There’s probably nothing more satisfying to a manager than saving his best bat off the bench for just the right moment, and then having him come through according to plan. On Friday night, Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin got to experience that thrill when Brandon Moss’ game-tying home run off Rafael Soriano became only the sixth long ball by a pinch hitter to erase a deficit in the ninth inning or later.
Unfortunately for the Athletics, Moss’ home run did not lead to a victory, but it continued an impressive run of success by the team’s pinch hitters. In 96 plate appearances off the bench, Oakland batters have produced at combined rates of .288/.385/.488. The resultant OPS of .873 is not only the highest rate produced by any team’s pinch hitters, but it also dwarfs the MLB average of .654 and stands well above the cumulative .725 OPS turned in by all major league batters over the course of the season. To illustrate the point even better, every time Melvin has gone to the bench, it has been like bringing Joe Mauer to the plate.
Note: Blue bars represent N.L. teams; Red bars represent A.L. teams.
Joe Girardi has not enjoyed his pinch hitters’ at bats nearly as much as Melvin has this season. In 134 plate appearances off the Bronx Bombers’ bench, the Yankees have hit .175/.254/.317. However, perhaps even more significant than the team’s poor performance in these situations is the frequency of them. Among American League teams, only the Tampa Bay Rays have used more pinch hitters than the Yankees, and with 10 games still remaining, the team is on pace to use the most bats off the bench since 1990.
Note: sOPS+ compares a team’s performance in a split to the league average. A reading above 100 is considered above average.
The Yankees’ reliance on pinch hitters has been the result of injuries and an increased vulnerability to split-based matchups. The best way to overcome this dependence would be to have Mark Teixeira and Ichiro Suzuki firmly established as everyday players heading into the playoffs. Otherwise, the Yankees will need more production off the bench. On Saturday, Raul Ibanez provided such a jolt. If the Yankees plan on playing late into October, he, and others on the bench, will likely have to do so again.
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