in 2016! No other team lost more than 94 games this year, you know. Bummer. The Yankees won the other four games featured in this post. Just not this one.

The Yankees did lead this June 19th game early. A McCann home run — not the one we’re going to focus on — and an A-Rod single built a 2-0 lead through four innings. Then Nathan Eovaldi and the bullpen puked all over it. The Twins scored one run in the fifth, four in the sixth, one in the seventh, and then one in the eighth for good measure. Blargh.

When McCann came to the plate against Kintzler to lead off the ninth inning, the Yankees trailed 7-3 and their chances of winning were down to 1.4%. His job was to get on base and maybe start a rally. He did one better. McCann laid into a 2-1 fastball and hit the team’s longest home run of the season. Look at this damn thing. It almost left Target Field (0:23 mark):

The Yankees did nothing after that home run, so the distance didn’t exactly inspire them to make a ninth inning comeback. That’s a shame. It was still an impressively long home run. No one in pinstripes hit a ball farther in 2016. Distance: 450 feet.

* * *

So, among those five home runs, we had one walk-off, one game-winner, and one career first. Pretty, pretty good. Only two other Yankees hit a baseball 440+ feet this season, by the way. Austin Romine launched a 442-foot dinger against someone named Chad Girodo on May 25th (video), and A-Rod clocked a 440-foot bomb off Chris Archer two days later (video). Austin Romine, eh? Didn’t see that coming.

The Yankees are getting power from premium positions to make up for their outfield

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Three years ago the Yankees made a decision to prioritize defense over offense in the outfield. They spent big to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, then a few months later they committed a market value extension to Brett Gardner. Yeah, they also brought in Carlos Beltran to play right field, but the other two outfield spots were occupied to players known more for their gloves and legs than their bats.

Fast forward to today, and things have played out pretty much exactly as expected. Ellsbury and Gardner have declined offensively as they get further into their 30s, meaning their defense is that much more important. Neither is the defender they were three or four years ago either, though I do think both are still comfortably above-average. As planned, it’s defense over offense.

The Ellsbury and Gardner contracts made it clear the Yankees were going to have to get power from their infield, because two of the three starting outfielders weren’t going to hit many balls over the fence. (Ironically enough, Gardner’s power spiked and his 33 homers from 2014-15 were 29th among all outfielders.) That is even more true today, as Ellsbury and Gardner have declined.

Infielders with power — especially middle infielders — can be hard to find, but the Yankees have managed to do it. Didi Gregorius joined the 20-home run club Tuesday night, about three weeks after Starlin Castro did the same thing. The Astros (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa), Mets (Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker), Nationals (Danny Espinosa, Daniel Murphy), and Rays (Logan Forsythe, Brad Miller) are the only other teams to get 20+ homers from both middle infielders in 2016.

A year ago Didi and Castro combined for 20 homers total — Gregorius hit nine and Castro hit eleven with the Cubs — and now they are able to put up those numbers individually. Sure, Yankee Stadium definitely helps, but these guys are both 26 as well, and entering what should be the best years of their careers. A power spike at this age isn’t uncommon. Also, I’m pretty sure the ball is juiced, so let’s check this out quick:

Castro: 57 ISO+ in 2015, 81 ISO+ in 2016
Gregorius: 50 ISO+ in 2015, 76 ISO+ in 2016

ISO+ is the same basic idea as OPS+. It’s the player’s ISO relative to the league ISO with a park factor applied — I used the handedness park factors at StatCorner — where 100 is league average. Anything lower is below-average and anything higher is below-average.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Adjusting for ballpark and the the increase in power around the league, Castro and Gregorius are still below-average power hitters this season. But! Compared to last season, they’ve both made improvements. Castro essentially went from 57% of the league average power output to 81%. Gregorius jumped from 50% to 76%. There’s real development behind their power. It’s not all Yankee Stadium and juiced baseballs.

