Mark Teixeira is not going to focus on beating the shift and that’s okay

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Position players reported to Spring Training yesterday and one of the first to talk was Mark Teixeira, who is now entering his seventh year as the team’s first baseman. Teixeira went into the winter saying he needed to get stronger following his first full year after wrist surgery, and he claims to have done that with a diet change and more weight lifting. Hopefully it works. We’ll see.

One thing Teixeira said he will not do is focus on trying to beat the shift this coming season. The shift is a hot topic around the game right now and Teixeira has been hurt by it as much as any hitter, particularly when he’s hitting from the left side of the plate. That said, he’s not going to change his approach. He’ll focus on hitting the ball over the shift, not around it.

“We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. Every time I try to slap the ball the other way, it doesn’t go well for anybody,” said Teixeira to Chad Jennings. “That’s what the other team wants. They want to take a middle-of-the-order power hitter and turn him into a slap hitter. So if I can hit more home runs, more doubles, walk more, that takes care of the shift. I don’t want to ground out to second base. That’s not what I’m trying to do up there.”

Teixeira has tried changing his approach to counteract the shift before, most notably early in the 2012 season, and the result was a bunch of weak fly balls to left field. He eventually abandoned the plan during a late-May trip out to the West Coast. Before the trip, Teixeira hit .229/.305/.371 in 118 plate appearances as a left-handed batter. After the trip, he hit .246/.346/.480 in 208 plate appearances as a lefty.

After coming to camp that year telling anyone who would listen he was going to beat the shift, Teixeira gave up trying to the other way before the end of May because it wasn’t working for him. He used to be an all-fields hitter, but he’s not anymore for whatever reason. That’s the reality of the situation. At that point in 2012, Teixeira was at his best when he tried to pull the ball, so that’s what he did. Three years and one wrist surgery later, it’s hard to think he’ll be better able to go to the other way.

It’s easy to forget Teixeira was actually pretty good in the first half of last season. He hit .241/.341/.464 (125 wRC+) before the All-Star break, including .254/.330/.513 as a left-handed batter. After the break though, Teixeira only hit .179/.271/.302 (62 wRC+) overall and a very weak .151/.265/.262 as a lefty batter. First half Teixeira was really good and he sure as heck wasn’t trying to beat the shift. He says he wore down in the second half — hence the focus on getting stronger this winter — and the numbers back it up.

At this point of his career, two months away from his 35th birthday and two years after wrist surgery, Teixeira is what he is. He can still be a productive player even with the shift, he showed that in the first half of last season and also in the second half of 2012, so he should stick to what works. Brian McCann spent all last year trying to beat the shift and, like Teixeira early in 2012, the result was a lot of weak contact. This is Teixeira’s reality now. Trying (again) to change his approach will likely result in decreased performance and that only makes things worse.

Only wrong answer at top of the lineup is one that doesn’t include Ellsbury and Gardner

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

On the very first day of camp last week, Joe Girardi held his annual start of Spring Training press conference and discussed the importance of settling on a lineup, among other things. “Figuring out our batting order I think is something important, because there are some people we don’t know exactly where they are at, and there are obviously some new people in camp,” he said.

The middle of the lineup is where the most questions exist. Figuring out the best way to align the three through seven spots with Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Chase Headley, and Alex Rodriguez will be Girardi’s toughest challenge, and he needs to see those guys in games before making a decision. The top and bottom of the lineup should be relatively easy. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner at the top, Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew at the bottom. Boom, done.

