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When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett before the 2009 season, one of the motivating factors was how well he had pitched in the division while a member of the Blue Jays. In particular, Burnett dominated the A.L. East bullies, going a combined 10-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 18 starts against the Yankees and Red Sox.

A.J. Burnett’s Performance Against the Yankees and Red Sox, 2006-2008

  G W L IP H ER BB K ERA Avg. GS
NYY 10 5 3 71 2/3 55 19 18 72 2.39 64.3
BOS 8 5 0 56 1/3 44 16 21 53 2.56 61.4
Total  18 10 3 128 99 35 39 125 2.50 63

Source: Baseball-reference.com

According to the blueprint, not only would the Yankees benefit by no longer having to face Burnett several times each season, but they would also get to enjoy his mastery of the rival Red Sox. Unfortunately, that part of the equation hasn’t gone according to plan.

A.J. Burnett’s first game in pinstripes against the Red Sox started out exactly as the Yankees had drawn it up. In the first three innings, the right hander needed only 37 pitches to keep Boston off the board. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ lineup was busy building a 6-0 lead against Josh Beckett, Burnett’s former teammate with the Marlins. Then, all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. Over the next two innings, Burnett relinquished the lead by surrendering eight runs, which was only one fewer than he had allowed to the Red Sox in 27 2/3 innings during 2008.  

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

The 2011 season has been a very perplexing one for the Yankees’ offense. Although the team’s lineup has looked futile on so many individual occasions, the aggregate numbers still suggest it is one of the best in baseball. Almost 50 games into the season, the Yankees not only lead the league in runs per game, but the lineup has also posted the most homeruns and the second highest wOBA. And yet, something still does not feel quite right.

Perhaps one reason it seems as if the Yankees have been struggling so much is because the team got off to such a quick start with the bats. In other words, although the lineup’s recent output hasn’t fallen too far behind the rest of the league, it has significantly lagged its earlier performance (not to mention preseason expectations).  So, what short circuited the Yankees’ offense and when did it occur?

Yankees Offensive Performance over Defined Periods

Games R/G AVG OBP SLG wOBA
19 to 47 4.62 0.249 0.330 0.409 0.330
Rank 6 15 9 5t 5t
Season 5.17 0.254 0.335 0.445 0.344
Rank 1 12 3 1 2

Source: fangraphs.com

Segmenting a sample can often lead to a misleading analysis, but the tenor of the Yankees’ season seemed to change on April 25 when the team returned home for a four-game series against the White Sox. In that game, the 12-6 Bronx Bombers, who were leading the league with a whopping 6.1 runs/game, were opposed by journeyman Philip Humber, so the natural expectation was a blowout. However, the Chicago righty not only kept the Yankees from scoring a single run, but he also no hit them for 6 1/3 innings.

Since Humber’s masterpiece, the Yankees’ offense has fallen off considerably. Not only has the lineup’s per game run production dropped to 4.6, but most relevant metrics have taken a dip as well. Although it’s worth mentioning that the team’s production during this decline period has still been above average in aggregate, a closer look at each game tells a somewhat different story.

Of the 134 runs scored since April 25, almost 28% (37) have come in three games, meaning the team’s average in all others has been 3.7 runs. Obviously, negative outliers can’t simply be dismissed, but doing so helps to reveal a level of inconsistency that gets lost in the season totals.

Yankees’ Run Distribution, by Defined Period

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

At this point in the season, Mark Teixeira is usually starting to emerge from his April doldrums. This year, however, the Yankees’ first baseman got off to a hot start. As a result, Teixeira’s current OPS+ of 141 ranks above his career rate and on par with some of his best seasons.

Although he has been one of the Yankees’ best offensive performers, one part of Teixeira’s game has been a little concerning. Despite establishing himself as a well-rounded hitter before joining the Yankees, Teixeira has gradually turned into a more one-dimensional slugger, particularly when batting from the left side.

