The Yankees are not George Foreman

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.

7 thoughts on “The Yankees are not George Foreman

  1. ProfRobert

    What if an opponent channels Evander Holyfield? That's when Jeter sends Swish to bite an ear off.

  2. jay_robertson

    Brien – I wonder if it would be better to have a team made of Ichoros – guys who can play defense and get on base, who hit for average. The Yankees, at least this year, are the opposite – our defense is not improving, and the team batting average is .259 – which isn't horrible – its actually 11th in MLB and 6th in the AL.

    Then again, looking at the numbers, while some of the teams with better BAs have also scored more runs, otoh, Tampa Bay has scored more runs than Detroit, even tho Detroit's hitting .262 and the Rays are batting .232.

    Maybe Detroit also has a problem with RISP? :D

  3. steve

    I tend to agree. However, when you eliminate all the rational answers and if you don't see a return to average happening then you have to think there is some irrational answer. Don't get me wrong I am a fan of Girardi and Long but I was concerned with what I heard about Tex's recent rebound. It was said (I don't recall where) that he told the organization to stop tinkering with him, that he was who he was and was going to do his thing and pull like crazy. Who else is being tinkered with? Look at Cano, I weigh more than his RISP avg. Is his head in the game?

    The Yanks have been a HR-centric offense for years now and I don't recall ever seeing such RISP issues.

    Thank god they are in first place, that's all I can say!

    • BrienJackson

      I don't remember a story quite that…strong. Tex was working on a more balanced, less pull heavy approach and he did decide to give up on it because he couldn't get comfortable with it, but I don't know that that was "tinkering."He didn't exactly light the world on fire last year, after all.

      As for Cano, he's hitting .299/.367/.558 right now, so I don't know what there is to worry about where's he's concerned, other than the RISP issues.

    • BrienJackson

      That article includes this sentence:

      "CC Sabathia is the only pitcher [on the Yankees] you'd risk calling an ace, and even that's an optimistic assessment."

      I think we can all agree that saying it's optimistic to call C.C. Sabathia an ace starting pitcher calls your credibility about all baseball related matters into some question.

  4. Dan

    Obviously, I know about sample size, and how it should (and probably will) all even out over time, but they are pathetic with RISP. I'm not overly worried about reliance on the long ball, but they have to hit better in those situations if they want to win in October.

Comments are closed.