Archive for Offense
There’s no question the Yankees downgraded their offense this winter, specifically in right field and behind the plate. They did upgrade the left-handed half of the DH platoon though, at least in theory. Raul Ibanez‘s super-clutch late-season homers made it easy to forget he hit .202/.281/.359 for nearly 300 plate appearances (292, to be exact) from mid-May through mid-September and was in danger of being left off the postseason roster. We all love Raul, but he had to be replaced.
The replacement the Bombers brought in is long-time Indian Travis Hafner, who signed a one-year deal worth $2M guaranteed earlier this month. Joe Girardi confirmed last week that Hafner will be the team’s primary DH against right-handers and nothing else — “He’s a DH … that’s the plan,” said the skipper flatly — a role for which he is well-suited. The 35-year-old hit .241/.361/.437 (123 wRC+) against righties last season and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) over the last three years, but he’s not completely useless against southpaws either (92 wRC+ since 2010). A lefty specialist in the late innings shouldn’t result in an automatic out like it did with Ibanez.
Brian Cashman used the term “big, hairy monster” this offseason to describe the type of hitters he prefers, and Hafner pretty clearly fits the mold. For one, he’s a pretty big dude — the team’s official site lists him at 6-foot-3 and 240 lbs. — with broad shoulders and scary-looking biceps and forearms. Two, his menacing batting stance …
… looks like something that would say “I’m going to hurt this baseball and kick your dog” to the pitcher if it could talk. It’s mean.
Third, he hits the ball a frickin’ mile. Hafner’s homers have averaged 398.5-ft since 2010 according to Hit Tracker, which is a huge number. Mark Teixeira, who I think we can all agree has big time power and is capable of hitting majestic blasts, has averaged 390.5-ft with his dingers over the last three years. Hafner will get some help from the short porch, but he has a knack for making most parks look small to start with.
Anyway, Hafner is important to the Yankees because he adds some much needed depth to the lineup. He fits in perfectly behind the middle-of-the-order trio of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Teixeira, and in fact the best lineup might have Granderson hitting second and Hafner hitting fifth. That’s a conversation for another time though. The important thing is that Hafner’s on-base ability will help mitigate the loss of Nick Swisher without sacrificing any power production.
Of course, the problem here is that Hafner gets hurt. Like, all the time. He’s visited the DL at least twice in each of the last two seasons and at least once in each of the last five. The ailments range from shoulder surgery (2008) to an oblique strain (2011) to knee surgery (2012) to a bulging disc in his back (2012). Despite his defensive and on-base shortcomings, Ibanez always managed to stay on the field (one DL trip since 2004). That’s why I said the Yankees upgraded the DH spot in theory before, it’s only an upgrade if Hafner avoids the DL.
The Yankees have used a different primary DH in each of the last four seasons, so Hafner will make it five in five years in 2013. He should, at least on a rate base, but the team’s most productive DH since Hideki Matsui in 2009, but that’s only if he stays healthy. Remember, a player doesn’t have to be on the DL for an injury to be a problem either, playing hurt could be more harmful that just sitting out. I’m looking forward to watching Hafner mash some taters this summer, and the Yankees better hope he’s out there more often than not.
The Yankees lost quite a bit of power this offseason thanks to Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Eric Chavez signing elsewhere as free agents. If they’re lucky, Ichiro Suzuki and the catching tandem will combine to replace the 16 homers Chavez hit by himself last season, nevermind the 45 they’re losing in Swisher and Martin. That power is gone, there is no more offseason left to replace it, so the Yankees are going to have to score runs in other ways this summer.
“Well, I anticipate (the offense is) going to be different, because we don’t quite have the homerun hitters we’ve had in the past,” said Joe Girardi last week. “So we’re going to have to find different ways to score runs. I think when you look at our club this year, there’s more speed. You have one outfielder who has the potential of stealing 50-60 bases if he stays healthy the whole year. So I think our offense is going to be different, but I believe that we’re going to score runs. It’s just going to be in a different fashion than it has been in the past.”
As Girardi mentioned, speed on the bases is going to more important this summer. Brett Gardner is returning from his elbow injury and he’s averaged 43 steals per 150 games played throughout his big league career. Ichiro has stolen no fewer than 26 bases in any of his 12 big league seasons and Curtis Granderson has a handful of 20+ steal seasons to his credit. He only stolen ten bases (in 13 attempts) last year for whatever reason, but hopefully he runs a little more in his contract year. Given his ankle injury, I wouldn’t count on Derek Jeter to steal any bases. I’m sure he’ll grab a few, but they’re a bonus. Eduardo Nunez might swipe a few off the bench as well.
