Archive for Offense
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Let’s start with the obvious: the Yankees have struggled to score runs all season. This recent five-game skid is more of a 2014 skid than a five-game skid, though things have been especially bad since Friday. The Yankees have scored six runs total in their last five games, or one fewer run than the Angels scored in 3.2 innings against Hisashi Iwakuma last night. Iwakuma finished third in the AL Cy Young voting last year. In related news, the Halos became the first team to clinch a postseason spot last night.
The Yankees scored those six runs on four solo homers (Chris Young, Martin Prado, two by Brian McCann), a single by September call-up and minor league journeyman Antoan Richardson, and a steal of home against a rookie catcher. Richardson stole second and when Caleb Joseph tried to throw him out, Young trotted home. That’s all the offense since Friday. The Yankees were shut out twice, scored one run once, scored two runs once, and broke out for three runs on Saturday.
According to Katie Sharp, the six runs are the fewest the Yankees have scored in a five-game span since late-June/early-July way back in 1997. They’ve hit .175/.239/.271 as a team during these five games, which is so bad that I’m not even upset. I’m amazed more than anything. As I’m sure you know after watching these last few days, it takes a total team effort to be this feeble offensively in five straight games. Here’s a real quick breakdown of the team-wide offensive malaise:
- Jacoby Ellsbury: 2-for-21 (.095) with no walks or extra-base hits
- Martin Prado: 7-for-18 (.389) with a homer and no walks
- Brian McCann: 3-for-16 (.188) with two homers and two walks (.278 OBP)
- Chris Young: 4-for-15 (.267) with two doubles, a homer, and two walks (.353 OBP)
- Mark Teixeira: 2-for-14 (.143) with no extra-base hits and three walks (.294 OBP)
- Brett Gardner: 1-for-14 (.071) with two walks (.188 OBP)
- Derek Jeter: 0-for-11 with one walk (.083 OBP)
- Ichiro Suzuki and John Ryan Murphy: both 1-for-7 (.143) with a walk (.250 OBP)
- Everyone Else: 6-for-30 (.200) with no extra-base hits and one walk (.226 OBP)
Prado is playing on one good hamstring and he’s still the best hitter on the team. Naturally, his season is now over due to an emergency appendectomy. Young has had a nice run of late and I’m inclined to give McCann a pass for these last five games because his two solo homers account for one-third of the team’s total offense. The rest of them? Terrible. It’s not even a bad luck thing. Most of their at-bats are bad and their contact is weak. Subjectively, of course.
“As well as we’ve pitched, we didn’t need to be great (offensively). We just needed to be good. And we haven’t been,” said Gardner to Chad Jennings following last night’s loss. “You feel like you’re due at some point. I don’t feel like it’s been a couple of games. I feel like it’s been pretty much all season. We’ve had flashes of being pretty good, but for the most part, we’ve just struggled to get guys across the plate … It’s just really frustrating. Guys are working really hard. Guys are trying. Guys are putting in the effort. For one reason or another, we’re just not getting it done.”
The offense has gone stagnant and the Yankees were officially eliminated from the AL East race last night. They can be eliminated from the wildcard race as soon as Friday. This past weekend was their last gasp, their final opportunity make a run and start an improbable comeback, but instead the offense fell flat on its collective face. At a time when the Yankees needed their lineup to be at its absolute best, they responded with their lowest scoring five-game stretch in 17 years.
On Tuesday night, I joked the Yankees seem to make at least one terrible base-running play per homestand this year. That came after Martin Prado got caught in a rundown between first and second on what should have been a double. You remember the play. Carlos Beltran got a bad read from second base and only advanced to third, forcing Brian McCann to stop at second. Prado had his head down and was running hard on what should have been a two-bagger over the left fielder’s head. Blah.
The stats says the Yankees are a slightly below-average base-running team this year — FanGraphs puts them at -1.3 runs on the bases, 18th out of 30 teams — and although I said they seem to make a terrible base-running play once per homestand, that is only in my estimation. They managed to one-up Tuesday night’s gaffe with a dandy of a 2-6-3-4-5-3 double play in the first inning of last night’s game. To the action footage:
On top of that, Beltran got thrown out at the plate to end the seventh inning. It was an awful send by third base coach Robbie Thomson and Beltran was out by a mile. We’ve seen that happen more than a few teams this year as well.
