The New York Yankees have been frustrating to watch this season, especially in the past week or so. Apart from the fact that they have lost 6 of the last 8 games, the Yankees offense has been unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
The height of these troubles came in Friday’s game against the Reds, even though they ended up winning the game. In the 6th inning, with the Yankees up 1-0, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson singled and Robinson Cano walked to load the bases with no outs, but Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez grounded into fielder’s choices at home and Nick Swisher popped out to shortstop to end the inning. Although Andy Pettitte ended up keeping the Reds scoreless and the Yankees won the game 4-0, that 6th inning choke stuck in many Yankees fans’ minds almost as much as the win itself. It exemplified the struggles that the Yankees have had this season with runners in scoring position, a trend that has to end if the Yankees want to compete in the tough AL East.
So far in 2012, the Yankees, despite a poor W-L record and a perceived inept offense, have actually been one of the best offensive teams in the majors, at least according to some measures. They are 4th in the majors with a .793 OPS*, right behind the Red Sox (.794). They are in the top 5 in home runs (2nd, 60), batting average (5th, .267), on-base percentage (4th, .338), and slugging percentage (4th, .454). However, the Yankees are only 7th in runs scored, despite being in the top 4 in most offensive categories. Now don’t get me wrong, 7th is obviously still very good, but based on their other numbers, the Yankees should have closer to 210 runs scored rather than 187.
As you can probably guess, this discrepancy comes from the Yankees’ struggles with runners in scoring position. With the bases empty, the Yankees are leading the league with an .806 OPS. But with RISP, the Yankees drop all the way down to 11th with a .733 OPS, behind teams like the Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros. This is especially disconcerting because league-wide, OPS is a full 23 points higher with RISP than with the bases empty. The Yankees simply aren’t executing when they need to be, which is significantly hurting their offensive production.
The good news is this: I don’t think we can expect this trend of choking when runners are in scoring position to continue. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, one of the main reasons for this poor production has been that the balls that the Yankees are putting into play just aren’t falling in or finding holes, and are turning into outs rather than hits. The Yankees’ BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) with RISP is .236, which is the second-worst mark in the majors and worst in the AL. This low number is partly due to a low line-drive percentage, which means that the Yankees aren’t hitting the ball very hard. On the other hand, the Yankees are hitting a high number of groundballs with RISP, which should lead to a higher BABIP than normal.
It’s easy to take this poor production with RISP and form a narrative that the Yankees just can’t hit when the game is on the line. However, if we look at the other numbers, the Yankees aren’t walking less or striking out more, and their power numbers are fairly similar regardless of whether men are on base. This indicates that Yankees hitters aren’t getting impatient or swinging at bad pitches, but that they just aren’t quite connecting, and the balls that they put into play aren’t finding holes. In Friday’s game, if either of those groundballs had been hit a few feet in a different direction, we would have a completely different story to tell. So while the Yankees have been frustrating to watch the past couple of weeks, let’s be patient. The offense is simply too strong to continue batting poorly with runners in scoring position.
*This and all other stats taken from Fangraphs.com.