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Why can’t the Yankees hit left-handed pitching?

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Investigating the right-handed hitters’ unusual reverse splits.

Tampa Bay Rays v. New York Yankees Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Yankees have had a roller coaster first third of the season. The bats were silent during the 5-10 start, before heating up for a month to get the Yankees right into a loaded divisional battle. But since May 25, the offense has lost its footing again, and despite showing small signs of life against the Rays the last two nights, is still averaging under three runs per game over the last nine. When a team is slumping so badly at the plate, it is natural to search for solutions.

One proposal that always crops up is to balance the right-handed heavy lineup with more left-handed batters. This ostensibly works because it gives the pitchers a different look. In addition, it gives more hitters a platoon advantage, as lefties see the ball better out of a right-hander’s hand.

However, this is a flawed premise on two accounts. First, it assumes the current Yankees right-handers hit righty pitchers worse than lefties. Second, it proposes that the prospective lefty addition would perform better than members of the current lineup with said platoon advantage.

What’s bizarre about the line of thinking that says the Yankees need to add more lefty hitters is it flies in the face of what has played out in front of our eyes on the field this season. It erroneously assumes that the Yankees’ right-handed heavy lineup struggles to hit righty pitchers, and that’s the culprit for the offensive woes, when in fact, the opposite has held true. The Yankees’ right-handed batters have performed BETTER against righties than lefties, and by a significant margin.

From 2017 to 2020, the Yankees right-handed hitters were near or at the top of nearly every offensive category, regardless of if they were facing a righty or lefty. Against southpaws, they ranked first in home runs (202), slugging (.489), OPS (.834), and ISO (.226), second in walk rate (10.7 percent), and wRC+ (122). Contrary to conventional thinking, there was very little drop-off in production vs. righties. They were still first in home runs (448), slugging (.474), OPS (.811), and ISO (.209), and set second in wRC+ (116) and third in walk rate (8.7 percent).

Well, it appears that the tables have turned, with the Yankees righties displaying pronounced reverse splits in 2021. Against righties, they’re fifth in the league in home runs (35), ninth in slugging (.400), sixth in OPS (.736), tenth in ISO (.159), first in walk rate (12.1 percent), and fourth in wRC+ (110). Those numbers drop dramatically against lefties, as they are sixth in home runs (19), but 23rd in slugging (.394), 20th in OPS (.703), 23rd in ISO (.149), 18th in walk rate (8.3 percent), and 20th in wRC+ (97).

Why is it that the Yankees’ righties see their production fall off against the very pitchers they are supposed to crush? I took a look at the individual hitters’ stats against righties vs. lefties in 2017-2020 and 2021 to see if I could parse anything out.

Versus RH pitching:

Versus LH pitching:

There’s a lot to digest here, but there is no consistent trend across the board for every player. However, the biggest takeaway is that the Yankees’ righties are walking less and hitting more groundballs against lefties this year relative to previous years as well as relative to against righties this year.

Even if New York wanted to add a productive lefty bat, there’s not exactly a heap of southpaw sluggers just lying around for the Yankees to pick and choose from at leisure. As Tom noted yesterday, the Yankees have tied their own hands thanks to a reluctance to part with anyone of value and unwillingness to spend beyond the CBT threshold.

So don’t expect reinforcements to come flooding in any time soon. External options are either too expensive — in terms of money or prospect cost — or don’t move the needle enough to justify displacing one of the right-handed hitters from the Yankees lineup. No, the Bombers have to hit themselves out of this the way they have done in the past.