I don’t even get upset about this stuff anymore. Maybe I still would if the Yankees were closer to the wildcard spot, but right now? Whatever. Part of me is annoyed by it and part of me is legitimately curious to see what they’re going to do next. Base-running mistakes have a way of making you laugh. We’ve seen plenty of these base-running blunders all year and I’m sure we’ll see another two or three before the season lets out.
After hilarious base-running mistakes in back-to-back games, I wanted to see where exactly the Yankees sit in outs on the bases this season. Surely near the top, right? Well, no. Baseball Reference says they’ve made only 40 outs on the bases in 2014, the eighth fewest in baseball. The Angels have made the most (66), the Giants the fewest (27). The Yankees are tied with nine other teams with seven outs at first base, the ninth most in baseball. Their eight outs at second base are tied for the third fewest and their five outs at third are tied for the second fewest, but their 20 outs at the plate are the third most.
As for the individual culprits, Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury lead the team with six and seven outs on the bases, respectively. That makes sense though, right? They’re the two speedsters who push the envelope, and sometimes they’re going to get thrown out. That’s life. Derek Jeter has made five outs on the bases and then there’s a bunch of guys with one or two. Kelly Johnson managed to get thrown out on the bases four times with New York, including three times at home.
“How many times have you seen it happen this year, where we’ve run ourselves out of an inning?” said hitting coach Kevin Long to Bryan Hoch prior to yesterday’s game/base-running mistakes. The Yankees’ base-running mistakes have resulted in -1.25 WPA this year, so they have essentially cost themselves a win with these base-running goofs. Sometimes they don’t matter all that much, but sometimes they really hurt.
I’m not sure there’s anything more simultaneously funny and annoying as a good TOOTBLAN. The Yankees have struggled offensively all year and at times it’s been obvious they were pressing at the plate. Just about the entire team. That can carry over onto the bases and players will, as they say, try to do too much. They get overly aggressive and make bad mistakes, like we’ve seen the last two nights. Sometimes you get thrown out on the bases because the defense makes a perfect play, it happens. The 2014 Yankees have shown they have a knack for hilariously bad base-running mistakes though. That alone hasn’t sunk their season, but it’s cost them.
Coming into 2014, one of the bigger reasons to believe the Yankees would have an improved offense was the return of Mark Teixeira after he missed all of last season. Is he the same player he was a few years ago? Of course not. But even after wrist surgery it was a pretty good bet he would outproduce Lyle Overbay, and he has (106 vs. 86 wRC+). Overbay did an admirable job last summer, but the lack of first base production was part of the team’s downfall.
Teixeira changed his batting stance in Spring Training at the behest of hitting coach Kevin Long, who reportedly noticed his first baseman had picked up on some bad habits coming off surgery. Remember, Teixeira wasn’t 100% recovered at the start of camp, he was still easing back into things and did not play games until early-March. As I wrote in this May mailbag, Teixeira made the same adjustments as Curtis Granderson back in 2010: he closed his stance, stood more upright, lowered his hands, and used a two-handed follow-through.
The changes seemed to work too. Teixeira went deep five times in his first 15 games of the season and nine times in his first 27 games, good for a .271/.375/.573 (164 wRC+) batting line in 112 plate appearances. Obviously we all knew he wasn’t going to hit quite that well all season, but proving he was still able to hit for power so soon after wrist surgery was important. There was some hope he would be a capable middle of the order power hitter for a team in need of one, even after signing Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
The production hasn’t lasted, of course. Teixeira has hit .204/.305/.358 (85 wRC+) with only eleven homers in 318 plate appearances across his last 76 games. There have been some minor injuries — wrist inflammation, lat strain, finger contusion — mixed in during that time, but nothing that required a DL stint or even forced him to miss more than a week. Furthermore, Teixeira’s production has declined with each passing month:
Teixeira was able to continue hitting for power through the month of June before losing 58 points of ISO in July and another 58 points of ISO in August. His homer totals dropped accordingly. Combine that with fewer base hits in general — his walk rate has remained strong all season, with the normal peaks and valleys — and you suddenly get one really unproductive cleanup hitter in July and especially August.
So now the question becomes why has Teixeira’s performance fallen off these last few months? That’s tough to answer, especially because it may simply be “he’s not healthy.” The guy is coming off wrist surgery, after all, plus he’s shown a knack for all sorts of other bumps and bruises. Who knows what Teixeira might be hiding or trying to play through, or how the combination of injuries is starting to take its toll. We can’t know from where we sit.
