clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Yankees' offense is among the most disciplined in MLB, as it should be

New, comments

Good plate discipline leads to good results. The Yankees have the first part down, and the results are catching up.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In hindsight, this article needed to be written earlier. I came up with the basic idea for this piece in the wake of the Yankees' embarrassing 9-1 loss at the hands of Jarlin Garcia and the lowly Marlins. People were voicing their concerns about the Yankees' offense, so I figured that I would look at their plate discipline numbers to show that their approach was disciplined and sound, dispelling any notion that they were hacking or giving away at-bats. In short, this article was envisioned as a call for faith in the Yankees' bats, despite trying times.

After a series win against Toronto and a 14-1 rout of the Twins, I don't think anybody is as worried about the Yankees' offense as they were last week. As of the time of this article's writing, the Yankees own a .260/.350/.464 slash line as a team, ranking 1st in wRC+ and ISO in all of baseball. In this sense, this article came a week too late, as my intended target audience's concerns have already been largely put to rest.

Looking at it from another point of view, however, you could say that the Yankees proved my point even before I wrote this piece - the point being that the Yankees' approach at the plate should lead to good results. So, for the remainder of this article, I'll argue that the Yankees' approach fits them perfectly, and is preferable to a more aggressive approach.

What's so great about the Yankees' approach at the plate? This can be boiled down to one simple statement: they don't chase pitches out of the zone. The Yankees currently rank 6th in O-Swing% in all of baseball with a 27.5% mark. The benefits to this disciplined approach are seemingly obvious. By taking pitches out of the zone, the Yankees can force opposing pitchers to throw strikes, thus getting to see more hittable pitches.

However, not chasing pitches isn't the only way for offensive success. The Red Sox, owners of a 17-4 record and a 118 team wRC+, have been raking despite running an O-Swing rate of 30.3%, almost 3 percent higher than the Yankees. This is a side effect of Boston's new approach at the plate, which involves being aggressive in early counts. This approach, while being the polar opposite of the Yankees', makes sense too.

Boston’s strategy covers a potential pitfall in the Yankees' patient approach. The Yankees' rationale for their approach is as follows: why swing at balls and risk whiffing or making weak contact when you can lay off non-strikes and wait for the pitcher to make a mistake? However, by being willing to take pitches, the Yankees are also risking taking hittable pitches for the sake of being patient, which many commenters have noted on this site. Boston's aggressive approach mitigates that risk, and allows their hitters to take advantage of get-me-over strikes and meatballs. Should the Yankees take a page from their book?

No, because what works for Boston might not necessarily work for the Yankees. A major difference between the two teams is how they are pitched. On average, the Yankees see fewer pitches in the zone (41.6% to 42.7%) and fewer first-pitch strikes (56.8% to 58.7%) than the Red Sox. This means that if the Yankees were to adopt an aggressive approach, they would be even more susceptible to chasing pitches and worsening the count than the Red Sox are.

Another difference lies in the skillsets of the core players in each team's lineup. The players leading the Red Sox lineup - J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers - are either already aggressive (Martinez, Devers) or have great contact skills (Betts, Benintendi). On the other hand, the Yankees' big bats - Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez - are known for their power and high strikeout totals, not their bat-to-ball ability. Encouraging them to be more aggressive would make them even more vulnerable to breaking balls out of the zone than they already are. In this sense, the Yankees' core players are better served with a patient approach at the plate.

The Yankees' patient, disciplined strategy at the dish serves them quite well. It has allowed them to be the best offense in MLB so far this season, with the 2nd-highest walk rate and 8th-lowest strikeout rate. Sure, it might be frustrating to watch Judge or Stanton take a belt-high fastball for a called strike. But telling them to be more aggressive solves nothing; if anything, it would only add to their strikeout woes. The best way forward is for the Yankees to keep doing what they've been doing, which is not swinging at balls. Something tells me the next belt-high heater won't be as lucky as the last one.