MLB and the player’s union eliminated the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move this winter, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter told Jon Morosi that he expects stolen base totals to jump as a result. “The things (that move) keeps from happening were huge … It shuts down the first and third. A right-handed pitcher had to have that move. Otherwise, you’re giving up 90-feet all the time,” said Showalter. The timing works out well for the Yankees, but they’ll still need to actually take advantage of the rule change. That’s easier said than done, but I think a brilliant player like Ichiro will figure it out. Gardner … who knows.
Speed goes beyond stealing bases as well. Going first-to-third on a single, advancing on a wild pitch, all that stuff incrementally improves a team’s chances of scoring. Gardner, Granderson, Ichiro, and Nunez are the obvious candidates to pull that off, Jeter as well when healthy. Otherwise though, the lineup will be full of … wait for it … basecloggers like Mark Teixeira, Travis Hafner, and Kevin Youkilis. Those three are going to have to pick their spots, but the other guys can and will have to push the envelope more than usual this summer.
All this speed stuff sounds great in theory, but the Yankees aren’t in the best division for carefree base-running. Jose Molina and Matt Wieters are both elite when it comes to shutting down the stolen base game, and outfielders like Jose Bautista, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Melky Cabrera all offer cannon arms that limit first-to-thirds, second-to-homes, and other base-running exploits. Shane Victorino on the other hand … don’t worry about him (part two!). It’s going to be very important for the Yankees — particularly first base coach Mick Kelleher and third base coach Robbie Thomson — to know the scouting reports this year. The margin of error is smaller thanks to the power decline.
Back in November, my pal Jackie Moore noted that stolen bases are more valuable right now than they have been in the past because of the overall offensive decline in the game. The Yankees have two premium base-stealing threats in Ichiro and Gardner (assuming he actually says healthy) and a nice secondary threat in Granderson. Nunez and Jeter are wildcards. It takes an awful lot of heady running to accumulate meaningful overall value on the bases — only one player (Mike Trout) was worth more than eight runs on the bases last year — but in real life, in actual game context, a stolen base or a first-to-third in the late innings of a close game is incredibly valuable. The Yankees will need to do more of that this year than they have at any point in the last 20 years or so.
Earlier this offseason we heard that new third baseman Kevin Youkilis was hard at work with hitting coach Kevin Long in an effort to improve his declining offensive production. His overall output dropped down to a 102 wRC+ last season, basically league average, after sitting at 126 wRC+ in 2011 and 159 wRC+ in 2010. Considering he’s going to turn 34 next month, Youkilis was wise to get together with Long and make some adjustments before the season.
Youkilis met up with Jack Curry recently and discussed the changes he’s been working on, specifically setting up with a wider base and lowering his hands. Both are pretty common “old player” adjustments that try to eliminate wasted movement and get the hitter into a hitting position sooner. Youkilis is a dead-pull hitter and as he gets older and his bat slows down, he’ll need to shorten his swing up somewhere to avoid popping up the other way or getting jammed inside. I’m not terribly optimistic, but I’m glad they’re making an effort to improve now rather than midseason.
Late last week the Yankees addressed the left-handed half of what will presumably be a DH platoon, signing Travis Hafner to a one-year contract worth $2M. Pronk’s power and on-base ability will be an upgrade over Raul Ibanez‘s offensive contributions last year as long as he stays on the field. That part is far from a given thanks to his extensive injury history.
Last season the Yankees employed — or attempted to employ before injuries an other factors interfered — an unorthodox DH platoon that consisted of playing Eduardo Nunez in the field against left-handers while either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez served as the DH. I expect them to try a similar arrangement in 2013, but obviously the pieces will change. A-Rod is going to miss at least half the season due to his hip surgery, leaving Jeter and Kevin Youkilis as the infielders most of need of regular rest.
In addition to being 38-years-old, Jeter is coming off a major ankle injury that required surgery. He recently resumed baseball activities and right now it appears as though he’ll be ready in time for Opening Day. Even if he is healthy and ready to go when the season begins, I still expect Joe Girardi to give him regular turns at DH just to ease him back into things following the ankle fracture. Girardi is always conservative when it comes to injuries and it makes complete sense to take it easy on the Cap’n in April. Youkilis is no stranger to the DL and he will need his fair share of DH days, but hopefully not as many as Jeter early in the season.
