As they entered last night’s game, the Yankees were no worse than second in any of the slash categories (second in BA/OBP) and paced the AL in SLG (.467) and OPS (.806). Regardless of the Yankees’ poor performance against left handed pitching, the overall production has been there, even if it’s looked a bit different at times. The lineup hasn’t been full strength. Francisco Cervelli (!) has hit well. Vernon Wells apparently isn’t dead. Travis Hafter isn’t injured. There is one more somewhat strange thing, though, and that’s that the Yankees are seemingly seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance thus far.
Going into last night, they were seeing 3.75 P/PA, below the league average of 3.89. Last year, they saw 3.89 P/PA, above the average of 3.84. In 2011 and 2010, they were also better than the average. This is nothing new–the Yankees have always prided themselves on seeing lots of pitches and working counts. Now, it seems that they’re jumping on pitches earlier in the count. This isn’t to say that some guys aren’t working counts. The usual suspects are all seeing a lot of pitches. Cervelli leads the way with 4.04, followed closely by Hafner (4.02). Brett Gardner (4.00) and Kevin Youkilis (3.96) are the other two hitter seeing more pitches than the average AL batter. So has this new “approach” been productive? Yeah, it has. We can see it in the aforementioned numbers, but it’s also fleshed out by the team’s splits by count.
In early counts, the Yankees have been hitting the ball hard. On the first pitch, the Yanks are hitting .439 and they’ve hit eight homers. In a 1-0 count, they’ve got a 1.124 OPS. Hell, even in 0-1 counts they’re hitting well, sporting a .517 SLG after seeing a first pitch strike.
Above, we looked at the four leaders in P/PA. Let’s take a look now at the trailers in P/PA for the Yankees and see if they’ve had success early in the count. Of course, there’s a disclaimer to be made here. Of the four P/PA trailers, there’s been a mix of production: Vernon Wells and Robinson Cano have hit well while Eduardo Nunez and Lyle Overbay haven’t.
Nunez has only three PAs when he’s put the ball in play on the first pitch, and one of those was a sac bunt (the other two were outs). Eddie hasn’t hit well in any count, frankly. Wells is 3-11 on the first pitch, though one of those three hits is a home run. Predictably, he’s hit well in 2-0 counts, but has also performed in 1-1 and 0-1 counts. Cano, as he is known to do, has mauled first pitches this year, going 8-12 with two homers and two doubles. He’s also 5-10 with a double and a homer in 0-1 counts. Lyle Lyle Crocodile has put the first pitch in 14 times and is 7-14 in those situations.
My take? The Yankees “reputation” this year is one of a weaker hitting team than we’re used to seeing. So maybe teams aren’t being wholly careful with some of them (Overbay and Wells), and the veteran hitters are being smart and taking advantage of hittable pitches early in the count. It’s not likely that teams would pitch around guys like Wells and Overbay, so them taking their hacks early is probably a good thing. Keep on catching those pitchers napping, fellas.