Here’s where it gets interesting: is it better for the Yankees to bat Ellsbury leadoff and Gardner second, or vice versa? They are two extremely similar offensive players. If you don’t believe me, look:

2014 Ellsbury 635 .271/.328/.419 107 16 7.7% 14.6% 39/5 97 130
2014 Gardner 636 .256/.327/.422 110 17 8.8% 21.1% 21/5 116 96
2012-14 Ellsbury
1,594 .282/.336/.412 104 29 7.2% 14.3% 105/12 109 96
2012-14 Gardner
1,283 .266/.338/.418 110 25 8.8% 20.9% 47/15 111 106

Like I said, they’re almost the same damn player. Ellsbury hits more singles, strikes out less, and steals more bases. Gardner draws more walks and hits for more power. Neither has a crippling platoon split either. (Girardi has said he has no problem batting them back-to-back even though they’re both lefties.) The end result is two players with almost identical offensive value overall.

Over the years, all sorts of statistical analyses have shown the best hitter should bat second, but when you have two guys this similar, deciding whether to bat Ellsbury leadoff and Gardner second or vice versa comes down to a matter of preference. We have to start nitpicking. They’ve both gotten on base at the same rate, so the default “he has a higher OBP so he should bat leadoff” tiebreaker doesn’t even apply.

I see it this way: Ellsbury not only steals more bases, he’s also the more aggressive base-stealer. We’ve all seen Gardner sit around and wait until the third or fourth or fifth pitch of the at-bat to take off. It’s annoying. Ellsbury gets on and goes. Ellsbury and Gardner get on base at the same rate, but Ellsbury will get himself to second base quicker, and that’s who I want leading off.

In addition to that, Gardner has a bit more power — he had a higher ISO than Ellsbury last year (.166 vs. .148) and over the last three years (.152 vs. .130) — and batting him second means there should be a few additional runners on base when he bats. That will help turn some of those solo homers — Gardner hit 17 homers last year and 14 were solo shots because he batted leadoff and the eight/nine hitters (Ichiro Suzuki, Brian Roberts, etc.) weren’t getting on — into multi-run blasts.

On the other side of the argument, we could say Ellsbury strikes out less than Gardner, meaning Girardi could be a little more creative with the better bat control guy hitting second. More hit-and-runs, that sort of thing. It’s an old school mentality but the Yankees are going to have to manufacture more runs that way this year. The three-run homers aren’t coming like they used to and Ellsbury’s contact skills (and both his and Gardner’s speed) is a weapon they can use.

Ellsbury was forced to hit third last year due injuries and whatnot, but he is totally miscast in that role. He’s at his best creating havoc in a table-setting role. Same with Gardner to slightly lesser degree. Unless the season gets underway and one guy is drastically outproducing the other, there’s no clear cut answer as to whether Ellsbury or Gardner should bat leadoff. The only wrong answer is the one where someone other than these guys hits first or second.

New additions will help Yankees against pitches down in the zone

Jones is a weapon against low pitches. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)
Jones is a weapon against low pitches. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)

As first explained by Jon Roegele last January and revisited by Jeff Sullivan in September, the strike zone has been expanding in recent years. It is expanding downward, specifically. There are more called strikes at the knees and below nowadays than there were a few years ago for whatever reason. Pitchers have been taught to keep the ball down for decades, and now there is even more of an incentive to do so. It’s hard to do anything with pitches down in the zone.

As a result, some teams have started seeking out low-ball hitters to counter the expanding strike zone. Josh Donaldson, who went from the Athletics to the Blue Jays this offseason, is one of the best low-ball hitters in the game, putting up a .273 AVG and .180 ISO on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below the last two years. The MLB averages were .230 and .103, respectively. The best low-ball hitter in baseball the last three seasons has been (who else?) Mike Trout, with a .343 AVG and .229 ISO.

Last season, the Yankees as a team hit .229 with a .101 ISO on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below, the 17th and 15th best rates in baseball, respectively. The MLB averages in 2014 were a .232 AVG and .103 ISO. Keep in mind those are raw AVG and ISO numbers, unadjusted for ballpark or anything like that. The Yankees were a below-average hitting team on pitches down in the zone despite playing home games in hitter happy Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have remade their lineup a bit this offseason, at least compared to the Opening Day lineup a year ago. They have a new projected starters at the three non-first base infield positions plus a new primary DH regardless of whether Alex Rodriguez or Garrett Jones gets the majority of the at-bats. Let’s look at how the current roster has performed on pitches down in the zone the last three seasons, with an enormous thanks to the indispensable Baseball Savant.

