Yankees: 2017 Depends On Improvement In Situational Hitting
The Yankees, as the stats bear out, were not much of an offensive threat in 2016. Thus, several key categories need improvement this season if the team is going to challenge for the playoffs in 2017.
Historically, the Yankees have been a notorious offensive threat. Hence their nickname as the Bronx Bombers. But 2016 was a step down from that, and as the 2017 season approaches with a suspect starting rotation, the offense may well need to pick up the slack. Which raises the obvious question – are they capable of doing that?
A quick look at the final offensive stats for all thirty teams shows that the Yankees lacked in every category with one lone exception. Twenty-five of the thirty teams in the league struck out more than the Yankees.
That’s it. In every other offensive category, the Yankees were worse than half the teams in the league, and in several important categories, they fell in with the bottom ten teams:
Runs Scored: 22nd
Home Runs: 19th
Stolen Bases: 18th
Base On Balls: 18th
Batting Average: 20th
On Base Percentage: 25th
What’s interesting, though, is that when you look back at last season, it was the Yankees pitching that carried them as far as they went in finishing five over in the Division. They finished in the Top 10 in fewest runs allowed, most strikeouts, and fewest base on balls (3rd in the league).
And with mostly the same staff returning in 2017, this might be a reason for optimism, provided that the offense improves dramatically.
While I’m not a Billy Beane flag waver to the point where you sacrifice everything for on-base percentage, it does stand to reason that if a team can’t get men on base, then they can’t score runs. And, if they can’t score runs, they can’t win on a regular basis.
While we can expect the Yankees to hit more home runs this year with both Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Chris Carter, and Greg Bird in the lineup full-time, solo home runs are a pitcher’s delight when he makes a mistake.
A batter coming to the plate with two out and no one on is in a different situation that a hitter who comes up with runners on first and second and no one out.
In that light, despite the solid years that both Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro had, a .304 and .300 on-base percentage respectively is unacceptable. And although Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were slightly better, they need to improve, especially if they are going to be regulars in the lineup.
When the talk is about hitting, it’s best to refine the subject and talk about situational hitting. The old axiom in baseball that a walk is as good as a hit is true, in some situations. A batter coming to the plate with two out and no one on is in a different situation that a hitter who comes up with runners on first and second and no one out.
Yankees hitters need to recognize the difference and act on it, without having to be told to do so. Rally killers who can’t even put a ball in play when the situation calls for it was rampant in the Yankees lineup last year. And whether it’s Alan Cockrell, the Yankees hitting coach or Joe Girardi, that point needs to be driven home this Spring.
Gary Sanchez is going to the one hitter in the lineup that opposing pitchers look at saying, “I can’t let this guy beat me.” How will he react, for instance, when a pitcher “climbs the ladder” on him throwing him three straight fastballs, one higher than the previous one. With a runner on first and one out, will he take a walk or swing for the bleachers?
Patience. Can it be taught? We are going to find out in 2017 because with Aaron Judge and Chris Carter both in the lineup; we’re talking big-time rally killers if they can’t improve on their propensity to strike out.
It’s not necessary that the Yankees become a team of “Punch and Judy” hitters, a term that was coined by former Dodgers manager, Walter Alston, in the 1960’s.
But, it is a must that their hitters recognize the value of a bloop single the opposite way when there is an opportunity to score a run or two. The Yankees are expected to do a lot of “growing up” this year. The first wave of kids are here, and they have much to learn about playing at this level.
In the same way, players like Gregorius and Castro need to improve on what they started last season. Twenty home runs from each of them, while eye-catching, may not be as valuable to the team as a .360 on-base percentage.
One thing is certain. The Yankees cannot afford to score as few runs as they did last season. Finishing, as they did, with 200 fewer runs scored than Boston is not as big a hurdle to overcome as you might think. It’s just a little more than one run per game.
Next: Yankees 25 Most Memorable Home Runs
Which brings us right back to we where we started – situational hitting to score that one run anyway, anyhow.