The latest iteration of this theme, carried over for most of the past two seasons, is that the Yankees’ offense is “too dependent on home runs,” and this year there’s been an added “they can’t hit with runners in scoring position” twist to the recipe. Now, to be fair, the Yankees do have the worst batting average with runners in scoring position in the American League, but this is almost certainly a statistical anomaly. After all, even if you do believe in the mythical powers of clutchitude, the Yankees’ struggles in this regard involve plenty of players with a solid history in that regard, so it’s not as though there’s some sort of tidy “the Yankees eschewed getting clutch hitters” narrative you can build around this offense.
So, in other words, cases like the one Joel Sherman made in today’s Post are entirely overstated:
This Yankees lineup is much more a knockout-reliant heavyweight. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira as Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Mike Tyson. If an opponent lets down its guard, then the Yankees are a few well-timed haymakers away from winning even fights in which they are way behind on scorecards.
But what happens when they can’t land the haymaker? What happens when the opponent has a sturdy jaw? When the opponent channels Muhummad Ali or Evander Holyfield? The Yankees have experienced this in the playoffs. Last year, there seemed to be 10 occasions when a well-timed single would have enabled the Yankees to eliminate the Tigers.
This is silly. Yes, the Yankees hit a lot of home runs and score a lot of runs that way, but the idea that they’re literally one dimensional on offense is preposterous. The Yankees rank 6th in the American League in batting average, 4th in walk rate (though they’re just 0.2% behind second place Oakland), 2nd in on base percentage, and they’re right in the middle of the pack in strikeout rate (8th). In addition, they’re the second best team in the league at running the bases, according to Fangraphs. It’s true that the Yankees score over half of their runs via the deep fly, and they’re easily first in the league in that mark, but that’s in large part because they hit a lot of home runs! 112 of them in 71 games! They’ve only failed to hit at least one home run 14 times so far. None of these things are bad things.
Now that’s not to say that the inability to hit with runners in scoring position hasn’t hurt the Yankees so far. You can see that it certainly has in the fact that, despite all of these home runs and the very solid underlying performance, they’re just fourth in the league in runs scored, 16 runs behind the Blue Jays. Unfortunately, there’s just no reasonable explanation for these struggles beyond simple bad luck.