The Infielders

C Brian McCann .219 .148 .236 18.5%
1B Mark Teixeira .193 .147 .225 23.4%
2B Stephen Drew .179 .072 .276 33.7%
SS Didi Gregorius .245 .115 .286 17.5%
3B Chase Headley .225 .098 .318 28.5%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

I was curious to see Teixeira’s down in the zone stats before looking them up because, anecdotally, it seems like he’s a high-ball hitter based on what I’ve seen during his first six years in pinstripes. Sure enough, the data backs it up. Teixeira hit .193 with a .147 ISO on pitches down in the zone these last three years while hitting .268 with a .266 ISO on all other pitches. The MLB averages for pitches not down in the zone since 2012 are .273 AVG and .175 ISO, for reference.

Both Teixeira and McCann are power-before-average hitters, which is why they have a better than league average ISO but a below-average batting average on pitches in the bottom third of the zone and below. Headley has been below-average on low pitches but not by much, just a few points in both AVG and ISO. Remember, AVG and ISO are unadjusted and Headley spent most of the last three years in cavernous Petco Park. I expect these numbers to come up going forward. Drew … yikes. Let’s leave it at that.

Gregorius is interesting because he has actually been slightly above-average on hitting pitches low in the strike zone, though only slightly. On the other hand, he has hit .244 with a .134 ISO on pitches not down in the zone, below those .273 AVG and .175 ISO league averages. Seven of his 13 big league homers have come on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below — one of those seven is his first career homer (video), which came at Yankee Stadium off Phil Hughes in April 2013 — so it seems like Gregorius has some golf in his swing. That’s useful.

The Outfielders

LF Brett Gardner .229 .106 .306 25.6%
CF Jacoby Ellsbury .257 .108 .308 18.8%
RF Carlos Beltran .230 .121 .279 22.1%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

Ellsbury is a high contact hitter who consistently gets the fat part of the bat on the ball, so it’s no surprise he’s fared well on pitches down in the zone. The power production is only league average, but that’s not really his game. Gardner has been so close to being perfectly average on low pitches these last three years that it’s kinda freaky. He’s off the MLB average by one point of AVG, one point of ISO, and three-tenths of a percentage point in strikeout rate.

Beltran has been above-average low-ball hitter by virtue of having an average AVG with better than average ISO and strikeout rates. That said, the Beltran we saw last year was not the same Beltran the Cardinals had from 2012-13. During his two years in St. Louis, Beltran hit .237 with a .133 ISO on low pitches. Last year it was a .211 AVG with a .092 ISO. Hopefully that is just a function of playing through an elbow injury for most of the summer rather than a decline in skills. If that is the case, healthy Beltran is a real weapon against pitches down in the zone.

The Bench

DH Alex Rodriguez .263 .180 .321 24.8%
C John Ryan Murphy .256 .070 .367 28.3%
IF Brendan Ryan .160 .050 .231 30.0%
OF Chris Young .158 .131 .210 31.0%
UTIL Garrett Jones .244 .157 .290 22.2%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

First things first, let’s just ignore Murphy’s numbers. He has only 112 plate appearances in the big leagues and fewer than 50 of them (46, to be exact) have ended on pitches down in the zone, so it’s a very small sample. Everyone else’s stats are based on a few hundred plate appearances that ended on low pitches.

Anyway, look at A-Rod! He flat out mashed low pitches from 2012-14, which really means he mashed low pitches from 2012-13 because he didn’t play last year. On the other side of the coin, he put up a .267 AVG with a .142 ISO against non-low pitches the last three seasons, both below-average rates. We have no idea what Alex can do next year at age 39 with two surgically repaired hips after missing all of 2014. If he puts up anything close to the 113 wRC+ he had from 2012-13, it would be a major win, low-ball hitter or not.

