Even With Home Run Rates Falling, the Bronx Bombers Are Soaring Past the Competition

© Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees swept the Blue Jays in a quick two-game series in the Bronx this week on the strength of the long ball. More specifically, they sandwiched a pair of shots into Yankee Stadium’s infamous short porch in right field around a towering, no-doubt walk-off homer by Aaron Judge on Monday night, with all three homers of the three-run variety. In a year where home run and scoring rates have plummeted, the Bronx Bombers are 22-8, off to their best start since 2003 in large part because they’ve handily outhomered their opponents — an achievement that owes something to their pitchers as well as their hitters.

In Tuesday night’s game, the Yankees trailed 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning but put two on base with one out to bring Giancarlo Stanton to the plate against Yimi Garcia. The righty left a slider to the slugger on the outer third of the plate, and Stanton poked it to right field. Tie ballgame.

This was not a standard Stanton special. While it sped off the bat at 105.1 mph, its 33 degree launch angle gave it an estimated distance of just 335 feet, still more than enough to get out when hit into the right field corner of Yankee Stadium, where the distance is just 314 feet at the foul pole. It was Stanton’s shortest home run since at least 2015, and according to the Statcast Home Run Tracker leaderboard would not have gone out at any other major league park (though the @would_it_dong Twitter account and its Dinger Machine web page — both of which automatically pull from Statcast data — calculated that Stanton’s drive would have been out at Target Field, which is 328 feet down the right field line, as well.

On Twitter, the reaction to Stanton’s homer recalled Rangers manager Chris Woodward’s complaint about Gleyber Torres‘ walk-off shot from Sunday’s doubleheader opener. “That’s an easy out in 99 percent of ballparks,” said Woodward after the defeat. “He just happened to hit it in a Little League ballpark to right field.”

Torres’ Sunday special was actually hit harder and further than that of Stanton, 106.5 mph, with a 28 degree launch angle and a projected distance of 369 feet, though because it was hit more towards left center field, it similarly made it only three rows deep. Woodward’s comments notwithstanding, according to Statcast that one would have been a homer at 25 of the other 29 ballparks. For what it’s worth, Woodward later backtracked and claimed his comment was a joke after Yankees manager Aaron Boone chided him, saying, “His math’s wrong — 99 percent’s impossible, there’s only 30 parks.”

Anyway, back to Tuesday night. Garcia’s next pitch after the Stanton homer plunked Josh Donaldson, which resulted in an immediate ejection that made little sense; why would a pitcher who hadn’t hit any of the 349 previous batters he faced dating back to 2019 intentionally drill one in a tie ballgame against a division rival? The Blue Jays, whose pitching coach Pete Walker was also ejected at that point eventually lost manager Charlie Montoyo to an ejection as well, nonetheless came back to take a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but closer Jordan Romano issued back-to-back two-out walks to bring up Judge, who found his hanging slider guilty and sentenced it to a distant exile:

That 112.5 mph, 414-foot blast was the first walk-off home run of Judge’s career, during which he’s hit a total of 167 homers. As Elias Sports noted, only Lou Gehrig (260) and Mark Teixeira (205) hit more homers as Yankees before notching such a hit. The homer was Judge’s major league-leading 10th; he’s hitting .290/.356/.626 for a 191 wRC+ and 1.7 WAR, and for the moment, he’s making his bypassing of the Yankees’ extension offer look like a shrewd move.

On Tuesday, the Blue Jays led 1-0 in the fourth inning when Torres struck again. With one out and two on, he turned on a 94 mph inside fastball from José Berríos:

That one came off the bat at 100 mph with a 33-degree launch and 361-foot projected distance, landing in the glove of a kid in the first row. By @would_it_dong, it would have been a homer in only five of the other 29 ballparks, but it still counted. Torres added a two-run single off Trevor Richards in the sixth, thus accounting for all of the RBI in the Yankees’ 5-2 win.