In addition to the middle infield, the Yankees are also getting a ton of power from their catchers. In fact, they have two catchers with 19+ homers. Again: two catchers with 19+ homers! That’s pretty awesome. The team’s biggest power sources — catcher and middle infield — are positions not normally associated with power, which is a big positive. Going forward, having Gregorius and Castro up the middle with Gary Sanchez behind the plate will be very nice in terms of dinger expectancy.

The problem this season has been the lack of power from other positions. We knew Gardner and Ellsbury weren’t going to hit many home runs, but the Yankees have gotten very little from first base and DH, the two most premium power positions. When it’s all said and done, the Yankees will (probably) miss the postseason this year not because Dellin Betances blew some saves or Chase Headley had a bad April. It’s because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were complete non-factors.

Hopefully young players like Greg Bird and Aaron Judge can help provide some more pop going forward. Right now the Yankees are getting their power from the middle infield and behind the plate, which is a good building block. It’s also necessary because Gardner and Ellsbury aren’t the hitters they once were, and when you have two defense-first players in the outfield, the offense has to come from somewhere else. The Yankees are starting to get that production from elsewhere.

Rob Refsnyder isn’t hitting for any power and he wants to change that next season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the trade deadline the Yankees have started a legitimate youth movement by calling up top prospects Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, as well as others like Tyler Austin and Ben Heller. Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell are in the rotation as well, though that’s largely due to necessity.

The one young player who predates all those guys is Rob Refsnyder, who was up briefly last season and has spent much of this year on the big league roster. He’s appeared in 54 games with the Yankees this season and figures to be a lineup regular the rest of the way thanks to the Starlin Castro and Jacoby Ellsbury injuries.

The 25-year-old Refsnyder has not had much of an impact at the plate this year, hitting .248/.334/.309 (70 wRC+) with zero home runs and only nine doubles in 171 plate appearances. He will work a walk (9.9%) and make contact (16.4% strikeouts), but not much more than that. For a bat-first (bat-only?) player, that’s not enough to stick around.

Refsnyder wants to change that. He wants to add some power to his game this offseason and he’s got a plan to make that happen. Here’s what Refsnyder told David Laurila over the weekend:

“I’m going to try to hit home runs next year,” Refsnyder told me on Friday. “I’ve had a lot of good conversations with people and I’m going to try to completely change my game. I think it will help my career.”

“I’m going to go back to the drawing board and watch a lot of video,” said Refsnyder. “I’ll probably watch a lot of (Brian) Dozier video. Dozier doesn’t have too long of a swing — he’s pretty short and compact — and his pull rate is really high. I’ll look at Daniel Murphy, too. He changed his game from being more of a contact guy — trying to put the barrel on the ball — to pulling the ball in the air.

“I’m never going to be one of those guys who hits for opposite-field power. That’s OK. Mookie Betts pulls the ball with the best of them. He goes the other way, but not for opposite-field home runs. Mookie and Dozier are the type of guys I need to look at.”

It’s an interesting thought, a non-power hitter trying to become a power hitter, and it’s not unprecedented. Refsnyder has identified the right guys to study — Dozier and Betts have both hit for far more power in the show than they were expected to in the minors — though as a right-handed hitter, he won’t benefit from the short porch by adopting their pull heavy approach. That doesn’t mean this isn’t worth trying though. I have some thoughts.

1. He needs to do more offensively to stick around. Simply put, Refsnyder will never be much of an asset in the field. He’s worked hard to pick up first and third base this season and that’s good. We haven’t seen him at third yet, but at least now Refsnyder’s an emergency option here. He’s spent plenty of time at first and second bases with the Yankees, and in the corner outfield.

The versatility is nice, but Refsnyder’s overall defense isn’t very good. It’s not even average, really. For him to have value and staying power in the big leagues, he’s going to have to hit and hit big. A bad defensive utility man with a .600-something OPS is not the most valuable player in the world, you know? No one expects Refsnyder to become a 40-homer guy like Dozier (seriously, wtf?), but getting to 15-20 homers would be huge.

