The New York Yankees started the 2018 season with a bang. Since then, things have slowed down quite considerably. Here’s how they can fix that.
If you are a Yankees fan, on that day you felt euphoric. History was telling you that the Yankees were on their way to their 28th World Series championship, right? Surprisingly enough, the Red Sox finished the day with their 50th victory too. A title won’t be so easy to capture after all.
Since then, the Yankees have gone 12-12. The Red Sox? 19-4.
How could a team that is so good, become a .500 team all of a sudden?
One reason could be that the Yankees are not as good an away team as they are at home. This season the Yankees are 34-14 (.708 W-L%) at home and 29-20 (.591 W-L%) away.
Another reason could be that the Yankees show up against teams that are .500 or better and disappear against sub .500 teams. Against teams that are .500 or better, the Yankees are 34-16, a .680 W-L%. Against sub .500 teams, the Yankees are 29-18, a .617 W-L%. How is this possible? Your answer is just as good as mine.
What is indisputable, however is that, as of July 22, 2018, the 63-34 Yankees are three games behind the Red Sox in the loss column. To avoid the dreaded Wild Card elimination game, the Yankees are going to have to make some adjustments in three key areas.
Pitch Away, Sonny Gray
Away from Yankee stadium, Gray is actually pretty decent. In 54.2 away innings this season, Gray has a 3.65 ERA and 1.199 WHIP. That’s an ERA equivalent to that of Jose Berrios and Dallas Keuchel, and a WHIP equivalent to Carlos Carrasco and J.A. Happ.
In Yankee Stadium, Gray becomes the worst pitcher in all of baseball. In 41.1 home innings this season Gray has a 7.66 ERA and a 1.898 WHIP. He literally becomes the worst pitcher in baseball by a lot.
What is it about Yankee Stadium that makes Gray such a diminished pitcher? It’s hard to say, but the most obvious answer is that there’s too much pressure. Just look at some of the things Gray has said following a home start against the Red Sox on June 30th:
“I feel like we’re the best team in baseball four out of five days and then I come out and do that,’’ Gray said. “It just (stinks).
“To play like we did (Friday, in an 8-1 win) and to play like we’ve been playing and then to come out tonight and kind of just spot them six runs in the first two innings, that’s just disappointing.”
“I mean, I get it… If I was out there, I probably would have booed me louder.”
These aren’t the types of things a confident pitcher says about himself. Every pitcher has a bad start. The problem is that it seems that every home start for Gray is bad, and at Yankee stadium it is magnified because the fans WILL let you know about it.
So, let’s take a closer look at Gray’s performances at home and away.
Three things stand out about Sonny Gray’s performances away versus at home:
- Sonny Gray walks THREE fewer hitters per nine innings (BB9) in away games.
- Gray strikes out 3.2 more hitters per nine innings (SO9) in away games.
- Gray allows 1.5 fewer home runs per nine innings (HR9) away.
Another issue with Sonny Gray is that he’s much better against “bad” teams (sub .500 teams) than he is against good teams.
If we look at those three key areas we did when comparing Gray’s aways starts to his home starts (S09, BB9, HR9), here’s what stands out when analyzing his performance against “bad” teams:
- Gray’s SO9 is better, but not by much. In fact, there’s only a difference of 0.3 SO9 against “bad” teams.
- Gray walks close to ONE fewer hitters against “bad” teams.
- Gray allows close to ONE fewer home run against “bad” teams.
While the differences aren’t all that much, we see that against “bad” teams they’re enough to keep his ERA close to FIVE whole runs lower and his win-loss record flip flops from 1-6 against good teams to 6-1 against bad ones.
Solution: Avoid starting Gray at home, UNLESS of course it’s against a “bad” team.
Aaron Judge Is My Homeboy
Similar to Sonny Gray, Aaron Judge’s home-road splits are night and day. Unlike Gray, at home, Judge is the best player in baseball by a long shot. Away, Judge falls somewhere between Marcus Semien and Kevin Pillar. As a right handed hitter, at Yankee Stadium, that’s as odd as it gets.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself:
Aaron Judge, in just four more plate appearances (PA) at home has 10 more home runs, close to 20 fewer strikeouts, close to double the amount of runs and walks, and almost doubles his OPS (On Base + Slugging). We can explain this away by saying that he relishes in the Yankee Stadium atmosphere, but that would be too simplistic.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes Judge so much better at home than away.
