It’s a minor miracle that my television set has survived the entire season so far, given the numerous times I wanted to throw hard objects at the screen in frustration after watching yet another Yankee ground out to end an inning with a couple men on base.
Though is there is little evidence that “clutch” hitting is a repeatable skill, what has already happened in the past is real and cannot be undone. And what the Yankees have done in pressure situations so far this season is nearing historic, record-setting lows.
To measure the performance of the team’s bats in various situations, I used a stat found on baseball-reference.com called Split OPS+ (adjusted OPS relative to the league’s OPS in the split). A 100 is league average, and each point up or down is one percentage point above or below league average.
There are a couple advantages to using this statistic:
1) OPS is a better measurement to use than batting average, since a walk can be just as valuable as a hit in these situations and a homer is definitely more valuable than a single.
2) OPS+ adjusts OPS for league and park effects, allowing us to easily compare teams from different eras and run environments.
3) Also, by comparing the team’s OPS in the split to the league’s average in the specific split (rather than just the league OPS overall), it further improves the strength of the stat and our ability to truly measure how pathetic the Yankees offense has been in clutch situations this year.
Now, onto the gory details.
(Note: the data for these splits on baseball-reference is complete back to 1973)
The most basic clutch situation is hitting with runners in scoring position. This season, the Yankees have a split OPS+ of 91 with RISP, meaning they are nine percent worse than the league average in this split. The only season in this dataset where the team had a worse mark was in 1990 (81). I don’t need to remind everyone that the 1990 squad finished with the worst record of any Yankee team in the last 100 years. Not a good memory.
Let’s add a little more pressure and look at plate appearances with runners in scoring position and two outs. The Yankees have a 81 split OPS+ in those situations – 19 percent worse than league average! That matches the 1982 team for the lowest mark over the last 40 seasons of data. So, when the going gets tough, the Yankees…strike out.
What about when the pressure is really high during the late innings in a close game? Baseball-Reference has a split called “Late and Close”, which is defined as any plate appearance in the seventh inning or later with the batting team ahead by one run, tied, or with the tying run on base, at bat or on deck.
The Yankees split OPS+ in Late and Close situations this year is 82. That would be the lowest figure for any Yankee team in this dataset (since 1973). Luckily the Texas Rangers exist, or the Yankees would be the worst in the league this season.
That pretty much sums up the problem with the 2014 Yankees – when the team needs a clutch hit to take the lead or get an insurance run, no Yankee team in the last 40 seasons has been worse at getting that man on base or advancing the runners than this year’s edition.
The good news is that there are still 44 games left for the Yankees to avoid making history…or the bad news is that there are 44 games left to further cement their place in the record books.