2. He can cover the plate and drive inside pitches. There’s more to being a pull hitter than looking for a pitch inside and yanking it down the line. Pitchers aren’t stupid, they know when hitters are trying to pull the ball, which is why they’re going to stay on the outer half of the plate. For all their warts, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann have been really good at punishing outside pitches the last few years.

As you might expect given his strikeout and contact (83.8%) rates, Refsnyder does a really nice job covering the plate. He can reach outside pitches and put them in the play. At the same time, he does his most damage on inside pitches, when he can whip the bat around and pull the ball to left. Here are some strike zone heat maps. Contact rate is on the left and ISO is on the right. You can click the image for a larger view and I recommend doing that so you can actually read it.

Rob Refsnyder contact and ISOThe brighter the red the better, the brighter the blue the … worser? Anyway, the contact heat map (left) shows Refsnyder can get the bat on the ball no matter where it is in the strike zone, inside or outside, up or down. Down-and-in is his one glaring hole and that’s not uncommon at all. The ISO heat map (left) shows that while Refsnyder can make contact all around the strike zone, the inside pitch is the only one he’s been able to drive in his MLB career.

Plate coverage is good! That’s a nice skill to have. Refsnyder’s ability to become a power hitter and hit more home runs is going to depend largely on whether he’ll be able to make consistent hard contact on pitches on the outer half. He had handle the inside pitch. The up-and-in pitch, to be more specific. Anything down and on the outer half of the plate is a different matter.

3. He needs to get the ball in the air more often. You’re not going to hit for power if you don’t hit the ball in the air, and so far this season Refsnyder has a 52.4% ground ball rate in the big leagues. It was 66.7% (!) last year. Here are his recent Triple-A ground ball rates:

2016: 53.9% in 230 plate appearances
2015: 59.2% in 522 plate appearances
2014: 53.2% in 333 plate appearances

Geez, that’s a lot of ground balls, huh? It’s no wonder Refsnyder hit only 35 home runs in just over 2,000 minor league plate appearances. He’s no Greg Bird when it comes to hitting the ball in the air. That’s for sure.

Moreso than driving outside pitches, figuring out how to get the ball in the air is going to be Refsnyder’s top priority as he works to hit for more power. This is a must. Only four players have a .170+ ISO and a 50%+ ground ball rate over the last three years: Ryan Braun, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Hunter Pence. Step one to hitting more homers is getting the ball airborne. Refsnyder knows that, I’m sure.

4. The upside outweighs the downside. The thought of a hitter revamping his hitting style and approach in an effort to hit more home runs can be scary. There’s a lot of muscle memory in Refsnyder’s swing and he’s going to have to alter it. What if the power hitting fails and he screws up his normal swing? It could be a career-ender.

It’s easy for me to say this because it’s not my livelihood on the line, but I think this is worth a shot. The upside is greater than the downside. As it stands, Refsnyder is basically a utility guy who might not be average on either side of the ball, and that’s a tough profile. Hitting for more power can help keep him in the big leagues longer. He doesn’t have to turn into Brian Dozier, he just has to do more than he has been. His current skill set may not be built to last.

Brian McCann can help the Yankees overcome their recent power outage

Sep 6, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Brian McCann (34) hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Last night the Yankees smacked three home runs en route to their thrilling 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. A team hitting three homers in a game isn’t all that unusual in and of itself, especially in Yankee Stadium, but this is a team that hit three home runs total in their previous eight games. Not coincidentally, the Yankees were only 4-4 in those eight games.

The three homers in those eight games belonged to Jacoby Ellsbury, who dropped one into the short porch Monday, and Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro. Judge and Castro went deep in Kansas City. Somehow the Yankees failed to hit a home run in three games against the Orioles pitching staff in Camden Yards over the weekend. They’ve actually gone five straight games without a homer at that ballpark dating back to June, so yeah.

Some of the reasons for the recent power outage are obvious. For starters, Gary Sanchez stopped being Babe Ruth and came back to Earth. That was bound to happen at some point. Also, the Yankees traded home run leader Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline — Beltran still leads the Yankees in dingers — and replaced him with Judge, who has popped three homers but mostly battled contact problems since being called up.

Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have combined for 20 home runs this season after combining for 64 last season. Brian McCann, the team’s other veteran power source, has 17 dingers of his own, though last night’s blast was only his third of the second half. Three in 38 games and 153 plate appearances. McCann has only two doubles in the second half as well, which is why he’s slugging .294 since the All-Star break. Ouch.

McCann is not old like A-Rod and as far as we know he’s not beat up physically like Teixeira, who has been nursing neck and knee issues pretty much all season. He has changed roles though, shifting from catcher to DH when Sanchez arrived last month. Moving to DH full-time is a big adjustment for a veteran. A lot of them struggle with all the downtime, especially initially. It’s an entirely difference experience for a veteran player used to being in the field.

Remember, McCann has been a starting big league catcher since he was 21, so he’s used to being in on every single pitch. Now he goes 45 minutes between at-bats. There’s only so much video and batting cage work that can be done between at-bats to stay sharp too. “I’m getting used to it. When all you know is catching, it’s just a new routine. I’ve got to find a routine to work for me,” said McCann last month.

A quick glance at McCann’s first and second half splits don’t reveal too much. He’s not striking out more or hitting the ball in the air less. Nothing like that. Here are the numbers if you don’t believe me:

Brian McCann splits

Going from a 32.6% ground ball rate in the first half to a 36.3% ground ball rate in the second half is not meaningful. That’s just the normal ebb and flow of the season. McCann has a career 36.7% ground ball rate and so far this season he’s right in line with that number. A drastic increase in ground ball rate, say to 48% or so, would be a big red flag. That hasn’t happened.

The number that most caught my eye there is the 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. That is tiny! McCann has a 13.4 HR/FB% in his three full seasons with the Yankees. That’s his true talent number. His average launch angle (18º vs. 20º) and average exit velocity (89.8 mph vs. 87.8 mph) have remained in the same ballpark from the first half to the second, so he’s still making similar contact. McCann laid into a pitch in Kansas City that looked gone off the bat …

Brian McCann fly ball

… before it got knocked down by the wind. That ball leaves the yard in Yankee Stadium or on a warm day at Kauffman Stadium. Stuff like that is how you go from a 15.9 HR/FB% in the first half to a 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. I don’t want to call it bad luck, but this sure seems like one of those things that won’t last. Hopefully last night’s dinger is an indication the correction is coming.

For now, the Yankees are a little light on power unless Sanchez gets red hot again or Judge figures out how to stop striking out. Castro will sock a dinger every now and then, otherwise they’re stuck hoping Ellsbury or Brett Gardner or Didi Gregorius hook one into the short porch every once in the while. McCann is the team’s best left-handed power threat, and for the offense to be at its best the rest of the way, they need him to start hitting more balls out of the park more consistently.

The Yankee offense has come to life in August, and it’s not all Gary Sanchez

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees were shut out by the Orioles and Kevin Gausman, which, unfortunately, has been all too common this season. They have no answer for Gausman at all. The young right-hander has made four starts against the Yankees this season and he’s held them to three runs in 27.2 innings. That’s a 0.98 ERA. He has a 4.41 ERA against all other teams. Sigh.

Thankfully, games like that, in which the offense no-shows, have been rare this month. Very rare, in fact. Yesterday’s loss snapped the Yankees’ five-game streak of scoring at least five runs, the team’s longest such streak in three years. The Yankees scored 14 runs Friday night and another 13 runs Saturday. They scored 10+ runs six times in the first 126 games of the season, then did it back-to-back days this weekend.

Even with yesterday’s shutout loss, the Yankees have scored 133 runs in August, making it their highest scoring month of the season. There’s still three more games to play before September arrives too. Here is the Yankees’ month-by-month runs scored ranks among the 30 MLB clubs:

April: 74 (30th)
May: 119 (22nd)
June: 129 (13th)
July: 97 (23rd)
August: 133 (4th)

Not surprisingly, power has played a big role in the Yankees’ sudden run-scoring ability. They’ve hit 40 homers so far this month, ten more than any other month this season. (They hit 30 in both May and June.) Obviously the arrival of Gary Sanchez has played a huge role in the improved offense. He’s hitting .425/.489/.938 (274 wRC+) with eleven homers in 21 games this season since being recalled after the trade deadline.

