Yankees offense a lesson in feast or famine

Two weeks into the season, the Yankees sit at 6-6, a .500 record that included 9 games against potential October rivals. It’s hard to complain about the Yanks since they’ve scored 80 runs this season and are on pace to blow past the 1000-run mark, but the team has played an uneven game.
Last night, I appeared on 360 The Pitch’s Outsider Radio (listen here) to talk about the Yankees. During my discussion with host Brandon Rosage, I noted that the Yankees offense had been an exhibit in feast or famine so far this season. Little did I realize just how true that observation was.
I knew that, after Sunday’s 9-3 thrashing of the Twins, the Yankees had become the first team ever to score 9 runs or more in their first six games. What I didn’t know at the time was just how bad the Yankees offense had been in the six games that they lost.
In their six victories, the Yankees have been blowing away the opposition. They’ve scored 64 runs in 6 games, and they have been utterly bludgeoning their opponents’ starting pitchers. In those six games, they’ve amassed 224 at bats, 37 walks and five hit batters. Just for emphasis, that is more than 10 runs and six walks per game. As a team, the Yankees are hitting .375 with a ridiculous .447 on-base percentage in games they win.
Those numbers are obscene. The Yankees are playing behind the scope of any team ever in the history of the game when they win. If they could find a level of consistency that’s been missing from the first 12 games of the season, only a handful of pitchers in the American League would be able to stop them. And as the Yanks have shown in beating Barry Zito and Bartolo Colon earlier this year and nearly handing Johan Santana a loss on Saturday, the pitchers that one would expect to the beat them have not so far.
But as part of their Jekyll and Hyde dance with .500 this season, the Yankees when they lost don’t come close to their victorious counterparts. Before Saturday night’s heartbreaker, the Yanks hadn’t scored more than four runs in games they lost. They are 0-3 in one-run games (a point to which we will return later) have scored just one run twice this season.
On the whole, in the six games they’ve lost, the Yanks are hitting just .217 while getting on base at just a .276 clip. They’ve walked just 17 times and managed just 16 runs per game in their losses.
These differences are extreme. The Yankees are getting on base at a rate nearly .175 points higher in games they won than in games they lose. They are well below average offensively in games they lose while they are off the charts in games they win.
In other words, when the Yankees lose, they lose badly. When they win, they annihilate. So what exactly is going on here?
Having watched nearly every game this season, I have a theory. It seems to me that in late in close games when the Yanks are behind, the batters head to plate looking to tie the game with one swing. I’ve noticed a lot of fly balls late in the game. This may be simply a factor of the Yankees being a team of fly-ball hitting power hitters. This may be a sign that the Yanks’ hitters are pressing. While the rest of this post relies on numbers, that’s just my intuition.
How then can the Yankees solve this problem? I would suggest a simple lineup fix to solve some of the Yankees’ problems. Joe Torre should flip Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi. While many pixels have been illuminated on the Internet this year showing that lineup construction doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the game, in this case, the Yankees would do well to have Giambi hitting third and Sheffield fifth for a few reasons.
First, Giambi is getting on base at a much more prolific pace than Sheffield so far this year. Sheffield, with a contract extension and who knows what else hanging over his head, isn’t off to a horrible start, but he’s not off to a Sheffieldian start. He’s slugging .538 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI this year. But his OBP is at .309, just 21 points higher than his .288 average. With a career OBP .100 points higher than his career batting average, Sheffield is exhibiting a noted lack of patience at the plate in the early goings this season.
Giambi, on the other hand, has been on base nearly always it seems. He is hitting .344/.543/.781. He won AL Player of the Week last week after hitting 4 home runs and getting on base 70 percent of the time. With Jeter and Damon both getting on base nearly 45 percent of the time, putting Giambi third would give Alex Rodriguez a ridiculous number of RBI chances and many with no out. The Yanks would have the added bonus though of having their number one OBP guy and arguably their biggest power threat batting in front of Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Not to insult Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, but Giambi would see even more pitches to hit in the three hole than he does in the five hole.
So with their next 15 games against American League East competitors, it’s time for the Yankees to show their true mettle. If they can avoid the offensive slumps that come in between spurts of ridiculous offense, these next 15 games could begin to show some separation among AL East teams. And if Joe Torre is willing to get a little creative with his lineup card, the Yanks just might blow by team offensive records this year.

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