Entering play on Saturday, July 21st, the New York Yankees have the best record in baseball, surging of late, winning nine of their previous 13 games. The Bronx Bombers lead Major League Baseball in home runs, are eighth in team batting average and first in OPS (on base + slugging percentage).
However, the Yankees are second to last in the American League while batting with runners in scoring position (RISP). Huh?
Of all the major sports, baseball is the simplest to quantify and to project team and individual performance. It's a sport that is eminently easy to follow statistically, given its large sample sizes and isolated moments of game action.
Baseball's statistical projections and prognostications are mostly based on past performance and studying trends. In certain respects, this differs very little from the methods behind predicting stock market successes or failures.
These trends project whether a player or team will perform at certain levels given their age, health and the aforementioned past performance. Most teams now employ personnel that help them to gain a statistical advantage that they hope translates to success on the field.
Just like a Wall Street brokerage firm, any general manager or front office person in Major League Baseball can tell you that having all of the best statistical information and algorithms at your disposal does not always guarantee future success.
How else can one explain the Yankees strong overall offensive performance and simultaneous ineptitude while hitting with men on second and/or third base? Manager Joe Girardi is at a loss. Following their victory in Atlanta last month, the Yankees skipper said "Let's not (talk about it) and let's see if it changes," he said. "Let's try a different way, and let's see if it changes."
Something may need to change sooner rather than later; otherwise, the Yankees could be looking at another disappointing October. Given the increasingly competitive battle within their division this season, the Yankees no longer have any "gimme" games.
The Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays have significantly stepped up their hitting this season and each team has batters that can rake on a nightly basis. While none of these three teams match the offensive prowess of the Bombers, two of the three (Toronto and Tampa Bay) are ahead while hitting with RISP. But does it matter?
The two teams which represented their leagues in the Fall Classic last season were the two best hitting teams with RISP during the 2011 regular season. Yet, if you go back to the 2010 season, you find that the San Francisco Giants finished last in the National League in batting average with RISP. In case you forgot, those same Giants won the World Series.
In 2009, when the Yankees won their 27th World Series title, they finished eighth in the majors batting with RISP. The NL champions, Philadelphia, were 23rd. In 2008, the Rays and Phillies won the AL and NL pennants. Tampa finished last in the AL while hitting with RISP and Philly were right smack in the middle of all major league teams in the same category.
The Yankees have enjoyed tremendous success in the regular season during their incredible, sustained run of dominance since the start of the 1994 season. The Yanks have reached the postseason every year but one since the 1995 season, winning five World Series titles and capturing seven American League pennants.
In the Yankees' past two postseasons, the lack of big hits in big spots have ruined the Bombers' chances of reaching the World Series. There's no question that these hitting woes are under greater scrutiny given the magnitude of October baseball.
Baseball players, especially those in New York, understand that all too well. Though the answer that no one seems to have is how to improve in that area—in those moments.
It may give fans no comfort, there simply does not appear to be a consistently proven correlation, over the course of a season, between a superior batting average with men in scoring position and winning championships.
Though it sure couldn't hurt for the Yankees to improve in that category.