Sanchez is not the only reason the offense has been much improved this month though. Remember, the Yankees traded away Carlos Beltran at the deadline, and he was their best hitter for much of the season. It’s not like they simply added Sanchez on top of what they already had. Several players have improved their performance this month as well. Three others in particular have mashed in August:

April to July August
Starlin Castro .256/.292/.395 (81 wRC+) .309/.337/.557 (135 wRC+)
Aaron Hicks .187/.251/.287 (41 wRC+)  .307/.342/.480 (121 wRC+)
Mark Teixeira .192/.269/.322 (58 wRC+)  .254/.359/.433 (116 wRC+)

That doesn’t include the red hot Ronald Torreyes, who has gone 14-for-26 (.538) with six doubles, a homer, a walk, and no strikeouts over the last week. He’s exactly the kind of high-contact hitter who can go on an insane BABIP-fueled run like this. Torreyes replaced Chase Headley at third for a few games while Headley nursed an Achilles injury, and he’s stayed in the lineup because he’s been so hot.

There are reasons to believe this is all legit too. Castro has always been a second half hitter; he has a career 86 wRC+ in the first half and 105 in the second half. Hicks is playing everyday again, something he wasn’t able to do for much of the first half. I know no one wants to hear it, but I truly believe the regular at-bats help get him on track. Teixeira? Well, he couldn’t possibly be that bad all season, right? I hope so. We have to hope and pray a little more with Teixeira than we do Castro and Hicks.

It hasn’t all been good news this month. That’s just the way it goes. Brett Gardner (78 wRC+) and Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) haven’t been great in August, which is kind of a problem because they hit first and second — directly in front of the molten hot Sanchez — most games. Brian McCann (77 wRC+) hasn’t done much either, and call-ups Aaron Judge (85 wRC+) and Tyler Austin (-11 wRC+) have cooled off following their big MLB debuts. You can’t really expect the kids to carry the offense though. Sanchez is the exception, not the rule.

Still, the point is the Yankees have multiple hitters locked in right now. Most of the season they were able to rely on Beltran and maybe one other hitter at any given time. Didi Gregorius was hot for a while. Then it was McCann. Then Headley. Then whoever. The offense never seemed to fire on all cylinders, and truth be told, it still doesn’t feel that way. At least now there’s more than one or two guys carrying to load. Sanchez has been getting the kind of help Beltran never received.

The Yankees beat up on some bad Orioles pitching Friday and Saturday night, which skews their August numbers a tad. They’re averaging 4.61 runs per game this month if you remove those two blowouts, which is still their second highest scoring month this year after June (4.78). Friday’s and Saturday’s games happened though. They count. Earlier this year the Yankees rarely beat up on bad pitching. They just did it on back-to-back days.

No one expects Sanchez to stay this hot the rest of the season. It’s pretty much impossible. Hopefully as he cools down others like Gardner and Ellsbury and McCann heat back up and create a deeper, more balanced lineup. Scoring runs can still be a struggle for the Yankees, we saw it yesterday, but they’ve done a much better job offensively of late. They’ll have to keep up this pace to continue climbing back into the postseason race.

Brett Gardner’s Disappearing Power

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Being a sports fan means you’re going to make predictions or statements or give takes; with that comes a lot of being wrong. Most recently, I was most wrong about fellow former UConn Husky and current Detroit Piston Andre Drummond. After he left Storrs following his freshman year, I thought he’d struggle in the NBA thanks to a lack of a refined offensive game. I was wrong and I was very glad to be wrong. Before him, I was (somewhat) wrong about Brett Gardner.

