A couple nights ago, MLB approved a rule change: the conventional four-pitch intentional walk is no more. Putting the intentional walk to rest will hardly alter the game or quicken pace, but it does demonstrate that Rob Manfred and MLB are willing to fundamentally adjust the way baseball is played.
Another rumored rule change is that of altering the strike zone. The strike zone has expanded downwards in recent years, and MLB appears to be of the belief that combating that trend by raising the bottom of the strike zone would help increase scoring and quicken the pace of play. Earlier in the week, I examined the possible ramifications of such a change by looking at the Yankees pitchers that would be most harmed by losing that area of the zone. On the whole, it looked like the Yankees could potentially be disproportionately harmed by this rule change on the pitching side.
Now, let's extend our analysis to the Yankee hitters. Theoretically, having less strike zone to worry about, especially at the bottom of the zone where contact is weak and whiffs are common, would make pitchers' jobs more difficult and help batters out. Which Yankees would stand to gain the most?
Like I did with Yankee pitchers, I used Statcast pull all hitters that faced at least 500 pitches last season, and ranked them by how often they faced pitches in the lowest part of the strike zone (about 18 inches to 21 inches off the ground). Here are the results, along with the hitters' batting averages, slugging percentages, whiff rates and exit velocities on pitches at the bottom of the zone:
Hitters vs. pitches 18-21 inches off ground
What jumps out first is that the freshly-signed Chris Carter really struggled with pitches at the knees. He didn't face an inordinate amount of pitches in that area, but he whiffed on more than half his swings on such pitches, and slugged just .196. The Yankees' other free agent hitter, Matt Holliday, also would seem to benefit from a raised strike zone. He batted just .083 on these low pitches, but curiously still scalded them at a high exit velocity. Holliday's whiff rate and launch angle on low pitches were about league average, so perhaps his struggles in this area were a result of poor fortune.
Among the returning Yankee regulars, Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius look like they would gain the least from a rule change. Gregorius was able to slug over .400 on low pitches, while keeping his whiff rate low. Headley posted middling batting average and slugging marks on low pitches, but struck them with an above average exit velocity and launch angle, indicating he was squaring up these pitches better than most.
Interesting is the case of Gary Sanchez. He scalded pitches in this zone just like he did all pitches in all zones, but only had a .211 slugging to show for it. Sanchez may have been hurt by luck, but more likely, his struggles here stemmed from a -1.3 degree launch angle, among the lowest launch angles in the entire group I sampled. Crushing the ball is less useful when you're just crushing it into the ground.
This, however, is only part of the story. If the bottom of the strike zone was raised, it would seem that the next lowest part of the zone would see an increase in activity. So let's turn our attention to how the Yankee batters did in that next area (about 21 to 24 inches off the ground), to get a more complete picture:
Hitters vs. pitches 21-24 inches off ground
Obviously, offensive numbers in this part of the zone are higher, as we get closer to the belt. Here too Carter looks like he would benefit, as he pounded pitches in this area to the tune of a .494 slugging, as well as above average exit velocity and launch angle figures. Starlin Castro also seems like he would enjoy a boost in pitches in this area as he slugged .544, though his .364 BABIP on pitches in this zone is probably unsustainable.
Again, Sanchez is a tricky case. His .611 slugging is shiny, but his exit velocity in this area dropped well below his norms, and his launch angle was again below average (for what it's worth, Sanchez's launch angle was consistently, and oddly, low all of last season). The surface numbers indicate that Sanchez would love to have the strike zone raised, but the full story is murky.
Overall, a few Yankees do look like they would benefit from a raised strike zone, but it's unclear if they would gain any more than the league in its entirety. MLB's reasoning behind this potential change is that pitchers would attack the zone more, something that would seemingly help all hitters. Unlike the Yankee pitchers, though, it doesn't look like the Yankee hitters on the whole would stand to be inordinately affected by this rule change.