Earlier this week, our very own Jesse Dorey took a deep dive into the very many strange statistical outliers that have occurred in this very strange season, primarily focusing on the surprising performances of individual players. The weirdness of this season, however, goes beyond strange splits of a few players — the entire team, for example, has struggled in day games, as the Yankees have gone 16-25 in games where the Sun is shining, and of course we’re all aware of the team’s inability to actually finish a sweep. And that got me thinking, about what other weird team stats have happened over the last decade that we may not even have noticed at the time. With an excess of time on my hands, I decided to dive into that discussion.
Turf vs. Grass
Since the start of the 2013 season, the Yankees have gone 730-579, a 90-win pace; even in the “dark years” from 2013 through 2016, the Yankees sniffed, but did not ever finish, with a losing record. That does not mean they have played equally well everywhere, however, or rather, on every kind of service.
Over the last nine years, the Yankees have been an absolutely atrocious team when playing on fields made of artificial turf, posting a 68-82 record in 150 games over that stretch. That would be a 73-win pace. That record would have finished last in the AL East in 2013, 2015, and 2017, and removing those games from the Yankees’ schedule improves their overall win rate to 92.5 wins over 162 games. While some of this is probably attributed to the team’s success (or lack thereof) at Tropicana Field, which has been a house of horrors for the Bombers over the last few seasons, this trend is simply too pronounced, and has gone on for too many seasons, to be the product of simply one field. For some reason, the Yankees just prefer their fields to be all-natural.
The 2019 Yankees were one of the best power-hitting teams of all-time — that squad’s 306 home runs as a team rank second all time, behind only the 2019 Twins. If you didn’t look at the statistical data, you might think that the short porch in right field had a lot to do with that historic performance. You would be wrong, however — while the Yankees definitely hit well at home (their OPS of .809 at Yankee Stadium would have been fourth in the AL), they were otherworldly on the road: their .271/.342/.504 slash line away from the Bronx would have been second in on-base percentage and first in slugging percentage in all of baseball. Moreover, they had twenty more home runs on the road than they did at the Stadium.
While not a unique outlier — the 2016 team hit slightly better on the road — no other season in recent years has seen the Yankees offense prefer to be on the road as much as that 2019 team did. Maybe the front office invested in really good hotels that year? Whatever they did, it worked.
Last Man Standing
No pitcher wants to give up a hit to the number nine batter. If you’re in a National League ballpark, that means that you probably just surrendered a hit to a pitcher, and unless that pitcher is Shohei Ohtani, Jacob deGrom, or Max Fried, that’s just embarrassing. In an American League game, it’s not quite as bad, but it’s still not what you want to do — the number nine hitter is typically the worst hitter in the lineup, and now you’re putting a runner on base for the top of the order. Oftentimes, that hitter is strong defender at a premium position with a weak bat or a backup.
Naturally, the Yankees have collectively decided to be very generous and help this group pad their stats over the last several years.
At first glance, these stats don’t exactly look eye-popping — only three years had opposing batters with a .300 on-base percentage or higher over this stretch. But take a look at that final column, sOPS, which represents how the team’s OPS in this split is relative to the rest of the league. It follows the same rules as OPS+ and wRC+: an sOPS of 100 is league average, above that indicates that batters are performing better than league average, and below it indicates that the pitchers are performing better.
As you can see, only once — the 2018 season — did the Yankees pitching staff get the ninth batter out at an above-average rate. In every other year, they put that runner on base with the top of the order coming up more than most other teams in the league. In fact, if number nine hitters against the 2019 Yankees were a team, they would have ranked eighth in the AL in OPS+, in front of the Rangers, Angels, Mariners, Blue Jays, White Sox, Orioles, Royals and Tigers.
Just imagine what the team would have been like if they made those hitters play like their spot in the lineup suggested they should.