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“The home run is always a good play”

Sep 14, 2012, 12:30 PM EDT

Mark Teixeira Getty Images

There has been a lot of grousing during the Yankees recent struggles. Grousing not unlike we heard early in the season: the Yankees are too home run-dependent! They have to play small ball!

The people who say this often cite the Yankees trouble with runners in scoring position as a failure to be a fundamentally sound team. That their situational hitting skills suck, and that they’re swinging for the fences too much.

Bah. If anyone can find an expert who will argue that hitting with runners in scoring position is a skill as opposed to something that just happens, I’ll give them a shiny new silver dollar.  There is no switch one turns on or off when it comes to hitting with runners on.  Batters try to hit all the damn time.

In any event, if you still think that the Yankees are too home-run dependent, go read Tyler Kepner’s latest at the times. He uses history to debunk that notion, and makes a claim that should be as obvious as all hell but which some people need reminded of:  “the home run is always a good play.”

Good stuff from Tyler, as always.

  1. kevinleaptrot - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:36 PM

    I’m reminded of Earl Weaver’s managing philosophy-“Pitching, defense and the 3 run home run.”

  2. danaking - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    Hitting a home run is always a good play. Trying to hit one may not be, unless you actually hit one. Runner on second and two out, a better who swings for the fences and fans didn’t do his job. The guy who blooped an outside pitch over the first baseman’s head for a run scoring single did.

    It’s not a contradiction to say a home run is never a bad play, but being too dependent on them is also not good.

    • uyf1950 - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:45 PM

      And yet in spite of your last comment the Yankees have always been a team reliant on the HR and considering their win/loss record year in and year and their appearances in the postseason I would say any blanket statement good or bad about a specific team is NOT a good thing.

      • danaking - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:00 PM

        I’ll stand by that statement. Being “too” dependent is itself dependent on how good you are at hitting home runs. Hit enough of them, and, even though your percentage of runs scores on home runs is high, you still score enough home runs to win.

        Swinging from the heels to see how many bombs you can hit can be a good strategy in Yankee Stadium. The need for more flexibility becomes more important in places like Safeco and Petco.

      • djpostl - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:26 PM

        Except you’re kind of wrong. Using them to great effect =/= being dependent upon them.

        Look at 2009’s World Series team. 5:4 ration HRs to SB/SF (kind of the hallmark of “manufacturing runs”). Nearly a 1:1 ratio.

        This year is a 2:1 ratio. Even a home run hitting team needs to put guys in motion now & then, use productive outs and so on.

        The Yankee teams that won WS always could do both. The Yankee teams that failed to win a WS typically just played station-to-station & tried to “mash”.

    • paperlions - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:52 PM

      The problem, of course, if the guy hitting a bloop single is relying on luck (that the ball somehow found a hole), which could just as easily happen to a guy swinging for the fences and ends up with a bloop single as a guy trying to hit a line drive and ends up with a bloop single…..similarly, just like guys that swing hard fan….so do guys that try to take outside pitches the other way.

      Essentially, your scenario boils down to: striking out = bad, getting hit = good….which I think we already know, and which is generally independent of hitter intent and completely depending on hitter ability.

      • paperlions - Sep 14, 2012 at 2:58 PM

        Put another way….guys that strike out a lot don’t do so because they are trying to hit HRs, but because they simply don’t make much contact. Guys that don’t make much contact but hit HRs when they do, can be productive players; guys that don’t make much contact and don’t hit the ball that hard when they do, can not be productive players.

        The result is that only guys with contact problems that have power can be everyday players. It is completely inaccurate to assert that HR hitters strike out lot because they are trying to hit HRs. Five of the top 12 HR hitters this year rank in the bottom 1/2 of qualified players in Ks.

  3. deathmonkey41 - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    “Bah. If anyone can find an expert who will argue that hitting with runners in scoring position is a skill as opposed to something that just happens, I’ll give them a shiny new silver dollar.”

    Nonsense- if someone leads off with a double, but you can’t move him over because you’re trying to yank the ball out of the park and ground out to the shortstop or 3rd baseman instead of going to the right side, then you’re not playing good baseball. That guy should be on third with one out so at the very least, he can score on ground out or sac fly. It seems like the Yankees do that at least once a game. I want my shiny new dollar!!!

    • dan1111 - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:05 PM

      Statistical analysis has consistently shown that this approach leads to fewer runs overall. Giving up an out to move a runner from second to third is not a good trade.

      • bravojawja - Sep 14, 2012 at 2:44 PM

        Does that analysis take into account all hitters? Honest question.

        I wonder if they ran the same kind of analysis for 7-9 hitters vs 1-6 hitters. If Paul Janish is going to make an out anyway (and he is), why not make it a productive out and ground to the right side or sacrifice, making it easier for a better hitter to drive in the runner from third? I normally wouldn’t suggest a cleanup hitter should just give up an out, but if Pedro Alvarez is facing Clayton Kershaw (or any lefty), for the love of God be productive with your inevitable out.

        Yadier Molina, OTOH, should always be swinging. Or so I’ve heard.