The question about who replaces Jeter or Youkilis in the field on those DH days is unanswered. Despite the club’s insistence that he is most valuable at shortstop (duh), Brian Cashman recently said they would convert Nunez back into a utility infielder if he makes the team out of Spring Training. The other option is Jayson Nix, who did an admirable job off the bench last summer as the primary utility infielder following Eduardo’s defense-related demotion. David Adams and Corban Joseph could receive consideration for the job, but their inability to play shortstop works against them.
Jason Bartlett is pretty much the only notable infielder left on the free agent market who can legitimately play shortstop, so it sure looks like it will be Nix or Nunez subbing in against lefties while Jeter or Youkilis spends the day at DH. Nix, 30, is steady but unspectacular in the field and below-average but adequate at the plate. The 25-year-old Nunez offers much more exciting tools in his speed, contact ability, and arm strength, but he’s a big liability in the field. He has little trouble getting to balls and offers more range than Nix, but obviously he has major issues finishing the play. If the Yankees want reliability, they’ll take Nix. If they want some upside, they’ll take Nunez. There’s not much point in arguing strongly either way right now.
Assuming the Yankees carry a right-handed hitting outfielder on the bench to platoon with their various left-handed hitting outfielders, they have three bench spots left to fill. One will go to the backup catcher, so it’s really two spots. Given the weak catching tandem, I would really like to see the team carry a good left-handed bat on the bench so Girardi could pinch-hit liberally in the late-innings. Dan Johnson, who can play the corner infield spots in a pinch, could make sense for that role. It’s a job that Eric Chavez would have filled perfectly, but alas. Given how unlikely the team’s catchers (whoever they end up being) are to hit, I think having that dangerous lefty pinch-hitter is more of a necessity than a luxury.
If the Yankees do carry such a player, they’re left with one bench spot for a utility infielder. That guy will have to be able to play shortstop and play it fairly regularly, I’m thinking two or three times a week until Jeter settles in following the surgery. Not only that, but he has to be able to run for inevitable pinch-running situations. I think Nunez is a better bet to do that than Nix, but his defense stinks. At the same time, the more at-bats Nix receives, the more his production is likely to go down. He’s the type of guy who gets exposed with too much playing time. There is a scenario in which the Yankees could carry both on their bench at the start of the season, but they would be short-changing themselves elsewhere.
At some point in the next few weeks, the Yankees will get around to acquiring a regular DH and a right-handed platoon bat to pair with their all-left-handed hitting outfield. They might even acquire a real starting catcher, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The third base and right field holes have been addressed with the signings of Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki, respectively, so the heavy lifting on the position player side of things is already complete.
Youkilis and Suzuki could not be any more different offensively, yet they both bring valuable skills. Youkilis doesn’t have the power he once did, but he’s still crazy patient and will provide tough at-bats each time up. Ichiro is a powerless speed-and- contact machine who puts the ball in play and dares the defense to convert it into an out before he reaches first base. Both guys are offensively valuable in their own way, and they both possess skills that allow them to hit in different batting order spots without looking out of place.
If the season started today, it’s fair to say that Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson would occupy the three-four-five spots in the lineup in whatever order. The catcher presumably bats ninth. Assuming Derek Jeter‘s fractured ankle heals up in time for Opening Day, he’ll bat either first or second no questions asked. That leaves the Yankees with this basic lineup structure…
- Jeter or ?
- Jeter or ?
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Not Russell Martin
One of those ?s will go to Brett Gardner, two others to Youkilis and Ichiro. The other goes to the DH, whoever that ends up being. Ichiro initially batted towards the bottom of the order after coming to New York at midseason, but he eventually hit his way into the two-spot behind Jeter. Youkilis, on the other hand, also hit second with the White Sox after they acquired him from the Red Sox. They both have number two hitter profiles, it just depends on whether your a traditionalist (Ichiro) or saber-slanted (Youkilis).
