The Yankees ultimate secret weapon unleashed against pitchers

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The Yankees have a secret weapon they’re deploying against pitchers this season. It’s underrated and extremely efficient. What do you think it is?

The Yankees are mostly known for their prowess in hitting home runs in bunches that demoralize and defeat opposing teams. But there’s another aspect of the team’s offense that is not usually as publicized.

And when we see a starting pitcher throw 100-110 pitches without getting through the fifth inning, we have more of a tendency to blame the pitcher for being wild as the reason for his ineffectiveness.

Give some credit to the hitter

Although, in fact, we should be giving credit to the hitters instead of blaming the pitchers. And therein lies the secret weapon that the Yankees have quietly been deploying all season – the number of pitches their hitters see in each at-bat.

The Yankees are proving that it’s not necessary to knock the starter out of the game. Because nine times out of ten, he’ll knock himself out of the game

According to ESPN, the Yankees have three hitters in the Top Ten in the American League and another in the Top 15 in the Number of Pitches Seen category for 2017.

Aaron Judge is currently in third place and is seeing 4.36 pitches per at bat. Also in the Top Ten are Matt Holliday (4.25) and Brett Gardner (4.23), and Chase Headley is #13 in the league seeing 4.16 pitches for every plate appearance. For the curious, Todd Frazier of the White Sox and Jose Bautista see the most pitches in each of their at-bats.

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With Judge, it’s probably a combination of his hard work to transform himself from a strikeout machine last season and the pitcher’s reluctance to throw him anything near the plate. But with the others, it’s all hard work, patience, and determination not to give into a pitcher by getting yourself out.

Now, like any other stat, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. Because at the bottom we also find Jose Altuve (.319 BA) and Avisail Garcia (.329 BA) positioned at #87 and #88.

And conversely, the stat doesn’t seem to mean much to the hitter at numbers one and two, as Frazier’s batting only .208 and Bautista .234.

But the stat is not designed to work individually for hitters. Instead, it’s a stat has effectiveness when three or four hitters on the same team put it together and pitch counts mount up exponentially against the opposing pitcher.

As an example, if Judge, Headley, Holliday, and Gardner all batted in the same inning, on average the pitcher would throw a minimum of 16 pitches when normally a “good” inning would be between 12-13 pitches to get the side out.

And let’s distinguish between “Billy (Beane) Ball” and what the Yankees are achieving. The Yankees are not saying, as Beane proclaimed, that a walk is as a good as a hit.

A walk is not as good as a hit

Rather, the Yankees approach is different in that they are simply more selective in waiting for the pitch they want before they blast it over the wall for a home run.

Major league pitchers, when they are at their best, do not always want to throw strikes. They’ll purposively throw two consecutive pitches out of the zone with the hope that a hitter will chase them and get himself out with a weak ground ball to an infielder.

Like any strategy in baseball, this one is not foolproof. And the best in the game like a Chris Sale, Zack Greinke, or Clayton Kershaw are going to make you hit their pitch on the count they want to throw it to get you out.

But generally, the Yankees are thriving this year because they are being stingy with the number of strikes they take before putting the ball in play.

And they are proving that it’s not necessary to knock the starter out of the game. Because nine times out of ten, he’ll knock himself out of the game when his pitch count soars against teams like the Yankees.