Say It With Me Now

But hey, if the team’s pitchers are actually getting hit harder, they should give up a higher BABIP right? Well, yes — BABIP tends to stabilize between 100 and 120 points above LD% — if you give up line drives 25% of the time (a very high rate), you would expect to give up a BABIP of somewhere between .350 and .370. And that makes sense, right? Line drives are just a lot harder to get to when compared to fly balls or ground balls, both of which turn into outs more often than not.

Well, turns out that the Yankees are smack dab in the middle of the pack, having given up line drives 20.8% of the time, good for 16th place out of the 30 major league teams.

So what does it all mean?

Means that the Yankee pitching staff has been very unlucky this far this season. And to take it a step further, most of the Yankee pitching staff has been very unlucky. The biggest victims have been Soriano (.412), Garcia (.409), Nova (.389), Robertson (.368), Hughes (.366), Mo  (.357), Rapada (also .357), and Wade (.350). The only pitchers who have had below average BABIPs thus far have been Boone Logan (.235), and David Phelps (.167).

So, let me get this straight. Almost every pitcher on the Yankees this year can be considered somewhere from unlucky to extremely unlucky? Well, maybe not. Garcia has given up a crazy 35.6% line drive rate, and Soriano an even worse 37.5%. Sabathia actually clocks in on the lucky side as well — his 27.3% line drive rate would suggest a BABIP above .370, well above his .321 rate. But in the aggregate, yes. The bad luck well outweighs the good luck.

Want to see the good? The Yankees lead all of the majors in strikeout rate, whiffing 9.37 batters per nine innings as a team. Want to know how good that is? Just like the BABIP rate, if the Yankees were to hold that rate through the season, it would be the top number since the nineteenth century. (The best rate of a full season team in living memory was the Mark Prior/Kerry Wood version of the Chicago Cubs in 2003, who were at 8.68). How about the walks, though? The Yankees have thus far issued under three free passes per game, which equates to 12th best in the majors. In combination, the Yankees K/BB is 3.16. That’s good for fourth in the majors, behind the Cardinals, White Sox, and Rangers.

In sum, the Yankees have been really, really unlucky on balls in play, in combination with being very good at striking out opposing hitters, and above average at limiting free passes. Combine the expected reversion of luck (the tendency of luck to even out over time) with the addition of Andy Pettitte at the back end of the rotation in a month, and you’ve got one of the best pitching staffs in the American League despite the loss of presumptive #2 Michael Pineda and setup man Joba Chamberlain.

Should be quite the season.

Will is a lifelong New Yorker and Yankees fan who splits his time between finance, music, and baseball. He was one of the early contributors to IIATMS, though life took him away for some time. He is very excited to be back.

8 thoughts on “Say It With Me Now

  1. steve

    Couldn't this also mean that Jeter, A-Rod, and Cano are essentially wearing cement shoes out in the infield? You mention a lot of RHPs with high BABIPs which might mean a lot of LHBs punching balls past Jeets and A-Rod.

    I'm not as well versed in the advanced stats as I would like to be (I do read Fangraphs when I can). However as some point if it is as across-the-board as you suggest then there has to be more than just bad luck and that regression to the mean is right around the corner.

    The K rate is unquestionably impressive. We knew the pen would do that but seeing Nova, for example pick up the K rate is a great step forward for him.

  2. Steve,

    Yes, poor defense behind the pitchers would contribute to this gap. However, consider the significance of the outlier — on the BABIP leaderboard, teams 2-7 are between .316 and .321, and team 1 is at .345. That's a massage gap — and this is all relative.

    Poor defense on the Yankees would account for some small piece of that gap (if we believe it's there). But to account for *all* of it, they would have to be atrocious — with no other team in the majors even close to as bad. I don't know that I buy either of those, thus far.

  3. Jacques

    Nova at .389? wow, and he is still having a good season so far.

  4. michael

    In addition to early season babip noise, there is a lot of variance in ERA, also FIP, due to HR rates. Right now the Yankees are among the best in xFIP and nearly the very best in park adjusted xFIP-. I don't imagine they sustain the league-leading K/9, (swinging strike rates are pedestrian), but they limit walks and when HR/FB normalizes to some degree, FIP should mimic strong xFIP, to some degree.

    Whether the team ERA resembles FIP will depend on sequence variance (LOB%) and how old the defense actually seems. In the sliver of 2012, they trail the whole league with 8 runs allowed. However, Yankees defense was close just below 2009 and saved 20 runs each of the past two seasons, all according to UZR.

  5. michael

    Yankees' SIERA is also third best in MLB at 3.2 (vs ~3.8 league-median). And after factoring in yesterday's performance, their xFIP is now AL-leading.

  6. Michael,

    I thought about noting both SIERA and xFIP in the above post, but they're not yet regularly consumed by your run of the mill baseball blog reader, and I didn't want spend 400 words on the joys of interactive skillsets. Thanks for chucking them into the comments, though!

    Will

  7. michael

    Hey- thanks for directly addressing this. It's likely that both concepts are a part of why outcome-metrics taking a while to match performance- or skill-focused metrics.

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