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The Yankees’ improved offense cannot solely be attributed to stolen bases

The Yankees have picked up the pace on the bases, but it hasn’t led to runs as often as one might suspect.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The verdict on the Yankees’ offense at the All-Star break was clear, repeated ad nauseum by announcers, pundits, and fans alike — the team was unathletic, one-dimensional, and slow. Before the break, the squad could only compile 20 stolen bases altogether, ranking them dead last in all of MLB. Yet despite fielding a highly similar roster, the tide has turned since the break.

Between the All-Star break and Monday’s make-up against the Angels, the Yankees stole 24 bases, already beating their first half total in less than a month. Forcing opposing pitchers to reckon with the running game is valuable, but that may be the only value the Yankees have really found from their increased emphasis on stealing, bringing into question the value of criticizing the team for their low first-half totals in the first place. (Their issues running into outs on the bases is an entirely different story.)

Following a stolen base, only seven have subsequently been driven in to score. One of those scored on a throwing error by Didi Gregorius, so essentially six can be said to have scored from the Yankees’ hard work.

Here’s the breakdown:

Yankees second-half stolen bases

Date Runner Scored?
Date Runner Scored?
7/18 LaMarre scored on Torres bases loaded walk
7/18 Allen scored on Gittens bases loaded walk
7/20 Allen scored on error
7/21 Allen did not score
7/21 Wade did not score
7/21 Florial scored on Stanton single
7/22 Torres did not score
7/22 LeMahieu scored on Stanton single
7/24 Torres did not score
7/24 Torres did not score
7/24 Allen did not score
7/25 Torres did not score
7/25 Wade did not score
7/27 Allen did not score
7/28 Judge did not score
8/1 Wade did not score
8/6 Rizzo did not score
8/6 Torres did not score
8/8 Torres did not score
8/9 Wade scored on Judge single
8/11 Wade scored on LeMahieu single
8/11 Wade did not score
8/12 Wade did not score
8/14 Wade did not score

As seen in the list, the bulk of the increase in steals seems to be largely driven by Tyler Wade getting more playing time due to injuries. Once Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela return from the IL and Wade receives fewer starts, it’s quite possible that their stolen base rate will decline back to their first half turtle-esque rate.

Despite the turnaround, no one could be fooled into thinking New York is really channeling its inner Rickey Henderson. Greg Allen currently ranks third on the team in stolen bases with a whopping five, and he’s currently in Triple-A. Brett Gardner can still run fast for an old man, but he would have to hit better to get more stealing opportunities and that doesn’t seem terribly likely.

Furthermore, Torres — the team’s co-leader in steals with Wade — may very well be more hesitant to break for second when he returns from the IL for fear of reinjuring his hand. His IL stint is a reminder of why Boone may not even want to give the green light to the likes of Aaron Judge or Joey Gallo, who are above-average runners per sprint speed. As the numbers have shown, there’s a lot of risk for not a whole lot of reward. And when prognosticators picked this team to win the AL East in the offseason, they weren’t doing so based on its baserunning skills, anyway. If the Yankees can hit for power like they’re supposed to, the issue of low stolen base totals becomes irrelevant.

The team’s offensive reawakening thus can’t really be attributed to finally bothering to steal a base now and again. They’re just hitting more, period. Gallo and Rizzo have provided some big home runs, but the preexisting players are showing improvement too.

Judge’s average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage are all up in the second half. Giancarlo Stanton’s average has dropped, but his slugging and OBP are up as well. The two run producers in the middle of the batting order have simply been producing more. The Yankees’ total number of extra base hits per game has increased from 2.58 in the first half to 2.96 in the second; it shouldn’t be a surprise to subsequently see their runs per game rise from 4.15 to 4.52 as well. The club has played a whole bunch of close games as part of its recent surge, and that jump can sometimes make all the difference.

The Yankees were designed to live and die with power hitting even at their peak performance. If this team eventually starts hitting home runs at its expected preseason pace, it won’t really matter if Wade is standing on first or second when they come up to the plate, as long as he can get there in the first place.