Jones has been a real threat against pitches down in the strike zone. His AVG, ISO and strikeout rate have been better than average the last three seasons. By comfortable margins too. I guess that’s not surprising — take a few minutes to watch this highlight video and it’s obvious Jones can go down to get a pitch and lift it a long way. Young has some pop on low pitches but is generally well-below-average. Ryan isn’t much of a hitter, low pitches or otherwise.

The additions of Gregorius and Jones figure to help the Yankees against pitches down in the zone in an age when more low strikes are being called and even more pitches are at the knees or below. Headley should also help now that he’s in a much more favorable park, and A-Rod is a wildcard. Maybe he’ll help but probably not. The Yankees weren’t a very good low-ball hitting team in 2014 and their additions this winter appear likely to help improve the situation this coming season.

Drew’s return gives Yankees both a balanced and lefty heavy lineup

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

As discussed earlier, the return of Stephen Drew impacts the Yankees in many ways, particularly with their roster construction. Drew’s return could mean the end of Brendan Ryan, it could mean Rob Refsnyder is going back to Triple-A, or it could mean Didi Gregorius is going to be flipped in a trade. Lots of possibilities.

What we do know is that Drew will play — at least at first, they didn’t sign him not to play — and that means the Yankee will have five left-handed hitters in the regular starting lineup. Three of the remaining four regulars are switch-hitters and one’s a righty. Here’s the quick breakdown:

C – Brian McCann (L)
1B – Mark Teixeira (B)
2B – Drew (L)
SS – Gregorius (L)
3B – Chase Headley (B)
LF – Brett Gardner (L)
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
RF – Carlos Beltran (B)
DH – Alex Rodriguez! (R)

Dating back to the early-1990s, when then-GM Gene Michael was ahead of the curve in emphasizing patience and wearing down pitchers, the Yankees have prioritized switch-hitters. Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada are the most notable examples, but over the years there was also Ruben Sierra, Tim Raines, Chili Davis, Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher, and others. The switch-hitters add balance and make it tough for opposing managers to match up.

The Yankees have a weird lineup dynamic right now because it’s both left-handed heavy and balanced at the same. Against a right-handed pitcher, they’ll have eight guys hitting from the left side of the plate. Nine if Garrett Jones plays instead of A-Rod. But, against a lefty starter, they’d still have four guys on the right side of the plate and two lefties (Gardner and Ellsbury) who can hold their own against southpaws. That doesn’t include fourth outfielder Chris Young, who I have to think will play against lefties. What else would he do?

Once upon a time — as in last year before Jon Lester and David Price were traded — having five lefties in your regular lineup in the AL East was less than ideal. That isn’t the case anymore. The best southpaw in the division at this point is probably Drew Smyly, at least until Matt Moore returns at midseason and proves he’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery. Mark Buehrle, Wade Miley, and Wei-Yin Chen are the only other enemy southpaws in the division. And, as Buster Olney (subs. req’d) noted yesterday, those three aren’t tough on lefties:

If you dig inside the numbers more, even the left-handers in the division don’t wipe out left-handed hitters. Mark Buehrle is not a hard thrower, and left-handers typically have done about the same against him as right-handers; last year, lefties had a .718 OPS against him, while right-handers were at .752. Left-handed hitters had a .670 OPS against Wei-Yin Chen, right-handers .746. Wade Miley, acquired this winter by the Red Sox, had .727/.752 OPS splits last season against lefties and righties, respectively.

On paper, the Yankees’ lineup seems to match up well with the right-handed heavy AL East pitching staffs. Plus there are more righty starters than lefty starters in baseball in general — last season, righty starting pitchers faced 43,945 batters while lefties faced 16,069, so it’s roughly a 75/25 split — so the team is in good shape when it plays other opponents too. And of course left-handed hitters have a distinct advantage in Yankee Stadium. The Bombers have plenty of lefties for all those righty starters and enough switch-hitters to maintain balance.