Before we move any further, let’s quickly look at some platoon data…
|wRC+ vs. LHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. LHP (2010-2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2010-2012)|
First off, ignore Gardner’s splits for this season because he barely played (only 37 plate appearances). Other than that, there are some rather drastic platoon splits here, particularly with Jeter and Youkilis. Those two destroy southpaws but aren’t nearly as productive against righties. Ichiro is worse off against lefties (especially of late) while Gardner shows almost no split. That info should be a consideration when Joe Girardi fills out his lineup card.
Given their mammoth production against southpaws, it seems pretty obvious that Jeter and Youkilis should bat one-two whenever there’s a left-hander on the mound. Assuming the Yankees sign a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with their left-handed outfield bats, that guy could hit sixth while either Gardner or (preferably) Ichiro sits. The DH goes seventh (that could be another platoon situation as well), the not-sitting outfielder eighth. That part is simple, but the lineup against righties isn’t as straight forward.
For one, Jeter’s platoon split is irrelevant. He’s going to bat first or second no matter what because he’s Derek frickin’ Jeter. Given Youkilis’ decline against same-side pitchers in recent years, he’s not the ideal two-hole hitter even though his production against righties is the best of the quartet’s over the last three seasons. Ichiro has the veteran clout over Gardner even though he may be a lesser hitter at the moment. Girardi could go with Jeter at leadoff and either Ichiro or Gardner at two against righties, or he could go Gardner or Ichiro at leadoff with Jeter at two to break up the lefties near the middle of the order.
Although Gardner is not the hitter for average that Ichiro is, he’s far better at getting on-base. He hasn’t had a sub-.345 OBP since his partial rookie season in 2008 while Ichiro hasn’t been above .310 (!) since 2010. The on-base split is even more drastic when we look at just right-handed pitchers, and you want men on-base for Cano & Co. It’s also worth noting that Gardner’s contact rate (90.6%) is actually better than Ichiro’s (90.1%) during the PitchFX era (2007-present). His strikeouts tend to be looking, as you know. Considering that Cano is likely to hit third and Girardi loves to split up his lefties, Gardner is the better choice to hit leadoff against righties even if he’s not the future Hall of Famer on a pricey two-year contract.
Everything kinda falls into place after that. Youkilis can hit sixth, the DH seventh, Ichiro eighth, and then the catcher ninth. Flipping Youkilis with DH is possible as well, though I’m working under the assumption that Granderson will bat fifth and the DH against righties will be a left-handed hitter. Gotta split dem lefties. You get speed and contact at the top and bottom of the batting order with the thunder in the middle against right-handers, but against lefties the thunder starts right at the top with this arrangement. Lineup things would change quite a bit if the ankle prevents Jeter from being ready for Opening Day, but that’s a not a problem worth worrying about yet.
The contract is still pending a physical (hardly a slam dunk given his recent back problems), but the Yankees agreed to sign Kevin Youkilis to a one-year contract worth $12M yesterday. The deal shores up the third base position in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s new hip injury, and it also gives the team some lineup balance after losing the right-handed hitting Russell Martin and switch-hitting Nick Swisher. Youkilis has been trending in the wrong direction the last few years, but he is just one year removed from a 126 wRC+ season.
As a right-handed batter, there’s no doubt Youkilis benefited from playing in Fenway Park all those years. In fact, during his peak years from 2008-2010 (.308/.404/.560, 150 wRC+), no hitter was more productive when it came to pulling the ball. Youkilis hit .478/.476/.959 (280 wRC+) (!!!) when he pulled the ball during that three-year stretch, thanks in very large part to the Green Monster. As a right-handed batter, all he had to do was take aim for that sucker and watch routine fly balls go for doubles.
Youkilis won’t have that luxury in Yankee Stadium. It’s a good park for left-handed hitters thanks to the short right field porch, but left field and left-center field in particular are a different story. The park is almost exact league average when it comes to surrendering doubles and homers to right-handers according to the park factors at StatCorner, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means righties don’t get the same ballpark boost as lefties. Youkilis remains a pull hitter, with 47% of his balls in play going to left field this season and only 22% going the other way to right. Here’s his spray chart for the season (courtesy of Texas Leaguers)…
Most of his hits came to the pull side, but Youkilis did hit for some power to right field (.239 ISO) and that’s what you’re looking for in Yankee Stadium. His natural stroke isn’t to the opposite field like say, Martin’s and Derek Jeter‘s, but there’s enough opposite field ability to allow Youkilis to take advantage of the short porch on occasion. He’s a pull hitter, but not an Andruw Jones-esque dead pull hitter who couldn’t go the other way if his life depended on it.
