I’m a Tigers fan, so I’m pretty excited about how things worked out the last week. Basically, everything went right for the Tigers and nothing went right for the Yankees.
The only glimmer of hope for the Yankees came in game one. Down 4-0, Ichiro Suzuki hit a line drive homer to right in the bottom of the ninth and Raul Ibanez followed with a pop fly two-run “shot” that might have been an out (or perhaps a double) in most parks. Hope turned to despair when Derek Jeter went down with an ankle injury in the 12th, ending his season, while the Tigers stormed back into the lead. Even worse for the Yankees, their near victory finally knocked Jose Valverde off his closer pedestal. The Tigers should have made that move months ago.
I want to go back to the homers though. It’s no coincidence that both homers went to right field off of left-handed bats. Here are the home/road home run splits for the Yankees lefties in 2012:
- Cano: 22/11
- Granderson: 26/17
- Swisher (as a lefty): 7/12
- Teixeira (as a lefty): 7/7
- Ibanez: 14/5
- Chavez: 7/9
- Suzuki: 5/0
- Dewayne Wise: 2/1
- Chris Dickerson: 1/1
That’s good for a 91/63 split combined. Facing a righty, the Yankees’ lineup could feature as many as seven left-handed bats. That’s not normal — it’s almost surely intentional. The Yankees are built to fit their park. Indeed, they had the best home record in baseball in 2012 at 51-30 (though six teams trailed at 50-31).
What makes it interesting is that there’s no reason this should hurt the Yankees on the road particularly, meaning that the Yankees have a real advantage that isn’t available to most other teams and isn’t balanced out when they travel (though losing Jeter, their best right-handed bat, may have had a bigger effect than one would expect since he’s relatively more valuable on the road). The Tigers, for example, have good defensive outfielders this year (once Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks got regular playing time) to fit their big park, but they give up some power in the outfield with that personnel. Indeed, the Tigers had a 50-31 record at home but a bad road record of 38-43. If they played in Fenway, Cabrera would probably do his Manny impression in left field, opening up another power position at third base, but hurting them on the road in bigger parks.
There are surely other teams with similar advantages, but the Yankees seem most obvious. For example, check out some ESPN Home Run Tracker pictures for Yankees hitters with Comerica Park overlaid (Granderson, Cano, Yankee Stadium as a whole).
Another more-discussed factor for the Yankees abysmal finish is their age (average age over 32). Jim Caple wrote about this for ESPN and suggested that older players may struggle more at the end of the long baseball season. I haven’t seen this specific claim studied carefully, but if you get a chance, pick up a copy of ESPN the Mag’s Age Issue (10/1/2012), where Jeff Phillips and I show that age decline has become a huge issue for baseball’s stars since the end of the steroid era. Most surprising, highly paid players are struggling as early as age 31, yet teams continue to hand out long contracts to 30 year olds. I’ll have a more thorough analysis up here sometime soon, but the Yankees should be thankful for what they did get from their aging lineup this year.