Though I’ve long been a fan of Gardner’s, I wasn’t always sure how he’d fare long-term in Major League Baseball. Despite a good batting eye that helped him get on base just about everywhere he played, I had concerns regarding his general lack of power. I thought that once he got through the league a time or two, pitchers would be able to knock the bat out of his hands by challenging him, thus negating his good eye at the plate and limiting his effectiveness as a hitter. I was wrong; Gardner’s lasted a long time in the league and has been a productive player for most of that time.

Not enough of this. (Elsa/Getty)
Not enough of this. (Elsa/Getty)

Part of that productivity came from a power surge in 2013 that lasted through 2015. From 2013-2015, he had ISOs of .143, .166, and .140 after never having an ISO greater than .110 from 2008-2012. Additionally, 2014 and 2015 saw him hit 17 and 16 homers respectively. This isn’t Barry Bonds level power or anything, but for Gardner, this was groundbreaking stuff. In 2016, though, that power reservoir has seemingly dried up.

This year, his ISO has dropped down to .116, his lowest since a .110 mark in 2011 — not including the partial season in 2012. Per FanGraphs, ZiPS rest-of-season projections forecast Gardner to hit only four more homers this year, bringing his total up to 11. While that would be higher than any non-2014/15 year, it’s still a drop from the last two years, though the ISO drop is the more pronounced of the two. As proof of that, let’s take a look at Gardner’s extra-base hit rate as a percentage of his hits. In 2014, 35.2% of his hits went for extra bases. That rate dropped to 30.4% in 2015 and is down another 5% to 25.3% this year.

He’s dropped back down to relatively normal levels of his power so it’s not horribly alarming, but it’s still disappointing to see since that added dimension of power helped make Gardner an even more valuable player. As such, it’s still worth looking at why these numbers have dropped back down. When Gardner was going right with his homers, he was pulling inside pitches over the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. Let’s take a look at Gardner’s pull numbers over the last three years, incorporating HR/FB%; Hard Hit%; and ISO (all per FanGraphs):

Year HR/FB% Hard Hit% ISO
2014 29.4 37.3 0.385
2015 62.5 28.2 0.367
2016 37.5 24.5 0.263

While Brett is still hitting for good power to his pull field, it’s down significantly from the previous two years. 2015 was a little fluky with regards to the HR/FB% as Gardner tended not to hit many fly balls last year; the ones he did hit, however, left the park at an insanely high rate. It’s expected that there’s been a drop off this year, but that’s been coupled with a steadily dropping hard hit rate to the pull field. Why might this be? Well, intuitively, when you’re pulling the ball, you’re doing damage on inside pitches. Is that happening for Gardner this year compared to 2014-15? Not so much.

GardnerProfile1415

There’s Gardner’s 2014-2015 zone profile by ISO. By taking a look at the inside pitches in the zone, we see ISOs of .300; .281; and .361. He also did damage on pitches actually inside and out the zone, ISOing .471 on those pitches; he was even able to golf some low/in pitches out of the zone for a .286 ISO. Now let’s look at 2016.

GardnerProfile16

That inside power has seemingly disappeared in 2016. Up and in, in the zone, Gardner’s still doing damage: .546 ISO. Middle-in, in the zone is still solid at .250, but there’s been a drop off from 2014-15. The low-in, in the zone and the two out of zone locations have produced virtually no power.

There’s no quick and easy answers in baseball, but a rough estimate for why Gardner’s power has dropped this year is that he just isn’t doing damage on inside pitches and isn’t pulling the ball with as much authority to his pull field as he did in the previous two seasons. Despite the lack of power, Gardner has still been reasonably productive in 2016. He’s walking at his highest rate since 2011 (again, discounting 2012’s limited scope) and striking out at his lowest rate since 2011. But the lack of power has Gardner’s wRC+ under 100 for the first time since 2011. While the team was nowhere near reliant on Gardner for power coming into 2016, the lack of it — and the general lack of production from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira — has been a disappointment. Hopefully next year, Gardner can regain his power stroke and increase his productivity.