Are the Yankees Relying on the Homerun Too Much?

russell-martinThe 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.┬áHome 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.┬áThe 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.

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6 Responses to Are the Yankees Relying on the Homerun Too Much?

  1. Freddie Yankee says:

    While I agree that our BABIP being third worst in the majors may indicate somewhat of a lack of luck, you have to take into account that a lot of our balls in play are grounders, particularly from Jeter, Gardner and Arod when they were slumping. Surely some of that stat is a product of poor batting, rather than poor fortunes.

    No doubt in my mind that figure will rise though, especially since it seems as though we're breaking out of our reliance on 2-3 run homer wins with the recent drubbings we've churned out.

  2. David K. says:

    I have to disagree with you here. This team simply can't hit. Getting four or five hits a game is not enough to score run and win. But that is what this team does frequently. Look at all the other teams the Yankees have played this year. Other than the hapless Minnesota Twins, it seems every other team gets at least eight or nine hits in a game against the Yankees. For the Yankee bats, though, they have a great many games where they get only a few hits, with maybe a solo home run thrown in there. Every once in while, (usually against the Orioles), they break out with 13 runs. To look at it another way, check the Yankee batting averages. Can you ever recall when they have not had a regular player hitting .300? If you want to be a consistently good offense, you have to have several guys who hit .300 and over. If you run into good pitching, there will be no home runs. But you can go the other way and get a hit. That's another thing this team almost never does, go the other way. If everybody chips in, you can score two or three runs even against good pitching (sometimes). The way this team swings the bats, any time Joe Schmo throws a decent game, they get only two or three hits. That's not winning baseball.

  3. Brian says:

    "This team simply can't hit" is an oversimplification, especially when you're talking about the highest scoring offense in baseball. The whole point of the article here is that we're talking about batting average, which is a stat that players don't have entire control over. Sure, it's nice to say "they should go the other way more," but it's not that simple. If the players could simply try harder or change their approach and start getting more hits, I am sure they would. The fact that no Yankee is batting .300 is evidence of just how unlucky they've been as a team. To suggest that a team filled with good (and great) hitters just all suddenly became bad hitters is nonsense.

    You're also criticizing the Yankees for not getting as many hits when the opposing pitcher performs well. Isn't that how baseball works? Are we to expect the Yankees to get more hits when facing good pitchers? Good pitchers definitely do still give up homeruns. They tend to give up less total hits in general though, which is why you need to make your hits count.

  4. Brian says:

    What does a "professional" AB mean though? The Yankees do not strikeout significantly more than other teams. Gardner and Dickerson getting bloop hits exactly proves the point I am making. They did not hit the ball well, but got lucky that it fell in. This is not really a skill. Should the Yankees be trying not to hit line drives with the hopes of getting bloop hits? I understand that the more you put the ball in play, the better your chances of getting a bloop hit, but the Yankees put the ball in play an average amount. They also hit 10.8% of their pop-ups in the infield, which is also around average. The Blue Jays, for perspective, hit infield pop-ups 16.3% of the time.

    I understand the point you're trying to make, but the statistics do not back it up.

    • David K. says:

      Brian, you gotta get a life, looking at stats for infield pop ups! Are we watching the same games? The bottom line is that our guys are swinging for the fences too much and that is why they hit a lot of home runs but don't get enough hits overall. Even the increased homer output is not enough to overcome the lack of good hitting. I'd like to see them try to hit more line drives. That automatically will produce more bloop hits in addition to line drive hits. I'd also like to see more situational hitting, like getting a ground ball to drive in a runner from third with less than two outs. Like cutting down on their swings with two strikes to make contact, especially with runners on base, instead of taking a huge cut to try to jerk everything out. It will cut down on the home runs, but the offense will be better for it and more consistent.

  5. Brian says:

    You keep suggesting that the Yankees are trying to hit homeruns on every swing, but you do not provide any evidence to prove that is their approach. You mentioned infield pop-ups and I thought that was interesting so I took the 5 seconds needed to look up the stat. Unfortunately though, that number doesn't support what you're saying. How do you know the Yankees are NOT trying to hit line drives? How do you know they don't cut down on their swings with 2 strikes? Just because they have a lot of homeruns and are not batting well with RISP does not mean this is what they are trying to do. Results do not equal intent.

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