The Yankees homer today, they win today.
Although not as elegant and universal as Mariano Duncan’s rallying cry during the 1996 season, this year’s version of the Bronx Bombers have done just fine relying on their powerful lineup. Not only are the Yankees on pace to surpass the single season home run mark of 264 established by the Seattle Mariners in 1997, but they are also in line to establish a new record for most games with at least one home run.
Even though the Yankees are on course to shatter numerous records in the power department, not everyone is applauding their effort. Instead of marveling at team’s prolific ability to hit the longball, some pundits have chosen instead to focus on the Yankees’ poor showing when they fail to go deep. To be fair to the critics, if prorated over the entire season, the Bronx Bombers’ 1-13 record in games without a homerun would easily rank as the worst in franchise history. It also represents a significant drop-off from the recent dynasty years. However, to focus on this shortcoming really requires a glass half full mentality. After all, isn’t the fact that the Yankees have failed to hit a home run in only 14 games much more remarkable?
Another statistic that seems to bother critics of the Yankees’ power-laden offense is the number of runs the team has scored via the longball. After last night’s 6-4 victory over the Indians, exactly 52% of the team’s runs have been driven in by a home run. Based on that figure, which not only dwarfs the league average of 36.4%, but would also easily rank as the franchise’s highest single season percentage since at least 1973, it’s hard to deny that the Yankees are, in fact, heavily reliant on the homer. Of course, there are two sides to every story. Even though the Yankees are on pace to drive in 13% more runs via the longball when compared to their previous 10-year average (404 versus 357), the real reason for the dramatic imbalance is the 30% decline (532 versus 373) in runs produced without a homerun. Unless you believe that scoring runs is a zero-sum game, and the Yankees’ power is the reason the team has suffered through a historic period of futility with runners in scoring position, the high percentage of runs that have come by way of the homer is really the result of the team’s failure to cash-in more of its scoring opportunities.
Because the Yankees’ poor performance with runners in scoring position has led to an over one-half run per game decline in offense versus last year, it has become convenient to draw a connection between the drop-off and the team’s home run explosion. However, since 1973, the Yankees offense has exhibited only a slight correlation between the two data sets, and since 1996, the link is basically zero. What’s more, on a league-wide basis over the same time period, there is actually a significant positive correlation between the number of runs scored per game and the percentage that come via the home run. Although that link hasn’t applied to the Yankees, perhaps because they have consistently operated at the margins in terms of offensive production, it seems as if being “too reliant on the homerun” is a good thing.
Those who lament the Yankees’ overabundance of home runs really aren’t that concerned about the regular season. According to their argument, the long ball works just fine from April to September, but once October rolls around, small ball reigns supreme. Once again, this theory is not supported by data. Not only does anecdotal evidence from 2010 suggest that ace pitchers are as prone to giving up runs via the homerun as an average pitcher, but a more comprehensive look at postseason run derivation indicates teams with better home run capability experience less of an offensive drop-off in October. Furthermore, looking only at the Yankees’ postseason performance from 1996 to 2011, we find that the decline in the team’s runs scored via the home run is almost equal to the drop off in all other runs. What about just those years when the Yankees won the World Series? Well, during the five most recent championship seasons, the number of runs the Yankees scored via the home run declined by 13.6% in October, compared to an 18.5% dip for all other types of runs.
Note: Yellow markers indicate years in which the Yankees won the World Series.
Note: HR Runs are runs scored via the home run. Non-HR Runs are those scored by all other means.
*Postseason period excludes 2008; World Series period includes only 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009.
Bronx Bombers or Bronx Bunters? No matter how you frame the question, hitting home runs is a good thing. In fact, the more, the better. Although those who are enamored by the romantic qualities of playing small ball (or, perhaps, exhausted by the steroid-era suspicion of power) probably can’t be convinced, the supremacy of the home run is undeniable, regardless of whether it’s April or October. So, as long as the Yankees keep hitting home runs today, they stand a good chance of winning today. As Mariano Duncan might say in summing up the debate, “Das-sit”.
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