I would like to be considered for the open writing position, and yes I realize this isn't one of the two prompts you asked for. However as a wise man once said "If you're not down with that, then I got two words for you".
David Cone said something that caught my attention during The Yankees’ 9-6 comeback win over The Red Sox. He said that Yankees hitters are pushing pitchers out of the zone. If someone else had said this I would have likely written it off as conjecture. David Cone however is not someone else and is in fact a very smart man, so I gave him benefit of the doubt and dug into the numbers a little.
A statement like this makes sense for someone like Aaron Judge, noted destroyer of baseballs. Judge leads qualified hitters since 2017 with a 18.4% BB%, just ahead of Mike Trout and Joey Votto. But Neil Walker? Ronald Torreyes? Both good players in their own right, however I doubt any pitcher is struck with fear seeing their names in a lineup.
If you’ve watched a Yankees game this year you’ve likely heard someone talk about the hitters’ ability to work counts and see lots of pitches. This is something that The Yankees organization has valued for a very long time. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge saw the 1st and 3rd most pitches of any player in 2017 respectively. That however can easily be attributed to hitting 1st and 2nd in the second best offense in baseball.
Let’s stay in 2018, because this season’s lineup looks quite a bit different than recent years. Not only with the addition of Giancarlo Stanton, but also due to the continued growth and development of young hitters. The Yankees as a team currently have an OBP of .337, good for second in the majors. They also walk in 11.2% of their plate appearances, the most since 1999.
OBP and BB% aren’t enough though, because walks don’t tell the whole story. Hitters get into 3 ball counts that don’t result in walks all the time, and those need to be accounted for. The Yankees have the lowest Zone% in the majors according to Fangraphs with 41.4% of pitches seen being inside the strike zone. This sounds like a very low amount, but when compared to the next lowest Zone% which belongs to the Rays, the difference is only 0.2%.
The story gets more interesting when you add Statcast data to the mix. Take a look at this graph of % of pitches seen out of the strike zone vs. total pitches seen outside of the strike zone. I took the liberty of labeling some of the outliers.
You'll notice The Yankees in the extreme top right, leading both categories handily.
So are pitchers scared of The Yankees? It would be impossible to tell because no MLB pitcher in their right mind would ever admit to being scared of hitters, regardless of if they actually were or not. Either way it is clear that Yankee hitters are being pitched to in a certain way. The obvious follow up question is, should they be?
Let's go back to Statcast and look at % of pitches seen inside the strike zone and at the edges of the zone compared to Exit Velocity on said pitches.
You'll notice The Yankees are in the upper echelon when it comes to doing damage to pitches within and around the zone, but certainly not leaving anyone in the dust.
Something is going to give over the course of the season. Yankees hitters' will start hitting the ball like everyone thinks they can, or opposing pitchers will adjust and start throwing more strikes. Personally I'm more inclined to believe the latter.