Obviously the offense is a far cry from what it was a few years ago, when Swisher was hitting eighth and Curtis Granderson was clubbing 40+ dingers as the third or fourth best player on the team. I do think the Yankees have upgraded offensively at shortstop and third bases this year, maybe even at second base too, but it’s still a below-average group overall. Being so lefty heavy will help in Yankee Stadium and against all those righty starters, yet the club isn’t ultra-vulnerable against southpaws either.

The Five Biggest Yankees’ Hits of 2014

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Even though the Yankees fell short of the playoffs this past season, they still had a bunch of memorable moments during the regular season. Big hits, specifically, and I think we can all agree Derek Jeter‘s walk-off single in his final game at Yankee Stadium was the most memorable hit of the year and maybe of the last 20 years. It was that amazing. I’m going to remember that hit for the rest of the my life.

But was that one of the most important hits of the season? Not really. The Yankees had already been eliminated from postseason contention at that point and the win didn’t mean anything in the standings. In this post we’re going to look at the team’s biggest hits of the season using win probability added (WPA), a nice quick and dirty way to measure how much an event (hit, out, etc.) improves the club’s chances of winning. Jeter’s walk-off single clocked in at +0.31 WPA, meaning it improved their chances of winning 31%. That’s high but not exactly mind-blowing.

Like every other stat, WPA is not perfect. It lacks context, such as the pitcher, the batter, postseason race position, all sorts of stuff. A division winning walk-off homer against Craig Kimbrel would have the same WPA as a walk-off homer against Esmil Rogers on April 2nd. That’s alright though, I’m only putting this list together for fun and I don’t intend to present it as some kind of detailed analysis. Here are the biggest hits posts for 2011 and 2012. Apparently I didn’t do one last year. My bad.

t-5. May 6th: Brian Roberts homers off Ernesto Frieri (video above)
t-5. May 24th: Jacoby Ellsbury homers off Zach Putnam (video)
t-5. July 9th: Ellsbury homers off Vinnie Pestano (video)

Tied for fifth are three nearly identical homers — they’re all solo shots in the ninth inning or later of a tie game on the road, giving the Yankees the lead. Same situation and same result for all three (extra innings are effectively the same thing as the ninth inning), hence the identical WPAs. Roberts ambushed a first pitch fastball from Frieri for his first homer of the season — this was right around the time it looked Roberts like could still hit a little and be useful — while Ellsbury clobbered a hanging changeup from Putnam and a hanging slider from Pestano. The three homers each checked in at +0.42 WPA.

4. September 4th: Mark Teixeira homers off Koji Uehara

After coming out of the gate strong and hitting homeruns left and right, Teixeira slumped big time in the second half. He went deep just five times after the All-Star break. His second to last homer of the season was this game-tying solo shot in the bottom of the ninth off a busted Uehara, who was in the middle of a stretch in which he allowed ten runs on 14 hits (four homers) in 4.2 innings. Uehara threw a two-strike splitter than didn’t split and Teixeira clobbered the 81 mph nothingball left out over the plate. The homer was worth +0.44 WPA. Chase Headley followed with a walk-off homer later in the inning, as I’m sure you remember.

3. June 30th: Roberts homers off Joel Peralta

This is the token “huh, I don’t remember that” hit of the five biggest hits list. I did remember it after watching the video though, which was nice. I wonder how much baseball I’ve forgotten over the years. A lot. Probably some cool stuff too. Anyway, Peralta’s pitch was very similar to the Frieri pitch from earlier, a fastball down and in, the kind of pitch left-handed hitters can golf out to right. And that’s exactly what Roberts did, golfed it out to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. This one measured +0.47 WPA. Fun fact: the Yankees lost this game anyway. Jose Ramirez allowed a run in the top of the tenth and that was that. Losing the game in which you received your third biggest hit of the season by WPA is the most 2014 Yankees thing ever.