As evidenced by the chart below, Teixeira has evolved from an all-field approach into a much more pull conscious batter. Although the percentage of balls hit to center and the opposite way have fluctuated during this period, the overall trend toward pulling the ball has persisted since 2007. Also evident from the chart is a potential relationship between the first baseman’s production and where he hits the ball. Over the years, it seems as if Teixeira’s output has increased in accordance with his use of all parts of the ballpark, particularly the opposite field.

Using All Fields: Where Mark Teixeira Hits the Ball (% of batted balls)


Note: Off field = Opposite + Center.
Source: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com (OPS+)

Although it’s clear that Teixeira has been pulling the ball more overall, has the same trend emerged from both sides of the plate? By isolating Teixeira’s directional splits based on handedness, we can better answer that question.

Mark Teixeira’s “Spray Chart” as LHB, RHB (% of batted balls from each side)

Source: fangraphs.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

The longer the Yankees’ offensive malaise continues, the more it becomes confusing. Over a three-week period that has seen the team’s per game production plummet by almost two runs, no one explanation has been evident. Nonetheless, there must be something that stands out as a reasonable cause for the batting slump that most of the team is currently enduring.

After scanning the Yankees’ season splits in 2011, one number jumps out more than any other. In 30 plate appearances with a 3-0 count, the Yankees haven’t recorded a single hit. Of course, that statistics is misleading because the team has walked in 90% of those instances, or just a shade below the league average. So, when compared to the league’s performance on 3-0 (.366/.955/.761), it appears as if the Yankees have only missed out one or two hits. What’s more, the Yankees won all three games when those 3-0 outs occurred, so this split has played no role in the larger trend.

Yankees sOPS+ in Three-Ball Counts

Split PA AB HR BA OBP SLG sOPS+
3-0 Count 30 3 0 0.000 0.900 0.000 -6
3-1 Count 87 44 3 0.386 0.686 0.682 99
Full Count 243 156 8 0.199 0.477 0.385 130
After 3-0 79 31 4 0.258 0.709 0.710 142
After 3-1 166 95 7 0.253 0.570 0.526 111
Three Balls 360 203 11 0.236 0.563 0.443 114

Note: sOPS+ is a measurement that compares the Yankees performance in a particular split to the league average.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Even after an awful weekend in which the Yankees struggled mightily on three ball counts, the team’s related OPS splits are at least on par with the rest of the league. So, although the inability to do damage on 3-1 did hurt the Yankees over the past weekend, it has not been a systemic problem.

With yet another theory dismissed, one more observation bears closer examination. A lot has been made of the Yankees’ scoring too many runs via the long ball, which is an inherently silly argument. However, is it possible that the team is trying too hard to go deep? Although this tendency is difficult to identify in the numbers, one manifestation might be a decline in off-field production at the expense of pulling the ball. In other words, instead of letting the homeruns come naturally, the Yankees may be forcing the issue.

wOBA Relative to Hit Placement, 2002-2011

Source: fangraphs.com

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When the Yankees left Baltimore on Easter Sunday, the team was riding a three-game winning streak into what was shaping up to be one of the weakest stretches on the schedule. At the time, the offense was averaging a whopping six runs per game and the starting rotation was rounding into form, so it seemed like the Yankees were a sure bet to build upon their five game loss column lead over the Red Sox and Rays.

NY Daily News

Unfortunately, just when it looked as if the Yankees were ready to take off, their offense went south. In the 16 games played since April 24, the Bronx Bombers have averaged only 4.2 runs, and even that amount is inflated. Excluding two games in which they scored 12 runs, the Yankees have barely scored more than three runs per contest.

At the beginning of the year, the offense was expected to carry the team, but instead, the pitchers have shouldered the burden. As the offense has sputtered, the pitching staff has risen to the occasion by limiting the opposition to only 55 runs. Because of their stinginess, the Yankees have managed to eke out a .500 record during this stretch. However, by losing half those games, the Yankees have squandered a chance to take advantage of a soft spot in the schedule.

To be fair, the Yankees’ offense really hasn’t been that bad over the past two weeks. In fact, statistically speaking, it’s actually been pretty good. Over the last 14 days, the Bronx Bombers are second in all of baseball with a wOBA of .351 and first with an OBP of .363. In other words, the Yankees have not suffered from a lack of opportunities to score; they just haven’t been able to capitalize on them.

