2017 was the year of the home run, as we’ve all read and written about. More long balls were hit than in any other season, and there have been a variety of reasons behind the surge: “juiced” baseballs, a change in batting approach, engineered ballparks and more. Of course, in the year of the home run, the New York Yankees were the team of the home run.
Paced by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, the Yankees led baseball with 241 home runs, and were fourth in baseball hitting one every 26.37 PAs. Being able to put baseballs over the fence led the Yankees to the second-best offense in baseball and a Wild Card berth, only to enter the playoffs, where the cliche is that home runs disappear.
They didn’t, though. The Yankees have blasted 10 long balls in 6 postseason games, and are hitting one every 23.7 PAs, better than their regular season pace. Sure, lighting up Ervin Santana probably isn’t a surprise, but the way the Bronx Bombers were able to shell a talented, deep Cleveland pitching staff puts to rest the idea that home runs go away in the playoffs.
Of course, it’s not just the sum of home runs but the timing of them as well. Greg Bird launching a game-winning home run off of Andrew Miller, Didi Gregorius’ two shots on Corey Kluber, and Gary Sanchez’s dagger in Game 4 are all examples of “clutch” home runs, which traditional baseball cliches would tell you don’t happen. Hopefully, after the 2017 ALDS, the idea of “shorten up, put the ball in play” being the key to winning in the playoffs is buried for good.
Home runs in the playoffs work for a simple reason; the strength of opposition pitching. When you face an Andrew Miller type pitcher, it’s going to be pretty close to impossible to string together a single, walk, double to cash in a run. It’s much simpler and more likely to wait for Miller to make a mistake, then pounce on it and hit it far.
I’m writing this a couple hours before game one of the ALCS, meaning you know how the Yankees won or lost against Houston and starter Dallas Keuchel. I can’t talk about how the Yankees did in Game One, but the best way for them to beat a powerful Astros team is the same way they won through the regular season, and the way they won the ALDS.
The Astro and Yankee staffs were about identical in terms of HR/9 (1.2 for Houston and 1.19 for New York), but because of the groundball tendencies of Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers and others, the Astros actually give up more home runs per fly ball. About 15% of balls hit in the air against Houston leave the park. The Yankees were fifth in the AL in flyball rate, so look for Judge and company to get the ball up if they want to score.