In the top of the seventh inning last Saturday afternoon against the Orioles, Brian McCann stepped to the plate with two outs and two men on base. Jacoby Ellsbury stood on second with Mark Teixeira on first, and the Yankees seemingly had all the momentum in the game after scoring two runs in the frame to take a 3-0 lead.
McCann ripped a 2-2 pitch up the middle that was fielded cleanly by center fielder Adam Jones, who then made a nice two-hop throw to Nick Hundley at the plate, easily tagging out Ellsbury as he tried to score. Inning over, rally over, momentum gone. The Yankees ended up winning the game 3-0, but it could have been a lot less stressful if not for that ill-timed out.
Rounding third and heading for home... If you think you've seen that play happen more than once this season when watching a Yankee game, you are right.
It was the 16th time a Yankee was put out at home plate on a baserunning play (and second time in that game), which easily leads the American League. The 16 outs are also three more than the team had all of last season... and we are only at the All-Star break.
The biggest culprit in making outs at home plate is Kelly Johnson, who has been tagged out three times trying to score. Yet Johnson is not the only one to blame. Derek Jeter, Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran have each been responsible for two such outs this season.
Getting thrown out at home plate is probably the most glaring baserunning issue for the Yankees this season, but its not the only one.
According to baseball-reference.com, they have taken the extra base on batted balls only 36 percent of the time, tied for the second-lowest rate in the AL. This includes advancing more than one base on a single and more than two bases on a double.
Obviously part of this low percentage is due to being thrown out so often when trying to advance on the basepaths, but it also reflects the fact that the Yankees have some really slow players who rarely try to take an extra base when the opportunity is there.
It should be no surprise that Teixeira (14%) and McCann (19%) are the worst on the team in this “extra base taken percentage” statistic. Both of those marks also rank among the bottom 10 for AL players with at least 200 plate appearances.
...and he is out at the plate! How much has this poor baserunning cost them this season? Baseball Prospectus calculates a stat called “Hit Advancement Runs”. It estimates the number runs contributed by a baserunner above or below what the average player would do given similar chances to advance via singles and doubles.
This stat tells us that Yankee baserunners trying to advance via hits have cost the team 6.3 runs compared to the average club with the same opportunities. It is by far the worst total in the majors (Astros are second-worst at -5).
Brian Roberts and Beltran have hurt the Yankees the most on these plays, combining for more than one-third of the roughly six runs the Yankees have lost this season due to these baserunning mistakes.
Whether this poor baserunning is the result of bad decision-making by third-base coach Rob Thomson or the general over-aggressiveness of a Yankee team that is struggling to score runs, it is a real problem that is costing them real runs.
Because of the mediocrity of the AL East, the Yankees are still in the division race despite their .500 record. If they want to stay in contention down the stretch and make the playoffs, they cannot be simply giving away runs on the basepaths. Something must be done...