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Are the Yankees actually bad with runners in scoring position?

Matt Gregory

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Brad Penner-USA Today Sports

When you look on Twitter or the comments section of an article about the Yankees there will be comments like these:

It sure appears like the Yankees struggle with runners in scoring position. The last tweet is a very recent example from Tuesday night. But is it true? Are there statistics to back this thinking? Below is the last five years of Yankees performance with runners in scoring position:

The Yankees were pretty good in 2015 with and slightly better last year by sOPS+ (Split OPS+, the higher the number, the better). For all the talk about reliance on home runs, the Yankees have not hit as many home runs have they have in the past.

Still, the Yankees have been an above average offense with runners in scoring position even if they are not the best in the last five years.

More importantly, baselines should be established. Below are the league averages for the American League and National League when hitting with runners in scoring position in 2018.

The numbers are generally equal in all categories, though the NL is slightly below average in wRC+, which may be explained by pitchers being forced to hit. Now, to compare the Yankees’ 2018 performance to league averages and other teams in the major league:

The chart is cut off after 10 teams for spacing reasons. Are the Yankees the best team in the majors with runners in scoring position? No, but they rank in the top 10. The team’s slash line is right in line with the American League averages and their wRC+ ranks slightly above the AL average.

So why does it seem like the opposite is the case? What is missing? Well, using FanGraphs splits tools, I looked at specific spots in the lineup. The spots I started with first were batting order positions one through four, where the Yankees should have their best hitters and theoretically do the best with runners in scoring position (which accounts for 644 plate appearances of their total 1446 plate appearances, nearly 50%):

There are the Yankees; ranked 22nd in the league when the one through four spots are hitting with runners in scoring position. They are slightly below league average regarding wRC+, but the slash line of .242/.343/.407 is below the team’s overall 2018 performance. So, you might be able to guess how the bottom of the lineup has performed.

Yes, the Yankees are the best in the league with runners in scoring position when the five through nine spots come up to the plate though their strikeout rate is elevated compared to their season average and league average.

This can probably be explained by Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andújar occupying the five through nine spots for 105 games and 111 games respectively. Torres has a 145 wRC+ when batting ninth and 146 wRC+ when batting sixth. Andújar has a wRC+ of 176 and 164 when batting fifth and sixth in the order. Torres and Andújar both have posted wRC+ greater than 135 with runners
in scoring position.

The two players who have played consistently and struggled consistently with runners in scoring position? Didi Gregorius and Giancarlo Stanton both hold wRC+ below 100 with runners in scoring position. They tend to occupy spots in the top half of the lineup.

So, is the statement that “the Yankees struggle with runners in scoring position,” true? Broadly speaking, not really. They are in the top half of the league in that regard. When digging deeper into parts of the lineup, then yes, it is true. The top half of the Yankees lineup struggles to produce with runners in scoring position.

Is there a solution or a reason? Not one that is easily identifiable. Doing a quick google search will produce numerous articles about whether being clutch is a skill, or if hitting with runners in scoring position is more luck. In terms of team’s historical averages, the Yankees are just that, average. But this year when compared to the rest of Major League Baseball? They have been above average, whether it looks like it or not.

Born and raised in New Jersey in a Yankee household, Matt works with computers by day but has always loved baseball. When he's not doing either of those things, he's probably thinking about Villanova basketball way too much. Follow him on Twitter @MattchewGregory.

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