As for some numbers, the amazing Baseball Savant says Teixeira’s average distance on balls hit in the air was actually at its highest in July, and August was higher than both April and May. Month-by-month pitch selection data for hitters usually doesn’t tell you anything useful other than at the extremes, and it isn’t particularly enlightening with Teixeira:
|Batted Ball Distance (ft)
Basically all this tells us is Teixeira is still hitting the ball has far as he has all year and pitchers have not substantially changed the way they’re pitching him. Those month-by-month changes in pitch selection are just the natural ebbs and flow of baseball. I’m not even going to bother posting the spray charts because they’re one big garbled mess that look no different from month to month because he’s a switch-hitter.
Figuring out the cause of Teixeira’s power outage is little more than guesswork. Maybe he just stinks at baseball now. That’s always possible. The wrist could be bothering him, Long could have given him bad guidance — Teixeira is still using his “new” stance, for what it’s worth — maybe Foul Territory is taking up too much of his time, or maybe it’s something else entirely. Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes. What we do know for sure is that Teixeira’s production has dropped considerably as the season has progressed.
For all the recent talk about dropping Derek Jeter in the lineup, Teixeira doesn’t belong in the cleanup spot either. Ideally he’d bat seventh or eighth at this point, he’s been that bad these last few weeks, but you can’t bat everyone in the lineup seventh or eighth. The Yankees have a whole lotta number seven and eight hitters on the roster right now. Teixeira started the season very well and I was thrilled he was that productive so soon after wrist surgery. The production didn’t last though, and his fade is a reason why the Yankees are so far out of a postseason spot.
Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello was pretty sharp Tuesday night, and as a result the Yankees failed to draw a walk for the tenth time this season. That is still well short of last year’s 17 walk-less games, but it matches 2012’s total and is way more than they had in any year from 2002-11 — they averaged 4.6 walk-less games per year during that stretch and never had more than seven. Last night was their fourth walk-less game in August alone.
Before the season, I expected the offense to improve on last season’s subpar walk rate because of their offseason additions. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann in particular came into the season with strong career walk rates. Instead, the Yankees have essentially the same walk rate this year (7.6%) as last year (7.7%). Their unintentional walk rate (7.3%) is more or less the same as well (7.2%). The AL average this year is a 7.8% walk rate.
The Yankees as a team have their lowest walk rate since the dismal 1990 club that lost 95 games, averaged 3.72 runs per game, and walked in only 7.1% of their plate appearances. Offensive levels have changed over the years though, so a 7.6% walk rate in 2014 is not the same thing as a 7.6% walk rate in 2000 or 1990. Here’s how the Yankees’ walk rate has compared to the AL average since that 1990 season. This works the same way as ERA+ — a 100 BB+ is average and the bigger the number, the better.
The Yankees have essentially the same walk rate as last year but they’re slightly better relative to the league average. They’re still below average overall though. It’s hard not to notice the club missed the postseason the last two times they posted a below league average walk rate and are on pace to do the same this year, but this is one of those “correlation does not equal causation” situations. A below average walk rate doesn’t automatically equal no postseason for this or any team.
Fewer walks does mean fewer runs though. That is obvious and an indisputable fact. It is harder to get a base hit right now than at any point in the last 42 years — the AL is hitting .254 overall this year, the lowest league batting average since 1972 (.239!), the year before the DH was implemented — because of things like infield shifts, specialized relievers, more hard-throwers, in-depth scouting reports, and an acceptance of strikeouts as a trade off for power. All of that and more makes picking up a base hit difficult in this age.
Walks are another way to create offense — a walk is almost never as a good as a hit and no hitter goes to the plate looking for a walk, they just take them when they come — and the Yankees excelled at drawing them for the better part of the last two decades. These last two years have been much different, though at least last season we could fall back on the injury excuse. Missing Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson for a chunk of the 2013 season in particular took a big bite out of the team’s walk total. This year? No such excuse.