Torres’ homer was the Yankees’ 40th of the season; only the Angels (45) and Brewers (43) have more. Judge and Anthony Rizzo, who has hit nine homers, have accounted for nearly half of the Yankees’ total themselves; throw in Stanton (seven) and Torres (five) and that’s over three-quarters of their total. As YES Network researcher James Smyth pointed out before Wednesday’s game, the Yankees have scored half their runs via home runs, that at a time when homer-driven scoring is at its lowest rate since 2014:

Not coincidentally, home run rates are at their lowest since 2014; that year, teams hit 0.86 homers per game, whereas this year they’re averaging 0.93 per game. On a per-game basis, that’s a drop of 24.4% relative to last year, and the third straight year of decline. The reasons for this drop appear to owe mainly to deadened baseballs (with the league-wide installation of humidors perhaps factoring in) with higher drag (perhaps due to higher seam height or other changes to the ball’s aerodynamics), though we’ll see how the physicists hash this one out as more data arrives.

The Yankees are homering at a relatively prolific clip nonetheless, though it helps to have deadball-proof sluggers like Judge and Stanton, who hit the ball harder than just about anybody alive. And yes, it helps to have a team that knows how to take advantage of its ballpark. But it’s not as though the short right field porch is off limits to the Yankees’ opponents, or that it’s the only homer-conducive ballpark quirk in the majors. Fenway Park’s Green Monster (310 feet down the left field line) and the Pesky Pole (302 feet down the right field line) are both even closer to home plate, though the height of the former and the way the fence curves away from the latter mitigate those distances somewhat. Minute Maid Park’s Crawford Boxes and the baskets above the ivy in Wrigley Field make home runs easier as well, and when it’s all said and done, several ballparks have larger park home run factors than Yankee Stadium.

So far, in their 18 games at home, the Yankees have out-homered their opponents, 28-17; that 11-homer differential is third behind the Brewers’ 14 (28 hit, 14 allowed) and the Braves’ 12 (23 hit, 11 allowed). Translating that to a per-nine basis, Yankees pitchers have held opponents to 0.93 homers per nine at home, a hair below the league average of 0.95, but they’ve lit up opposing hurlers at a 1.67 per nine clip while in the Bronx. Their fly balls at the House that George Built are being hit much harder and traveling much further:

The Yankees and Fly Balls in 2022, Part I

Team # AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA EV LA Avg Dist
Yankees @ YS2 125 .308 .376 .967 1.354 .527 .685 97.0 37.0 316
Opponents @ YS2 93 .256 .275 .767 .881 .427 .471 92.4 37.4 303
MLB All 5888 .245 .287 .723 .932 .403 .486 92.2 36.9 312
MLB @ Home 2937 .254 .293 .747 .955 .417 .495 92.4 37.0 313

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

YS2 = Yankee Stadium (2009-onward)

Whoa! Over the course of a full season in the Statcast era, home teams have at most had a 0.2-mph advantage in the exit velocities on their fly balls; in three of the four previous seasons, the difference was zero, and in the other (2020) it was 0.1. This year so far, the league-wide gap is 0.4 mph, but the Yankees are an order of magnitude ahead of that, at 4.6 mph. That advantage has sent their fly balls traveling 13 feet further than their opponents at home, where the maximum league-wide home field advantage in the Statcast era has been a single foot, and where it’s been zero in each of the past four seasons. Small sample though it may be — and no, I haven’t had time to check to see what the full-season team record is — it’s still rather mind-blowing. Even given the extent to which Yankees hitters falling short of their expected stats on fly balls (by nearly 400 points in terms of slugging percentage), the team is significantly out-powering its opponents in the Bronx.

For as impressive as the Yankees’ advantage at home has been when it comes to homers and flies, it’s even more extreme when they’re away from the Bronx, where so far they’ve out-homered their opponents, 12-3. Granted, they’ve played only 12 games on the road (where they have an 8-4 record), so the samples are even smaller, but whoa again:

The Yankees and Fly Balls in 2022, Part II

Team # AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA EV LA Avg Dist
Yankees @ Road 70 .209 .327 .776 1.180 .405 .585 95.1 35.3 326
Opponents @ Home 60 .169 .224 .356 .617 .225 .336 89.7 38.9 296
MLB All 5888 .245 .287 .723 .932 .403 .486 92.2 36.9 312
MLB @ Road 2951 .236 .281 .699 .909 .390 .476 92.0 36.8 312

