Are Power Hungry Yankees Better Off as Bronx Bunters?

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog; follow me on Twitter at@williamnyy23).

The Yankees homer today, they win today.

Although not as elegant and universal as Mariano Duncan’s rallying cry during the 1996 season, this year’s version of the Bronx Bombers have done just fine relying on their powerful lineup. Not only are the Yankees on pace to surpass the single season home run mark of 264 established by the Seattle Mariners in 1997, but they are also in line to establish a new record for most games with at least one home run.

Most Home Runs and Games with a Home Run, by Team

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even though the Yankees are on course to shatter numerous records in the power department, not everyone is applauding their effort. Instead of marveling at team’s prolific ability to hit the longball, some pundits have chosen instead to focus on the Yankees’ poor showing when they fail to go deep.  To be fair to the critics, if prorated over the entire season, the Bronx Bombers’ 1-13 record in games without a homerun would easily rank as the worst in franchise history. It also represents a significant drop-off from the recent dynasty years. However, to focus on this shortcoming really requires a glass half full mentality. After all, isn’t the fact that the Yankees have failed to hit a home run in only 14 games much more remarkable?

Yankees Historical Winning Percentage in Games With and Without a Home Run, Since 1918

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Another statistic that seems to bother critics of the Yankees’ power-laden offense is the number of runs the team has scored via the longball. After last night’s 6-4 victory over the Indians, exactly 52% of the team’s runs have been driven in by a home run. Based on that figure, which not only dwarfs the league average of 36.4%, but would also easily rank as the franchise’s highest single season percentage since at least 1973, it’s hard to deny that the Yankees are, in fact, heavily reliant on the homer. Of course, there are two sides to every story. Even though the Yankees are on pace to drive in 13% more runs via the longball when compared to their previous 10-year average (404 versus 357), the real reason for the dramatic imbalance is the 30% decline (532 versus 373) in runs produced without a homerun. Unless you believe that scoring runs is a zero-sum game, and the Yankees’ power is the reason the team has suffered through a historic period of futility with runners in scoring position, the high percentage of runs that have come by way of the homer is really the result of the team’s failure to cash-in more of its scoring opportunities.

Yankees’ and MLB’s Historical Rate of Runs Scored Via the Home Run, Since 1973

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Because the Yankees’ poor performance with runners in scoring position has led to an over one-half run per game decline in offense versus last year, it has become convenient to draw a connection between the drop-off and the team’s home run explosion. However, since 1973, the Yankees offense has exhibited only a slight correlation between the two data sets, and since 1996, the link is basically zero. What’s more, on a league-wide basis over the same time period, there is actually a significant positive correlation between the number of runs scored per game and the percentage that come via the home run. Although that link hasn’t applied to the Yankees, perhaps because they have consistently operated at the margins in terms of offensive production, it seems as if being “too reliant on the homerun” is a good thing.

Correlation Between Runs Scored Via the HR and Total Run Production, Yankees and MLB: 1973-2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Those who lament the Yankees’ overabundance of home runs really aren’t that concerned about the regular season. According to their argument, the long ball works just fine from April to September, but once October rolls around, small ball reigns supreme. Once again, this theory is not supported by data. Not only does anecdotal evidence from 2010 suggest that ace pitchers are as prone to giving up runs via the homerun as an average pitcher, but a more comprehensive look at postseason run derivation indicates teams with better home run capability experience less of an offensive drop-off in October. Furthermore, looking only at the Yankees’ postseason performance from 1996 to 2011, we find that the decline in the team’s runs scored via the home run is almost equal to the drop off in all other runs. What about just those years when the Yankees won the World Series? Well, during the five most recent championship seasons, the number of runs the Yankees scored via the home run declined by 13.6% in October, compared to an 18.5% dip for all other types of runs.

Yankees’ Reliance on the Home Run: Postseason versus Regular Season, 1996-2011

Note: Yellow markers indicate years in which the Yankees won the World Series.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Note: HR Runs are runs scored via the home run. Non-HR Runs are those scored by all other means.
*Postseason period excludes 2008; World Series period includes only 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Bronx Bombers or Bronx Bunters? No matter how you frame the question, hitting home runs is a good thing. In fact, the more, the better. Although those who are enamored by the romantic qualities of playing small ball (or, perhaps, exhausted by the steroid-era suspicion of power) probably can’t be convinced, the supremacy of the home run is undeniable, regardless of whether it’s April or October. So, as long as the Yankees keep hitting home runs today, they stand a good chance of winning today. As Mariano Duncan might say in summing up the debate, “Das-sit”.

5 thoughts on “Are Power Hungry Yankees Better Off as Bronx Bunters?

  1. patrick

    what’s the p-value on those regression lines? Are they statistically significant correlations?

  2. Luke

    An R2 0.17? If I were to report a plot with an R2 of 0.17 I would get laughed off the stage. I wonder what the r2 would be if the regression line was forced to have no slope. To the point though, I don’t think the manner at which runs are generated is important. What is important is the consistency at which they are generated. If the data is available please report the number of games at which they score more than 4-runs per 9. Take the percentage and see how that compares to the rest of the league.

    Luke

  3. Hawaii Dave

    Well, I’m not much for small ball. But that is obviously not the only alternative to living or dying by the long ball. Check the team BA of the 5 WS winning Yankee teams of 96 through 09 and compare those team BA to the 2010, 2011, and 2012 team BAs. Want me to do it for you? WS winning years all well above .280 w one year at .277….all those teams hit homers. then you come to the criticism years of 2010, 2011, and this year where BA for the team dropped to the low .260s and the lack of hitting w RISP began to get noticed along with the new phenomena of the bases loaded no runs thing. Those seasons had plenty of homers too. So scoring runs from homers is great. Maybe the higher team batting average in 5 WS winners is just a coincidence. All I’m saying is that you can crunch the numbers any way you want to make your point, but in the bottom of the 9th in game 7, down by 2, with 2 on and one out…what you gonna think is more likely to happen? A homer? Which only happens about 5% of plate appearances at best? Or a single, which happens 25% at worst? If you will depend on homers, they are gonna love you in Las Vegas. And by the way, the Mariners didn’t win the WS that year.

    • roadrider

      but in the bottom of the 9th in game 7, down by 2, with 2 on and one out…what you gonna think is more likely to happen? A homer? Which only happens about 5% of plate appearances at best? Or a single, which happens 25% at worst?

      And of course guys who hit homers never, ever hit singles or doubles and vice-versa.

      Look, I can turn your scenario around on you. What is more likely – a single bad pitch resulting in a 3-run HR or a series of hits and walks to produce the same number of runs?

      • Hawaii Dave

        To answer your question, the math says 2 singles in a row will happen more than a 3 run homer. Why would you even ask a question like that?
        That’s why I made the statement, “you can crunch numbers any way you want”…so can I. But your reply is not really the correct reply because the guys I as referring to are Tex and Grandy and Swish. These guys are are actually not hitting a ton of singles and I’d never want them to be the ones at the plate in the crucial situation. Maybe they are the ones you would want cause they hit the most homers. But I’ll stand by my statement. I’d prefer Cano, Jeter, Bernie, Matsui, or O’Neil who hit fewer homers but put wood on the ball. So roadrider, who would you want up there at the plate in the bottom of the 9th? Give me a name.

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