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The Yankees are built to hit (and avoid) home runs, and that’s just fine

Despite last night’s home run derby in Minnesota, the Yankees have the biggest differential between home runs hit and allowed, and that’s an excellent thing.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

The timing of this particular piece may seem odd, but stay with me. Before Gerrit Cole started throwing beach balls to the Twins’ hitters last night, Yankees’ pitchers were an elite team at avoiding the long ball. In fact, even after yesterday’s Home Run Derby in Target Field, the Yanks have allowed the second-fewest homers in 2022, with 46: only the Atlanta Braves, at 45, have conceded fewer.

So we can firmly say, despite last night’s fiasco, that the Yankees’ pitching has been elite at avoiding homers. One game won’t change that. As it turns out, they have also been the best team in the league at hitting them. With 87, they lead MLB in round-trippers.

As you can imagine, the Yankees’ +41 home run differential is by far the best in the major leagues. They are (and have been for a while, to be fair) a home run-centric club. For years, some have criticized this, but it’s good to hit home runs! They represent the easiest path towards scoring runs in bunches and putting together rallies.

Good teams hit a lot of home runs, and bad teams don’t. Take, for example, this piece of data by The Athletic’s Sam Blum, who covers the Los Angeles Angels. As you know, the Halos lost their 14th straight game on Wednesday.

That tweet was sent before last night’s game. It’s pretty simple: the Angels hit a bunch of home runs in the early going, and they were a good team for a while. They hit a rough patch in the power department, and started losing games. This is not to say that their power drought is the only reason they slumped so badly, but it certainly contributed.

Before Thursday’s game, the Yankees were second in MLB in walk rate (BB%), with 9.7 percent. If you are going to hit a lot of home runs, it helps a lot if you get on base often. As they say, three-run homers win games.

After last year’s mediocre offensive showing, the Yankees’ bats deserve credit for turning things around to lead the league in home runs, as does new hitting coach Dillon Lawson. And it’s not just Aaron Judge: if we remove his 22 dingers, the Yankees’ 61 (before last night) would be higher than 17 teams and would rank seventh in the American League.

Perhaps as impressive as leading the league in homers is the fact that the Yankees’ pitching has been so stingy surrendering them (again, yesterday’s game notwithstanding). The 2022 Yankees appear to be built around hitting a lot of dingers and avoiding them when they are on the mound.

And it’s not as easy as it sounds. The Yankees’ rotation has been relatively healthy in the season’s first two months, but they have had several injuries in the bullpen and have had to rely on unexpected performers. New York has been able to navigate through the season with MLB’s best record without recent contributions from three of their best relievers in recent years: Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Aroldis Chapman.

As much as some decry the reliance on home runs, building your team to smash dingers on offense and prevent them on defense is just a sound strategy, one the Yankees are executing with aplomb. They’re just the shortest route to crooked numbers, and the number-one thing to avoid when trying to control the opposing lineup.

All things considered, you might say the Yankees are built around the home run, but that’s an excellent thing considering how good they are when it’s time to hit them and prevent them on the mound. As long as that continues to be true, they will be fine and will probably contend for big things in 2022.