Yankees Offensive Performance, April 28 to May 11

Name PA HR R RBI BABIP OBP SLG wOBA WPA
Gustavo Molina 1 0 0 0 1.000 1.000 2.000 1.283 0.00
Brett Gardner 47 1 9 3 0.500 0.578 0.618 0.511 0.38
Eduardo Nunez 16 0 3 2 0.462 0.438 0.533 0.477 -0.12
Curtis Granderson 58 5 11 13 0.300 0.397 0.646 0.439 0.60
Mark Teixeira 53 3 6 5 0.250 0.415 0.558 0.427 -0.20
Robinson Cano 49 2 6 6 0.294 0.347 0.465 0.362 -0.08
Eric Chavez 13 0 1 3 0.222 0.385 0.400 0.327 0.20
Derek Jeter 52 2 6 5 0.308 0.308 0.429 0.324 -0.09
Nick Swisher 51 2 6 6 0.276 0.353 0.395 0.324 -0.06
Francisco Cervelli 11 1 2 5 0.143 0.200 0.500 0.302 0.01
Russell Martin 41 0 3 4 0.231 0.341 0.242 0.286 0.02
Jorge Posada 48 0 4 4 0.267 0.333 0.250 0.271 -0.06
Alex Rodriguez 51 0 5 4 0.243 0.235 0.208 0.208 -0.76
Andruw Jones 14 0 0 0 0.125 0.214 0.083 0.164 -0.24
Total 505 16 62 60 0.294 0.363 0.424 0.351 -0.42

Source: fangraphs.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Offense has been down across the majors this season, continuing a trend that began at the start of the decade and accelerated last season.

In the National League, the per-team average has been 4.13 runs, which would be the lowest output since 3.88 runs in 1992. Meanwhile, if the American League’s current average output of 4.26 runs per team remains constant over the rest of the year, it will be the junior circuit’s lowest offensive display since the strike-shortened season of 1981.

Runs Scored by League, 1901-2011

Source: Baseball-reference.com

One of the main factors that seems to be driving this downward offensive trend is a similar decline in the number of home runs. In 2000, when run production in the major leagues reached 5.14 per team, 3% of all plate appearances culminated in a homer. This year, the homerun rate has fallen all the way to 2.3%. During that span, runs per game has almost correlated in lock step with the homerun rate (R =0.896), so there can be no denying that fewer balls over the fence have meant fewer runners crossing the plate.

The connection between homeruns and run production is an easy one, but what is at that root cause of the decline in long ball power? Countless theories abound, but most center on the gradual increase in testing for both steroids and amphetamines. Although part of the overall trend could be attributable to that dynamic, it seems likely that many other variables have also played a role.

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(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.

The Yankees have been the victims of a league leading 41 double plays (Photo: Getty Images).

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

 Year DP GB% Spd* HRs
2010 124 44.9% 4.8 201
2009 144 43.1% 4.6 244
2008 149 45.9% 4.5 180
2007 138 45.8% 5 201
2006 139 45.4% 4.9 210
2005 125 46.8% 4 229
2004 157 45.1% 4.3 242
2003 154 43.3% 4.1 230
2002 150 42.5% 4.2 223
  R= -0.4989 -0.2936 0.2682

* 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

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

When the Yankees landed in Detroit on Monday, it looked like an opportunity to make some hay. However, the team’s suddenly slumbering lumber conspired with several miscues in the field and on the bases to send the Yankees limping to Texas with three losses.

Historically, the Yankees have struggled to score in Comerica Park, so the week’s drought shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. In the 47 games played since the park opened in 2000, the Yankees have only hit 38 home runs and averaged 4.7 runs per contest.

Yankees at Comerica Park, 2000-2011

G W L PA AB R HR BA OBP SLG
47 22 25 1876 1680 221 38 0.263 0.330 0.388

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although the Motown slowdown was in keeping with past results, the Yankees’ recent swoon extends back even further. Over the last 11 games, the team has averaged only four runs, including a 12-run outburst against the White Sox. If you remove that game from the equation, the team’s average run total drops all the way to three. Not surprisingly, the Yankees have gone 5-6 over this period.

