The Yankees have been one the biggest surprises of the 2017 season. The Yankees were perhaps the biggest seller at last year’s deadline, making it clear that they were in rebuilding mode. While the words “rebuilding” and “Yankees” normally don’t go together, GM Brian Cashman appeared intent on making the team younger and more talented. When questioned about whether a rebuild would work in New York this offseason, Cashman replied, “When people say you can’t rebuild in New York, I say ‘you’re a liar’”. But while the Yanks have some of the brightest stars in the league developing in the minors, the veteran starters on the major league roster that have been the ones propelling the Bronx Bombers into first place in the AL East. The resurgence of several Yankee veterans has been largely due to a shift to a more patient approach at the plate.They say that you can’t teach a new dog old tricks and in most instances that adage applies to baseball players as well, but don’t tell the Yankees that, because their newfound patience is paying enormous dividends in the early going.
Here is a list of Yankee players who have dramatically increased their walk rates this season:
|2017 BB%||Career BB%||2017 Increase||Projected 2017 BB%|
Before I start to analyze the chart above, can we acknowledge how absurd it is that three of these four Yankee hitters have exactly 10.0% walk rates? In fact, the only other active player who has exactly a BB% of exactly 10.0% is Carlos Beltran, and he was also a Yankee until August of last year. But I digress…
Now I understand how easy it would be to look at this chart and attribute these players’ uptick in walks to small sample sizes. After all, with less than 100 PAs each, a few random bouts of wildness for opposing pitchers could account for this change. However, when we look at advanced plate discipline statistics, it is clear that the rise in free passes for these players is the result of a philosophical change.
Below is a chart showing the same four players 2017 O-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone) relative to last season:
|O-Swing % (2016)||O-Swing % (2017)|
Plate discipline statistics normalize rather quickly so the fact that these statistics align with the correlating increase in BB rates signals to me that these players are consciously trying to avoid swinging at balls outside the zone. Still, it could be theorized that the Yankees have had the added benefit of facing pitchers who have had control issues this season. However, when we look at the BB rates of Yankee opponents so far this season, this theory does not hold much water. So far this season, Yankees opponents combine for a BB/9 of 3.43, which is slightly above the league average of 3.27. But if we take take out the games in which the Yankees were the opponent, these same teams have a season BB/9 of 3.26. In other words, if wasn’t for the fact that these teams had to face an uber-patient Yankees lineup, they would walk hitters slightly less than league average.
While the veterans of this group a key reason why the Bronx Bombers team O-Swing% is the second lowest in the league, there are other contributors worth mentioning in this group. Starlin Castro has raised his BB% from 4.6% to 6.6%. Both Gregory Bird and Aaron Judge have superior walk rates than they have had thus far in their career (minor league statistics also included). In fact, the only player in the Yankees’ lineup who has not raised their BB% this season is Jacoby Ellsbury. All in all, this is evidence that the team-wide the increase in patience is more likely a change in organizational philosophy than a fluky early season trend. If this is the case, the Yankees early season offensive output looks very sustainable. Maybe there is no such thing as a rebuild in New York after all.