(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
Despite ranking atop most offensive categories, something still seems amiss with the Yankees’ lineup. Although several theories have surfaced to explain this disconnect, most do not stand up to scrutiny. In other words, this could very well be a case of perception trumping reality. So, if the Yankees’ offense hasn’t been deficient, what is leading to the pervasive feeling that it has?
There is one area in which the Yankees’ offense has underperformed: high leverage situations. Leverage is a measure that quantifies the importance of an at bat by using win expectancy to classify individual game situations (click here for a leverage index chart). Therefore, a high leverage situation is one in which the game is on the line. Needless to say, although these events are much rarer (fangraphs estimates that 60% of all at bats are low leverage), the outcomes are more likely to be remembered.
Not only have the Yankees posted their lowest high leverage wOBA since 2002, the current lineup is also on pace to have the most opportunities over that timeframe. Although likely unrelated (there is nearly zero correlation between performance and plate appearances in high leverage situations), these two trends should manifest in a higher percentage of close games.
Yankees Record in “One-Sided” Games
|Games Decided by > 3 runs||Games Decided by > 5 runs|
Sure enough, the Yankees are on pace to play fewer one-side games than in any season over the last decade. On average since 2002, the Yankees have been involved in 74 games decided by more than three runs and 40 decided by more than five. This season, however, the current targets are 59 and 27, respectively. So, could it be that the Yankees’ inconsistent offense has led to fewer “easy victories”, not to mention the perception that the lineup has been lacking?
Although the Yankees have played in fewer one-sided games, that’s not the fault of the offense. Rather, it’s every bit as much to the credit of the pitching staff. That’s why, in addition to being on pace to win five fewer games decided by three runs or less, the Yankees are also on target to lose 13 fewer. Similarly, in games with a run differential greater than five, the team’s win total is only two off the average, while the number of losses is on pace to be 10 below the norm.
When there are low expectations, we tend to remember the outliers. That’s how players like Mike Lemke and Luis Sojo come to acquire a reputation for being clutch. The countless times they fail to come through are easily forgotten, but the few times they get the big hit really stand out. The same battle between perception and reality seems to be taking place with the 2011 New York Yankees. Because the team isn’t getting blown out often, every loss feels like a game they could have or should have won. As a result, the perception of the offense is being colored by a greater proportion of high profile failures, which, in the grand scheme of things, represent a relatively smaller portion of games.
If the Yankees had performed better in high leverage situations, there’s no telling how many wins they could have, but that’s really an unfair standard upon which to judge the offense. So, the next time the Yankees lose a close game, don’t blame the hitters. It’s really the pitchers’ fault for keeping so many games within reach.