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 MLB.com 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

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

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.

2014 Season Review: When Speed Doesn’t Equal Good Base-Running

The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new review format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, and all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.

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

The Bronx Bombers are gone. Long live the Bronx Bombers. After hitting at least 200 homeruns every year but one from 2000-12 — the postseason-less 2008 season was the only exception (180 homers) — the Yankees dropped down to 144 homers in 2013 and 147 homers in 2014. Some of that is due to the declining offense around the league, some of it is due to injuries, and some of it is due to having too many players without much power on the roster.

The Yankees looked to compensate for their lack of pop this past season by adding speed, specifically by adding guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Kelly Johnson to Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki. Ellsbury was the big name, but Johnson also stole 13+ bases every year from 2010-12. The return of Derek Jeter and addition of Brian Roberts might have added some speed to the roster despite their recent injuries as well. They’re both veteran guys who knew out to pick their spots and run the bases despite a lack of pure speed.

Sure enough, the Yankees ranked fifth in baseball with 112 stolen bases and second with an 81.1% success rate. Only the Nationals (81.5%) had a better success rate. These days the stolen base break-even rate is something like 66-68% due to the drop in offense, not the 72% we so often cited five or ten years ago. The Yankees stole a ton of bases this season and they were very good at it, stealing them with a high rate of efficiency. So why then did Joe Girardi say the team needed to improve its base-running next year during his end-of-season press conference?

“At times our runners couldn’t score from second on a hit just because they weren’t physically able, and that’s something I think we as a club need to get better at — base running,” said Girardi last week while discussing the team’s offensive woes. “Some of it’s limited because of the speed of some of the guys that we have, but I that’s something tangible we need to get better at.”

Despite those strong stolen base numbers, the Yankees took the extra base on a hit just 33% of the time last year, dead last in baseball. The Angels led MLB at 46% and the Orioles were second worst at 34%. The Yankees went first-to-third on a single only 21.5% of the time, again dead last in baseball. They scored from second on a single 49.7% of the time, once again dead last in baseball. They scored from first on a double 34.6% of the time and the good news is that wasn’t dead last in baseball. It was only third worst behind the Phillies (30.6%) and Astros (34.5%). All base-running stats come from Baseball Reference.

Furthermore, the Yankees compounded their base-running problems by getting thrown a bunch of times, particularly at home. It’s one thing to only go from second to third on a single, it’s another to get thrown out at home. They actually had the eighth fewest outs on the bases in 2014 with 45, but they had the fourth most outs at the plate in 21. Part of that is a lack of team speed and part of it falls on the shoulders of third base coach Rob Thomson, who anecdotally made some really awful sends this summer. Pushing the envelope with no outs in the inning, sending a runner on a ball hit to shallow left, that sort of stuff. It happened a lot. I saw it and you saw it.

The  Yankees also had a knack for silly base-running mistakes. Carlos Beltran (video), Chase Headley (video), and I believe Stephen Drew were all thrown out wandering off a base because they forgot how many outs there were. And then stuff like this happened a whole bunch of times:

Every club makes dumb base-running mistakes and has runners thrown out at the plate during the season, it’s part of baseball, but it happened to the Yankees more this past season than at any point in the last, I dunno, 10-15 years it seemed. There were lots more base-running blunders in 2014 than we’ve seen in recent years. Lots more.

In terms of stolen bases and advancing on hits, the Yankees were worth +0.4 runs on the bases in 2014 according to FanGraphs, 16th best in baseball. Baseball Prospectus‘ base-running stats are more all-encompassing because they account for stuff like advancing on wild pitches and fly balls, and they say the Yankees were worth -5.9 runs on the bases this year, sixth worst in baseball. That’s not quite a full win — 9.117 runs equaled a win in 2014 — but it’s not nothing either.

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

The elite stolen base total and success rate saved the Yankees from being a total disaster on the bases, which basically means Gardner and Ellsbury saved the Yankees from being a total disaster on the bases. Those two plus Ichiro were the only players who seemed to consistently take the extra base and force the issue — Gardner stopped stealing halfway through the season because of his lingering abdominal strain, Girardi said — because almost everyone else on the team is really slow. Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann … those guys simply can’t run.

We’ve seen this postseason (the Royals) how much of a weapon elite base-running can be but it is not a requirement to win the same way a good pitching staff and a deep lineup is. You do still need to be competent on the bases though, especially when your offensive production is less than stellar overall. I’m sure part of the reason Thomson sent so many runners in seemingly inopportune times was the team’s lack of offense in general — he simply pushed the envelope to try to get runs when he could. When you’re only getting one or two hits with runners in scoring position per game, sometimes you have no choice but to be aggressive on the bases.

