2011 Yankees Offense: The Numbers

Mood Music - Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

With 867 runs scored, a deep lineup that stayed healthy (non A-Rod division), and Silver Sluggers in Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, the New York Yankees offense was a major strength for the team in 2011.  But, how much so?  You often hear that the Yankees end the season with a lot of runs as a product of 1) mauling weak teams 2) huge blowout games 3) relying on the home run.

An offense that can score ten runs against a fifth starter but will get shut down by quality pitching is obviously less valuable than an offense that can score both consistently and against top competition.  So, how did the Yankees offense perform?  Is there any support for the criticism, or is it a narrative based (as they usually are) on confirmation bias and not actual results?

Take the jump for my research on the subject:

From Baseball-Reference's Scoring and Leads Summary, I pulled some data from the top five offenses in baseball by runs scored:  The Red Sox (875 runs), the Yankees (867), the Rangers (855), the Tigers (787), and the Cardinals (762).  First, here is a distribution of the number of runs scored for 162 regular season games:

A few relevant points:

  • The Yankees were "shut down" less than any team studied (and likely less than any team in baseball), being held to two or fewer runs only 28 times.  The next fewest was Detroit with 35.
  • Furthermore, the Yankees scored 4+ runs 113 times, the most of any of the five teams.  They scored 5+ runs 85 times, tied for the most with Texas.  When scoring 4+ runs, the Yankees were 86-27 (.761 winning percentage); when scoring 5+ runs, the Yankees were 71-14 (.835 winning percentage).
  • The Yankees did demonstrate a home/away split, scoring 471 runs at home and 396 on the road.  Their +75 differential ranked second highest, behind Texas (+141, wow).  The Red Sox scored 45 more runs at home, the Tigers scored 39 more runs at home, and the Cardinals actually scored 62 more runs on the road.  There is no doubt that the Yankees offense is aided by Yankee Stadium III, which was the sixth most hitter friendly park and the fourth most home run friendly park by Park Factors.
  • All things considered, it is tough to say that the Yankees were not the best offense in baseball, not only in scoring a high volume of runs, but scoring consistently and avoiding being shut down.
The next thing that I want to consider is the performance of the Yankees against top pitching.  This is a bit more difficult to quantify and what I've pulled together is unlikely to absolutely prove or disprove any big sweeping statements about the offense.  Below is the run distribution in the 54 games the Yankees played against the top 5 AL pitching staffs by ERA (Angels, Rays, A's, Rangers, Mariners):

 

More blather:

  • The obvious flaw in this analysis is that when you play the Seattle Mariners, you could face Felix Hernandez on a day that he has his good stuff, or you could face Charlie Furbush with a burnt out bullpen behind him.  I chose to do it by team to see the affect of the entire staff and not just an individual starting pitcher, but analysis on the Yankees vs. top starters would be a fun project for another day.
  • The Yankees were held to two or fewer runs in eleven games against top 5 AL staffs, or 20.4% of the time.  They scored 5+ runs 27 times, or 50.0% of the time.  Against all of baseball, they were held to two or fewer 17.3% of the time and scored 5+ 52.5% of the time.
  • You could make the case that the Yankees offense was worse against these teams, but only marginally.  As they were facing the top pitching staffs in the AL, however, being slightly worse than their season averages does not speak to smashing weak pitching and rolling over against the good ones.
Now, what about this home run thing.  This season, with the Yankees starting out the season on a home run tear, the connotation of hitting a home run somehow changed from "the best thing you can do at the plate" to "a sign that the Yankees offense is unbalanced and incomplete." *  Let's look at some interesting data that I pulled:

* I know that this is a strawman and an oversimplification of some of the points that were made about the Yankees reliance on the home run, I just wanted to get the general idea out there.

 

In the above chart, the "Baserunners" column is calculated as H+BB+HBP-HR, showing how many runners reached base, but did not score**.  Runs-HR shows how many runs were scored by non-home run hitters, or how many runners reached base and then came around to score.  By dividing the runs by the baserunners, you can ascertain the percentage that each team scores a baserunner.

** Reaching base via error was completely neglected, but should not make a difference to the crux of the point, the relative performance of the teams in baserunners coming around to score.

As shown, the Yankees were the second most adept at scoring their baserunners.  In addition to the raw percentage, as so many of the Yankees base runners were as a result of walks and being hit by a pitch, it follows that the Yankees were very successful at scoring runners all the way from first base.

So, the next time John Sterling or another lover of small ball bemoans the Yankees inability to manufacture runs, the number of runners stranded on base, or the shortcomings of being a station-to-station home run hitting team, know that the numbers and the results do not bear this out.  They never have.

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