In opposing ballparks, the Yankees have hit their fly balls over 5 mph faster than their opponents, and they’ve carried an average of 30 feet further! No wonder they’re out-homering opponents even on the road. For what it’s worth, their nine-homer road margin is actually second in the majors to the Phillies’ 14, but their overall margin (home and road) is tops:

Home Run Differentials, 2022

Team HR home HRA home Home Dif HR road HRA road Road Dif HR Tot HRA Tot Tot Dif
NYY 28 17 11 12 3 9 40 20 20
MIL 28 14 14 15 12 3 43 26 17
SFG 18 9 9 14 8 6 32 17 15
ATL 23 11 12 16 14 2 39 25 14
LAA 26 21 5 19 11 8 45 32 13
HOU 17 9 8 19 14 5 36 23 13
PHI 16 18 -2 20 6 14 36 24 12
ARI 16 12 4 19 13 6 35 25 10
LAD 11 8 3 16 12 4 27 20 7
CHW 15 12 3 11 9 2 26 21 5
TOR 20 17 3 15 13 2 35 30 5
COL 18 17 1 10 10 0 28 27 1
MIA 13 12 1 17 17 0 30 29 1
STL 15 14 1 11 11 0 26 25 1
CLE 5 8 -3 22 19 3 27 27 0
MIN 20 12 8 10 18 -8 30 30 0
SDP 15 20 -5 13 11 2 28 31 -3
PIT 10 13 -3 15 15 0 25 28 -3
NYM 12 14 -2 14 15 -1 26 29 -3
WSN 10 14 -4 13 15 -2 23 29 -6
BAL 11 6 5 9 20 -11 20 26 -6
OAK 6 8 -2 14 19 -5 20 27 -7
TEX 14 20 -6 14 16 -2 28 36 -8
TBR 17 15 2 13 23 -10 30 38 -8
SEA 17 18 -1 14 24 -10 31 42 -11
KCR 7 12 -5 7 14 -7 14 26 -12
CHC 10 13 -3 12 23 -11 22 36 -14
DET 7 12 -5 5 15 -10 12 27 -15
BOS 8 12 -4 10 22 -12 18 34 -16
CIN 13 23 -10 12 24 -12 25 47 -22

Particularly since we’re in such limited territory as far as the schedule goes, and teams haven’t even made their ways around their respective divisions, it’s helpful to know whom the Yankees have played and how their pitching staffs have done when it comes to preventing homers. At home the Yankees have played three games apiece against the Red Sox, Guardians, Orioles, and Rangers, and six against the Blue Jays. Those teams have allowed 1.17 homers per nine in their road games overall, and 1.03 per nine in their road games that don’t involve the Yankees; weighted by the number of games played, that figure drops to 0.97, and as noted above, the Yankees are banging them up at a 1.67 HR/9 clip, about 72% above their non-Yankee rates so far. On the road, the Yankees have visited the Orioles, Tigers, Royals, and Blue Jays for three games apiece. Those teams have allowed just 0.73 homers per nine in their home parks and 0.67 per nine in games that don’t involve the Yankees, against whom they’ve served up 0.99 homers per nine, about 48% above their non-Yankee rates.

I haven’t even gotten into what the Yankees’ pitchers have done other than in the aggregate. Their 0.67 homers allowed per nine is second in the majors only to the Giants; their starters are seventh (0.88 HR/9), with both Nestor Cortes and Jordan Montgomery below 0.6 per nine, and their relievers first (0.38 per nine), with four of them (Miguel Castro, Aroldis Chapman, Clay Holmes, and Wandy Peralta each delivering at least 11 homerless innings so far, and only Jonathan Loaisiga allowing more than one long ball. The staff’s performance in this regard could certainly bear closer analysis, but given the samples in play, I think that can wait. The larger point stands that even in a season where home runs have suddenly become scarce, the Yankees are still winning via the long ball, and it’s not just their hitters or their short porch that’s driving their success.