The Yankees have the best record in baseball right now but you wouldn’t know it based on their performance with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Bombers are hitting .231/.335/.418 in those spots, a .321 wOBA and 97 wRC+. They rank 27th in AVG but 15th in wRC+ because when they connect, they really connect — their .187 ISO with men in scoring position is the second best in the AL. That said, their hitting in those spots has been a problem, which is why they only* rank sixth in runs scored despite having the best wRC+ in baseball (114) by two points.
But you knew all that already, right? It’s no secret that that the Yankees have been having a hard time with runners on second and/or third, we see it game after game. The players were obviously pressing in those spots — especially in mid-May, that was ugly — and it was negatively affecting the quality of their contact. At the same time, they have the second best walk rate (12.9%) and the ninth best strikeout rate (17.8%) with runners in scoring position, so they can’t be pressing too much.
New York bottomed out at .222/.318/.399 with runners in scoring position on May 21st, a total of 419 plate appearances. They went 0-for-13 in those situations that night against the Royals, a 6-0 loss that dropped them into a last place tie with the Red Sox at 21-21 overall. It was ugly and the natives were restless. There’s nothing in baseball more frustrating than leaving men on-base and the Yankees had made it their specialty.
“The beginning of the season, we struggled,” said Andruw Jones over the weekend. “Everybody was saying that we’re old, we’re not getting the job done, but this is not a sprint. This is a marathon. We kept battling and kept playing – plug here, plug that (guy) in – until we got in a groove. We’re on a really good groove right now. We’ll take this break, take the time off, and come back in the second half and get the job done.”
Andruw was right, the Yankees did get in a groove. Dewayne Wise turned the season around (!) with a bunt single to load the bases in the fifth inning on May 22nd, which led to a Derek Jeter single that drove in the game-winning run. Since that game, the Yankees have hit .240/.352/.437 with runners in scoring position, a span of 436 plate appearances. That’s still not great, but it is definite improvement. Not coincidentally, the Yankees are 31-12 and have opened a huge lead in the division during that time. Those few extra knocks with men on-base went a long way.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the Bombers were bound to improve with runners in scoring position just because they were hitting into some bad luck. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely hitting poorly in those spots, but they were hitting poorly and getting unlucky. In those first 419 plate appearances, they had a measly .238 BABIP. In those last 436 plate appearances, it’s .269. Better but there’s still room for even more improvement. The Yankees aren’t going to stop hitting homers, they’re just going to supplement them with more non-homer hits with men in scoring position as the season continues.
* Spoiled Yankees fan syndrome, activate.