Yesterday, Katie Sharp had a terrific piece on the historic fail of the Yankees in the clutch hitting department. Like all great writing, the post made me think and it also confirmed (judging by the comments) what most of us have been seeing with our eyes all season. To call it bleak has been an understatement. The first question it raised was: Is this a total team breakdown or just certain segments of the lineup? So I decided to piggyback on Katie’s work and take a look.
Katie focused on three statistics: Runners in Scoring Position (RISP), Runners in Scoring Position with Two Outs (I’ll shorten that to RISP2) and Late and Close. She found the Yankees as a team to not only be way below league average in all three of these categories, but historically bad for Yankee teams since 1973 when this sort of data started to be compiled.
I took a look at the twelve players with more than fifty plate appearances that have only played for the Yankees this season. Someone like Yangervis Solarte would be too difficult to pull apart these stats from the two teams he has played with this season.
Of the twelve, the Yankees only have one player who is above league average in all three of Katie’s categories: Jacoby Ellsbury. He has a 139 OPS+ compared to the league with RISP, a 178 on RISP2 and 115 in Late and Close situations. Not only is Ellsbury above average in all three of these categories, but all three are above his 112 OPS+ overall.
The rest of the Yankees do not fare so well (stats listed below). Five of the twelve players were above league average in two of the three categories. Three were above league average in one of the categories and three were below average in all three categories. Those three are Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli (even after last night). These three are the rally killers.
Ken Singleton has said several times during the YES broadcasts that the Yankees are not hitting as well as they are capable of hitting. The numbers bear him out. With twelve players on my list and three categories, there are 36 possible times one of the players can be either above or below his career average in a category. There are 22 instances of Yankee players not faring as well this year as their career averages in these three categories.
As you can probably guess, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are the only two of the twelve that have better numbers in all three categories this year than in their careers. Only one other Yankee has better results in two categories this year over his career numbers: Carlos Beltran.
The three mentioned above (Jeter, Suzuki and Cervelli) are below their career averages in all three categories. Jeter and Ichiro are both at the end of their careers and these numbers show the appropriateness of those assessments.
I had also wondered if the Yankees have had less chances than the rest of the league in these categories than the league average. But the difference is not statistically relevant. For example, with thirty teams, the average RISP opportunities this season per team is 1,144. The Yankees have had 1,123 opportunities. The same holds true with RISP2 with the league average at 523 opportunities and the Yankees at 509. What makes extra sense with all the close games the team has played, The Yankees have had 910 Late and Close opportunities compared to the league average of 775.
Katie Sharp showed what our souls have been groaning about all season and her post was an eye opener. With a few exceptions, the individual team members have fallen down according to their career averages in Katie’s three clutch categories. The opportunities pile up and go unrequited. With the exceptions of Gardner and Ellsbury and perhaps Beltran, this is a team failure and should exonerate Brian Cashman a bit because the team members were historically better.
Whether it is approach (Kevin Long), age (Ichiro, Jeter) or just bad luck (.286, .257 and .274 BABIPS in the three categories), the Yankees just can’t seem to get that big hit or put together more than one scoring inning a game together. Crooked numbers have been far and few between. And the results are pushing the Yankees further and further behind the Orioles.