The Yankees are exceeding expectations at just about every level, from strong starting pitching to Aaron Judge‘s almost nightly power displays. The offense has drawn attention mostly for its home runs, but I’d like to focus on something maybe even more important: plate discipline. The Yankees are walking a lot more.
Let’s consider where the Yankees ranked last year. The team ranked 18th in walks with 475, below the league average of 503 and the league-leading Chicago Cubs at 656. Think about that for a second. The Cubs walked almost 200 more times than the Yankees last season. That’s a HUGE difference. That’s over a walk per game.
So far this season, the Yankees are tied for 3rd in the league with 99 walks, just 3 behind the Washington Nationals at 102 who have actually played an extra two games. Across 23 games that means the Yankees are walking 4.3/game. That’s a big jump from the 2.9/game last season. Extrapolate that across an entire season and the Yankees would take 697 free bases. Wowza. Extra walks do a lot for a team. They raise pitch counts of the opposing pitcher, gets men on base, extends innings, etc. It can really add up.
On the flip side, the team has struck out 189 times this season, or 8.2 times per game, good for 11th best in baseball. Those are solid numbers, though nowhere near what the Yankees were able to do last season. Last year the team ranked 5th best with just 1188 whiffs, or a lowly 7.3 times per game. At their current rate, they’d finish close to the league average based on last year’s stats. That’s fine given the walk and home run potential of the team. Home run hitters often strike out more, and it’s usually worth the trade off to a point. Especially when walk rates are high. We know Aaron Judge is going to strike out, take his walks, and hit home runs. That’s fine. What’s probably not fine is a Chris Carter type player who does nothing BUT hit home runs, strikeout, and walk.
Specific Player Improvements
There are a few specific players that have really improved their walk rates over last season. The first that comes to mind is Starlin Castro. Castro walked 24 times all of last season. Having already walked 7 times this season, he’s on pace for over 51. Matt Holliday also walks a lot, having done so 16 times through the first month. Aaron Judge walked 9 times in his brief MLB stint last season, yet has already walked 13 times in fewer games. Not to mention he’s nowhere near his terrifying Mark Reynolds-like strike out rate. Chase Headley walked 51 times last year, but is currently on pace to walk a whopping 103 times this season.
There’s a lot to like about this team. While it’s fun to get excited about the home runs, it could be even more important that the Yankees are walking more. At the very least it means more runners on base to score after a home run, right?