Yankees OBP is the real hidden secret of their success

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

Yankees offense seems to lead the American League in pretty much every category. The stat sheet is an embarrassment of riches. So it can be difficult to discern the valuable from the decorative. What is the tail, and what the dog? But there’s an old saying in baseball: HR’s are for flash; OBP is for cash. And the Yankees are cashing in.

The Yankees are the best show in town. They seem to hit the ball farther than anyone else, have speed on the bases at all times, and a knack for exploding opponents’ ERA’s. That their run differential (57) is second best in baseball shows how balanced the team really is; the Dodgers are first at 64.

Which leads us to a question any Yankees fan is glad we can ask: which aspect of the Yankees dominance is most integral to their success? Again, happily, there are several good candidates. They are first in the AL in BA (.269) and second in The MLB; the Nationals are first overall (.274). It seems the Aaron Judge maxim of put the ball in play, and good things will happen has been adopted as a team motto.

Could Be

It could be their power. They lead the AL in Slugging (SLG) at .454—Houston is a distant second at .439—as well as in home runs at 66. Tampa Bay is second with 65, but the Rays have played five more games and have 119 more at-bats. The Bronx Bombers indeed.

Or it could be something that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet: team speed and aggressiveness. When a team is hitting a ton, and not allowing you to hit much, there is a lot of pressure on the other team to play well. But when that first team also has great team speed and forces you to make a play, that pressure increases exponentially.

More from Yanks Go Yard

But, while those are all worthy candidates, the driving force—the indispensable stat—is OBP. There is nothing more important than getting on base with great regularity because the ramifications dictate the game.

First is that it puts constant pressure on the opposing pitcher and team. They have to be tense and on their toes.

Any mistake, such as a passed ball or misplayed grounder, can put a Yankees player in scoring position.

That’s a demoralizing psychological position to be in. You know that even if you do everything right, such as catch two harmless fly balls, the Yankees can score. And there is now nothing you can do about it. The Yankees are putting teams in that position almost every inning.

Gone Surfin’

And of course the pitcher has to pitch from the stretch and worry about those speedy Yankees base runners. Not every pitcher is markedly worse out of the stretch or with runners on, but even small advantages have big effects over the course of 162 games.

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The effect is opposite for the Yankees players. They, too, are focused and on their toes. But instead of being tense, they are instead intense and excited.

The players in the field have to swallow their energy, until it becomes like rocks in their stomachs; big ones. The Yankees players in the dugout and on the bases get to release their energy and feed off of the situation.

Two teams engaged in the same experience but the feelings are so different. One feels like a surfer riding the crest of wave; the other feels like that wave is crashing down on them.

Does that mean the Yankees are Bottom Heavy?

A close look at OBP shows that the Yankees are not just leading this category, they are dominating it. And that’s why their offense is dominating. For instance, they have four of the top 15 players in OBP in the AL. No other team has more than two—Seattle and Anaheim—and both are top heavy. Yet, despite each having two players in the top fifteen, the Mariners are only 6th in the AL and 14th in The MLB, while the Angels are 9th in the junior circuit and 19th overall.

The Yankees lead all MLB clubs. Aaron Judge is 3rd in the AL (.417), followed by Brett Gardner in 11th place (.373), Starlin Castro 13th (.372), and Matt Holliday 15th (.370). And there is even more good news. Aaron Hicks leads the team in OBP (.432) but does not yet have 100 AB’s, meaning his numbers have not been included in the overall analysis.

He has 99 as of this morning. His next AB will make him the fifth pinstriped player in the top 16 while Hick will be second overall, behind Mike Trout (.465)

Next: Yankees Aaron Judge already impacting Mickey Mantle's Legacy

I was tempted to anoint OPS as the most important reason for success; OPS combines on-base with slugging. But while slugging is important, the constant drumbeat of hits and turnstile of runners is the slow death that drains the will to fight from the enemy. And that is the single biggest reason for the Yankees success.

So, does that mean their slogan should be, The 2017 Yankees: Take a Walk!?