Over the past nine games, the Yankees’ offense has turned R-I-S-P into a “four-letter word”. Following last night’s abysmal 0-13 performance with runners in scoring position, which, according to the Daily News, was the team’s worst single game performance since 1990, the Bronx Bombers have now gone 6 for their last 72 when presented with an opportunity to score.
As implied by the team’s shockingly low production with runners on at least second or third, the Yankees’ inability to come through in the clutch has pretty much been widespread. That has led many to speculate that the lineup might be pressing, creating a infinite loop that has seen the Yankees spiral all the way to last place. Joe Girardi, however, has offered a much simpler answer. “That’s baseball,” the Yankees’ manager has frequently stated.
It happens every year. It happens to every team. It doesn’t look good when you’re going through it. But you’ve got to keep competing.” – Derek Jeter, May 21, 2012, quoted in the New York Post
Although some Yankees, like Russell Martin, have acknowledged that the lineup might be “pressing”, for the most part, the public comments have been optimistic. After yesterday’s loss, Derek Jeter echoed Girardi’s comments, pointing out that several outs with runners in scoring position were hit well. Obviously, the scoreboard doesn’t keep track of good at bats, but if the team is continuing to have them, maybe the current futility with men in scoring position isn’t that serious after all?
Despite the Yankees’ low batting average with runners in scoring position, which, at .222, ranks next to last in the American League, the team’s peripheral statistics stack up pretty well. In fact, the Yankees’ hitters have homered and walked more frequently, struck out less, and posted an isolated power rating (ISO; a measure of extra base hits per at bat) much higher than the league average. So, maybe, Girardi is right? The Yankees’ inability to score runs might simply be a product of some poorly timed bad luck.
The notion that the Yankees have been snake bitten is corroborated by the team’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .227, which compares to the A.L. average of .291. This discrepancy is even more pronounced when you consider the Yankees’ put the ball in play more often when there are men in scoring position. So, unless the team’s lower line drive percentage is the residue of significantly weaker contact, it’s hard not to conclude that the poor performance in scoring situations is at least partly the byproduct of bad luck.
Sometimes it can be misleading to compare the Yankees to the A.L. average because the expectations for such a talented lineup are much greater. However, even when compared to last year’s performance with RISP, the same pattern emerges. Once again, despite hitting more homers, striking out less often, and producing a similar line drive rate, this year’s lineup suffers from a significant disadvantage in terms of batting average. What’s more, on an individual basis, practically the entire lineup has posted BABIP rates well below average. Even Raul Ibanez, who leads the team in OPS with runners in scoring position (minimum 15 PAs), has only hit .219 on balls in play.
Anyone who denies that psychology plays a significant role in on-field performance is being naïve. However, equally absurd is the notion that hitting with men on base in May has turned the legs of the Yankees’ veteran lineup into jelly. Although confidence is a vital component of success, sometimes it is better to just be lucky. Is that all it will take? Who knows, but, unless hitters like Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira are destined to hit below .200 with runners in scoring position, chances are the hits will start dropping in and runs will start crossing the plate. Until then, just don’t say RISP to some of the more ornery Yankees’ fans because they may remove the “S” and engrave it on your tombstone.