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The Yankees should take advantage of their home field

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New Yankee Stadium offers some opportunities as a home field that the Yankees are not taking full advantage of yet.

Al Bello

Ever since the original Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 the Yankees have made a habit of acquiring and developing powerful left-handed batters to take advantage of its short right field fence. The strategy has worked well, as most successful Yankee teams over the years have been built on a foundation of great southpaw swingers. Another aspect of the old stadium that the Yankees have historically looked to take advantage of is the vast real estate in left-center field. The franchise pitching leaderboard is littered with left-handed pitchers that routinely saw promising fly balls get gobbled up by speedy left and center fielders in what was affectionately known as Death Valley.

Alterations over the years, both minor and major, slowly normalized the playing field by drawing in the left and center field fences and pushing out the right field fences to the point that it nearly resembled a cookie cutter stadium. These changes culminated with the 2009 completion of the new Yankee Stadium which made it easier than ever before for right-handed hitters to leave the yard in the Bronx. For instance, in 2014 Yankee Stadium was the most home run friendly park in the league for left-handers but was also the fourth home run friendliest park for right-handers behind only Coors Field, the Rogers Centre, and Citizen's Bank Park.

The reduction in park size has also had the effect of suppressing the number of balls put into play in the outfield by lefties and righties alike. With all of those line drives and fly balls going over the wall, there are less to remain in play and either bounce around for extra bases or turn into outs at the hands of speedy outfielders. In 2014, Yankee Stadium was a below average doubles environment and triples were a rarity regardless of batter handedness (check these fancy park factors for the splits) which naturally created less chances for Yankee outfielders compared to an average ballpark. Based on these facts, the Yankees might want to re-think what it means to play to the strengths of Yankee Stadium when targeting potential acquisitions.

That's not to say they should abandon the old strategy of going after left-handed sluggers and speed in the outfield entirely. As Jacoby Ellsbury proved this year, those types of players will absolutely be productive in Yankee Stadium. However, they should be cognizant of the fact that the ridiculous range of Ellsbury and his partner in crime Brett Gardner can often be a wasted asset when they're watching catchable fly balls sail over the wall where Death Valley used to be. On the flip side, they shouldn't have any qualms about acquiring a right-handed slugger, as they can now benefit nearly as much as left-handed ones do in The House that Jeter Built, Alfonso Soriano notwithstanding.

Perhaps the best way the team can take advantage of their home field, though, is to limit fly balls hit against them by employing more groundball pitchers with a complementary infield behind them. This past year Yankee pitchers induced groundballs 43.7% of the time which ranked just 22nd out of 30 major league teams. A sound strategy heading into 2015 would be to fill out the rotation and bullpen with extreme groundball pitchers to get that rate to 45% or above and into the top half of the league (another reason to bring back Brandon McCarthy). If that can be accomplished, it would only make sense to also improve the gloves fielding all those grounders, but before we get to that, let's take a look at what some advanced defensive metrics have to say about the Yankees infield in 2014. (DRS - Defensive Runs Saved, UZR - Ultimate Zone Rating, TZ - Total Zone. Data courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs)

Runs Above Average
Position DRS UZR TZ
1B -1 6.6 4
2B 10 -3.2 5
3B 9 17.2 14
SS -12 -9.9 -31
Infield 6 10.7 -8

All three systems seem to agree that the Yankees were fine at first, second and third base while shortstop was a major liability. Therefore, the key to improving this unit should be pretty simple, keep up the good work at the former three and get some help at the latter. At first base, Mark Teixeira has proven that his glove can remain strong even as his bat rapidly deteriorates, so they can expect more of the same in 2015. Martin Prado should see most of the work at second base next year and he has held his own at the position for the Braves and Diamondbacks over the past few years, no worries there. If the Yankees make the smart decision of re-signing Chase Headley and give him regular time at third base where he was sublime last year, they'll be in great shape. At shortstop just about any competent infielder would be an improvement, no disRE2PECT, but an above average fielder there would make this one of the best defensive infields in the league. More groundballs plus an elite infield could equal a lot less heartbreak for Yankees fans in 2015.

So while unconventional, there's certainly an opportunity for the Yankees to improve in 2015 by taking advantage of their surroundings. It might not be pretty but this team is sure to struggle scoring runs again next year so the key to any success will have to be run prevention. The dimensions of Yankee Stadium suggest that the best way to achieve that is through the ground.