By and large, the Yankees’ offense as a whole has met the lofty expectations saddled on it prior to the season. Despite key players like Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez slumping, the Bombers’ bats are 2nd in MLB in runs scored (just 5 behind the Red Sox, who’ve played 6 more games) and are on pace to break the all-time record for most team homers in a single season.
However, some Yankee fans are unsatisfied with the state of the Yankees’ offense, and their recent 0-run performance against Seth Lugo and the New York Mets have only given them more fodder. A particularly strong strand of criticism has focused on the Yankees’ alleged over-reliance on homers, arguing that the Bombers’ home run-or-bust approach leaves them helpless when they don’t hit homers. This article aims to test whether that narrative is supported by the facts. Is the Yankees' offense really home run or bust?
In order to determine that, first we need to determine what it means to be home run-or-bust. My research, which consisted of me searching “home run or bust” on Google and skimming through the results, suggests that this is in fact a multifaceted concept.
“Home run or bust” in its simplest form is synonymous with the phrase “all-or-nothing,” which denotes an approach to hitting that sacrifices power for contact, resulting in increased homers and strikeouts and a decrease in overall number of hits/batting average. This is expressed most clearly in Sarah Langs' piece for ESPN detailing the MLB-wide trend towards more homers and strikeouts.
Do the Yankees fit this description? It's true that they hit a lot of homers, but they aren't exactly “all or nothing.” Their .252 team batting average ranks 8th in MLB, tied with Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Meanwhile, their 23.4% strikeout rate, while higher than average, is only the 9th highest mark in the majors. For what it's worth, their .333 team OBP trails only the Chicago Cubs' .342 mark, suggesting that the Bombers are skilled at avoiding outs as well as hitting dingers. When you look at the state of the league as a whole, it's a stretch to describe the Yankees' offense as being “all or nothing.”
However, “home run or bust” can take on different meanings as well. In a more sophisticated form, the phrase is used to describe an offense that, while formidable when they do hit homers, cannot score when they don't. This is often paired with criticisms about how said offense is lacking in situational hitting, and also about how such a homer-reliant offense will not work in the playoffs due to the heightened level of pitching there.
Does this description fit the Yankees? At first glance, it seems to do so. The Yankees currently own a 7-6 record in games that they do not homer in, compared to a 35-13 record in games in which they do.
However, this isn't to say that the Yankees cannot score without homering, because they have. In those 13 games in which the Yanks went homerless, they've scored 59 runs, for an average of 4.54 runs per game. For comparison's sake, the Angels rank 10th in MLB with 4.51 runs scored per game to date. Even when they haven't dingered, the Yankees' offense has performed slightly better than the 10th-best offense in baseball. So much for that narrative.
In sum, the Yankees' offense is neither “all or nothing” nor “home run or bust.” As a team, the Bombers haven't just hit tons of dingers; they've also hit for an acceptable batting average and gotten on base at an elite clip. In addition, even in the games that they didn't homer, the Yankees have managed to score like an above-average offense. Any time an acquaintance makes a snide comment about how the Yankees rely on the long ball too much, please refer them to this article.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.