As friend of RAB Patrick Sullivan pointed out yesterday, Youkilis hit just .158/.248/.237 (!) in his 242 plate appearances outside of hitter-friendly Fenway Park and U.S. Cellular Field last season. It’s not a huge sample but it is definitely a little worrisome to see a road performance that poor, especially when a guy is outside of two parks tailor-made for his swing and approach. There’s some evidence that Youkilis can take advantage of the short right field porch, but for the most part Yankee Stadium will not help his offense much this season. It’s not an ideal fit, but the options were limited.
Yesterday we looked at the five longest homers hit by the Yankees this season, and today I figured I’d flip the script and have a little fun by looking at the five shortest homers. The right field porch in Yankee Stadium is known to give up a cheap homerun or two during the summer, and in fact this Chris Iannetta shot off Phil Hughes was the second shortest outside-the-park homer in all of baseball this season. It checked in at only 324 feet and would have gone foul in most parks. This B.J. Upton dinger off Ervin Santana was MLB’s shortest outside-the-park homer, if you’re curious.
So once again, with another big assist from Hit Tracker, here are the five shortest homers hit by the Yankees this season. All five were hit in Yankee Stadium, so if you’re looking for the shortest non-Bronx homer this year, it’s this Raul Ibanez tater off Chris Young across town in CitiField. That one checked in at just 344 feet.
July 16th, August 17th & September 16th: The Russell Martin Three-Way Tie
During his two years in pinstripes, 21 of Martin’s 39 homers have come at Yankee Stadium. I thought it would be more, but that’s a pretty even split. Anyway, I guess Russ likes something about the middle of the month late in the season given the timing of these homers. The first, this shot against Henderson Alvarez, was a leadoff dinger to open the game’s scoring. The second, this homer against Franklin Morales, was part of a set of back-to-back dingers with Curtis Granderson. The third, this shot against Matt Moore, gave the Yankee some much-needed breathing room in an important game. All three homers traveled the same distance and are tied for the team’s fourth, fifth, and sixth shortest homer of 2012. Distance(s): 340 feet
May 12th: Jayson Nix vs. Hector Noesi (video)
I thought Nix was originally recalled when Eduardo Nunez was demoted to Triple-A in mid-May, but it turns out he actually came up about a week earlier when Eric Chavez was placed on the 7-day concussion DL. Nunez was sent down when Chavez was activated and Nix stuck around. His first homer in pinstripes came against a former Yankee, off a flat 92 mph fastball right over the outer third in a 1-1 count. Noesi was terrible this year (5.82 ERA and 5.53 FIP) so a bad pitch from him wasn’t unexpected, but Nix still needed some help from the short porch to get it over the wall. Of his four homers this season, three were right field shots in the Bronx. The fourth cleared the Green Monster. Distance: 339 feet
June 25th: Nick Swisher vs. Josh Tomlin (video)
We have a twist! Although this homer came at Yankee Stadium, it was not hit out to right. Instead, Swisher reached out and poked Tomlin’s two-strike changeup on the outer half out to left field and managed to keep the ball just inside the foul pole for a solo shot. Robinson Cano had just hammered a solo shot to right off Tomlin one batter prior, so he and Swisher went foul pole-to-foul pole with their set of back-to-back dingers off the Indians’ right-hander. Distance: 339 feet
August 3rd: Eric Chavez vs. Kevin Millwood (video)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a cheaper Yankee Stadium homer than this one. Chavez gets credit for some serious hang-time — it was a moonshot in the sense that the ball went really, really high — but the ball landed on the top of the wall in right field and bounced over for the two-run shot. Millwood hung a slider in an 0-1 count and Chavez did what he was supposed to do, but the ballpark definitely helped him out with this long ball. It not only was the shortest homer of the Yankees’ season, it was the eighth-shortest outside-the-park homer in MLB in 2012. Distance: 334 feet
The Yankees weren’t dubbed the Bronx Bombers all those years ago for no good reason. They led baseball in homers this season and not by a small margin either. Their 245 total dingers set a new franchise record and were 31 more than the second place Orioles. Of those 245 homers, a league-leading 138 came in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. Their 107 road homers also led baseball, so they were an equal-opportunity homer hitting team in 2012.
