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The Yankees home run drought is finally over. What caused it?

Looking at hitting metrics to explain why New York’s bats went cold.

Miami Marlins v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It’s no secret that home runs are the lifeblood of the Yankees’ offense. The Bronx Bombers don’t play small ball, and that means the Yankees can struggle to win games when they don’t hit homers.

Because the team primarily scores runs through the dinger, the Yankees’ recent home run drought was especially concerning. If the Yankees’ stacked lineup doesn’t hit dingers, the team’s chance of winning plummets. Before Tyler Wade ended the team’s five-game homerless streak on Saturday afternoon, the Yankees had gone more than 180 at-bats since their previous homer, which was hit by Clint Frazier on Sept. 19 against the Red Sox.

Thanks to Wade, Yankee fans can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. But what caused the Yankee sluggers to go cold for that stretch? Shortly before the dinger drought, the Yankees had set a major league record by belting 19 home runs in a three-game span. Why did the sudden drop off occur?

To identify potential factors contributing to the Yankees’ dinger-less stretch, I took a closer look at the team’s hitting stats. Using data from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant, I isolated the Yankees’ plate discipline and batted ball metrics, as well as the team’s Statcast data on exit velocity (EV) and launch angle (LA) of batted balls. To compare the Yankees’ numbers at the plate before the home run drought to the team’s numbers at the plate during the home run drought, I separated the data into two distinct sets.

The first data set consisted of the Yankees’ hitting metrics from September 1 to September 19. The second set contained the Yankees’ hitting metrics from September 20 through September 25, the five-game homerless stretch. Here are the most noticeable changes I observed in comparing the data from those two distinct time periods:

From Sept. 20 - Sept. 25, the Yankees hit more groundballs than usual. They also hit fewer balls in the air.

Ground Ball / Fly Ball Rates of Yankees Lineup

Time Period BABIP GB/FB Line Drive % Ground Ball Rate % Flyball Rate % HR/FB
Time Period BABIP GB/FB Line Drive % Ground Ball Rate % Flyball Rate % HR/FB
Games played Sept. 1 - Sept. 19 0.28 1.13 22.20% 41.30% 36.60% 20.60%
Games played Sept. 20 - Sept. 25 0.289 2.29 22.80% 53.70% 23.50% 2.90%
Data courtesy of Fangraphs

The Yankees’ exit velocity of batted balls and hard-hit rate stayed relatively constant during both the pre-drought period and five-game homerless span.

Digging a little deeper, the Yankees’ contact, slugging and plate discipline metrics yielded a few surprises. I expected the numbers to reflect a drop off in the lineup’s power during the homerless time span. In actuality, the Yankees’ hard-hit rate (Hard%) experienced a very slight increase during the home run slump. The lineup’s average exit velocity (EV) also remained relatively constant, dipping only slightly from 89.2 mph before the home run drought to 88.6 mph during it.

If the Yankees were still hitting the ball hard, why weren’t they hitting homers? Barrels, exit velocity and launch angle metrics provide a possible explanation.

Comparing the percentage of barrels (Barrel%), a Statcast metric for batted balls that are considered to be optimally hit, from before and during the home run drought offered more insight.

Statcast metrics for Yankees Lineup

Time Period PA Events EV maxEV LA Barrels Barrel% HardHit HardHit%
Time Period PA Events EV maxEV LA Barrels Barrel% HardHit HardHit%
Sept. 1 - Sept. 19 739 494 89.2 117.5 12.9 37 7.50% 173 35.00%
Home Run Drought (Sept. 20 - 25) 228 150 88.6 117.3 6.3 6 4.00% 59 39.30%
Data courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant

To be considered “barreled,” a batted ball must:

  1. Have an exit velocity of at least 98 mph
  2. Leave the hitter’s bat at a launch angle within a specific range. The “Barrel Zone” is an area that begins at 98 mph, between a launch angle of 26 degrees and 30 degrees. As the exit velocity of the ball increases, the Barrel Zone’s launch angle range expands.

During Sept. 20 - Sept. 25, the Yankees barreled balls at a lower rate. They were making quality contact with the ball less frequently in their at-bats during that span.

The Yankee lineup’s barrel rate decreased from 7.5 percent to 4 percent during the homerless span. Because the team’s hard hit percentage and average exit velocity didn’t change during that time period, the Yankees may have been making contact at lower launch angles during the home run drought. And so they were: the lineup’s average launch angle dropped precipitously from 12.9 degrees to 6.3 degrees between Sept. 20 and Sept. 25.

During the home run drought, the Yankees were hitting more groundballs; this is also likely due to the lowered launch angle displayed by the lineup during that time. When the Yankees weren’t hitting home runs, they were also making contact with more pitches outside of the strike zone. The increase was only slight—from 61 percent to 64 percent. But making contact with bad pitches could explain, at least in part, why the lineup was making quality contact less often and hitting the ball at lower launch angles.