For the most part, the Yankees did not have the right personnel to be overly aggressive on the bases this year. Ellsbury, Gardner, and Ichiro could do it but not everyone else, and it cost the team quite a bit. Girardi spoke about improving the base-running next year but there is no way to make guys like Beltran and Teixeira faster through Spring Training drills. It’s just not happening. They can make changes in their few open lineup spots to get speedier players even though options are limited. Instead, the team will have to focus on making smarter base-running decisions in 2015, which in most cases will mean being more conservative.

McCann’s recent homer binge an encouraging sign heading into the offseason

(Andy Marlin/Getty)
(Andy Marlin/Getty)

The Yankees are one loss (or one Royals and Athletics win) away from being eliminated from postseason contention because their offense simply did not produce enough this summer. Specifically, the team’s big money middle of the order bats did not perform as expected. Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Brian McCann have all been major disappointments in 2014, combining to hit .229/.302/.403 in nearly 1,500 plate appearances. The Yankees won’t be playing in October for many reasons and those three are among the biggest.

Unlike Teixeira and Beltran, who have battled nagging wrist and elbow problems down the stretch, McCann is actually finishing the season on a high note. He went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer off the ultra-tough Andrew Miller in last night’s loss, his eighth homer in 21 games this month. His .240/.308/.560 batting line in September is both better than what he did from April through August (.234/.287/.384) and a reminder that 82-plate appearance samples can produce weird slash lines.

McCann is 6-for-23 (.261) with three homers in six games on the homestand but his run of solid production really dates back to the beginning of July. He’s hit .252/.301/.473 with 14 homers in 62 games since the start of July, which is basically last year’s .256/.336/.461 batting line minus a bunch of walks. McCann has a career-low 6.0% walk rate this year (5.3% since July), down from 9.7% last year and 9.1% for his career. His 14.5% strikeout rate is identical to his career rate and he’s swung at 28.3% of the pitches he’s seen out of the zone, in line with his 29.4% career average.

For whatever reason, McCann stopped walking this year. It could be a decline in pitch recognition, it could be unfamiliarity with the new league and new pitchers, he could be pressing, it could be all of that and more. We’ll have a nice long offseason to sit around and wonder why McCann has suddenly stopped accepting free passes this year. The most important thing to me are the results he’s getting when he puts the ball in play. The first three months of the season were miserable, but since July McCann has been recording base hits and hitting for power at the same rate as last year. That’s good! That’s what we want.

My theory is McCann focused on trying to go the other way to beat the shift this season and it fouled him up. I don’t think it’s a coincidence he’s put more balls in play to the opposite field this year (94) than he has in any season since 2008 (100). (His high from 2009-13 was 86 balls in play the other way in 2009.) I know I’m not the only one who thinks this because an unnamed team official said “I wish (McCann)  would pull more” to Ben Lindbergh earlier this year. Here’s a quick look at his pre- and post-July 1st spray charts, courtesy of Baseball Savant:

Left: Before July 1st. Right: Since July 1st.
Left: Before July 1st. Right: Since July 1st.

It … kinda looks like he’s pulled the ball more since July 1st? Maybe. McCann did eliminate his toe tap and make some changes to his batting stance at midseason, but he abandoned those changes a few weeks ago (I’m not sure when exactly, but I noticed it in early-August) and went back to the setup he had been using at the plate previously. It could be that he simply stopped trying to be something he wasn’t, so he went back to what worked with the Braves and sent him to seven All-Star Games. Toe tap, pull the ball, whatever.

Either way, McCann has gotten much better results these last two and a half months whenever he’s put the ball in play. He still isn’t walking for whatever reason and that might be a long-term problem. The power is still there though — his 23 homers are second only to Devin Mesoraco’s 25 among big league catchers — and his average has climbed back into the mid-.250s, where it normal sits. McCann is not going to be a .300-ish hitter. That’s just not who he is at this point of his career.

Of the team’s three disappointing middle of the order bats, I felt McCann was by far the most likely to rebound even before this recent homer binge. He’s the youngest of the trio and also the healthiest, as far as we know. Beltran will turn 38 soon after Opening Day and is scheduled to have elbow surgery in like a week. Teixeira will turn 35 next April and his surgically repaired wrist continues to be a problem, not to mention all his other nagging injuries. It’s tough to look at these two and feel good about their performance in 2015.

The same would have been true of McCann had he not started to turn things around in July and put an exclamation point on his season with all these dingers this month. These last few weeks don’t erase his overall disappointing season, but at least now McCann and Yankees fans can go into the offseason encouraged by his strong finish and feeling better about what he might bring to the table next year as well as the final four years of his contract.