Saturday, June 4, 2016

How Unfortunate Has the Yankees Offense Been?

On Friday night, the Yankees offense got what felt like a deluge of hits in big spots. Rob Refsnyder, Aaron Hicks, and Jacoby Ellsbury all came up with important hits in a levee-breaking seventh inning that put the team ahead for good, despite a rare off-night from the bullpen. The mood on Yankees Twitter mirrored my own feelings: Finally. It's about time we got some clutch hits.

Via Newsday
It's all fine and dandy to concede that clutchness almost certainly can't be a team-wide skill, but it sure has felt like this year's Yankees have shrunk in big spots more than Costanza in the Hamptons.

But I'd guess that most fans feel that their team is either totally clutch or totally unclutch. It's in our nature to attach more weight to important events and remember them longer. I doubt that many people think, My team has displayed markedly average ability in clutch situations this year. To remove the impact of my own biases, I figured I'd see what some stats have to say about the Yankees' clutchness/luck on offense through about one-third of the season. Has the team cowered in big moments, or is the offense just bad across the board? Have a look:
(All stats are current through Saturday.)

Let's start simple -- a comparison of team performance with and without runners in scoring position. The Yanks have slashed .233/.299/.374 overall this year. Yes, you just heard my Home Alone-style "Yikes!" yelp as it traveled through your computer screen. Now, how have they done with RISP? It can't be much worse, right? Actually...it can. They've posted a .213/.297/.333 line in those situations. For comparison, even in this depressed run-scoring environment, the average American League team has slashed .258/.336/.409 with RISP. So just to recap, without runners in scoring position, the Yankees as a team have hit like vintage Rey Ordóñez. With RISP, they're basically a solid-hitting National League pitcher. Shite, I'm regretting this already.

Well, how about the fancier stats? Let's see what they have to say about the Yankees' performance in crucial situations. After all, runners in scoring position stats tell us little about the game state and leverage involved in those situations. Fangraphs has a stat called "Clutch" for just such situations. Clutch measures how much better or worse players perform in high-leverage situations than they would have done in a context-neutral environment. If the Yankees really have struggled in the clutch this year any more than they've struggled in general, we'd expect them to land near the bottom of the league in the Clutch measurement. However, they're in the middle of the pack in MLB in this stat. They've been a tiny bit worse in high-leverage situations, but not enough that it has notably affected their offensive production.

Similarly, the Yankees' cluster luck -- which is calculated daily on The Power Rank to track how lucky teams have been based on their hit sequencing -- confirms that the team has had pretty average fortunes this year. Over the entire season so far, the offense has lost a negligible one run due to cluster luck. Contrast that with the Yanks' division rivals Boston and Tampa Bay, each of which has surrendered almost two full wins* as a result of combined offensive and defensive cluster luck. Again, this stat shows that the Yankees have not been any more unlucky or unclutch than the average team. Their offense probably just isn't very good.

*Assuming that approximately 10 runs in worth a win.

While the stats that I've examined above aren't particularly predictive, they do show us that Yankees hitters have not produced much at all this year -- in close games or blowouts, high-leverage or low-leverage situations, with runners on base or without. It seems that the team's aging lineup has finally gone entirely over the hill. I'd suggest we all stop worrying about the offense's performance in big spots and start seriously fretting over the offense's performance in all spots. It's really not much fun to watch a lineup full of Rey Ordóñezes every day.


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Follow Francis Tolan on Twitter @frantweet

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