The Yankees hit a lot of home runs. This is not a controversial statement. They’ve hit more home runs than any other team in the MLB (17 more than the second place Red Sox). What is bound to be slightly more controversial is saying that hitting so many home runs could be a bad thing. It sounds ridiculous right? You might be thinking “How could a team possibly hit too many home runs? I mean it’s not the players’ fault that they play on a Little-League-sized field.” I’ll be the first to admit, you’re probably right.
Maybe I should rephrase. The Yankees are relying too much on home runs to win games. If we add up the number of runs scored on each of the Yankees’ home runs and divide it by the total number of runs they’ve scored this season, we get what I am calling their HR Run Percentage. Let’s look at a chart of the 15 teams with the highest HR Run Pct (as of Friday June 29th):
Not surprisingly, the Yankees are at the top of the list. Over half of their runs scored this season have come thanks to the long ball. That’s over 4 percent higher than the second-place Indians, making them the only team that scores more runs via home runs than any other way of scoring.
But so what? There are only two teams (the Astros and Red Sox) who have scored more runs than the Yankees have. If it works, it works, right?
The problem is that home runs are volatile, even in today’s game. It’s hard to predict how many home runs a team will hit in a certain month. This becomes an even bigger issue when you consider the fact that two players, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, account for over 30% of the home run production on the Yankees. Let’s look at these two players’ home run totals by month last season:
Interestingly, if Stanton and Judge had played for the same team last season, Judge’s big slump would have been almost perfectly offset by Stanton’s monster July and August performance. However, that is a rare coincidence. This graph demonstrates the variability in home run production month to month, and how quickly a player’s home run hitting ability can almost disappear.
It’s natural for a player to see some slower months. The question for the Yankees is, when Stanton and Judge slump this season, can the rest of their offense pick up the slack? So far this season, when the Yankees get runners on base but don’t hit them in via a home run, they strand the runners over 75% of the time. Contrast this with the Cubs, who have one of the lowest HR Run Percentages in baseball (35.06%) but have scored the 6th most runs. They only strand about 61% of the base runners that don’t end up scoring via a home run.
Every time one of the Yankees’ superstars starts to slump, that could mean a big blow to their offense, and thus added stress to their pitching staff. The Yankees’ rotation is already a bit streaky, and it may not take much to send them into a death spiral.
So what are the Yankees supposed to do? Stop trying to hit home runs? Of course not. They don’t have a ton of variety in the way they score, but that could just be an interesting statistical fact. Yankees fans just better hope that if the power in the top half of their lineup dips at some point, the contact can make up for it.
The amazing thing about the Yankees is that the bottom half of their order doesn’t drop off much at all. Yes, Stanton and Judge have a large chunk of the home run production, but five other players have over 12 home runs, and two of those have 15 or more. They’re no slouches. Perhaps the Yankees have just found the optimal strategy for their stadium. Perhaps nobody will slump quite enough to make a difference this season. The old adage goes “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” But if it does break, the question for the Yankees is can they fix it? Most likely, we’ll find out soon enough.