A little under two months ago I posed the question are pitchers afraid of the Yankees? Of course, it’s very hard to answer that question definitively. At that point in the season, we learned that the Yankees were being pitched to a certain way. We also learned that maybe they shouldn’t be.
Yankees hitters were seeing the most pitches outside of the zone by a noticeable margin, but they weren’t hitting like a team that should be pitched around. They were in the upper half of exit velocity and SLG% on pitches in and around the zone, but they weren’t blowing anyone away. My famous last words were that something would have to give, either the Yankees would start hitting like everyone thought they could, or pitchers would realize they’re not so scary after all.
We’re over halfway through the season now (84 games), so how have things changed? I’m going to use the same search parameters and find out.
Here’s an updated graph comparing total pitches seen outside of the strike zone vs. % of pitches seen outside of the zone. I once again took the liberty of labeling some of the outliers.
It would seem that pitchers are not giving in, the Yankees are in fact even farther away from the rest of the pack than they were in May.
This second graph is even more interesting. This one shows SLG% on pitches in and around the strike zone vs exit velocity on those same pitches.
The Yankees are actually so far at the top of this graph I couldn’t find them at first. As a team, the Yankees are slugging over .500 on pitches in/around the zone. This is the reputation that has preceded them all season.
Since May 11th, the Yankees as a team rank 1st in home runs with 93, tied for second with the Dodgers (behind the Astros) in wRC+ at 118, and 2nd in OPS behind LAD with .802. So, who is responsible for this?
The Yankees have actually had 5 outstanding offensive performers since I first burdened myself with this question. Aaron Hicks (156 wRC+/.585 SLG%), Gleyber Torres (146 wRC+/.580 SLG%), Aaron Judge (153 wRC+/.573 SLG%), Miguel Andujar (135 wRC+/.543 SLG%), and Giancarlo Stanton (136 wRC+/.530 SLG%).
That amounts to two rookie of the year candidates, two large baseball destroyers, and Aaron Hicks, who is compounding on the improvements he made last season and is in the midst of another career year.
Thanks again to Yankees broadcaster David Cone who first insinuated that Yankees hitters were “pushing pitchers out of the zone.” He was right in May, and the lineup has continued to prove him right throughout the course of the season.
This will be an interesting trend to follow through the second half of the season. Will pitchers start to give in and throw more strikes? Or will they double down and throw even fewer? Will the Yankees offense even cool off enough to let them? Magic 8 ball says don’t count on it.
*Graphs courtesy of Statcast