Around this time last year, I took a look at the growing belief that the Yankees hit “too many home runs” and concluded there wasn’t much wisdom in that unconventional thought. However, following a recent period of offensive malaise, the same theme has popped up once again. So, let’s take another look.
A fashionable statistic making the rounds this morning is the Yankees 0-8 record when the offense fails to hit a home run. Despite the very small sample, this still seems to be a very intriguing relationship, especially when you consider that in half of those games the Yankees only allowed four or fewer runs. What’s more, the team’s bottom-four and six of the bottom-10 games in terms of WPA (win probability added) also happen to come from among the eight they’ve played without hitting a home run. So, it seems as if the team’s offense has suffered from a feast or famine syndrome with the long ball. However, that doesn’t mean the problem is “too many home runs”.
So far this season, 91 of the Yankees’ 177 runs, or just over half, have come via the home run, which compares to 44% cumulatively between 1996 and 2011. Of course, it should also be noted that the Yankees’ current run/game average of 4.76 is almost three-quarters off the .5.48 rate posted from 1996 to 2011. In other words, the Yankees aren’t hitting too many home runs. They just aren’t scoring enough runs, which is mostly a byproduct of a recent dry spell with runners in scoring position (it wasn’t too long ago that the team was scoring at a historic pace).
Just as the Yankees have found it difficult to win when they don’t hit a home run, the team has had good success when its pitchers keep the ball in the ballpark. Unfortunately, there have only been seven such occasions, which is by far the lowest percentage of homerless games since at least 1918. With the exception of C.C. Sabathia, Yankees’ starters have given up more than their fair share of homers, which, in turn, has significantly mitigated the relative power advantage that the team usually enjoys. This is the real problem.
It’s easy to understand why so many Yankees’ fans harp upon the team’s offense. Historically, the Bronx Bombers have been a team defined by the strength of its bats, so when the lineup underperforms those high expectations, it becomes easy to point the finger at the offense. Having said that, just because the offense hasn’t been a weakness doesn’t mean there isn’t reason for concern. Although the Yankees’ offense is still very strong when compared to the rest of the league, it might not be good enough to overcome the team’s underperforming rotation. That’s why the Yankees biggest concern shouldn’t be the number of home runs hit by its lineup, but instead the amount allowed by its starters.