How To Build A Good Offense
I'm going to show you the most important components of a good offense, and how to apply that to the 2021 Yankees.
I’m going to show you what things the Yankees need to improve on and what things they need to be looking for (or looking for a lack of) on the offensive side this offseason. I got into a few Twitter arguments on Monday and over the last couple days about why the Yankees’ offense didn’t click in 2021 and what changes need to be made.
The Yankees hit into an AL-leading 154 double plays in 2021. That’s very bad to begin with but their ground ball rate as a team was very concerning. Their 43.4% ground ball rate as a team was the 12th-worst GB% in the majors. Only one of the 11 teams with worse ground ball rates made the playoffs in 2021 (White Sox) and they were from the AL Central, so they don’t really count.
Just because you’re putting the ball in play doesn’t mean you’re going to win games. That’s why the “strikeouts are bad” argument is flawed. A strikeout isn’t an ideal result, but it’s better than a ball beaten into the ground, and with runners on base, that can have an even worse result than a strikeout.
What can the Yankees do to better these results? Well, they can put the ball in the air. Six of the top-10 teams in fly ball rate in 2021 made the playoffs. Three are still playing.
8 of those 10 teams finished with 90+ wins. The A’s finished with 86 wins. Then, there’s the Orioles — who just stunk.
Is a hard-hit ground ball better than a softly hit fly ball? Not entirely… in the moment at least. As a whole, a fly ball will always be a better option.
According to Statcast, the difference in AVG isn’t that large (40 points) between a ground ball and a fly ball, but you slug almost 600 points higher on a fly ball.
You can’t argue with that data.
So what’s next? Well, with fly balls you do still need results… so this is where the power department comes into play. Five of the top-6 teams in ISO (Isolated Power) made the postseason. The leader in ISO (Blue Jays) narrowly missed the playoffs.
(Isolated power is SLG minus AVG.)
Now what do the Yankees do well then? They walk a ton. They led the majors with a 10.2% walk rate in 2021. Right behind them was the Dodgers, Giants, White Sox, and Brewers. The Rays, Braves, and Astros were also one of 12 to walk at least 9% of the time — so they fit the bill, as well.
We’re almost there! Let’s do an exercise: Let’s take three teams and compare them to see what’s wrong. Did I hear the Dodgers, Rays, and Yankees? Awesome! That’s two teams with 100+ wins in the regular season… and the Yankees.
What do we see here? The Dodgers and Rays have a lower GB% than the Yankees. The Dodgers and Rays have a higher FB% than the Yankees. The Dodgers and Rays have a higher ISO than the Yankees. The Yankees have a higher BB% than both teams. The Yankees and Rays have a similar K%. The Dodgers and Rays have better offenses (per wRC+) than the Yankees.
So that tells you… what exactly? The Dodgers and Rays had better offenses because of their ability to hit the ball in the air and slug the baseball around. The Dodgers and Yankees had a similar BB%, so that’s not something that needs to change. The Yankees and Rays had a similar K%, so that’s also not something that needs to change.
If the Yankees hit the ball with authority in the air, the strikeouts don’t mean a thing. If they’re just ground-ball machines, the strikeouts might build up because that’s just more outs on the ledger in total. Ball in air = winning.
So what players could the Yankees target to improve their numbers. I identified five players that are or could be available this offseason.
Kyle Seager, Eduardo Escobar, Chris Taylor, Trevor Story, and Matt Olson.
Kyle Seager had a 99 wRC+ in 2021 which means he was just below the league average as an overall hitter — but his profile wasn’t bad (.226 ISO, 32.1% GB%, 50.6% FB%). Seager is left-handed (just like his brother Corey) and plays a solid third base, so he could probably be had on a cheap one-year deal.
Eduardo Escobar had a 107 wRC+ which means he was an above-average hitter — and his profile matches the skillset (.219 ISO, 31.5% GB%, 47.1% FB%). He’s a switch hitter with pop that can play a few infield positions, so he could be an intriguing bench option for the Yankees.
Chris Taylor has it all. He was a 113 wRC+ hitter in 2021 with a .183 ISO (not great, but he does the other things really well), 36.3% GB%, and 41.6% FB%. Again, all things the Yankees would love to have. He plays pretty much every position on the diamond except for first base and catcher. He’ll probably command a multi-year deal with a double-digit AAV.
Trevor Story is an interesting guy. He had a round 100 wRC+ in a down year in Colorado, but sported a .221 ISO, 37.0% GB%, and 44.1% FB% — so there’s still a lot to be untapped there and he’s shown solid offensive results in the past. Story plays a great shortstop and might be able to be had on a 3-year deal with a $20M-$25M AAV.
Then, there’s the premier player of the pack: Matt Olson. Olson had a 146 wRC+ and was one of the AL’s best hitters in 2021. He also had a .269 ISO, 39.8% GB%, and 43.7% FB%. He plays phenomenal first base defense and hits from the left side. He’s a way better Anthony Rizzo — and he’s younger. The catch with Olson is that he has two years left of team control in Oakland and would likely cost a sizable prospect package, though he’d be the P-E-R-F-E-C-T fit in the Bronx.
You know which player fits this profile, too? Joey Gallo. Yes, the strikeouts can be sometimes nauseating to the normal fan, but he hits the ball in the air, he slugs homers, and keeps the baseball off the ground, while also playing exceptional defense. He’s going to turn things around in his first full season in pinstripes. He still posted a wRC+ north of 120 in 2021 and has the potential to be a 5-win player overall.
There are other great players that will be available on the open market this winter, but these are some guys that have solid hitting profiles for what the team needs to improve on that could be options for the 2022 Yankees.
Okay, so this wasn’t as quick as I thought, but you guys get the point. Hit the ball in the air and hit it far. Ground balls are bad. You get the gist. Strikeouts really aren’t losing baseball — as the Rays showed in 2021. You just have to do the obvious things right and you’re golden… and also not have a rough pitching staff.
The Yankees’ offense is certainly fixable and I believe they will be fixed. They’re going to go with more of an analytics approach in 2022 at the hitting coach positions and their first step will be getting hitters to hit the baseball in the air with authority. They’ll also have to make some financial and prospect-capital commitments on top of those internal changes, but they’re going to be doing things this offseason to make matters better. They fixed the pitching staff. They’ll fix the offense, as well.