When the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton over the winter, two assumptions were made by almost everyone. First, the team was going to lead the galaxy in home runs. Second, they’d also pace the field in strikeouts. Matching Stanton with the likes of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird was tantamount to swearing fealty to the notion of three true outcomes.
Three true outcomes, of course, refer to walks, strikeouts and home runs, all three of which have seen spikes in the new era of baseball. Juiced balls, improved tracking of launch angles, the development of relief pitching, and strengthened defense have all led teams to forego traditional offensive strategies in lieu of working counts and hammering mistakes. The Yankees were expected to be the standard bearers for three true outcomes in 2018, but so far that hasn’t happened to the degree predicted.
The biggest reason why is that the Yankees just haven’t struck out as often as imagined. They’ve hit their share of home runs, and take walks at a high level. However, they have managed to avoid striking out any more than last season, while the rest of the league has only climbed in that regard.
Here we have the very early returns for the two “no contact” elements of three true outcomes. The Yankees are posting a healthy 12.00% walk rate, well above the average in baseball of 9.41%. They are also below the game’s average strikeout rate - 22.58% - at 21.8%, which is the exact mark the team managed in 2017. The overall strikeout rate has climbed almost a full percent - 93 basis points - since last season, so the Yankees holding fast really is an impressive drop.
So how have they done it? To start, the 2018 Yankees are far more selective than they’ve been for the past few seasons:
O-Swing% and Z-Swing% represent the percentage of pitches outside and inside the zone a batter swings at, respectively. In this case, the Yankees have swung at a fewer portion of pitches in or out of the strike zone than any of the previous four seasons. It hasn’t hurt their overall offensive performance, as they boast a very respectable 114 wRC+ in 2018. Plate discipline is one of the quickest traits to normalize, meaning this new selective approach may be for real.
I’m actually optimistic that this IS a new normal, or at least closer to the normal than we all originally thought. Individual players who have massively changed their discipline profile, like Didi Gregorius and Stanton, will regress towards their career norms, but those regressions should more or less cancel themselves out, leaving the team-wide change intact.
We’re still early into 2018, and the Yankees have yet to face teams with super-intimidating rotations. They’ve still shown tremendous improvement in contact and discipline, and there’s good reason to believe they’ll continue this for the time being.