It’s no secret that for the last couple of decades, the New York Yankees have been fond of older, more experienced hitters. This season in particular, the average age of their Opening Day starting lineup was 29 years-old – with only one position player, 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, under the age of 30. With age and experience comes a careful eye, at least in the case of the Yankees.
Entering play on Thursday the Yankees have been one of the hottest teams in baseball scoring an average of six runs per game during their recent seven-game winning streak. The key to their offensive success? Patience.
“The older you get, you know your strike zone and you stick to that,” said Stephen Drew, whose out-of-zone swing rate of 21.5 percent ranks 15th* in all of baseball. “Everybody just has a good plan going up there. If you don’t get a pitch to hit, you pass it on to the next guy. I think we’ve done a really good job of that and it’s paid off.”
All eight of the Yankees’ qualified starters are among the league’s top 115 hitters in pitches seen per plate appearance, while Jacoby Ellsbury and Chris Young, who have split time due to Ellsbury’s injury, would be among the 60 best with their current marks.
“We’ve got a good lineup,” said Brian McCann after the Yankees’ 6-1 win against the Nationals Tuesday. Max Scherzer was chased from the game before he could complete seven innings, having thrown 116 pitches. “Top to bottom, it’s hard to not let one person beat you. We’ve got guys up and down that can do damage. Trying to game-plan against us is tough.”
The Yankees have been able to put balls in play and produce baserunners at any stage of the game, boasting the seventh-lowest strikeout rate (.191) and 9th-highest walk rate (0.082) in baseball. That’s created a hefty bunch of scoring opportunities.
In particular, the top four hitters in the Yankees’ lineup have been the most problematic for opposing ballclubs. Brett Gardner has seen over four pitches per plate appearance on average, good for fifth-best in baseball, and has swung at just 23 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which ranks 28th in baseball. After him, the aforementioned Ellsbury and Headley have worked pitchers, and so has A-Rod. Rodriguez’s eye has also been exceptional, as he’s swung at just 24.6 percent of pitches that have missed the zone, and in turn he’s posted a toasty .373 OBP.
|Batter||O-Zone Swing% (ML Rk)||Pitches/PA (ML Rk)|
|Brett Gardner||23% (21st)||4.3 (5th)|
|Chase Headley||27.1% (75th)||3.92 (52nd)|
|Alex Rodriguez||24.6% (46th)||4.01 (36th)|
|Mark Teixeira||22.2% (28th)||3.76 (105th)|
“You look at what Alex [Rodriguez] has done and how often he’s gotten on base, and it’s not always about the hit – he’s taken his share of walks,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “It sets up nicely for Mark [Teixeira] because he’s a great RBI guy.”
Boy, have things ever set up nicely for Teixeira. He’s stepped to the plate 126 times with runners on base, and has had the opportunity to drive in 174 runners – both top-five marks in all of baseball. That’s led to an AL-leading 45 RBIs, and the fact that he’s been able to hit 20 HRs has been an added bonus. Not to mention, he’s been able to find some good pitches himself choosing to swing at just 22 percent of pitches out of the strike zone.
“That’s something that we’ve always tried to do,” Girardi said. “We’ve sought out hitters that are patient, that walk, that hit home runs – that’s kind of the lineup we have this year. It’s played a key role in us scoring runs and having two and three-run homers. Those are a lot of times the tough ones for clubs to rebound from. You can rebound from giving up solo homers, you can give up a couple a game and it’s not a big deal. Those are the type of hitters we look for.”
Simply put, the way New York’s lineup has made opposing pitchers work has made it increasingly difficult to keep their pitch counts down and not make mistakes.
“They’re smart hitters,” Nationals Starter Gio Gonzalez said. “That’s one hell of a lineup. You can’t pitch around anyone there. You have to go after each one.”
The system the Yankees have in place has worked to perfection, especially when it comes to the top of the order. Hitting streaks will come and go, and so will power numbers. The one thing that looks steady about these Yankees, though, is their ability to put together good at-bats. That should help them win a lot more games this season.
*Note: All Major League rankings for swing stats are for players with a minimum of 500 pitches seen.
(Picture: Joe Nicholson-USA Today Sports)