Most people would agree that over the last 20 years or so the Yankees offense has consistently been among the best in baseball. One of the key reasons that they've been so successful is that most of their hitters have approached plate appearances as if they're chess matches. Yankees bats have been Bobby Fisher and opposing pitchers have been your favorite Chess With Friends challenger.
The concept is simple and intuitive. A successful batter can control an at-bat by patiently thinking a step ahead of the pitcher, fouling off tough strikes, laying off pitches outside of the strike zone, and lacing into pitches that find too much of the plate. Players that do this will, first and foremost, have high quality, productive at-bats, wear down starting pitchers in today's extremely pitch-count aware environment, and give their teammates a chance to see a pitcher's full repertoire before their turn in the lineup. Between 1993 and 2012, many Yankees fit this description and the offense flourished because of it.
Turn the page to 2013 and when it comes to patience, these Yankees are known for testing their fans', not for having any when they step up to the plate. The offense is currently one of the worst in the league (28th out of 30 in OPS+) and anybody who has watched a Yankee game this year can attest that, with the exception of Brett Gardner, this team looks to swing early and swing often. You can't even get yourself a drink when they're about to come up to bat for fear of missing the entire inning.
Thanks to computer geeks and the age of information, offensive patience can be quantified easily by looking at the number of pitches per plate appearance a team or given player sees. Not surprisingly, up until 2012 the Yankees were above the league average in pitches per plate appearance just about every year. In 2013 they are well below average and if Brett Gardner (who ranks 8th in the league) were not playing everyday it would look much worse. Here's a snapshot of the past 20 years:
All data as of 8/1/2013. Data courtesy of baseball reference.
|Year||Yankees P/PA||League Avg P/PA||Above/Below Avg|
How about that outlier in 1996? It seems that Joe Torre really did bring a more aggressive "National League" style to the Yankees when he took over in '96. It worked, but they went right back to being patient the next year and stayed that way.
The influence of Moneyball is pretty evident when looking at the league average P/PA over the years. Offensive patience is an overwhelming theme in the book, published in 2003. From 1994 to 2003 the league average P/PA was relatively stagnant, but since 2004 it's increased considerably.
Bud Selig must be very happy with the Yankees free-swinging ways these days. Shorter at-bats means shorter games and that means Bud will probably look more favorably at the Yankees when dealing with this little matter concerning Alex Rodriguez and shady clinics and secret bionic drugs and fistfuls of millions. Silver linings!
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