Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Spring Training is well underway, and the first games are a few short days away. For all the individuals trying out for spots on the roster, this is ultimately a team sport. Looking at the Yankees last year, the big shortcoming was the ability to bring runners in from scoring position. If I had to hear certain sportscasters say RISP one more time, I was going to scream. The team's reliance on the home run was also very noticeable. Therefore, we will see how the team responds to the new season.

The departure of certain hitters - Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, and Alex Rodriguez - is sure to change the makeup of the hitting approach of the Yankees' lineup. Their likely replacements - Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, Kevin Youkilis, and Travis Hafner - tend to focus more on contact and less on the long ball. I had a theory that if the Yankees would stick to getting base hits and making contact instead of swinging for the fences, their RISP problems would go away. Since I am a numbers guy, I decided to look at some stats. Check this out:
First, some explanations. I know Alex Rodriguez is still with the team, but he will be out at least until the All-Star break, so he is departed until then. Ichiro was a new hitter after joining the Yankees, so I am only looking at his Yankee stats. Youkilis had a terrible year last year, so I am looking at his career numbers because he has been consistent until 2012. Brett Gardner's 2012 numbers were meaningless since he did not play, so I am looking at 2011 for him. The statistical categories above are pretty well known, except for the rightmost one - H:HR. That number indicates the number of times the hitter got a base hit inside the park for every time he hit a home run.

Okay, so what do the numbers tell us? Well, for one thing, the guys leaving swung for the fences WAY too often. Russell Martin's was astonishing - he only has about three base hits for every home run he hit.

Raul Ibanez was only a little better than that. It explains to some degree why the Yankees did so well when hitting home runs but did so poorly when they did not. Swinging for the fences did not usually pay off for the Yankees when they faced pitching staffs that kept the ball in the park. If you look at Ichiro's numbers, he is definitely going for the base hit.

He is looking to get on and get runners over. It is no surprise that he was the most productive hitter in the ALCS, leading the team in hits, batting average, and runs batted in. Ichiro's H:HR is better than double those that are not in the lineup anymore, and Brett Gardner's is even better than that. What does that tell you? That if these guys are the everyday right and left fielders, we should see expect to see more hits in play and fewer stranded runners. The fact that both of these guys have good speed will also help them generate bigger disruptions to opposing infielders, which should lead to more manufactured runs.
What about Youkilis and Hafner? Their H:HR looks remarkably similar to the guys that left. It means that these guys are also swinging for the fences. In fact, Youkilis' stats across the board look remarkably similar to ARod's. However, look at the BB/K stat. That is the "good eye" stat, and both Hafner and Youkilis look great in that stat. It reflects the hitter's ability to distinguish a ball from a strike, and their self-discipline to take the walk instead of swinging through it or taking a called strike. There is a reason why Youkilis is called the God of Walks. Opposing pitchers are much less likely to fool either these guys. This could be very valuable to a team looking to manufacture runs. Kevin Long has already been working with Youkilis to change his stance. Hopefully, he can get him to adjust his swing to make more contact and get more hits. If he can do that for either him or Hafner, we might have a stellar #2 and/or #6 hitter in the lineup.

Clearly, it is impossible to tell what a season might bring. Nevertheless, if you believe the stats and the players' histories, we should expect to see more patience at the plate from some of the hitters, more productive at-bats, and perhaps far fewer stranded runners in scoring position. This would be a welcome change.

--Ike Dimitriadis, BYB Writer
Twitter: @KingAgamemnon

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