Both Beltran (7.7%) and McCann (6.3%) are walking at a rate far below their career averages (10.3% and 9.2%, respectively), so they’re part of the problem. Neither guy as done much damage when swinging the bat in general and they’ve compounded the problem by drawing fewer walks as well. In fact, let’s take a quick look at the career and 2014 walk rates of the lineup regulars (the trade deadline guys just got here):
|2014 BB%||Career BB%||Diff.|
Beltran, Jeter, and McCann have all seen their walk rates take a big tumble this year, compared to their career averages. Only Ellsbury has seen a substantial improvement. Gardner’s drop in walk rate is at least offset by his selectively aggressive approach and newfound power skills. The team is drawing fewer weeks this year and it’s easy see where the drop is coming from.
The Yankees are struggling to score runs for a lot of reasons this year, particularly because of the disappointing Beltran and McCann. Ellsbury’s been very good but he isn’t an impact hitter, last night’s two homers notwithstanding. His value comes from his all-around game, not offensive dominance. Teixeira’s doing exactly what he’s done the last few years, Jeter and Ichiro are on the wrong side of 40, and Gardner has been the lone offensive surprise. The Yankees have lost the two things that make them the Yankees, that trademark power and patience.
Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear the Yankees needed to upgrade their lineup and their rotation. The pitching help never came, at least not in the form of something other than a scrap heap pickup, but the team did add three position players at the deadline. Chase Headley was acquired to shore up third base, and, about a week later, Stephen Drew and Martin Prado were brought in for second base and right field, respectively.
The Yankees were getting close to nothing from those three positions before the trade deadline. The team’s third basemen hit .224/.321/.301 from June 1st through the Headley trade while their second basemen and right fielders hit .204/.259/.319 and .228/.254/.290, respectively, in June and July before the Drew and Prado trades. That’s pretty awful. The Yankees had (at least) three dead spots in the lineup for a two-month stretch and something had to be done. That couldn’t continue.
Headley, Drew, and Prado stepped right into the lineup and immediately improved the team’s defense even though the latter two were playing out of position. Surely the focus was on upgrading the offense, but improve the defense was also important and the Yankees accomplished that with the trades. The offensive production has not been there yet, at least not from Drew and Prado. Headley is hitting .250/.354/.382 (110 wRC+) in pinstripes and it would be unfair to lump him in with the other two. He hasn’t been great with the bat but he hasn’t been part of the problem either.
Drew and Prado, however, has been totally unproductive in their limited time with the Yankees. Drew is hitting .154/.195/.231 (12 wRC+) in 41 plate appearances so far, and two of his three hits (!) came in his first two games with the team. He’s gone 1-for-28 with no walks since. He has consistently had long at-bats (4.12 pitches per plate appearance) but, as we saw with Brian Roberts, that is close to meaningless if those at-bats don’t turn into times on base. He’s been very good defensively in my opinion, especially since he’s playing a new position, but that hasn’t been enough.
Prado, on the other hand, is hitting .189/.250/.297 (51 wRC+) with a homer in 40 plate appearances with the Yankees. He took David Price deep a week ago and has three singles with no walks since. Prado wasn’t hitting much with the Diamondbacks before the trade (89 wRC+), though he was trending in the right direction, with a .282/.326/.411 (103 wRC+) batting line in the two months prior to coming to New York, but he has not sustained that success in pinstripes. I don’t think anyone was expecting peak Prado, when he was consistently a 117+ wRC+ player with the Braves, but I think we were all hoping for something better than this.
Now, both Drew and Prado are playing new positions and that could be hurting their offense. Drew didn’t have a proper Spring Training and Prado is also changing leagues. If nothing else, those are reasons to hope they will improve going forward. Not hitting since joining the Yankees doesn’t mean they will not hit forever, but these last eleven games or so happened. They’re in the books and neither player has helped the struggling offense. The Bombers averaged 4.01 runs per game before the trade deadline and they’re at 3.82 runs per game since. Obviously facing Corey Kluber and Detroit’s staff last week will skew the numbers a bit, but Bud Norris? Carlos Carrasco? Anthony Ranaudo?
The Yankees lack a bonafide number three or four hitter in the wake of Robinson Cano‘s departure and that type of hitter simply wasn’t available at the trade deadline. The team was going to have to get by with smaller upgrades to add depth to the lineup, and the Drew and Prado additions theoretically did that. They have yet to hit though, failing to meet the low “better than Roberts and Ichiro” standard this far. The Yankees don’t have the pitching or the impact hitters at other positions to continue carrying multiple dead spots in the lineup. Drew and Prado have to start producing for the team to have any hope of climbing back into the postseason race.