With the frightening and awesome propensity the Yankees have shown for escorting baseballs off of the field of play this year, I can’t help but wonder if this could actually be construed as a BAD thing. Home runs = runs scored = cheering fans = excitement and exultation, so how could they possibly be bad? Am I just a miserable bastard who must always find a negative, even in an apparently unmitigated positive? Well, yes, but that’s entirely beside the point (perhaps not entirely, but let’s not quibble about details, hmmm?). My half-a$$ed theory is pretty simple and goes thusly: basically, there are two reasons that longballs could conceivably be construed as harmful to the ultimate success of the ballclub:
- You rarely want to go up to the plate looking to hit a home run. It can screw up your swing, mess up your timing, make you become pull-happy, and mess up your overall approach, encouraging hitters to look for a certain pitch to jack out of the yard instead of staying back and hitting the ball where it’s pitched.
- There are many who believe that the surest route to a championship is through littleball over longball. When it comes down to the big games, it may be easier to scratch out three runs through walks, bloopers, infield hits, sacrifices, steals, and bunts rather than trying to hit one out against a pitcher that’s never going to give you that meatball you’re waiting for.
I don’t think the first hypothesis holds much weight in terms of the 2009 Yankees. They’ve been pretty remarkably consistent in terms of scoring runs and hitting homers all year. Yes, some guys have gone into droughts, but no more so than in any other season.
The second theory, however, is interesting. I have certainly felt at some times during the championship drought, that the Pinstripers have struggled to score runs in big spots. Are they overly reliant on the big fly, and are they, therefore, going to struggle again in the playoffs? I figured that, since they haven’t won since 2000, I’d take a look at how successful the top home run hitting teams have fared in that time period.
- 2001: The top 5 HR teams in 2001 were (in order): Texas, San Francisco, the White Sox, Colorado, and Cleveland… ugh. Tough start, huh. Cleveland, the fifth ranked team, was the only team on that list to even make the playoffs and they decided not to stick around very long. The champs – Arizona was 8th in homers that year.
- 2002: Texas, Yankees, White Sox, Oakland, Cubs – yuck. Some playoff teams here, but the Angels took the crown after finishing 21st in hr’s for the regular season… hmmm
- 2003: Texas, Atlanta, Boston, Yankees, White Sox. Coming up dry again, the Marlins and their 19th best homer rate win it all.
- 2004: White Sox, Yankees, Cubs, Texas, Boston. The Red Sox win it all, so it’s not exactly a death sentence being in the top 5.
- 2005: Texas, Yankees, Cincinatti, Cleveland, White Sox. White Sox win it all. Clearly, the solution to a championship is to stop hitting ding-dongs until we fall to 5th place in homers.
- 2006: White Sox, Atlanta, Cincinatti, Phillies, Yankees. So much for my 5th place theory. The Cardinals take it down, going 12th place in the regular season home run derby.
- 2007: Milwaukee, Phillies, Cincy, Yankees, Marlins – blech. Boston, only slugging 166 hrs in the regular season (good for 18th place) but takes it all down with relative ease.
- 2008: White Sox, Phillies, Marlins, Tigers, Brewers. Yaaay, a 2nd ranked homer team wins it all – proving it’s not death to be in the top 4.
I don’t see much correlation either way here. Sometimes, really good home run hitting teams win it all. Most of the time, they do not. If anything, it just shows that you win championships with pitching, not with hitting. Teams like the D-Backs, Marlins, Red Sox (of 2007) and the Cardinals all won because they got lights-out performances by their top starters.
The Yanks will certainly not be as productive in the post-season as have been this year. The tougher competition will yield fewer mistakes and fewer runs, but this team seems to thrive against the best pitchers so far this season, utilizing the long ball to rack up runs against Beckett, Buehrle, Halladay, Washburn (how did he get in the top 10 in ERA?), Millwood (see Washburn, above), though admittedly struggling versus Lester, Lackey, Verlander, and Jackson.
What do you guys think? Are the Yanks too reliant on the long ball? By the way, the last team to lead the majors in home runs during the regular season and win the crown: the 1984 Detroit Tigers: 25 years ago… hmmm