First and foremost, the New York Yankees always have and always will be a home run hitting team. They even have a chance to top the single-season home run record! However, there have also been times this year when the power dries out, strikeouts rise and the Yankees seem incapable of simply driving home a runner in scoring position.
When the Yankees had Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius and Giancarlo Stanton at full health, they were a force to be reckoned with, and they took advantage of the power in the lineup. From June 6th to July 3rd, a stretch where the team went 16-9 and had a mostly healthy lineup, home runs were abound, but so too were strikeouts. They may have been a bit too dependent on homers, as the team’s OBP was just .308 and they only went 4/9 on stolen base attempts. Still, the team was winning games thanks to the long ball.
Shortly after that time, injuries and adversity began to set in. At one point, the Yankees lost Judge, Sanchez and Gregorius all at once, and Stanton became a strict DH. For the first half of August, the team tried to get by with the same offensive approach, but the results weren’t there. The team began the month 7-8 and was below average in almost every offensive statistic. Something had to change.
Since August 15 though, the Yankees have tweaked their offensive approach. They’re still clubbing home runs, but they’ve also been much more aggressive on the bases. During the second half of the month, the team stole eight bags in ten tries. Admittedly, there have been some careless outs made on the basepaths, but all in all, it has been encouraging to see the Yankees utilize the stolen base as a weapon to put some runners in scoring position.
It’s more than just stolen bases that have increased for the Yankees since then. The team has walked more, struck out less and used sacrifices more often. The team’s home run rate also dropped slightly but it wasn’t a problem, as the team went 10-5 to close out August. If nothing else, we learned that the Yankees could score runs and win ballgames without cranking home runs, and it was a refreshing change to see. Don’t forget that during the team’s best stretch, when they went 19-3 from April 21 to May 13, the team only hit 1.4 home runs per game but still slashed .249/.336/.442. When the Yankees are at their best, they aren’t just relying on home runs.
The recent series against the White Sox and Tigers skew things a bit, though. The Yankees were oddly stifled by subpar pitching and elected to go with the home run-or-bust offensive approach. They also lost four out of those seven games at home. It could just be a cold stretch, but the team had been winning with a more disciplined approach and then just threw it out the window, and it cost them.
I’m not advocating for the Yankees to stop hitting home runs, but I am suggesting that they need to take a step back and re-examine their approach. It’s crunch time now, and if the team enters the postseason on a low note, there is serious danger of making a quick exit. Hitting coaches always say that if a batter goes up to the plate looking for a home run, he’ll rarely get it. If he has a solid, disciplined approach, though, the home runs (and other hits) will come. This is advice that the Yankees need to take to heart. It’s not a good idea to rely strictly on home runs down the stretch run when they have the ability to score runs in other ways.
With an expanded roster that allows for more substitutions, look for Aaron Boone to call for more stolen bases in the coming weeks. Still, the onus falls on the hitters to work good at-bats to get back to the well-rounded offensive team they should be. With Sanchez back, Gregorius on the mend and the addition of Andrew McCutchen as Aaron Judge insurance, there are no more holes in the lineup and thus no more excuses. The tools for a potent offense are there, the players just have to do their jobs. The Yankees are a good team when they’re socking home runs, but they’re a great team when they’re scoring runs in other ways, too.