The longest homer hit by any player this summer was a bit of a perfect storm, featuring Giancarlo Stanton and Coors Field. Josh Roenicke hung a slider and the poor ball nearly cleared the bleachers in straight-away center field, 494 feet away from home plate. Here’s video. The longest non-Coors Field homer of the season was this blast by Edwin Encarnacion, which traveled 488 feet. No one on the Yankees hit a ball close to that far this season, but what they lacked in distance they made up for in volume. With a big assist from Hit Tracker, here are the team’s five longest homers of the season.
August 13th: Eric Chavez vs. Ryan Dempster (video)
Chavez’s first season with the Yankees was successful, but it also featured a lot of singles. He only went deep twice all year, but in 2012 he rediscovered his power stroke and hit 16 homers, his most since 2006. The Yankees had roughed up Dempster earlier in this game but the right-hander, who had just been acquired at the deadline, stuck around because he settled down. His first pitch of the sixth inning was a flat, ugly slider that just spun out over the plate and didn’t break an inch. Total hanger. Chavez did what he was supposed to do and clobbered the pitch, hitting it over the home bullpen and into the right-center field bleachers in Yankee Stadium. We haven’t seen many balls hit there over the years. Distance: 441 feet
October 1st: Robinson Cano vs. Clay Buchholz (video)
The Yankees annihilated the Red Sox in the final series of the season, starting with Buchholz in the opener. The first pitch of the second inning was supposed to be a little two-seamer down-and-away to New York’s cleanup hitter, but Buchholz left the 91 mph pitch up and right over the heart of the plate. Cano jumped all over it and lined the pitch to center field, clanking it off the windows of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar for a solo homer to open the scoring in the game. You can count on one hand the number of players to hit a ball off the windows of the restaurant at the New Stadium. The homer was his 31st of the season, establishing a new career-high that he later extended later in the series. Distance: 446 feet
August 11th: Casey McGehee vs. Aaron Laffey (video)
McGehee only hit one homer with the Yankees after being acquired from the Pirates at the traded deadline, but boy did he make it count. New York held a slim 1-0 fourth inning lead over the Blue Jays when Laffey, a former Yankee, missed inside with an 89 mph fastball in a 1-1 count. The pitch leaked out over the plate and McGehee clobbered it, hitting a three-run homer into the second deck in straight away center field at the Rogers Centre. Most of his power is the other way to right, but an 89 mph heater out over the plate is begging to be turned on. Rajai Davis would rob McGehee of his second homer as a Yankee in the same series, but this one was hit far enough that no one was bringing it back. Distance: 449 feet
May 27th: Andruw Jones vs. Tommy Milone (video)
I’ve said it numerous times before, but I believe that Jones had the most raw power on the Yankees these last two years. He homers in batting practice were just incredible, both in terms of ball-off-the-bat speed and pure distance. No one on the team could match him. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that Andruw hit the second longest homer of the season then, a solo homer off the facing of the upper deck in left-center field in Oakland. It came on Milone’s first pitch — an 86 mph fastball on the outer third — of the second inning. There’s no mystery or great story to be told here. Milone caught way too much of the plate with one of his fringy fastballs and Jones put it into orbit. Distance: 454 feet
June 3rd: Alex Rodriguez vs. Justin Verlander (video)
Every once in a while we get a glimpse of the old A-Rod, the guy who could turn on any fastball and drive it out of any part of any park. We don’t see much of that guy these days, but he popped up for a brief instant in a series finale against the Tigers in Detroit in early-June. The Yankees had worked over Verlander pretty well in the first, and they led two-zip when Alex stepped to the plate with one out in the third. The reigning Cy Young and MVP award winner showed the three-time MVP no respect, busting him inside with a first pitch fastball before missing away with a second pitch fastball to fall behind in the count 2-0. After a get-me-over heater for strike one and another fastball inside, A-Rod leaned into a 96 mph down-and-in heater in the 3-1 count for a mammoth solo homer. The ball hit the brick wall beyond the fence in left-center, a no-doubt blast that likely would have landed in the left field bleachers in Yankee Stadium. This game will be remembered for Phil Hughes throwing a complete game in the win, but A-Rod’s dinger was notable in its own way. Distance: 455 feet
* * *
It’s kind interesting that three of the club’s five longest homers came on the very first pitch of the inning (one slider, two fastballs), which is probably a coincidence more than anything. They were all mistake pitches intended to be down in the zone that hung up and said “hit me!” I was also surprised that Raul Ibanez didn’t crack the top five since it seemed like every homer he hit was a no-doubt bomb. Heck, he didn’t even crack the top ten. His longest blast of the year was this 430-ft shot off Hisashi Iwakuma on August 5th. It was the club’s 17th longest homer of the season. Surprising.
