Too many homers!

The crux of the argument, as you might imagine, is that the Yankees just didn’t get enough timely singles this year and that, to be successful in the postseason, you need to eschew the longball in favor of the timely hit. Is there any validity to it? Of course not.

Thankfully, we have a stat that measures basically exactly what we’re looking for here. Isolated power takes slugging percentage, which is really a total base average that doesn’t include walks or stolen bases, and subtracts batting average to isolate extra base hits. It’s a crude measure of a hitter’s power, but in terms of looking at which teams are the most single-happy it will do quite nicely.

So how do the playoff teams stack up? Surely the ones with the most success are the ones who get the highest proportion of singles, right? Wrong. The eight teams in the playoffs ranked first, third, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, twelfth, and seventeenth in IsoP. The lone team out of the top-12 was Philadelphia, and they’re a clear outlier given that they managed to assemble one of the greatest starting rotations of all-time (and they also got eliminated in the NLDS, if you’re keeping score at home).

But wait, we aren’t talking about merely getting to the playoffs, but advancing in October, so surely the teams that make it past the divisional series must be the ones around the bottom, right? Again, nope. The four teams that made the league championship series finished third, fourth, eighth, and twelfth in all of baseball in IsoP and, while it was the Cardinals at number twelve who won it all, the American League champion Rangers were third in all of baseball in IsoP, just .004 points behind the league leading Yankees (and far from a timely single, they were merely a slightly more competent rightfielder away from winning the World Series in six games).

Okay, that’s a rough overhead view of how important singles are to teams that go deep in the playoffs, but it really doesn’t say much about the nature of playoff baseball at the micro level, where Bradley would contend the ability to hit a timely single is at its most important, and that such was the reason the Yankees dropped the ALDS to the Tigers despite outscoring them by 11 runs in the series. So is this true anecdotally? Were timely singles the reason the Tigers won three games in the ALDS?

I’m sure you know the answer by now, but let’s do a recap anyway. In Game 2, the Tigers scored five runs, with three of them coming on RBI singles and two coming on Miguel Cabrera‘s first inning home run. In so much as the Tigers led the entire game, it’s difficult to really say any of those hits were the most important, but it was the back-to-back RBI singles from Miggy and Victor Martinez that seemed to put the game out of reach, so we’ll give that point to Bradley (the third RBI single doesn’t count, in so much as it came off of Luis Ayala in the ninth inning). In Game 3, the Yankees roared back to tie the game at four runs apiece after a Brett Gardner double off of Justin Verlander, but promptly gave the lead right back when Delmon Young touched up Rafael Soriano for…a solo home run. That was the last scoring of the game and without a doubt the pivotal hit so score this one for the home runs.

Game 5 becomes a matter of “how do you want to look at it?” No, the Yankees didn’t get the hits they needed and, yes, a timely single or two would have been quite welcome, but it’s also true that the Tigers scored two of their three runs on first inning home runs by Young and Don Kelly, who deposited a couple of Ivan Nova mistake pitches into the seats. So depending on how you want to look at it, the Yankees either needed a single that never came, or the Tigers hit some fortuitous home runs to give them their margin of victory.

Ultimately, the simple fact is that you need to hit in the postseason, and hitting for more bases and with runners on base is generally going to be even better for your chances. The Yankees didn’t get that when they needed it in this year’s ALDS, and ultimately lost a series they probably should have won. Some of that was a lack of timely hitting, some of it was Joe Girardi’s poor playoff management, but in any case, one thing clearly would have been a welcome addition to the Yankees’ series statline.

A few more evil homers.

13 thoughts on “Too many homers!

  1. Patrick

    Great article, and maybe I've misunderstood a little bit, but what were the 2011 playoff stats for RBI's off singles?

    What teams in the MLB this season led in RBI's off singles?

  2. Boni

    Amen! A timely hit is a timely hit, period. Who would have preferred an RBI single to Cano's Grand Slam in the series? No one, that's who. Well, Jim Leyland et al., maybe but that only strengthens the point.

  3. Matt

    Very nice.

    Also… less than 3 months 'til Spring Training.

  4. OldYanksFan

    It is about RISP when you are tied or behind.
    I think the Yankees RISP is 'artificially high', meaning their average RISP is brought up by monster innings and pile-on runs. When behind, they often suffer from RISP fail.

    Anybody know how many close games the Yanks lost when they had 2 hits or less w/RISP?

  5. williamjtasker

    Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team.

  6. Evil Hubie

    Bradley didn't argue that IsoP is unimportant. He argued that timely singles are also important, and that the Yankees lineup is full of HR/BB/K hitters who too often fail to produce in situations where a single or sacrifice fly would be adequate.

    After watching ARod, Swisher, and Tex continually strike out and pop up in key spots year after year, it's easy to miss the Damon / Matsui / Berkman types who seemed to always make contact when the situation demanded it.

    • Damian

      That's hilarious.

    • BrienJackson

      I might be misremembering, but it seems to me that Berkman's biggest hit last year was a home run in Minnesota. Actually, it might have been a double off the wall, but either way it wasn't a slaptastic single.

      • Professor Longnose

        The idea that you should give up HRs for singles is just plain stupid.

        And blaming the Yankee loss in the playoffs last year, when they outscored the Tigers and lost three close games, on hitting too many homers is not far behind.

        Still, there are questions of run distribution that haven't been studied enough yet. Is run distribution completely luck? Is there some way to build an offense with a better run distribution, and would it help? Clearly a team that could intentionally distribute its runs would win more games with fewer runs, but is any part of that possible to do intentionally?

        I don't think any of that was on the mind of the guy who wrote that article, but there are questions here still to be asked and answered.

      • Evil Hubie

        Berkman's biggest hit this year was a single.

  7. Hank

    While the overall position is absurd, one thing that I do think gets overlooked in the sabermetric circles is consistency (whether we're talking about a specific player over the course of a year, a lineup, a pitching staff, defense, etc). From a perception perspective, HR's seem to come in bunches (but I think that's more confirmation bias than anything else).

    Some examples of the impact of consistency:
    1) Is a pitcher who alternates 9 innings and 5 innings every other start the same as one who consistently gives 7 IP? (all else being the same)
    2) Is an OF with three +10 defenders the same as an OF with a +30 guy and 2 average guys?
    3) is a lineup of .275 hitters (or whatever stat you like) the same as one that is top heavy with a bunch of .310-.320 hitters and three or four .240 hitters at the bottom?

    Obviously the consistency aspects get magnified over a 5 game series, and obviously HR's (or lack there of) is the easiest thing to pick on and create a nice little narrative about.

    • Damian

      5 games is an awfully short series to magnify something that takes a long time to assess like consistency. What's really magnified over a 5 game series is players getting inexplicably hot at the plate, like Delmon %^@$($# Young and Don $%@*@^$ Kelly. If those players are consistent at all, they're consistently bad, but somehow they made big contributions in the ALDS because that's possible in a short 5 game series.

      • Hank

        Yeah that was poorly worded… I meant it's easy to find inconsistency in a short series (like too many homers, a weak/strong bullpen, good/bad defense, etc) which makes for nice narratives when trying to "analyze" why things went wrong.

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