Any pitcher tagged with the task of facing the Yankees lineup in 2018 is bound to have a restless sleep the night before. Individually, the team has a new version of Murderer’s Row. But upon closer examination, as a team, the Yankees have some improvements to make that continue to fly under the radar.
In 2018, the Yankees are going to run a lineup out there that is laden with power and destruction at almost every turn. The combination of Aaron Judge – Giancarlo Stanton – Greg Bird – Gary Sanchez in the two-through-five holes in the Yankees lineup are more than enough to send shudders down the spine of pitchers throughout the league.
Pitching coaches like to talk about starting pitchers with an eye, not towards the number of pitches they throw in an outing, but the number of stressful pitches they throw back-to-back-to-back. A 100-pitch outing can be less stressful than a 70-pitch start if the latter comes about with men on base in every inning.
This is precisely where the “power” in the Yankees lineup will prove to be most dangerous for an opposing pitcher. Because right from the get-go, there’s Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury for a pitcher to face, both of whom have the skills to extend an at-bat. To keep the Yankees lineup manageable, a pitcher has to keep whoever is leading off off base. Thus, stressful pitches begin with the first pitch of the game, continuing until the sixth hitter in the Yankees lineup is reached, only to find Didi Gregorius or Aaron Hicks with a bat in his hands.
Regardless, the Yankees will not put up a crooked number in every inning they come to bat. What they will do though, is get on base as evidenced by their .339 on-base percentage last year, which tied them for second place in the major leagues just behind the Astros (.346). Throw in Stanton’s .376 from 2017, and you have the makings of a disaster for any pitcher who is not at the top of his game when facing them.
There’s more. Only Oakland batters saw more pitches than Yankees hitters, who saw almost four pitches per at-bat (3.98). More stress.
Even so, here’s where the cards have the potential to come tumbling down, though. Last season, the Yankees lineup was the third worse when hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP) in the major leagues. This means one of two things. Either opposing pitchers continuously saved their best for last, or the Yankees lineup gave away too many at-bats when it counted most. Either way that can’t be (again) this year.
The ability to rely on the three-run bomb on a 1-1 count will come naturally to this Yankees team. But the ability to extend innings with a walk or a base hit, forcing a pitcher to throw more pitches which lead to one or two runs in five at-bats is what can separate the Yankees lineup from all others. They call it stretching out a lineup, and it drives pitchers nuts.
Another area to look for improvement is in one-run games where the Yankees finished 18-26. Which is somewhat remarkable considering the bullpen they have, but it is what it is. Except it can’t be that way again in 2018. Consider, for instance, if the Yankees had won only a quarter of the games they lost by one run, they would have walked away from the Red Sox, who finished four games over at 13-9.
There’s even more evidence the Yankees lineup does not respond with situational hitting when it comes to extra-inning games. It’s only a small sample, but in 2017, the Yankees were 5-6 when tied after nine. Conversely, Boston finished with a staggering 15-3 record. All this says, of course, is the Red Sox got the hit when they needed it most, and the Yankees didn’t.
Great teams do everything. The Yankees as we sit here today are a good team with the potential to mirror the great teams of the late Nineties. We’ll see plenty of three-run bombs from this Yankees lineup, that’s not the question. The unknown factor is how many runs the team will produce when they don’t get the home run?
That part worries me and what concerns me more is we don’t hear much talk about it coming from Aaron Boone or any of the coaches. Instead, all the chatter is about the suddenly very sexy must-see batting practice show.
Situational hitting deserves an asterisk right alongside the orgasmic thrill of a home run. Great teams get that, and they thrive because of it. This Yankees lineup needs to become more conscious of winning the tough at-bats and games that come during the long season.
And it troubles me that the new analytics manager of the Yankees is not shining a light where it needs to be shined, instead, pointing out as he did today in the New York Daily News, “There’s something really cool and sexy about seeing the long ball in batting practice.”
All true, just not the whole story.
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