On Friday I compared the basic counting statistics for the 2013 and 2014 offenses and the results weren't pretty. The Yankees, the team built on the "power and patience" offensive concept, had turned into a middle-of-the-pack team at best in both categories and found themselves in the bottom half of MLB in scoring in each of the last 2 seasons. Strangely enough, despite hitting for a higher average, more power, and striking out less this year, the 2013 team scored 17 more runs than this year's edition. Even in an offense-starved baseball environment, there's no reason to expect that the team that gave 2,175 combined plate appearances to Ichiro, Lyle Overbay, Chris Stewart, Vernon Wells, and Eduardo Nunez scored more runs than the team that didn't.
Time to dig a little deeper into this mess and look at the situational hitting. That has to be the explanation.
Situational Hitting Statistics:
Batting Line at Home-.252/.323/.387 Batting Line on the Road- .234/.292/.366 Batting Line Bases Empty- .239/.299/.381 Batting Line w/ Men On- .248/.317/.368 Batting Line w/ RISP- .255/.338/.380 (in 1,509 PA) Home Runs w/ RISP- 32 Runs Batted in w/ RISP- 468 Batting Line "High Leverage"- .251/.336/.402
Batting Line at Home- .247/.309/.396 Batting Line on the Road- .244/.305/.365 Batting Line Bases Empty- .238/./292/.381 Batting Line W/ Men On- .256/.328/.379 Batting Line w/ RISP- .252/.324/.364 (in 1,480 PA) Home Runs w/ RISP- 23 Runs Batted in w/ RISP- 421 Batting Line "High Leverage"- .247/.314/.369
That's some pretty damning evidence as to why the 2014 team was so bad. They didn't hit enough at home and they didn't hit with runners in scoring position at all. That .688 OPS in almost 1.500 PA with RISP ranked 23rd in MLB this season. The .718 put up by the 2013 team was nothing to write home about, but 16th in baseball and 47 more runs driven in in those "clutch" situations is a big difference when you're talking about potential wins and losses. The "high leverage" tag isn't perfect, but it paints a pretty good general picture here. When the situation got bigger, the 2013 team was better at coming through at the plate than the 2014 team.
Also of note is the higher home run count with RISP for last year's team. They hit fewer home runs overall, but hit more of them in big situations. More multi-run homers is going to lead to more runs scored over time, and I think these deviations in RISP performance from 2013 to 2014 is the big smoking gun in explaining how the "worse" hitting team scored more runs. They generated more run-scoring opportunities (29 more chances with RISP) and made more of the opportunities they created with better situational hitting.
The driving force behind last year's performance was the trio of Cano, Soriano, and Gardner. Those 3 guys combined to hit about .340/.440/.600 in 348 PA with RISP last year, with Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano teaming up to hit 12 HR. This year the Yankees only had 1 regular player with an OPS above .800 with RISP and that was Jacoby Ellsbury (.806 in 161 PA). Brian McCann was OK (.747 in 146), Brett Gardner was too (.727 in 125) in a big step down from his 2013 level, and while there wasn't any regular player who was brutally awful in the situation, there wasn't a standout or multiple standouts like there was last year.
So now the question becomes which of the 2 crummy offenses was better? This year's team hit for better averages and more home runs, but they couldn't get it done when it counted and that ultimately led to them scoring fewer runs and losing 1 more game. Factor that in with the differences in personnel from 2013 to 2014, and I think it's safe to say that last year's offense might have been a little bit better than this year's. There's a scary thought.