Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rallying Late

At the beginning of the season the Yankees had a very clear pecking order on paper in terms of strengths and weaknesses: their offense was a clear strength, their bullpen was going to be right behind it, and these two things were going to have to carry the rotation, at east until the trade deadline.

Funny how baseball goes. Almost two months into the season, the rotation has been the clear strength, the bullpen has been right behind it, and the offense has lagged. Full disclosure: the macro numbers do not back this up. The Yankees lead the American League in runs scored. "Lagged" is obviously a relative term, in this case relative to expectations.

And as we all know, macro statistics don't always tell the whole story. Watching the Yankees night in and night out is how you arrive at their current pecking order. The offense has great overall numbers, but far too often have let winnable games slip away while getting fat in games that are already well in hand. The rotation does not have such elite overall numbers (albeit very good - 3.97 ERA), but they have given the team a chance to win on an incredibly high percentage of nights. The bullpen ERA is 3.06, 3rd best in the American League, so clearly they have done their job.

All of the talk is that the Yankees are too reliant on home runs. This statement is too broad. Yes, the Yankees are an extremely powerful team in terms of the longball. Their 71 homers leads baseball by a mile, and they are scoring just over half of their runs via the homer.

This part of it is hardly a bad thing. The home run is the single best thing you can do at the plate, and the Yankees do it well almost throughout the entire lineup. It's not so much that they are too reliant on the homer, it's that they aren't good enough at scoring in other ways. If they could still hit the homers, but also be more proficient at manufacturing runs, that's ideal. So it's not the homers that are the issue, it's just that they aren't as good at manufacturing runs. They get plenty of guys on base (5th in MLB in OBP), and can mash the ball (1st in MLB in SLG), but their RISP numbers are dreadful. They are consistently tossing up stinkers like the 2-15 with RISP two nights ago against Toronto. This may even out, and if it does this offense will be even more dangerous. Until it does, it's a big problem for this offense. Maybe their only significant problem, in fact.

And in my opinion this is hampering the Yankees in one key area (besides just scoring runs). They are 2-15 in games where they trail after the 6th inning. This is not the typical Yankee way. They are typically a team that feasts on middle/late relief pitching, a team against which few leads are safe. Hasn't been the case this year. I think this is often because they don't grind at bats, move baserunners, pass the baton, and get the big hit instead always waiting for the big fly. They saw on Sunday against the Mets, in one of their two comeback wins after the 6th this year, how effective the former approach can be. They scored 8 runs in the 7th without hitting any home runs, and without even really hitting any balls that hard.

Of course the home run can be very effective late too. But you can't totally rely on it. Late in games every at bat becomes more magnified, and you have to put pressure on opposing relievers even more by getting guys on base and moving them. The Yankees need to do this more, not just to score more runs and to score more consistently, but also to give themselves more of a chance to rally late in games. All of these things become more important when you consider the possibility that the pitching is performing above their heads and may regress. If that happens the Yankees will need to meet that with an offensive progression. If it doesn't, then the Yankees will just be that much better off.

8 comments:

the gm at work said...

Reliance on the home run late in games can only take you so far. With the risk of sounding like McCarver, home runs are rarely hit off of good pitches. They're hit off of mistakes. Luckily for the Yankees, there are A LOT of bad relief pitchers on every team in baseball. Those bad relief pitchers will hang a curveball or make a mistake, and from there it's thanks for playing. The Yankees are pretty good at capitalizing on mistakes.

The problem is whether they can take good pitches and make something out of them. There are a handful of good relief pitchers in baseball, and if it's close and late, they need to make something out of nothing. Singles can be hit off of good pitches. Walks can be worked off of good pitches. Bunts can be executed off of good pitches. As these guys are professional athletes, it's not a good way to go about doing business just waiting for the other guy to f*** up.

Anonymous said...

of course a few hours after i write this the yankees rally from a 4-1 deficit in the 8th with walks, singles, and doubles to win the game. but hey, if all i have to do is write a post to get them to turn a weakness around, i'll take that every time. great win.

-pf

Anonymous said...

all great points gm, good spot.

-pf

Anonymous said...

PF

The idea that it's bad that they are so reliant on home runs is, on it's face, silly. It's the best and most efficient way to score. So what's wrong with using them, above all other ways, to win?

But there IS still a reason for concern--They've hit 71 homers in about 50 games. That means they're on pace for about 240 homers, which is right around the league record. Now, it's not impossible to think that this squad will set a record--they have a lot of excellent hitters, a small rightfield, and a lot of lefties with pop. Still, setting a record is asking a lot. So, the question is--if they're winning because of all the homers, and they tail off on that front (a perfectly reasonable presumption), then what happens?

Now, I'm not saying that other parts of the offense won't pick up, but I can see where the concern comes from.

--the Gunn

the gm at work said...

Guys,

I'm pretty sure McCarver thinks a walk is just as good as a home run.

John said...

Like you say Pat, it's not the amount of home runs that is worrisome(in fact it's a positive) its the % of offense that is created from the home run that may not be a good thing. Hitting 71 home runs and having it be 30% of your total offense(runs scored) is good, but having it north of 50% or so and you suddenly become too reliant on it because you don't score in other ways.

John said...

Also, DV I think you are on to something. Taken from the recap of the Sox/Indians game on espn.com "Sutton replaced third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who sat out with a sore left hand". Sore glove hand!

TimC said...

I'm interested to know when these home runs are coming- are they stacked up early in games or are they coming late? Are they in tight games or in blowouts (seems like blowouts from the post)? And is a contributing factor to the situation just a general tendency to try to hit home runs, perhaps in the process making some hitters less likely to just put the ball over the infield? Now I, too, feel like McCarver.

Maybe they are getting over or past it. But, I recall the Sunday night game v Beckett when the Yankees just seemed to let him get away with some really low pitch count innings as the night progressed. It seems like a team that is swinging for the fences would do that whereas a team more focused on moving runners and avoiding outs would have run up his pitch count a bit.