We’ve already looked at the five biggest hits as well as the five biggest outs of the season, so now let’s look at the five biggest blown scoring opportunities of the Yankees’ 2012 campaign. We’re going to again use WPA just because it’s simple enough, but RISPFAIL is a strange phenomenon. It usually applies to the team (or the lineup, anyway) as a whole rather than one specific player, but the definition is ambiguous. It’s like “clutch,” we only use it when we want to.
New York’s biggest single-game RISPFAIL this year (nine-inning games only) came against the Tigers on April 29th, when they left 15 (!) men on-base. They went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and guess what? They still won the game because Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones hit solo homers, Max Scherzer walked in a run, Alex Rodriguez had a run-scoring ground out, and Robinson Cano had a sacrifice fly. The Yankees left at least ten men on-base 24 times this year and they went 14-10 in those games. When you lead the league in OBP like the Bombers did this year, you’re going to leave a ton of men on-base. It’s inevitable.
Anyway, let’s look at individual instances of RISPFAIL this year, or more accurately the plate appearances with the most negative WPA. These are the at-bats from the offense that most hurt New York’s chances of winning the game. I suppose the best way to identify the biggest blown scoring opportunities would be to compared expected runs (based on the game situation) to the actual runs (zero), but that would be quite labor-intensive. I think we all know that the Yankees turned several bases loaded, no outs situations into zero runs this year. It happens to every team.
May 19th: Curtis Granderson vs. Jose Arredondo (WPA graph & box score) (video)
The Yankees and Reds went back and forth all afternoon long, with Cincinnati taking a 2-0 lead before New York took a 3-2 before Cincinnati took a 6-3 lead. Aroldis Chapman, still just Sean Marshall’s setup man on the time, blew the Yankees away in the eighth inning before Marshall came in for the save in the ninth. Raul Ibanez greeted him with a leadoff double — one of his two extra-base hits against lefties during the regular season — and Nick Swisher following a run-scoring single. Marshall struck out Russell Martin but allowed a single to Andruw Jones, putting men on the corners. Jayson Nix plated Swisher with a single, and a Derek Jeter ground out forced Nix out at second after Arredondo took over on the mound.. There were runners on the corners with two outs and the tying run was at third, but Curtis Granderson grounded out to first to end the game after working the count full. The Yankees were 90-feet away from completing the three-run comeback. WPA: -0.24
July 30th: Russell Martin vs. Jim Johnson (WPA graph & box score) (video)
The Yankees had lost two in a row and seven of their last ten games, so they were reeling when Baltimore came to town for three games in late-July. Miguel Gonzalez stymied the home team for six innings before letting things get out of hand in the seventh, but the Orioles were still able to hand their closer a one-run lead in the ninth. Swisher opened the inning with a leadoff ground rule double off Johnson and was immediately lifted for a pinch-runner (Ramiro Pena). Ibanez struck out for the first out, Eric Chavez drew a walk to put men on first and second, then Ichiro Suzuki grounded out to third (force out made at second). He stole second to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Martin worked the count even at 2-2, but Johnson got him with a down-and-in sinker for the swing and miss to end the game. Again, 90-feet from completing the comeback. WPA: -0.24
June 20th: Alex Rodriguez vs. Chad Durbin (WPA graph & box score)
Unlike the other four at-bats in this post, this one didn’t happen in the ninth inning. The Braves were visiting Yankee Stadium and jumped out to a 6-4 lead thanks to four homers off Phil Hughes. Tommy Hanson gave up four of his own, so the ball was really flying that day. Durbin took over with a two-run lead in the seventh, and he immediately walked Martin to put the pressure on. Nix flew out to center for the first out but Jeter drew another walk to put the tying run on-base. Granderson made it a one-run game with a single to right, putting men on the corners with one out for A-Rod. Durbin jumped ahead in the count 0-1, but Rodriguez chopped the second pitch of the at-bat to short for a routine inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. Atlanta blew things open late so the final score was lopsided, but that was a huge blown opportunity that could have changed the game. MLB.com doesn’t have video of the double play, but there’s a .gif. WPA: -0.25
May 3rd: Mark Teixeira vs. Jonathan Broxton (WPA graph & box score) (video)
