The game last night between the now-second place New York Yankees and the Houston Astros was a glaring look at the flaws of this 2015 team. I am not really talking about the pitching because every team's pitching staff will get blown out like that occasionally (although the Yankees' love affair with Chris Capuano is stunning). The real weakness of the 2015 Yankees is the one-dimentional offense. If they do not homer, they do not score. The Yankees have now played 34 games in which the team did not hit a home run. The team is 10-24 in those games. In those games, the Yankees have averaged 2.184 runs scored a game. In one of those games, they managed to score ten runs. If you throw that game out, the average goes down to 1.94 runs per game. Just imagine the standings if the Yankees could have managed to be five or six wins better in those games.
To be fair, the Blue Jays, who never seem to lose these days, are even worse with a record of 6-25 when that team does not hit a homer. But the Blue Jays' run scoring average is better in those games than the Yankees and for the Blue Jays, the pitching (before this streak) wasn't that good.
The difference between the two teams this month is that the Blue Jays have hardly gone a game or two without hitting a homer. The last two times were the two games the Yankees beat them in Toronto. Those were the only two games the Blue Jays have gone without a homer this month. The Yankees have gone without a homer six times this month and are 1-5 in those games.
I have several observations concerning the inability to score unless there is a homer in the game. The first is that before Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, he and Brett Gardner were creating havoc at the top of the order. Since Ellsbury's return, that is no longer the case.
Secondly, after Ellsbury and Gardner, the Yankees have four of the slowest quartet of base runners in baseball with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. You have to string together a lot of hits to get those turtles around the bases.
Thirdly, the bottom of the order is a wasteland. If you do manage to get some of the turtles on base, the odds of them getting batted in by Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan, et al, are slim. The non-pitcher batters in the 7-9 positions in the Yankee batting order have combined for this glowing triple slash line: .236/.284/.368 with only 132 runs driven in. When a full third of your lineup is nonexistent, it is tough to manufacture runs.
Lastly, the Yankees continue to be pull happy no matter the situation and what the fielders are giving them.
I have seen very few instances of people putting numbers behind the pull tendency other than listing the number of shifts employed against their batters. Here is a right-handed and left-handed breakdown of batted ball trajectories for the Yankees this year. We will start with the left-hand batters which we know are a pull happy bunch:
Yankees (league average) Left-handed batters:
- Pull percentage - 36% (34%)
- Up the middle - 49.4% (50.12%)
- Opposite Field - 14.9% (15.9%)
Yankees (league average) Right-handed batters
- Pull percentage - 31.2% (24.5%)
- Up the middle - 53.1% (54.6%)
- Opposite Field - 15.7% (20.8%)
I can somewhat understand the mindset of the left-handed batters where Yankee Stadium has a short porch in right field and that will make you want to pull the ball. But what is the deal with right-handed batters when left field in Yankee Stadium is death valley?
I admit that I am old-fashioned. I believe in the old "hit-em-where-they-ain't" philosophy. I can understand trying to jack the ball when it is middle in. But if the pitch is outside and the situation can benefit from it, hit it where it's pitched and pick up the run. I admit to getting very jealous of teams that do this regularly. I miss Hideki Matsui who would do it regularly. Of today's Yankees, only Beltran and A-Rod make an effort to use what the pitcher and the fielders are giving them.
The predictability of the batted ball trajectory has its consequences with today's shifts. When Yankee RHB hit the ball up the middle, their BABIP is .267, ten points lower than the league average (and the Blue Jays' average). When LHB hit the ball up the middle for the Yankees, the BABIP is .277 compared to the league average of .296.
It also explains why the Yankees are terrible against ground ball pitchers. Against such pitchers, the Yankees have a .280 total BABIP and a .665 OPS. The league average is a .300 BABIP and a .718 OPS.
My last observation is harder to measure (at least for me). My observation is that the Yankees--particularly Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew and ,Chris Young--like to get themselves 0-1 and many times 0-2 and thus put themselves at the mercy of the pitcher because they refuse to swing at two middle-of-the-plate strikes earlier in the count.
Brett Gardner has put the first pitch in play only 21 times this season with over 500 plate appearances. But when he does (SSS), he has an OPS of 1.145. Stephen Drew has done it only 35 times and has a .286 average when he does. Chris Young has a .178 BABIP after getting into an 0-1 count this season.
The New York Yankees are too predictable, too intractable and that is fine as long as the homers are flying. But when they are not, the offense gets very ugly. I will leave you with one more observation. When the Yankees hit only one homer in the game, they are 23-22, a mediocre team. Combine them and when the team hits one homer or less, the team is 33.46. When the team hits more than one homer in a game, the team is 36-10. Can you tell which one happens more often?
The Yankee offense seriously needs to diversify when old habits are hard to break. That's not to say it cannot happen with stressing and concentrating on making the offense more dynamic. I doubt that happens and if/when the Yankees make the playoffs, they will have an offense that can be handled by big-time pitchers that can keep the ball in the park..