Yankees struggles with runners in scoring position

Time for some fun graphs, folks.

What might this graph tell us? Quite a lot (none of which, remember, tells the whole story). From glancing, you might come to some or all of these conclusions:

  1. The Yankees suck with runners in scoring position as a function of their low batting average.
  2. The Yankees don’t only suck with runners in scoring position, but they suck on the same level as some of the most consistently terrible offensive teams in the game; including, but not limited to the Padres, Mariners, Nationals, A’s, and Padres.
  3. The Yankees clearly aren’t a bad offensive team, as their batting average with the bases empty rivals the team batting averages of the offensive juggernauts that are the Red Sox, the Rangers, and the White Sox.
  4. Unless the Yankees start hitting with runners in scoring position, they will obviously flounder to the pits of the baseball standings, where live the Padres, Athletics, and Mariners, for example.

I say not so fast. To anyone with eyes, it’s readily apparent that the Yankees aren’t offensively challenged until runners reach second or third base. They rank seventh in offensive team WAR (per FanGraphs, like the rest of this data), third in wRC+ (which is to say that they’re 15% above league average on offense as a team unit), and first in home runs.

Still, I see that the graph above can speak for itself in a sense. The high-payroll, money-sucking stars in pinstripes aren’t paid to disappear when RBI situations are at hand – the point of the game is to drive runs and what better time to do that then when runners are in scoring position… – but I blame, at least partly, luck. Which wasn’t so easy to see until I dug for it.

With the bases empty, the Yankees hit line drives 22.8% of the time and have a .311 batting average on balls in play. Both numbers are slightly above the league averages of roughly 20% and .300. With men on base, the Yankees drop to 19.8% line drives and more tellingly, a .260 batting average on balls in play. When specified to runners in scoring position, the Yankees hit fewer line drives still (17.2%) but also have fewer balls fall on the grass (.224 BABIP).

Before you’re too quick to dismiss their struggles with runners in scoring position as a function of their dip in line drive percentage and subsequent rise in ground ball rates, take a long, hard look at that BABIP.  Just because the Yankees swap 5% of line drives for groundballs doesn’t mean their team BABIP should stumble a whopping 87 points.

For illustration’s sake: five players have a line drive rate within one point of the Yankees’ 17.2% with RISP. They are Dee Gordon, Adam Jones, Miguel Montero, Aaron Hill, and Jamey Carroll – a fairly diverse group that features more speedsters than mashers but a catcher, three middle infielders, and an outfielder; and, more importantly, a range of hitting types.

Dee Gordon slaps balls and puts 2.67 on the ground for every fly ball he hits. He has a .274 batting average on balls in play. Adam Jones is an offensive force this year with 16 home runs and a high batting average. His BABIP is .323. Miguel Montero shares a similar profile to Jones with less power, and he has a .339 BABIP. Aaron Hill hits fly balls a lot– too much, dare I say – and has a low batting average. Still, his BABIP is .284. Jamey Carroll is even more extreme than Dee Gordon at keeping the ball on the ground, and his .258 BABIP is well below his .321 career mark.

So, small sample size aside, the moral of the story is that the Yankees’ offensive frustration can mostly be chalked down to bad luck. After all, the team is 6 points below league average offensively in the much talked about RISP scenario. Lady luck will soon turn their fortunes around.

How about Robinson Cano, though; he of a .476 OPS with RISP? That, my friends, is another story totally.

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5 Responses to Yankees struggles with runners in scoring position

  1. Fred says:

    .224 BABIP really is atrocious. Hopefully the luck turns around

  2. David K. says:

    I can't believe this crap. You think that it's mostly bad luck that's making their RISP stats terrible? What the hell is wrong with you people…most of the lineup is still in a slump and is taking very poor at-bats with RISP. It's not bad luck. It's just plain poor performance, combined with other teams pitching doing a better-than-expected job against us, and us hitting into the shift whenever we play teams like Tampa or Boston. I assume you're tuning into all the games, right? Are we watching the same games?

    • Nick Fleder says:

      I feel your frustration, David, but the fact is, all stats point to them being average. It may feel otherwise as an accumulation of bad luck, but adjusted to league and park, we're just about average with RISP.

      Look at this as a request for optimism. Luck, more often than not, turns around. Thanks for reading.

  3. Bronx_Knight says:

    This article makes sense.

    So the Yanks are relatively underperforming with RISP. The shift can't be the explanation: You can't overshift once you have someone at second. Nor is it reasonable to say that a bunch of major-league ballplayers suddenly get knock-kneed and underperform once there are men on base.

    Good, old-fashioned bad luck. The law of averages will turn things around for us.

    I hope.

    • WW Hayes says:

      Well, what do you say now 13 weeks later with a 10 game lead evaporated and the RISP still sucks? It's nice to talk about laws of averages and the like but the Yanks are plagued with the Arods and Canos of MLB who can't get it done in the clutch. I don't need to look at fancy graphs or charts. Watch the game-tell me if Cano's swing looks the same in the clutch with runners on? Watch him chase pitches when the ducks are on the pond.. The man is hitting .300+ and has 29 HRs but only 72 RBIs and this is batting 3rd all year with Jeter, having an excellent year, batting ahead of him. I've watched baseball a long time and these type of HR dependent offenses rarely even make the playoffs since playoff quality pitchers aren't going to give up 4 Hrs a game.