In terms of outfield dimensions, Yankee Stadium is the fifth-most hitter-friendly ballpark in all of Major League Baseball. The Short Porch in right field and the almost equally shallow 318 feet to left field are the second-shortest corner spots outside of Fenway Park (you know, the home turf of the team that loves to make fun of Yankee Stadium’s “joke” of a layout).
One would assume New York’s front office worked hard to benefit the roster on both sides of the ball by acquiring pitchers who limit hard contact and have low fly ball rates, as well as batters who mash homers and take advantage of the gaps.
On the offensive side of things, despite an uncharacteristic last couple years, that cast of players is tailor-made for what Yankee Stadium has to offer. Fans saw that pay dividends in 2018 and 2019 before the pandemic and the Rob Manfred ball-switching hit in 2020 and 2021.
But the starting rotation? Arguably the most important aspect of any roster? Uh … what did the Yankees do here?
Despite the unit overachieving in 2021 and being among the main factors why the Yankees ended up making the postseason, the Bombers’ cast of starters generally do not induce ground balls (43.4% rate, 12th in MLB), which would seem like a crazy characteristic when you’re trying to limit the long ball in a smaller park.
In 2021, Gerrit Cole led the Yankees with 138 ground ball outs … good for 36th in all of MLB. How does this team not have at least two guys in the top 15?
Yankees pitchers do not have good enough ground ball rates.
The one silver lining here is that the Yankees were fourth in team strikeouts per nine innings last year … but had a 41.9% ground ball rate (21st in MLB) and a 39.5% fly ball rate (worst in MLB). To further split it up, the rotation had a 38.6% ground ball rate (29th in MLB) and a 43.2% fly ball rate (worst in MLB).
If we date this back to 2017, the Yankees rotation and overall pitching staff have ranked as follows:
- Rotation: 16th in ground ball percentage (42.9%)
- Rotation: 24th in fly ball percentage (37.1%)
- Pitching staff: 14th in ground ball percentage (43.3%)
- Pitching staff: 20th in fly ball percentage (36.6%)
As you can see, the bullpen has buoyed the numbers, helping the team’s overall percentages, but it’s still concerning the rotation has been this bad (or at least this poorly structured) for five seasons now.
Perhaps most of their focus was acquiring hard-hitting power bats … but what happens when that part of the roster experiences a setback? Well, you get 2020 and 2021, both of which were wildly underachieving Yankees seasons that have resulted in a ton of backlash from the fanbase.
Cole, the team’s ace, cannot possess the 45th-best ground ball rate in the league and be the most effective Yankees starter in that department. Jordan Montgomery is right behind him at No. 50, followed by Jameson Taillon at No. 83 (all for the 2021 campaign).
The Yankees’ rotation has largely held this team back for the better part of a decade, and there are growing warning signs despite the success the unit had this past year. These are the kinds of peripheral stats fans should be worried about because it’s hard to envision those percentages not causing a larger regression come 2022.