The 2019 Yankees appear to be a more diverse offense, but they’re really not. All “Good” offensive categories have improved marginally, but a 1% change can leave a couple big moments in our minds that make things feel different.
Why does this team feel so different? The Yankees are among the best teams in baseball, but they were last year too. They have a ton of power this year - second in MLB in home runs and ISO - but of course they were powerful in 2018. Something feels different, and if you ask most fans, it’s that the Yankees aren’t striking out as much as they were last year.
Oh, maybe not. The Yankees are striking out at the exact same rate as they were last year, and are actually walking less, if only by a hair. Strange. You know what, let’s look at all their rate stats:
So really what we have is an offense that’s not doing a lot different from last year. They’re hitting a few more line drives, going to the opposite field a tad more, and hitting the ball a little harder, but there’s no massive change that flags why this team feels so different.
The big change is in BABIP, where the Yankees have seen a 30-basis-point improvement to .315, the biggest improvement in baseball against last year’s performance and fourth-highest in baseball in 2019. BABIP is a funky stat; sometimes it can reflect batted ball luck, the bloop that falls into no-man’s land, or the grounder that just squeaks under a shortstop’s glove. Sometimes though, we can evaluate the sustainability of BABIP based on the kinds of batted balls hitters are generating.
DJ LeMahieu is a great example of that second bit, as I wrote about earlier this year. He hits a lot of line drives, very hard, and sprays them all over the field, which is conducive to running a high BABIP in a sustainable way. The Yankees as a team have done this to a large extent - the increase in LD% and hard hit rate might be marginal, but it’s still an increase.
It’s hard to break out how much of those 30 basis points can be attributed to batted ball results and how much to “luck”, or positive random deviations from expected performance if you prefer. But it is the BABIP that’s different - a few hits here and there become the big moments that stand out, and we feel like this Yankee team is different than last year, even though the actual performance isn’t much different.
Of course, there’s something to be said for the performance of the replacements, the guys who aren’t as good as Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar or Gary Sanchez putting up virtually identical performance. Cameron Maybin, Mike Tauchman and of course Gio Urshela have been the standard bearers, and that lends a lot to the feeling around this team.
The 2019 Yankees are the most fun I’ve had with a full team since 2012. They’re primed for a deep playoff run, among the three favorites for the World Series, and are likely to only get better as we approach returns from Luis Severino, Sanchez and Stanton. The performance may be the same as 2018, but the feeling is different, and I’m hooked on it.