In watching, religiously, the past couple of weeks of baseball one flaw in play has stood out: The Yankees are winning the battle at the plate this season. Definitively. And it’s not always paying off.
Through 11 games, the 6-5 Yankees are third in the AL East. Joe Girardi’s squad, expectations sky-hight heading into the season, has been scrutinized for playing near-.500 ball. The Yankees are 6-2 since leaving Tampa behind and there is certainly no intention on my part to fabricate a level of panic that isn’t there. But Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have lost the confidence of the New York sports media and CC Sabathia was well on his way before a fantastic performance to finish off Tuesday’s game against the Twins. The Yankees lineup has been describe at times as anemic and even the great Mariano Rivera has fallen short of perfection.
But if we’re strictly speaking of the battle between pitcher and hitter, at the plate and on the mound, strikes and balls and strikeouts and walks and line drives and groundballs and everything up to the point when the ball falls for a hit, an out, or a home run… the Yankees have been, probably, the best team in baseball. They lead the league in OBP at .351 on the season. Their hitters have struck out less frequently than any other American League team (just 14.3% of the time) and their pitchers lead all of baseball in strikeout rate with an astonishing 9.78K/9.
No, it’s not just Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda winning that battle at the plate. Robison Cano, the offensively agressive second baseman, has twice as many walks as strikeouts this season. Alex Rodriguez’s batting eye is hovering around 2007 levels. Mark Teixeira, slugging .325 on the season, has as many walks as strikeouts. Phil Hughes’ strikeout to walk ratio sits at 2.75 despite an ERA of 9.00. CC Sabathia has struck out almost four times as many batters as he’s walked. The Yankees have a team xFIP better than all but two American League teams. Yet their ERA is well over half a run higher.
A look at the stat line is indeed a bit confusing. But anyone who’s been watching the games this season could quickly identify the culprit: the Yankees haven’t been able to hit ‘em where they aint, or at least do so in succession to score to runs. It’s been a war of attrition for the Yankees offense. For every runner that scores, five or six are stranded. And for the Yankees pitchers? It’s been fly ball after fly ball, and defensive misplay after defensive misplay.
On the season, Yankees pitchers have allowed a flyball on 39.9% of balls in play. This is the highest figure in baseball and, in the New Yankee Stadium, is a recipe for disaster. They have, by defensive runs saved and UZR, the worst defense in the American League this season. Offensively, their .283 BABIP is below league average. 44 of the Yankees’ 311 baserunners have scored, a 14% rate that is fourth worst in the American League, better only than the Twins, Orioles, and Athletics. This is despite making the fewest outs, on the whole, in the league.
Among the most obvious victims: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano, the teams 3-5 hitters in some order, have driven in just six runs. Phil Hughes has a groundball rate below 20%, a completely unsustainable figure. Russell Martin, who’s walked nine times in 36 trips to the plate, has a BABIP of just .235. And Freddy Garcia has been able to strand just 56% of baserunner he’s faced, well below league average. Ivan Nova, a groundball pitcher for much of his minor league career, has 15 strikeouts to just 2 walks, but a groundball rate of just 41%.
Thankfully, the Yankees are a team with power, a team with a decent defense and a number of groundball pitchers to pitch in the stadium. There is reason to worry that Phil Hughes will continue to give up far too many flyballs, and that the Derek Jeter will continue to play a below average shortstop, and that Eduardo Nunez will continue to struggle in all facets of the game. But most of the rest of the problems facing the Yankees right now will normalize. Hits will come more regularly, ARod, Cano, and Teixeira will heat up, and the pitching staff with the third best xFIP in the American League will start to pitch like it. Until then, we’ll just have to deal with the frustration.
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