(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
The 2011 Yankees’ offense has been prolific at doing two things: hitting home runs and grounding into double plays.
After only 32 games, the team has hit an astounding 54 home runs, which equates to 273 long balls over 162 games. If that pace is maintained, the Bronx Bombers would not only establish a new franchise home run mark, but also surpass the 1997 Seattle Mariners’ record of 264.
The Yankees’ lofty home run tally has been fueled by an unusually high home run/fly ball ratio. After hitting five homers on Sunday, 17.3% of the Yankees’ fly balls have left the yard. For perspective, the league average is only 7.0% and the next highest team total is 11.3% (Texas). What’s more, the 2010 Blue Jays, which hit 257 homers, only recorded a rate of 13.6%. So, even if the Yankees’ experience a meaningful drop in the number of home runs per fly ball, the team could still approach a record-setting pace.
On the other end of the offensive spectrum, the Yankees have also hit into 41 double plays, which puts the them on target for 207. Once again, if they maintain that pace, the team will enter the record books, this time surpassing the 1990 Boston Red Sox’ total of 174.
Double Play Correlations, 2002-2010
* Speed Score is composed of the following components: Stolen base percentage, stolen base attempts as a percentage of opportunities, triples, double plays grounded into as a percentage of opportunities, and runs scored as a percentage of times on base.
Source: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com
It’s hard to explain why the Yankees have been the victim of so many twin killings. At first glance, the team’s relatively high ground ball rate of 46.4% seems to be the culprit, but that’s not really an extraordinary number. Besides, a comparison between the team’s double play total and GB% over the past decade actually reveals a meaningful negative correlation (OBP also exhibits a smaller negative correlation to GB%, so that could be a partial explanation for this counter intuitive relationship).
Another possible culprit for the team’s high double play total could be its lack of speed. It seems reasonable to assume that because the Yankees have mostly been a station-to-station team, the lineup has become increasingly susceptible to the twin killing. As illustrated in an earlier post, the Yankees’ runs per game has correlated almost as strongly to its speed number as home runs, and part of the reason for that relationship could be because speed number also has a moderate inverse correlation with double plays.
Speed (or the lack thereof) is most likely a factor, but ultimately, the real culprit could be the home run. After all, when a team hits as many as the Yankees, it doesn’t make much sense to risk making an out on the bases, regardless of how much speed is in the lineup. The fact that the Yankees stolen base success rate is only 62% makes the risk even more unpalatable.
Based upon data over the last decade, the Yankees’ HR/double play relationship has a Catch-22 feel. In order to maximize home runs, the team has stopped running, which in turn has led to more double plays that have left fewer chances to hit a home run. In that sense, the biggest flaw in the Yankees’ offense hasn’t been its over reliance on the home run, but rather its over-susceptibility to the double play.
Although you really can’t blame Joe Girardi for settling into an Earl Weaver-like mentality, limiting double plays could be the best way to increase home runs. If the team can solve that riddle, it might not be a matter of if the Yankees break the home run record, but how close they get to hitting 300.