2. September 11th: Chris Young homers off Jake McGee

Alright, now we’re talking. Those game-tying and go-ahead homers on the road were cute, but now it’s time for the very big hits. The ones that turned a multi-run deficit into a win with one swing of the bat. First up is Chris Young’s three-run walk-off homer against the Rays. He hit it a few pitches after Headley took a fastball to the chin. I know you remember that. Here’s the WPA graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Young gets credit for the big hit, but this inning was set up by Headley’s chin and Ichiro Suzuki‘s double to right field, which put the tying run in scoring position with one out. McGee seemed to stay away away away to every hitter after hitting Headley, and sure enough the pitch Young hit out was a fastball up in the zone and on the outer half. He got to it with his long swing and drove it out for the walk-off three-run homer, turning a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 win with one swing. The WPA on this one: +0.72. That’s huge. Bigger than the team’s biggest hit in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 (tied for biggest), and 2009. But only the second biggest this year.

1. June 20th: Carlos Beltran homers off Zach Britton

Surely you knew this was number one, right? It was probably the most memorable non-Jeter moment of the season. The Yankees had just won three straight and seven of their last nine games, and it felt like they were finally starting to build some momentum at midseason. Ubaldo Jimenez of all people shut them down that night, and Britton inherited a 3-1 lead in the ninth.

Brett Gardner led the inning off with a single, but quick outs by Jeter and Ellsbury put the Yankees on the ropes. Teixeira drew a walk and pushed Gardner into scoring position, then Brian McCann drove him in a bloopy little bloop to center. The tying run was in scoring position and the winning run was on base. Britton, an extreme sinkerballer, was up in the zone all inning, and Beltran was able to work him into a favorable 3-1 count.

You know what happened next. Britton left another pitch up and Beltran hooked it into left for a walk-off three-run homer. To the WPA graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Yep. Beltran’s homer clocked in at +0.84 WPA, which is off the charts. It was not only the team’s biggest hit of the season, it was the biggest Yankees’ hit (by WPA!) since Jason Giambi hit this walk-off homer against B.J. Ryan in June 2008. That video didn’t work for the longest time and finally fixed it. I’m so happy. That one registered +0.89 WPA, which is also nuts. Between Young and Beltran, the Yankees received two of their biggest hits of the last seven years in 2014. Those homers than turn an imminent loss into a win don’t come around all that often.

The Five Shortest Yankees’ Homers of 2014


Earlier this week we looked back at the five longest homeruns of the 2014 Yankees’ season, and now it’s time to flip the script. We’re now going to look at the shortest homers of the season. This post is made possible first by Hit Tracker and all its wonderful and freely available data, and also by the new Yankee Stadium and it’s cozy right field post. I honestly look more forward to writing this post than the longest homers post each year because these cheap homers make me laugh.

The shortest homer in baseball this year was, of course, an inside the parker. Brandon Barnes hit it and it only traveled 304 feet. Yes, there was a missed dive involved. Here’s the video. Usually there are a few 200-something-foot inside the parkers that bloop in and take a weird bounce by an outfielder, but not this year apparently. The shortest homerun to actually leave the yard this season was this David Ortiz blast that wrapped out the Pesky Pole, which traveled only 318 feet. Only two other dingers traveled less than 330 feet this year. Here are the 2012 and 2013 shortest homeruns posts. Now for the 2014 edition.

5. July 2nd: Brian McCann vs. Jake Odorizzi

As you might suspect, Yankee Stadium will be featured prominently in this post. The fifth shortest homer of the Yankees’ season was a cheapie to right field, the kind of homer that McCann was never able to hit in Turner Field all those years with the Braves. Odorizzi left a 90 mph heater up in the zone, McCann flicked his wrists, and hit a high fly ball that landed just beyond the wall in the field field corner. This one had a nice big arch to it. Hit Tracker says it traveled 342 feet, which is hard to believe. Doesn’t look like it went much farther than the 314 on the wall, but whatever. The dinger left McCann’s bat at 94.5 mph.

