The Yankees’ Air-Ball and Home-Field Advantages

The return of Greg Bird allowed the Yankees to address a weakness internally.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

No one is lifting and launching like the Yankees this postseason.

More specifically, no one is lifting and launching like the Yankees at their home park, where the club is 6-0 this postseason after enjoying a sizable home-field advantage during the regular season (51-30), as well. If they can win Friday or Saturday at Houston, New York will be guaranteed at least two more home games at Yankee Stadium II, a launching pad in the year of launch angle.

According to Baseball Savant’s “barrel” and “solid contract” metrics — figures derived from Statcast data — the Yankees have a sizable lead on the playoff field in terms of quality contact on fly balls and line drives this postseason (see table below). And while their totals are higher than some other clubs’ simply for having advanced deeper into the postseason, they still have a sizable edge on their LCS contemporaries.

Lifting and Launching
Team # Quality Air Balls Total Pitches % Quality Contact
Yankees 39 1727 2.26
Dodgers 28 1358 2.06
Astros 26 1308 1.99
Cubs 21 1330 1.58
Nationals 17 789 2.15
Indians 14 769 1.82
D-backs 13 542 2.40
Red Sox 8 610 1.31
Twins 3 171 1.75
Rockies 3 149 2.01
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Nor is it just that the Yankees are driving more balls into the air with authority, it’s where they are engaging in this work: at their home ballpark.

Of the 39 quality air-ball connections produced by Yankees hitters this October, 25 have come at home. And given that Yankee Stadium is the second-most favorable home-run park this season in the majors, there’s no better place in the playoff field to do damage in the air. (Citizens Bank Park ranked No. 1.)

Jeff wrote about Didi Gregorius’s heroics earlier in the postseason. Didi is indeed in the right place (i.e. Yankee Stadium) at the right time.

Among all left-handed hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Brett Gardner (83rd, 26.8%), Jacoby Ellsbury (66th, 29.3%), and Gregorius (24th, 35.3%) all rank in the top 100 of fly-ball pull percentage.

One of the Yankees’ few weaknesses this season was offensive performance from first basemen, by which measure the club posted a 95 wRC+ in the regular season, ranking 26th in the majors.

Well, Gregory Bird returned to health at the end of the regular season to address that issue. Already an extreme fly-ball hitter, Bird has also done much of his damage — and all his home-run damage — to his pull side. Yankee Stadium has helped Bird rank 10th in wOBA this postseason entering Thursday.

Here’s Bird’s regular-season spray chart since 2016:

The general public is well aware of the power capabilities of Todd Frazier, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez.

The Yankees are well constructed for their ballpark. Teams are, of course, generally better at home. This year, for example, clubs posted a 101 wRC+ mark at home this season and a 92 wRC+ on the road. The Yankees’ results were even more dramatic, though: they posted a 115 wRC+ at home this season (and 140 home runs) versus a 101 wRC+ on the road (101 home runs). The Yankees’ home wRC+ trailed only the Astros’ (121) in the regular season. Their home home-run total led baseball.

Home-field advantage is a real thing and is largely tied to umpire bias on borderline ball-strike calls, which the Yankee fans might be influencing according to Austin Romine:

“I’ve been here for Mo [Mariano Rivera] and Jeet [Derek Jeter] when those guys were throwing and hitting and doing some great, legendary stuff,” catcher Austin Romine said after making his first start of the postseason. “This is [the same], if not the most I’ve ever heard these fans get after it.”

But the Yankees’ edge goes beyond that in how their bats play in one of the more favorable offensive parks in baseball. It helped the Yankees to an AL-best home record and made up for a sub-.500 mark (40-41) on the road.

The Yankees are making quality contact like no other playoff team (although the Dodgers’ are doing OK for themselves). While that’s a small sample, there’s reason to believe it’s sustainable: in the regular reason, only the Astros were a better offensive team at home. The Yankees have continued that trend in October. While the Yankees will not enjoy home-field advantage in terms of number of games should they advance to the World Series, none of the remaining clubs is enjoying their home field more than the Yankees.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Excellent article. I was wondering this exact thing yesterday–why the Yankees were so good at home compared to the road in the regular season and postseason.