Yankees: The heavy double-play ball and chain in 2021
New York Yankees’ fans are frustrated and angry watching the team ground into an enormous number of double plays this season. How in the world can this problem be resolved?
While the club has reduced its propensity to bang into DPs during its recent winning streak, it still leads the MLB in this category. Thus far, the Yanks have grounded into a remarkable 48 double plays (and counting).
That translates into 1.02 per game in 2021, compared to 0.82 per game during the team’s shortened 2020 campaign. The data also show that the Yanks are far more likely to hit into double plays on the road (1.42 per game, more than any other team on the road) than at home (0.59) this year.
Frequently hitting into double plays does not entirely explain wins and losses for MLB teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates (#1), Seattle Mariners (#3), Colorado Rockies (#4), Baltimore Orioles (#6), and Detroit Tigers (#10), who are struggling in 2021, are the least likely to ground into double plays. In addition to the Yanks (#30), good teams like the Houston Astros (#29), San Diego Padres (#28), and San Francisco Giants (#27) are bouncing into more double plays than all other major league clubs.
The Yankees’ defense has pulled off 0.85 double plays per game during this season, ranking them 13th in the MLB. In 2020, the team produced fewer double plays per game (0.61).
As the data indicate, the Bombers are hitting into more double plays than they create on defense in 2021.
Why are the Yankees hitting into so many double plays?
There are possible explanations as to why the Yankees are hitting into more double plays than all other MLB teams in 2021. One possible reason is that the Yanks are stealing very few bases (and hence increasing the probability the club’s players will ground into double plays) this season. Let’s look at the data to see if this is the case.
Yes, the Boys from the Bronx are tied with the Astros and steal the second-fewest bases in the league at 0.23 per game. (In the shortened 2020 season, the Yanks stole 0.43 bases per game.) The Cincinnati Reds are stealing the fewest bases of any other team per game (0.20) while the aggressive baserunners of the San Diego Padres are stealing 1.04 bases per game, the most among all 30 major league clubs.
Reflecting on today’s analytics, only a minimum number of players attempt to bunt to stay out of a double play and move the runner from first to second base. You don’t need advanced stats to tell you the Yankees don’t bunt or play small ball. That passes the most obvious of eye tests.
Today, most experienced pitchers are better attacked the low part of the zone to induce more ground balls, which, in turn, result in more double plays.
And like most MLB batters, Yankee hitters are trying to swing for the fences and blast home runs more than before, primarily because MLB clubs like the Yanks, following analytics, place a premium on home runs and runs scored. Moving the runner from first to second base (such as by bunting) is a lower priority and a lost art.
The shift is likely the main reason, in my view, why the Yanks have hit into so many double plays. Ground balls that would have made it through the infield in years past are now more likely to be caught by data-determined, repositioned infielders.
Additionally, the Yankees are second in MLB (and just 0.2 MPH off of first place) in average exit velocity at 89.8 MPH as a team. The leaders are the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays at 90 MPH.
What can the Yankees do to stop this?
GM Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone, both of whom rarely discuss the tendency of the Yanks to ground into double plays as a problem, don’t appear to have a well-thought-out strategy to address the problem, which is puzzling.
The absence of a well-thought-out offensive strategy primarily explains the lack of effort on the part of Yankee batters to hit the ball the other way (or hitting it where they ain’t). The boom-or-bust lineup suggests situational or strategic hitting is not in this team’s DNA.
OK, we’ll admit beating the shift is hard. It’s much easier said than done, especially when pitchers are throwing harder than ever. But would it kill the Yankees to bunt?
Today, many shifts against pull hitters create unique opportunities for to lay down bunts that avoid double plays and result in runners reaching first base safely. The bunt could actually become a hit!
Finally, Bombers who run fast and are athletic should be encouraged to steal second base more often than they have thus far this season. Becoming more aggressive on the base paths should reduce the number of double plays and place additional runners in scoring positions. Not to mention, that’ll test opposing defenses, and you never know — the Yankees could capitalize on a mistake once in a while.