    • alang3131982 - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:40 PM

      Where is there any proof that a hitter is “trying to yank one.” A hitter is trying to hit the ball as well as he can. It’s a mechanical thing. Fly ball hitters hit fly balls, ground ball hitters hit ground balls, pull hiters pull the ball, etc.. To say they can flip a switch in an at bat and become one or the other doesnt make a lot of sense to me, otherwise shifts would be pretty useless no?

    • raysfan1 - Sep 14, 2012 at 7:22 PM

      What Craig is say is that hitters generally, over time, hit the same whether there are runners on or not. To earn your silver dollar you’ll need to demonstrate a cadre of player’s who hit significantly better when runners are on the bags than when they are empty.

  4. heyblueyoustink - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    A Denny’s grand slam, now *there’s* an example where the homerun is always good.

  5. buckeyeluvn - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    inning killers

  6. stex52 - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    Craig, you are losing the situational tree in the statistical forest. Every at-bat has its own parameters. Are there men on base? Is the pitcher nibbling because he knows you are a power hitter? Did the ump give a “strike” to the outside first pitch, so now you’re in a hole if you foul one off? What’s the score in the game? What inning? Does this pitcher throw well out of the stretch?

    I’m with uyf and deathmonkey. Everyone wants the home run. Do you go up to bat figuring every time
    “I’ll just swing as hard as I can and hope for the best”? Not hardly. Don’t confuse the statistics of results with the strategy of the at-bat.

    Go watch Carlos Lee (even in his decline). When the count is against him, he shortens up and at least puts it in play to the opposite side, if not punching a single. They didn’t hire him for his singles and his sacrifices, but it’s a dividend of smart play.

    Go get yourself a whole roll of shiny new dollar coins.

    • stex52 - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:00 PM

      Sorry, I was referring to Dana, not uyf.

      • deathmonkey41 - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:10 PM

        Not to mention that you should be shortening up your swing with two strikes- hard to do that when you’re trying to hit a 3R HR with no one on base.

    • dan1111 - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:20 PM

      You do have a point. However, usually the people who make this sort of complaint are advocating for “small ball” strategies that are demonstrably suboptimal. This is what Craig is arguing against, not the idea that players should have smart at-bats.

    • Gamera the Brave - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:36 PM

      stex, be honest – like the rest of us, you are just looking for a reason to type “deathmonkey”.
      Man, that’s a kick-ass nom-de-guerre…

      • stex52 - Sep 14, 2012 at 2:25 PM

        Point taken.

  7. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    How many of these articles are you guys going to write this year (re: HR being a good thing?) You already wrote on on 7/19, and now this? I’ll just quote what I wrote then in the Ken Davidoff article about the Yankees and HRs:

    Yes, Ken examines that bit of wisdom. If you only didn’t read Jay Jaffe’s article on 6/25 posted here(1), who referenced an old Joe Sheehan article from 5/28/09 here(2). So yes, Ken did some work that had already been done previously.

    1 – http://mlb.si.com/2012/06/25/new-york-yankees-home-runs-risp/
    2 – http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8961

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM

      Here’s the other article’s link:

      http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/07/19/the-yankees-hit-a-lot-of-home-runs-this-is-a-problem/

    • heyblueyoustink - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:10 PM

      Enough to get you outraged ;-)

  8. natslady - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    Nats are hitting a lot of home runs (45 = most in MLB for the last 30 days). Hasn’t been a problem. :)

    • djpostl - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:28 PM

      Playing in the candyass league that got the floor wiped with them during interleague (let alone the division the AL East turned into their lackey) hasn’t hurt them much either =P

      • heyblueyoustink - Sep 14, 2012 at 2:54 PM

        You mean the candyass league who has won the past two World Series, correct?

  9. aceshigh11 - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    I want to see a player hit 40 home runs with only 40 RBI.

    Actually…I’m sure it can be found, but I’d be curious to see the lowest RBI totals for any player who’s hit 30-39, 40-49 and 50+ HR in a season.

    • Jeremy Fox - Sep 14, 2012 at 3:31 PM

      Back in the early eighties I seem to recall the Indians had a lineup with a bunch of power hitting but low OBP guys, and the guy batting 6th had I think 30 HR but only 69 RBI. Most of the time when he came up, the bases were empty, either because somebody just cleared them with a HR or because nobody had gotten on base in front of him to begin with.

      • Jeremy Fox - Sep 14, 2012 at 3:36 PM

        Ok, found the answer for players with at least 40 HR: Duke Snider in 1957 with 40 HR and 92 RBI:

        http://research.sabr.org/journals/harvest-seasons-most-runs-batted-in

        The linked article also identifies the guy who had 100+ RBI with the fewest HR since 1920: Pie Traynor in 1931 with 2 HR and 103 RBI. Not surprisingly, everyone on that list is a slap hitter from the high-offense 1920’s and 1930’s. Lots of chances to bat with runners in scoring position, so lots of RBI opportunities even for a slap hitter.

  10. Old Gator - Sep 14, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    Anyone who can actually shoehorn a dollar out of Craig – once a shyster, always a shyster – make sure to post the news here so we can all marvel at the accomplishment.

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