4. August 23rd: Carlos Beltran vs. Scott Carroll

This homerun a) came on Joe Torre Day at Yankee Stadium, and b) was so short that White Sox manager Robin Ventura had it reviewed to make sure a fan didn’t reach over the wall to grab it. The replay confirmed the initial call though, that it left the yard for a sixth inning solo homerun. Beltran had just received a cortisone shot in his troublesome elbow, and even though it barely snuck over the wall, it was a sign he was feeling good enough to swing the bat. The ball traveled only 339 feet with an exit velocity of 94.4 mph.

3. September 24th: Mark Teixeira vs. Brad Brach

Technically, this homer didn’t go over the fence. It was stopped short by the foul pole. This Teixeira blast was the team’s third shortest homer of the year, clanking off the bottom of the pole in right field. I’d say no more than 10-15 feet up the pole from the top of the wall. In a park with a normal sized right field, it would have continued to slice foul and that would be that. The at-bat would have continued. Instead, the Yankees walked away with a pair of runs. Yankee Stadium giveth and Yankees Stadium taketh, I guess. Teixeira’s dinger traveled only 335 feet and left his bat at 98.5 mph.

2. September 14th: Brian McCann vs. Darren O’Day

Believe it or not, this short dinger was not hit at Yankee Stadium. It was hit at Camden Yards and it was kind of a big deal for a few minutes. The Yankees were barely hanging on in the wildcard race at the time and they were tied 1-1 with the Orioles in the ninth inning on Sunday Night Baseball. O’Day’s sinker stayed out over the plate and didn’t sink, a pitch that is more or less a batting practice fastball coming from an opposite hand sidearmer. McCann hammered it to right and just over the big wall with the scoreboard. The Yankees eventually lost the game in walk-off fashion but, for at least a little while, McCann gave the team some hope. This homer went 333 feet with a 97.7 mph exit velocity.

1. June 17th: Brett Gardner vs. Marcus Stroman

I’m disappointed Gardner hit the shortest homer of the season because it’s almost cliche. The scrappy little speed guy willing the ball just over the fence, that sorta thing. Lame. Anyway, this was nothing more than a hanging slider that Gardner tomahawked down the right field line and off the Yankee Stadium foul ball. Teixeira’s ball clanked 10-15 up the pole, right? This one hit about six feet up the pole, that’s all. It was barely high enough and it would have sailed foul had right feet been 315 feet away from home plate instead of 314 feet away. At 331 feet and 98.9 mph off the bat, this was the shortest homer hit by a Yankee and fourth shortest outside the park homerun in baseball overall this past season. Though I guess it really didn’t leave the park. You know what I mean.

The Five Longest Yankees’ Homers of 2014

Gardner makes an appearance ... twice! (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Gardner makes an appearance … twice! (Jim Rogash/Getty)

In what has become an annual tradition, it’s time to look back at the longest Yankees’ homeruns of this past season. Admittedly, this post has gotten a little less exciting in recent years as power around the league had dropped, especially in the Bronx. The number of 450+ blasts has gone down considerably. I guess that makes them more special.

The longest homer of the 2014 season in general belongs not to Giancarlo Stanton, but Mike Trout. He hit a ball 489 feet off Jason Vargas back in June. Here’s the video. That’s just ridiculous. By the way, that was the longest homer in baseball since this 494-foot Stanton blast in 2012. The last player to hit a 500+ foot homer was Adam Dunn back in 2008. Here’s video of his titanic blast of Glendon Rusch.

