Yankees: Bad luck has to change in one key stat to compete with Rays
By Adam Weinrib
The Yankees and Rays’ 10 battles this year have hinged largely on one luck-based stat. The Yanks need to hope for things to change.
The Yankees and Rays are one of four sets of extremely familiar foes that will face off in the Division Series this week, and possibly qualify as the pairing with the baddest blood between them.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, they also ended up on the wrong side of the heated rivalry in 2020 by a wide margin, falling 8-2 in the 10-game battle.
But with a few slight changes to the action, the entire script could’ve flipped on a dime.
Much has been made of the Rays’ pitching depth advantage, never mind the entire “stable” that Tampa Bay believes they have waiting for the Yanks. But there’s no statistic that’s less predictive of future success than batting average with runners in scoring position.
All it takes is one or two balls finding their proper holes, and suddenly, an entire narrative can change. And the Yanks and Rays’ season series went off the rails, in many ways, because the Yankees were stopped, time and again, with runners on second or third base. To an absurd degree.
.253 is slightly above average, in this instances. .117 is laughable.
And it doesn’t indicate some historic “lack of clutchness” — any baseball fan worth his salt knows that clutch can come and go. Alex Rodriguez, famously un-clutch, carried the 2009 Yankees through the postseason with timely homer after timely homer. Was he a different man than he’d been in 2004-2008? New breathing coach? No; things simply evened out, a few years later than must of us would’ve preferred.
Hoping the Yankees’ average with runners in scoring position normalizes a bit isn’t a fools errand — it’s simple logic. .117 is a remarkable low point, and helps explain the series dichotomy better than any Michael Brosseau chin music. Add in the fact that many of these regular season games were played without Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Giancarlo Stanton, and the narrative shifts further toward normalcy.
In 2020, on the whole, the Yankees hit .255 with a .373 OBP with runners in scoring position, including these 10 empty contests against the Rays weighing them down. There’s no logical reason that these postseason contests on a neutral field in San Diego should follow the same pattern.
There’s no love lost between these two bitter foes, one of whom still thinks of themselves as an underdog despite proving their mettle time and again over the past year (or decade).
But Aaron Boone and the Yankees are right. A lot of people are counting them out, despite the fact that Tampa Bay’s dominance in ’20 hinges, in many ways, on a coin flip.
Perhaps, in the breezy climate in San Diego, the coin will begin to blow the other way.