Before the season, most fans probably would have expected the pitching staff to be the root cause of an extended lull. However, responsibility for the Yankees’ first down period falls squarely on the shoulders of the offense. Ironically, if not for the team’s strong starting pitching, the current stretch of 11 games could have been even more costly.

It’s easy to identify the source of the Yankees’ recent woes, but figuring out the reason behind the diagnosis is a much harder task. After all, before the Yankees’ returned home to face the White Sox on April 25, the offense was averaging a whopping six runs per game. So, the question remains, what is behind this recent spiral?

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At first glance, Robinson Cano seems as if he has picked up exactly where he left off in 2010. His batting average, slugging percentage, wOBA, OPS+, and runs created per plate appearance are all in line with or even better than his near MVP season. However, there is one glaring indicator that has failed to keep pace: on base percentage.

When Cano first entered the league, he was a notorious free swinger, but the second baseman gradually increased his walk rate to a respectable 8.2% in 2010. In an admittedly small sample of only 18 games, however, Cano has only walked one time in 78 plate appearances this season. Is this the reversal of a trend, or a momentary set back?

Robinson Cano: 2010 vs. 2011

  BA OBP SLG OPS+ wOBA wRC+ BB% K%
2010 0.319 0.381 0.534 142 0.389 142 8% 12%
2011 0.316 0.321 0.566 141 0.384 146 1% 17%

Source: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com

A look inside Cano’s plate discipline percentages doesn’t really reveal anything amiss. Although he has been swinging at more pitches, most of those cuts have come at balls thrown in the zone. There have been a few extra swings at pitches out of the zone, but for the most part, Cano has continued a trend that has seen him eschew taking strikes in favor of swinging at them. This finding contradicts the conventional wisdom that Cano has evolved from a free swinger into a more patient hitter. Instead, it seems as if he has just become better at picking out a good pitch to hit…and doing more damage when he does. In other words, Cano’s increasing walk rate is more about respect than discipline (in fact, 14 of his 57 walks in 2010 were intentional).

Cano’s Strike Breakdown

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Over any 10-game stretch, even the most accomplished hitter can experience a dry spell. For the most part, such slumps pass by unnoticed, but when they occur at the beginning of the season, there is usually much more scrutiny.

Contact has been hard to come by for Brett Gardner.

For established players in their prime, the early panic is usually unwarranted. However, for aging veterans and younger players without a proven track record, each new season brings with it justifiable skepticism. This year, the Yankees have three hitters who fall into that category.

Derek Jeter’s 2010 was such a deviation from the norm, that it’s only natural to wonder if the great Yankees’ short stop is in the midst of a drastic decline. Unfortunately, the first 11 games of the season have done little to dispel that fear. In almost 50 plate appearances, Jeter has only one extra base hit, resulting in the 13th lowest slugging percentage among qualified batters in the American League. The biggest reason for his lack of power has been an inability to drive the ball in the air. To this point, a whopping 79% of Jeter’s at bats have resulted in a ground ball. What’s more, 25% of his fly balls haven’t let the infield. In other words, Jeter’s .256 BABIP doesn’t point to bad luck, but rather bad contact.

Derek Jeter’s Contact Profile, 2002-2011

Source: fangraphs.com

Amid all the bad omens, there are two positive signs that one can take away from Jeter’s early performance. The first is he has avoided swinging at, and making contact with, pitches outside of the zone. In 2010, Jeter recorded career highs in both categories, but this season, his rates have returned to more normal levels. As a result, Jeter’s walk rate has risen back over 10%, which is where it has been during his best seasons. Another silver lining is the Yankees have mostly faced right handed pitchers. Even in his best years, the Captain has greatly preferred facing lefties (he has a .445 wOBA in 10 plate appearances against lefties this season), so the lack of such opportunities has likely been a drag on his performance.

If you give Jeter an allowance for adjusting to his new batting stance (or reverting back to the old one), and then take into account the way the schedule has broken down, there’s still reason to hold out hope that the future Hall of Famer can at least return to being an above average offensive short stop.

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