The Yankees currently lead all of baseball in runs scored, yet you might not know it based on the amount of criticism that the Yankee offense takes. The most common complaint is that the Yankee offense relies too much on the home run.
The Yankees do rely on the homerun; I think that much is pretty obvious. Before yesterday’s game, over 50% of their runs came via the longball, far and away the highest percentage in the league.
The real question though is, is it really a bad thing to score a lot of runs via the home run as long as you are indeed scoring runs? The common complaint is that the Yankees can’t score without the home run and thus their offense is boom or bust.
There is some obvious craziness in criticizing hitting a home run; home runs are the best single thing you can do offensively. Thus we’ve seen lots of #toomanyhomers and #evilhomeruns hashtags ironically used on twitter by Yankee beat writers and bloggers. Home runs are good and help you win games. This is indisputable.
So how else should the Yankees be scoring though? Stringing together some base hits? Hitting with runners in scoring position? Well sure, that would be nice. But how do the Yankees improve on that? Who do they need to acquire? Do they need to improve their batting average?
Here is the real problem: there is little they can do to improve scoring non-home run runs because that skill is not really much of a skill. It involves a lot of luck and I don’t just mean the luck of getting a hit at the right time. Getting hits that are not home runs has a good deal of luck involved. We generally want to think of hitting as a skill – and surely it is – but batting average is not generally reflective of that skill. This is why Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) has become such a popular stat. If you have a higher BABIP than normal, there’s a good chance you’ve had some luck.
So yes, the Yankees have had some problems getting hits. But only 2 other teams in baseball (Twins and Athletics) have a worse BABIP than the Yankees, yet the Yankees have the 5th best OBP and the highest SLG. With all the home runs and walks, the Yankees put less balls in play than anyone else, but they also haven’t had much luck.
The point of all this though is that there isn’t anything the Yankees can do about it. Home runs and walks are 2 commodities that are predictable, so of course a team with the Yankees’ resources will invest in them because they are safe. If you sign those kind of guys, you know they will produce offense. To go out and try to get a guy to hit with RISP is folly because there is no guarantee that those numbers are sustainable. The Yankee with the highest BA right now is Robinson Cano at .275. This is actually good news though, as it means the Yankees, as a team, are likely to improve in that category.
The anecdote for this would be yesterday’s game against the Mets. The Yankees finally broke out for a big inning without a home run, scoring 8 runs in the 8th. So what did they do differently? Anyone who watched the game knows: they got lucky. A-Rod hit a little roller to third that ended up being an infield hit. Jeter hit a dribbler up the middle that would have been a double play ball if it were just slightly to the left or right. Gardner hit a double that just blooped in the outfield corner where no one could get to. Those balls were not hit hard. None of those hitters exhibited some great skill. They just got the breaks. Yes, it helps to have speed and be able to put the ball in play, but sometimes you just need to be fortunate enough to “hit ’em where they’re not.”
The bottom line is that this year the Yankees haven’t gotten many of those kinds of breaks. To blame that on hitting home runs though is pure nonsense. David Cone during yesterday’s broadcast said the Yankees need to be able to string together good hits to beat good pitchers, but isn’t that the toughest thing to do against a dominant starter? What you need to do is make him throw strikes and hit any mistakes for home runs. Chances of a good pitcher making 1 mistake are pretty good; the chances of that same pitcher making a mistake multiple batters in a row is not. The Yankees have a lineup that can make the opposition really pay for any single mistake.
Sometimes, as they say, it’s better to be lucky than good. The thing is, the Yankees can only assure that they will be good. They just have to wait for the luck to come.