One major difference about Judge’s performance at home is that he hits the ball in the air more. At home, Judge has a ground ball percentage (GB%) of 37% and a fly ball percentage (FB%) of 41.2%. Away, his GB% jumps to 47.3% and his FB% drops to 31.1%. This might be the case because Yankee Stadium ranks among the best home run hitting ball parks in baseball.
Check out Yankee Stadium’s park factors. In terms of home runs, in both left field and right field, the stadium that George built is an above average ballpark. Its basically a home run hitters dream field.
Another major difference is that Judge is more willing to hit to all fields at home as opposed to away. In Yankee Stadium, Judge spreads the field beautifully, hitting 37% of balls to his pull side, as opposed to 48.2% away; 31.1% of balls up the middle, as opposed to 27.7% away; and 31.9% of balls to opposite field, as opposed to 24.1% away. Perhaps the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium is enticing enough fir Judge that he adjusts his swing enough to hit it there.
Solution: Do nothing different at home. Instead, in away games, Judge should concentrate more on getting the ball in the air and hitting to all fields. Something we know he is very much capable of.
Don’t Give up on Gary Sanchez
Gary Sanchez is getting a bad rap lately. Turn on sports talk radio in New York City and you are bound to hear a Yankees fan calling for his head. As stated before, struggle, or at least appear to struggle, while donning the interlocking NY on your chest, and Yankees fans will let you hear it.
The problem is, Yankees fans are wrong. Sanchez is doing just fine and the results will show it eventually.
Lets start by tackling Sanchez’s hitting. While he’s sporting career lows in batting average, on base and slugging, there are some areas that Sanchez has improved upon which in my estimation will eventually yield results.
First, Gary’s plate discipline is better than ever before. Namely, Gary is chasing fewer pitches outside (O-Swing%) and swinging and missing (SwStr%) much less than ever.
The problem? While he’s swinging at better pitches, he’s getting under the ball (Under%) at a higher rate than ever before, thereby resulting in the highest amount of pop-ups of his career.
Secondly, Sanchez is keeping the ball off the ground much better than ever before. According to FanGraphs, Sanchez’s GB% currently stands at 40.8%, that’s down from 42.3% last year. His FB% is much better too! Compared to last season when Sanchez’s FB% was 36.6%, this season he has a FB% of 45.4%. This is good news, because as we all know ground balls are outs in the big leagues.
Lastly, Sanchez is making good contact on balls. According to Baseball Savant, his Barrel% – percentage of balls hit in the “Barrel Zone” – is the highest its ever been. Compared to last season when his barrel% was 11.8, this season it stands at 15.5.
The problem? Sanchez’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) stands at an all-time low of .194. That’s .110 points lower than last season (.304). This could mean two things:
- Gary Sanchez is hitting it directly at fielders. We mentioned before that his popups are up, this would diminish his BABIP.
- Sanchez has been unlucky. He’s making solid contact, but the ball just isn’t falling for a base hit.
We have to assume that given his plate discipline, his ability to hit balls in the barrel zone, and his past performance, that Sanchez has just been super unlucky. And despite the fact that, as mentioned before, he’s sporting career lows in AVG, OBP, and SLG, he still ranks first in home runs hit by a catcher (14), third in BB% by a catcher (11.3%), first in Isolated Power – a stat which communicates a hitter’s extra bases per at bat – among catchers (.233), and most importantly fourth in runs scored by a catcher (37). All of this in fewer opportunities than his competitors due to injury.
If the New York Yankees can do these three things – avoid pitching Gray at home except against bad teams, make minor adjustments in Judge’s hitting in away games, and keep rolling with Sanchez – they will remain in contention throughout the end season, and very possibly could pass the Red Sox in the division.
At the end of the day, with seven games left against the Red Sox, the Yankees destiny rests upon their own hands.
There, after writing that piece about Chris Sale, this one makes the world a more balanced place for me again.