One of the common criticisms of the New York Yankees over the last decade or so has been that they rely too much on the home run. When the team boasted Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano, the commentary around them was they focused too much on hitting it out of the park, and not enough on general contact. Now that the team features Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton, that criticism still exists, even if it’s unfounded.
The recent slide the team has gone through has brought the cliche back. Many people are convinced that if the team made more contact, bunted more, or stole more bases, the team wouldn’t be .500 since July 1st. While it’s true that the Yankees haven’t hit home runs at the same pace they were earlier in the year, that doesn’t reveal a weakness in strategy or makeup.
The Yankees hit a ton of home runs. At the beginning of the year there was real buzz the team could challenge the 1997 Mariners home run record. Headed into play yesterday, this is how that chase looked:
The Yankees are slightly abreast of where the Mariners were at this point in ‘97, but overall trail the single season pace by a hair. New York’s on pace for 259 home runs in 2018, so they can be expected to be right at the record limit come that final series of the year in Boston. The pace has fallen off as the team has struggled to win consistently in the second half, but that’s less of a problem than a lot of people think.
New York’s been without Judge and Sanchez for almost a month and six weeks, respectively. Those two players, one a top five player in all of baseball and the other the best catcher in the game, have a true talent level that combines for pretty close to 100 home runs over a full season. Players like that are irreplaceable, and missing them from your lineup will of course affect both power output and overall team success. The Yankees aren’t slumping because they hit too many home runs, they’re slumping because their best players are out and not hitting home runs.
Another common talking point is the Yankees’ record in games where they don’t hit a home run. It’s true, the Yankees are 9-16 in games without dingers, but again, that’s not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. Most teams suffer when they don’t hit home runs, including the Yankees’ competition in the AL playoff picture:
The Yankees are smack dab in the middle of winning percentage in games with no HRs, ahead of the Athletics and virtually tied with Cleveland and Houston. The advantage the Yankees have over those teams is that they just don’t have many games where they don’t hit home runs. Their 25 games without going yard are the lowest of the American League contenders. They don’t play well when they don’t hit a home run, but fortunately, they hit an awful lot of home runs.
All this, again, comes back to the holes in the lineup. Shane Robinson and Austin Romine have 22 home runs combined in their careers. Judge has 26 this season and hasn’t played a game in August. The biggest problem with the Yankees isn’t their offensive strategy, it’s that the patchwork pieces left to execute that strategy are exactly as good - or as bad - as we all knew they would be.