The offense of the New York Yankees is stagnant. In spite of the fact that the team is tenth in baseball in runs per game, and they are scoring better than they did last season, the Yankees are having trouble getting men on base. The team’s hitting has been better than in 2013, mostly due to the influx of free agent talent, but the team overall has demonstrated an impatient approach at the plate this season.
Most glaring of New York’s offensive issues is their weak walk rate. The Yankees are 18th in baseball in total walks taken, and 19th in walk percentage. Walks require a patient approach at bat, and being patient is a combination of a players’ tendencies and team strategy. Base on balls also correlate very well with offensive success. Last year’s leader in runs scored was the Boston Red Sox, who were also third in walks. This year’s leader American League leader in both runs and walks is the Oakland Athletics. Unless a team has exorbitant power, incredible contact ability, or both like the Colorado Rockies so far this year, they need to draw walks to consistently succeed on offense.
New York has been known in the past for their methodical approach to batting, always seeing heavy amounts of pitches, working counts, and not being afraid of taking strikes in order to get better pitches to hit. The last time the Yankees won the World Series, in 2009, they led the league in walks and in runs scored. Drawing a base on balls is beneficial to the team in several ways. For one, it forces opposing pitchers to throw more pitches. This leads to starters exiting games sooner, and batters seeing more pitches and becoming more familiar with the pitcher throughout the game. There is also the fact that players who are good at taking pitches tend to be great hitters. This year’s leaderboard for pitches seen per plate appearance has five former MVP winners in the top 24 in Joey Votto, Dustin Pedroia, Joe Mauer, Andrew McCutchen, and Jimmy Rollins.
In 2014, only Brett Gardner and Brian McCann are in the top 50 in MLB of pitches per plate appearance for New York. While several other Yankees are right behind them, many of the names on this year’s squad lag behind former Yankees in that key statistic. Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson are both in the top 12, and despite their struggles this year are still demonstrating a strategy formerly employed by the Yankees. There have not been any coaching or managerial changes to the team, as Kevin Long has been the hitting coach for the past eight seasons. The team’s struggles getting on base likely do not stem from a strategic change by the coaching staff, but rather in the changing abilities and approach of their personnel.
The Yankees’ average age is 30.4 years old, second only to the Red Sox for oldest team. One obvious side effect of team age is injury risk, which has struck the Yankees pretty hard. Another is that aging batters tend to have slower bats. That leaves pitchers with less incentive to pitch around players, and more likely to attack. It would make sense for the Yankees to be offered less chances to walk because of their numerous non-threatening hitters, but that is not exactly the case. They have seen the fifth most pitches out of the strike zone in Major League Baseball. They are also making contact with the second highest percentage of balls out of the strike zone. Contact is not necessarily a good thing, because when batters hit pitches out of the zone they tend to be hit weakly.
All of this adds up to an offense that is basically sitting at average. With the ridiculous spat of starting pitcher problems the team has had, New York’s offense really needs to carry the team. More patience would be a boon to the Yankees. While that is not exactly the forte of certain players, most notably Alfonso Soriano, the team has many hitters capable of waiting out at bats and either walking or at the very least getting better pitches to swing at. Without adjustment the offense will not be able to improve from its current state, and may actually begin to look worse as the year wears on if the hot start of Yangervis Solarte turns out to be a mirage. The team approach needs to change, and with how well the Toronto Blue Jays have played of late the alterations need to be made soon.
Commentary by Brian Moore
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer covering New York Sports
Member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America