Things appear to be going swimmingly for the New York Yankees. As of right now their 44-28 record is the best in baseball. They have won 8 of 10. Their starting pitching has rounded into form. Their bullpen, even without Mariano Rivera, is among the best in baseball. They lead the big leagues in home runs with 115.On top of that, the Boston Red Sox are still tied for last place in the American League East.
What could possibly be making Yankees fans feel uneasy these days. Well, there is one big, no HUGE gray elephant in the room for the Yankees these days. It's that reliance on the home run.
The Yankees are one of only two teams (Toronto with 107 being the other) with more than 100 home runs. The Yankees, though, are just sixth in runs scored. The larger issue, though, is that the Yankees do not score without hitting home runs -- and they don't win without them, either. The Yankees score more than 52 percent of their runs from the home run, the second-highest rate since 1950. The Yankees are hitting only .220 this season with runners in scoring position, and a putrid .201 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
The Yankees appear quite capable of bashing -- and pitching -- their way to October. Can a team that relies almost entirely on the long ball for run production win once it gets to October, however? Common wisdom says no, pitching is better is better, you have to able to build a run, advance runners, bunt and deliver key singles and doubles in the clutch.
Jay Jaffe of SI.com begs to differ, and offers some data of his own to make his case. From Jaffe:
"... among the teams as low or lower in the RISP shortfall department are the 1990 Reds (.245), 2010 Giants (.252), and 1979 Pirates (.254), all of whom won the World Series, with the 2005 White Sox (.255) just one point higher.
"Indeed, the data shows that teams reliant upon the home run actually fare better in the postseason than those who don't. Intuitively, this should make sense; as teams face better pitching in October, an offense that can score using fewer events - a bloop and a blast, as they say - should be more successful than one needing to string together three or four hits and walks to get the same result. According to Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh, of the 132 postseason teams in the Wild Card era (since 1995), the half who were more reliant upon home runs for their scoring, with an average Guillen Number of 40 percent, saw their scoring drop by 18 percent from the regular season to the postseason. The half less reliant upon homers, with an average Guillen Number of 33 percent - and a scoring rate already four percent lower - saw their scoring drop by 27 percent. All told, the homer-reliant teams outscored the less powerful ones by 17 percent in postseason play."
It is an interesting debate, and one I'm certain Yankees fans wish we weren't having. New York would certainly be more comfortable to watch if they made life easier by delivering a base hit or a sacrifice fly in the clutch a little more often.
Can their homer-happy offense carry them in October? I guess we just have to wait and find out.