Monday, May 23, 2011

The "Yankees Are Hitting Too Many Home Runs" Rhetoric Has To Stop

(Too bad the NY baseball writers don't.)

Despite the ups and downs of the Yankee offense as a whole this season, one constant has been their power.  Since Opening Day the Yankees have been crushing home runs and they used the long ball to their advantage again over the weekend against the Mets.  The other constant that has come with the power has been the MSM's continued insistence that the Yankees hitting all these home runs is somehow a bad thing.  Brien Jackson from IIATMS has been the leading voice of reason in combating this ridiculous line of thinking, and he took to the interweb again this weekend to pick apart the idiocy of The Daily News' Filip Bondy as well as that of The Post's Kevin Kernan.  But that hasn't stopped these guys and others from continuing to bang the anti-HR drum, and I can no longer sit idly by and read this crap.  So I'll get my 2 cents in about the topic, using portions of these 2 goobers' respective columns.

First up, Bondy's attempt to create connections between other facets of the game and home runs when there are none and then failure to even try to trace a connection between high home run and run totals to wins.

"Hardly anybody ever singles in runners from second or third. Again yesterday, the Yanks managed no hits with runners in scoring position. They have only 26 stolen bases and stood second-to-last in fielding in the American League, giving up 21 unearned runs in 44 games on 32 errors."

"The Yanks have struck 70 homers and scored 118 of their 226 runs this season with longballs. Their ratio of homers to total runs scored is .310, greater than the 1961 Yanks' .290." (via The Daily News)

On the one hand, Bondy wants you to think that the Yankees' high home run total is something that should be tied to their struggles in other areas, such as hitting with RISP, stealing bases, and fielding the ball.  Anybody who understands the basic principles of baseball can tell you that home runs have nothing to do with any of these stats.  They are a completely separate animal and should be treated as such.  Not to mention the fact that the home run is a play of certainty, where the factors influencing the outcome of the play are limited and the results always work to the advantage of the team who hit the home run.

If there are runners on 3rd and 1st and the batter hits a home run, his team is getting 3 runs for sure.  All 3 guys cross the plate and there's nothing the defense or pitcher can do about it.  If the batter hits a groundball to short, there are tons of factors in play and many different outcomes that can influence how many runs are scored.  The defense could turn 2 and allow the runner from 3rd to score, they could throw home and try to cut the runner down at the plate, allowing no runs to score, or there could be an error in which no outs are recorded, 1 run scores, and the opportunity is still open for more runs.  And that's just 3 scenarios off the top of my head.  There are plenty more that could come up, but the idea that holds true in any of them is that there is uncertainty about how many runs will be scored.

Hitting home runs eliminates all of those possibilities and leads to only one outcome: runs scoring.  It's the best possible play from the offensive standpoint because your team is scoring runs without sacrificing outs.  There's a reason why HR totals are still valued and are worth more in calculating OPS, OPS+, wOBA, etc.  Because the outcome is always the same and it's always a positive for the offense.  That fact never changes and so trying to tie home runs in with other plays like advancing runners, getting hits with runners on, and stealing bases is an incredibly flawed and stupid way of thinking. 

Kernan's piece in today's Post was equally stupid, but for a different reason:

"The Yankees are waking up to the fact that they can’t just sit back and wait on the three-run home run. Girardi was proactive ordering Granderson, the 16-home run man, to bunt because, “I just felt like you’re getting the winning run 90 feet away,” the manager said."

"Counting solely on the home run is like counting on winning the lottery to make a living."

I know it's asking a lot, but forget the part where Kernan calls Girardi's decision to let one of his most dangerous hitters sacrifice an out and a chance to drive in more than 1 run by bunting "proactive" and focus on the idea that Kernan seems to be suggesting about home runs.  By saying things like "sit back and wait" and "counting solely on...", Kernan is suggesting that hitting a home run is something that the player has no control over.  It is a completely random event that happens based on luck and there is nothing a hitter can do to increase his chances of hitting a home run.  This is wrong.

We are talking about guys who have spent thousands of hours of batting practice and video work trying to perfect their swing and increase their chances of making more solid contact with the baseball when it is pitched to them.  They study pitchers' tendencies and location charts and try to read situations where they know they'll be getting a more favorable pitch to hit and they then adjust their approach at the plate accordingly.  All of these things factor into a player's ability to hit home runs, and when you look around the Yankee lineup you see plenty of guys who are damn good at doing that.  They aren't going up to the plate WAITING or HOPING to hit a home run.  They're going up to TRYING to hit a home run because they know it's the best hit they can get and allows their team to score runs without giving up outs.  To say that athletes this talented are counting on something happening that they have influence over is selling them way short on their abilities.

Basically, this continuing theme that the Yankees are hitting "too many" home runs stems from the MSM's belief that the good that comes from hitting home runs and the bad that comes from failure to move runners over and failure to get hits with runners on base are related.  Hitting home runs is always going to be a good thing,  and failing to get hits with RISP is always going to be a bad thing.  They are 2 separate facts and a player or a team doing one or the other well does not become less important if they aren't doing the other well.  Instead of looking at it from the perspective of each issue combining to make the offense WORSE, the discussion should be based around how much BETTER the offense could be if the situational hitting and ability to string hits together improved to a more consistent level in conjunction with the high home run rate.  Better output in those categories combined with the continuation of the Yankees' power output would lead to more runs being scored, an increase in win probability, and likely an increase in wins.

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