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What do plate discipline rates say about the Yankee offense?

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A look at the trends in Yankee plate discipline rates throughout recent history reveals a major reason behind their steep decline in run production.

J. Meric

Compared to the Yankees' dominant offenses of the aughts, the past couple of years have been abysmal. When Derek Jeter was still in his prime and names like Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield were penciled into the lineup each day, the team had the deserved reputation of one that could methodically wear pitchers down by taking pitches until they threw a mistake. That must mean that the weak Yankee offenses in recent years are not seeing enough pitches to take advantage of the opposing pitcher, right? (Data courtesy of Fangraphs)

Year Pitches per PA Runs per Game
2014 3.90 3.91
2013 3.81 4.01
2012 3.89 4.96
2011 3.92 5.35
2010 3.92 5.30
2009 3.88 5.65
2008 3.85 4.87
2007 3.87 5.98
2006 3.81 5.74
2005 3.74 5.47
2004 3.79 5.54
2003 3.81 5.38
2002 3.82 5.57

Wrong. In fact, this year the Yankees saw more pitches per plate appearance than all but two Yankee teams over the past 13 years. Even last year's rate was pretty much in line with the high-powered years before them, but run production has still dropped off precipitously. So if they're seeing just as many pitches, what are they doing differently with them that would cause such a change? A couple of key plate discipline metrics are pretty telling.

Year Out of Zone Swing% Out of Zone Contact% BB% BABIP Runs per Game
2014 29.6% 71.2% 7.4% .282 3.91
2013 31.8% 68.3% 7.7% .285 4.01
2012 29.3% 68.0% 9.1% .293 4.96
2011 27.9% 69.5% 9.9% .292 5.35
2010 26.2% 67.0% 10.4% .300 5.30
2009 22.6% 65.8% 10.3% .306 5.65
2008 23.6% 62.4% 8.6% .302 4.87
2007 22.5% 64.3% 9.8% .318 5.98
2006 21.0% 56.0% 10.1% .315 5.74
2005 17.3% 51.7% 9.9% .297 5.47
2004 14.3% 51.9% 10.5% .285 5.54
2003 20.1% 47.1% 10.6% .295 5.38
2002 18.0% 44.2% 10.0% .310 5.57

The first column here shows that in recent years the Yankees are swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone at a much higher rate than they did in their heyday. They might be patient, but when it comes to swing selection, they're making bad choices. The second column tells us that not only did those great offenses swing smarter, but they also had the decency to whiff when they chose poorly. Now, the Yankees are making lots of contact on balls that can't be hit well. Basically, they're doing a good job of turning balls into strikes and making weak contact with pitches they shouldn't be swinging at in the first place. Fewer walks plus weaker contact will always equal less runs.

From this we can infer that the Yankees are either really bad at seeing and recognizing pitches, or they're trying to do way too much at the plate and need to relax. How can they fix this problem? Well, it's clear that Alex Rodriguez loves to purchase illegal things from shady doctors, but steroids is kind of out of the question now. That doesn't mean he can't get creative though. If bad eyesight is a team-wide problem, he can hire an eye surgeon crazy enough to give everyone on the team a sweet Terminator-style vision upgrade. If relaxation is the key to success, he can use his connections to get his hands on some Wolf of Wall Street-strength quaaludes. Either way, it might be the only useful thing A-Rod does for the Yankees in 2015.