Approach, time of year and plain, old luck could help rationalize club's slump in clutch
By Nick Suss
NEW YORK -- The Yankees are not hitting when runners are in scoring position. There really isn't another way to say it. But there are a lot of ways to rationalize it, at least from manager Joe Girardi's perspective.
First, there's the idea of approach. The Yankees are leaving a lot of men on base -- 56 over six games this homestand after Thursday's 7-3 loss to the A's -- but that, of course, means the Yanks are getting men on base in the first place, which in itself is an encouraging sign. Or, as Girardi put it:
"We're getting runners on," he said. "We just need to get them in, and that's going to change and we're not going to be talking about this nearly as much."
Second, there's the time of year. In April, everything looks magnified. An 0-for-10 slump in August or September might only drop a player's batting average by a couple of points, but in April that's the difference between batting .300 and batting .200. This amplifies the struggles to make them worse than they are. Or, as Girardi put it:
"If you drop an 0-for-7 or an 0-for-8, you go two days without getting a hit this time in the season, your average is going to plummet," he said. "In turn, if you go 5-for-8 this time of the year, your average is going to go way up. So, sometimes it's not a great indicator of how you've swung the bat."
Third, and perhaps most easily understood, there's the principle of luck. With runners in scoring position this season the Yankees have a batting average on balls in play of .205. With no one on base, that BABIP rises to .260. And perhaps most bothersome, the Yankees' BABIP with a runner on first base but no one in scoring position is a staggering .373, an observation that even Alex Rodriguez has joked about this season after hitting a home run with a runner on first base.
"I was looking for a good pitch to hit and to drive it. I'm glad [Brian McCann] was at first, not at second," he said Sunday afternoon. "No one got that joke -- because then he would've been in scoring position. Come on, man. Where are the Ivy Leaguers here?"
Girardi referenced the luck element, too, when referring to Aaron Hicks' early-season slump.
"I just think he could use a little luck, a little luck to change," Girardi said. "I've been OK with his at-bats, too."
But the real question worth examining is whether or not these claims are valid. The Yankees are 7-for-69 in their last eight games with runners in scoring position, and their batting split on the season in those situations is down to .196/.295/.352. Despite this, the Yankees were still pretty close to the middle of the pack in runs scored this season; league average was 4.10 runs per game and the Yanks were scoring 4.08 runs per game.
A lot of this is because of how well the Yankees have slugged with the bases empty. Eleven of the team's 17 doubles and 11 of its 16 home runs have come with no one on base. Patience has also been a factor, as the selective Yankees have drawn 19 of their 55 walks this year with runners in scoring position, or about 13 percent of the plate appearances with runners in scoring position. But, be it approach or magnified standards or just dumb luck, those walks aren't scoring.
"The one thing you preach to them is don't try to do too much," Girardi said. "Continue to put up the good at-bats, don't chase pitches, look for your pitch, try to drive the ball in the gaps, those sort of things."
Nick Suss is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.