Opposite Field Attracting Home Runs for Yankees

Russell Martin hits one of his five opposite field home runs into the short porch at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have been no stranger to the long ball over the last 10 years. Since 2002, the Bronx Bombers have averaged almost 220 home runs per season, so this year's power display shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. What makes this season's home run barrage a little different, however, is a much larger percentage has come on balls hit to the opposite field.

Opposite Field HR Rate, Yankees vs. MLB, 1962-2012
Opphrrate_medium

Note: 1984 excluded because of discrepancies in the data.
Source: baseball-reference.com

The Yankees' 23 opposite field home runs are five more than the team hit in 2010 and 2011 combined. That equates to 13.4% of all round trippers, the franchise's highest percentage since 1998 and fourth best in the last fifty years. Compared to the rest of the big leagues, the Yankees six percentage point advantage in opposite field homers is the third greatest margin since 1962. No matter how you look at, it's been a banner year for the Yankees when it comes to going deep the other way.

Because of the short porch, the Yankees have an inherent advantage when it comes to opposite field home runs. Along with Coors Field, Yankee Stadium has surrendered more opposite field home runs than any other ballpark, and 18 of the 23 have been hit by a right handed batter to right field (the Yankees have hit 12). However, the Yankees’ ability to drive the ball out the other way hasn’t been limited to the Bronx. Although not as impressive as the 15.5% rate at home, the Yankees have launched nearly 11% of road round trippers to the opposite field, which is still well above the overall league average.

Breakdown of Yankees' Home Runs, 2012
Hrbreak_medium

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankee with the most opposite field home runs in 2012 is Russell Martin, who has deposited all five into the short porch. Derek Jeter has also used right field at Yankee Stadium for three of his four opposite field homers. On the other hand, Nick Swisher has hit two opposite field home runs on the road and two more to left field at Yankee Stadium, while Eric Chavez has hit all three of his away from the Bronx, including in back-to-back games during the Yankees’ recent series in Detroit.

The Rangers Mike Napoli leads all major leaguers with eight opposite field home runs this season, while teammate Adrian Beltre is right on his heels with six. That’s bad news for the Yankees because the Rangers visit the Bronx for four games next week, giving both right handers plenty of opportunities to take aim at the short porch.

2012 Opposite Field HR Leader Board
2012_opphr_leaders_medium

Source: baseball-reference.com

Napoli’s eight opposite field home runs, which pro rate to 12, is a respectable total, but it’s only a blip compared to the 23 Ryan Howard hit in 2006. Based on available data, no other major leaguer has come close to matching Howard’s output, with the next closest single season total being 16 by Sammy Sosa in 1998 and Jeff Bagwell in 2000. However, those two seasons featured a high number of opposite field home runs league wide, so on a relative basis, Howard’s closest competitor for the opposite field crown is probably former Orioles’ great and current Yankees’ broadcaster Ken Singleton, who belted 15 long balls to the off field in 1979.

Opposite Field Home Run Leaders, 1948-2012
Alltimeopphr_medium

Source: baseball-reference.com

Jim Thome is the only player to hit more than 100 opposite field home runs (based on data, with some limitations, from 1948 to the present). Not surprisingly, the rest of the top-20 reads like a who’s who of baseball sluggers. However, there is one notable exception. Derek Jeter’s 76 opposite field long balls rank eighth all time, but also represent an astounding 31% of his career total. If the Captain continues to add to his mark down the stretch, the Yankees just might wind up breaking the franchise record for both total home runs (241 in 1961) and those hit to the opposite field (33 in 1987).

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