This was an especially rough day for the Yankees, who lost Mariano Rivera to what would prove to be a season-ending knee injury a few hours before first pitch. The game still had to be played though, and they were playing catch-up with the Royals all night. Jonathan Broxton inherited a one-run lead in the ninth and surrendered a leadoff single to Jeter in an 0-2 count. Granderson followed with a six-pitch walk and the comeback was on … at least temporarily. Teixeira hit a sharp ground ball up the middle that Chris Getz nabbed with a diving stop before flipping over to second to start the 4-6-3 double play. It was a really great turn on the part of Kansas City, no doubt about that. A-Rod grounded out to third one batter later to end the game, another great defensive play on the Royals’ part. Here’s video. This wasn’t so much RISPFAIL as it was flat out bad luck, but it still stung. Considering Rivera’s injury, it stung even more than usual. WPA: -0.31
September 8th: Teixeira vs. Jerry Meals (WPA graph & box score) (video)
Here’s another one that doesn’t really feel like RISPFAIL, it feels more like the game was ripped out of New York’s hands by the first base ump. The Yankees and Orioles played a tight late-season game with playoff implications, and the O’s carried a two-run lead into the ninth inning. Ichiro, Chavez, and Jeter led off the inning with back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases with no outs, putting the Yankees in prime scoring position. Swisher grounded out weakly to third base, allowing a run to score but also cutting down the man on second. With men on the corners and one out, Teixeira fought Johnson for six pitches before hitting a weak ground ball to second. Robert Andino and J.J. Hardy made the turn at second but Tex slid and beat the return throw to first, avoiding the double play and allowing the tying run to score from third … except he didn’t. At least not according to Meals, who ruled him out at first. Replays showed that the call was incorrect and frankly it wasn’t all that close either, but it stood and the Yankees lost the game. Thankfully it didn’t change anything in the final standings, though it did make life a little more stressful down the stretch. Pretty ridiculous that the team’s biggest RISPFAIL of the season was nothing more than MealsFAIL. Maybe the Yankees go on to lose in extra innings anyway, but that game felt like it was stolen. WPA: -0.38
The World Series starts Wednesday night and the Yankees won’t be playing in it because of their complete inability to generate offense against the Tigers in the ALCS. They scored six runs in the four-game sweep, and four of those runs came in two-thirds of an inning against Jose Valverde. It’s still fresh in everyone’s mind so I don’t need to remind you of how ugly the series was.
The Cardinals also won’t be playing in this year’s World Series because they too just stopped hitting. They blew a three games to one lead against the Giants in the NLCS and were outscored a whopping 20-1 in the final three games. That’s despite the presence of Carlos Beltran, a .363/.470/.782 career hitter in 151 playoff plate appearances and the proud owner of the highest postseason OPS in baseball history. It’s hard to believe that their offense just evaporated.
I bring this up because the Yankees and Cardinals have more in common than their LCS exits. They each led their league in offense during the regular season (113 wRC+ for NYY and 107 for STL), but they did it in very different ways. The Yankees hit .265/.337/.453 as a team and led the world in homers (245) while the Cardinals hit .271/.338/.421 with just 159 homers. The big difference is that New York hit .262/.345/.449 with men on base while St. Louis hit .272/.345/.435 in those situations. Same OBP but less power production for the Cardinals (due in part to the pitcher hitting), but they hit for a higher average in those spots (.272 was the seventh highest team average with men on base this year). Their offense was built more on sustained rallies and getting so-called “clutch hits” whereas the Yankees just bludgeoned their opponents.
Anyway, a lot of people attribute New York’s postseason failure to their inability to score runs without the long ball and want to see them embrace a more contact-oriented approach. I don’t necessarily buy the former but I am on board with the latter to a certain extent. However, the Cardinals had a contract-oriented approach and their offense still disappeared for a stretch in the playoffs. The point I’m trying to make is that there is no magic formula for a winning offense, there’s no right or wrong. You can do everything right and hit all the homers and drive in every runner in scoring position … and it still might not matter because anything can happen in a short series. It’s not luck, it’s just the day-to-day randomness of baseball and life in general.