After finishing as basically a league-average offense in 2021, the Yankees brought in a new hitting coach, Dillon Lawson, who also came with a new philosophy. The idea? Be aggressive on strikes. It makes sense, there’s more than a few hitters in this lineup capable of hitting the ball very hard and very far, and generally the more you swing at good pitches, the more opportunity there is to do just that.
The early returns on the 2022 Yankees offense have not been ideal thus far, but a lot of that is situational. The Bombers have currently worked out a roughly league-average team-wide wRC+ of 102, but the perception of this offense so far wouldn’t suggest that, as they’ve slashed a paltry .190/.283/.329 with runners in scoring position. So, things have looked pretty bleak, but also a bit misleading. Early-season numbers of course bring some very lofty highs, as well as some shocking lows, which is always important to keep in mind. However, the aforementioned new approach is showing itself regardless.
As it stands, the Yankees have the fifth-highest overall swing percentage at 48.9 percent, a stark contrast from last year, when they held the lowest rate in the game. There are certainly some benefits to be reaped with this mentality — when you can hit the ball as hard as many of the Yankees do, it’s ideal to be putting the ball in play as much as possible. However, this does not come without some negative consequences.
With their more conservative approach last year, the Yankees had the fourth-lowest swing percentage on pitches outside the zone, sitting at 28.3 percent. This year, New York sits atop that leaderboard, with a rate of 36 percent. Propensity to swing at pitches outside of the zone generally leads to less quality contact, but is also likely an inevitable consequence of having a more aggressive approach.
The Yanks are demonstrating their shiny new philosophy early in counts as well. Thus far, they are swinging at the first pitch a hair under 34 percent of the time, the league’s sixth-highest rate. Once again, this is a noticeable difference from last season, in which they maintained the lowest such rate in baseball at 26.1 percent. You’ll find more of the same on the first three pitches of at-bats, as the Yankees have swung at these pitches over seven percent more often in comparison to last season.
Some of the more established players in this lineup have not changed as much as their teammates, but I don’t know how much you want your Judges, Rizzos, and Donaldsons of the world to change at this point anyway. Still, there are a number of players throughout the lineup who have made huge jumps in this department, swinging at the first pitch at least 10 percent more often than they did in 2021.
It should certainly be noted that these changes don’t inherently lead to positive outcomes, and that they could be subject to change, but at the very least it’s interesting to see the tangible effects of new coaching philosophies. There are still some encouraging signs present, though. The heart of the Yankees order is continuing to do what they do best; hit the ball hard. The team has the fourth highest hard hit rate, and the second lowest soft hit rate. That’s a good thing, and hopefully points to greener pastures ahead. As mentioned, the Yankees came into the season looking to be more aggressive — when you hit the ball as hard as they do, being more aggressive and putting more balls in play would seem to be a productive cause.
At least to the naked eye, the New York offense has been disappointing thus far, exacerbated by their poor performance in high-leverage spots. This, of course, will need to improve as the season goes on, but things may not be as bad as they seem. It is early, certainly too much so to make any definitive judgements, but this team seems to be fully implementing a new philosophy at the plate, one that could pay dividends given the nature of the lineup.