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Could a hitting approach with more strikeouts help the Yankees' offense?

As counterintuitive as it sounds, an uptick in strikeouts could be a good thing for the Yankees.

Otto Greule Jr

These days, it certainly does not seem possible for the Yankees to strike out more. It's true that over the past three seasons, they have posted the three highest strikeout rates in franchise history. It's also true that the Yankee offense has been pretty horrid for most of that time period, so on the surface suggesting that they strike out more is a crazy idea. However, as this old Baseball Prospectus article points out, it's an idea crazy enough that it might just do the Yankees some good.

The main takeaway from that article is that while strikeouts have little to no bearing on overall run production, they can offer some hidden benefits when compared to outs created by putting the ball in play. When a batted ball results in an out, the possible reward of advancing a baserunner can be outweighed by the risk of a possible double play. The strikeout is not subject to such risks, or at least not nearly as much as batted balls are. Better yet, strikeout rate correlates positively with the two most important components of offense, getting on base and hitting for power. So an increase in strikeouts for the Yankees could simply be the residual effect of a change in approach that also results in more baserunners and long balls. What, specifically, should change about their approach though?

As pointed out a few weeks ago, the Yankees have been especially bad at choosing when to swing over the past couple of years. Therefore, whoever is to become the next hitting coach would be wise to instruct Yankee hitters to focus on making contact only with pitches that are in or near a location that they can drive the ball with some authority. If they start laying off the pitches they've normally been swinging at, the result should be an increase in walks and yes, the collateral damage will also be a corresponding bump in strikeouts due to watching borderline pitches go by. The benefit here would be trading in some weak groundouts or popouts for a few more walks. Even if they come with their fair share of strikeouts, it's a net gain for the Yankees. (The 2009 Yankees, for example, finished second in the league in strikeouts, but they also had the highest on-base percentage and slugging percentage in baseball.)

Furthermore, if they start to swing smarter, it should mean that they swing harder and add some more mileage to their fly balls and line drives. New Yankee Stadium, more than any other ballpark, has proven that even a small increase in batted ball distance can go a long way towards increased run production due to it being a homer-happy environment. It's fair to say that Yankee fans will gladly welcome a few more whiffs if it means that they can see a team at least somewhat worthy of the Bronx Bombers nickname. So if Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and the gang come out of the gate next year either looking at or taking a big cut through strike three, don't panic. It could mean that better things are on the horizon.