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The Yankees & well-hit average, part 2

Brian Cashman used contact quality data to pull the trigger on the Chase Headley trade. It turns out that data might also be able to help current Yankee hitters.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Yankees and Inside Edge's "well-hit average," a stat that measures a hitter's hard hit balls divided by balls-in-play. Based on the 2014 end-of-season data, here are some of the major statistically significant correlations I found:

Response Variable Pull% WHav

Flyball% Contact% Adjusted R-squared
wOBA (pull) N/A Positive Positive N/A 0.3809
wOBA (opposite field) Negative Positive Negative Negative 0.3616
HR/FB% Positive Positive N/A Negative 0.6142

To summarize, pull hitters should aim primarily to hit the ball hard and hit a lot of flyballs. Flyballs generally hurt opposite field hitters, and pull hitters who hit the ball hard generally have higher home run to flyball ratios. Last time I covered WHav as it pertained to Mark Teixeira and Didi Gregorius, this time I will look at Stephen Drew and Garrett Jones.

Stephen Drew

Stephen Drew basically has a Teixeira-like swing for absolutely no reason. In 2014, he had the 15th highest pull percentage among hitters with at least 200 at bats. His 42.7% flyball percentage is well above league average, and it jumped up to an insane 60% during his stint in pinstripes. Gunning for the short porch in right field did not exactly work, as he put up a meager 32 wRC+ as a Yankee. His well-hit average was one of the worst in baseball in 2014, but should creep up a bit as he gets his normal spring training reps in.

Regardless, there has not been any justification for Drew's uppercut swing for a long time. Hitting, like everything else, has its tradeoffs. Aiming for the right field bleachers causes hitters to draw a shift, which cuts down on a hitter's BABIP. Hitting more flyballs does as well. The general rule is that an uppercut swing is worth the tradeoff if the hitter can hit a lot of home runs, which Drew probably won't be doing anytime soon, given his very low WHav. Unless his 2014 performance was really that far below his true ability, Drew should have been hitting the ball the other way for a while.

Garrett Jones

Jones pretty much seemed like an afterthought in the Nathan Eovaldi trade after putting up a wRC+ of 99 in 2014. Being a lefty first baseman not named Greg Bird, he will definitely be on a very short leash among the Pinstripe Alley community. But unlike Drew, his uppercut swing is actually justified. His pull and flyball percentages are both above league average, and his well-hit average was 29th among hitters with at least 200 at bats. Using the equation for HR/FB% from the table above*, his expected home run to fly ball ratio is 13.6%. His actual HR/FB% was 9.3% in 2014. A 13.6% HR/FB% would have given him 22 home runs, seven more than his actual total of 15.

My formula also probably understates his potential, since I have not been able to effectively adjust for different ballparks yet. In 2014, Marlins Park was the second-least friendly to lefty home run hitters, according to Fangraphs' park factors. Yankee Stadium, not so surprisingly, was the second-most conducive to lefties going deep, just behind Coors Field for the lead.

Giving Jones 22 home runs in 2014 changes his hitting line from .246/.309/.411 to .260/.322/.468. With those numbers, he would have led Yankee regulars in slugging percentage, isolated power and OPS. Anybody could guess that Jones would do better at Yankee Stadium, but it is good to have a conservative estimate of his ability. For his career, Jones has a .573 OPS against lefties and an OPS of .811 against righties. This works in the Yankees' favor, as he will probably be platooned with A-Rod and Chris Young. Ideally, Nathan Eovaldi will be the biggest part of the recent trade with the Marlins. But in the short run, Jones has the potential to make a huge impact.

*Because Inside Edge's data is not available to the public, I did not publish the actual equation.