As always, this post is made possible by the indispensable Hit Tracker, which tracks every homerun hit every season. It’s truly awesome. No Yankee came particularly close to hitting the longest homerun of the season but that’s not really surprising. Here are the longest homer posts for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 — there isn’t much analytical value here, it’s just appreciation of some monster dingers — and now, 2014:

t-5. April 12th: Kelly Johnson vs. Burke Badenhop (video)
t-5. July 29th: Brett Gardner vs. Nick Martinez (video)
t-5. August 3rd: Gardner vs. Craig Breslow (video above)

We’ve got a five-way tie for fifth place. Johnson’s homer landed in Monument Park and gave the Yankees an eighth inning insurance run, stretching their lead to 7-4 over the Red Sox. Gardner’s blast on July 29th was his third homer in two games and the first in back-to-back games with a leadoff homer. I’m sure you remember when he went on that little homerun binge, right? A few days later he broke a 7-7 sixth inning tie with a solo shot off Breslow. It ended up winning the game. That was an ESPN Sunday Night Game at Fenway Park and one of the most exciting games of the year. Here’s the box score. All three homers traveled 420 feet, though Johnson’s measured 106 mph off the bat while Gardner’s July homer measured 107.5 and the August homer measured 107.9.

4. April 12th: Brian McCann vs. John Lackey

This was part of what looked like McCann’s big breakout after a rough start to the season. He opened his first year in pinstripes with a 6-for-37 (.162) skid before swatting two homers off Lackey in the team’s 12th game of the year. His second homer of the game was the team’s fourth longest of the season. It came on a hanging 2-1 curveball and landed in the Yankees’ bullpen, extending their lead to 6-2 in the sixth inning. It had the good sound, the sound a homer is supposed to make. The two-homer game didn’t exactly start a hot streak, but two-homer games are always great. McCann’s blast traveled 421 feet and left the bat at 108.2 mph. His first homer of the game traveled 366 feet with an exit velocity of 97.1 mph, by the way. It was one among the bottom-third of the team’s homers in distance this season.

3. August 29th: Chase Headley vs. Dustin McGowan

I remember all of the other homers in this post, but this one escaped me. I watched the video and still didn’t remember it. But, it happened. Headley ambushed a first pitch fastball leading off the ninth inning, extending New York’s lead to 6-3. It cleared the bullpen at Rogers Centre and landed several rows back in the first deck. It was Headley’s tenth homer of the season and third with the Yankees. Also his second against the Blue Jays. The ball traveled 425 feet according to Hit Tracker and left the bat at 106.3 mph.

2. August 2nd: Mark Teixeira vs. Breslow

Teixeira came out of the gate with a barrage of homeruns this season, hitting nine in the team’s first 41 games and 17 in their first 90 games. He went deep only five times after the All-Star break though, and one of those five was this towering blast off Breslow. I guess we have to give Breslow some props for serving up two of the Yankees’ five longest homers of the year, don’t we? Three of the eight homers he allowed this season were hit by Yankees. Anyway, Teixeira’s solo blast traveled 427 feet with an exit velocity of 107.5 mph, which was enough to carry it over the Green Monster and onto the roof of a parking lot across Lansdowne Street. It stretched the team’s lead to 5-3 in the fifth inning. Lot of long homers for insurance runs this year, apparently.

1. April 22nd: Carlos Beltran vs. Edward Mujica

Once again, Fenway Park. The Yankees did a lot of damage there this season, including scoring 24 runs in one three-game series in late-April. Beltran capped off the scoring in the first game of that series with the team’s longest homer of 2014, a 434-foot shot that left his bat at 111.6 mph. It stretched the team’s lead to 9-2 in the eighth inning — another long homer for an insurance run! — and landed about ten rows back in right field. This was Beltran at his best, getting into a hitter’s count (3-1) and putting a sweet swing on a hitter’s pitch. We didn’t see enough of that Beltran this year, unfortunately. I think Teixeira’s blast was more aesthetically pleasing because it literally left the ballpark and landed across the street, but Beltran’s dinger cut through the cold April night early in the season to travel seven feet further.