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Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Casey’s Yankees Revisited: Pitching, Defense, And Balls in Play

The Baseball Crank takes a look at the team defense of one of baseball’s greatest dynasties.

How did they do it?


To statistical analysts of the game, the New York Yankees of the late 1940s to early 1960s have long been something of a mystery. Sure, the team had three unquestioned Hall of Famers in their primes (Mickey, Yogi and Whitey), two of whom are at least arguably the best ever at their positions. And sure, they were a deep, talented team, with many second-tier stars and a talent pipeline replenished by unmatched financial resources (i.e., signing bonuses, in that pre-draft era), sweetheart deals with major league "farm teams" like the Kansas City A?s, and good old-fashioned good management and good judgment of talent. But plenty of teams have had great talent cores, good supporting players and good management, teams like the Ruth/Gehrig Yankees, the Cochrane/Grove/Foxx/Simmons A?s, the Morgan/Bench/Rose/Perez Reds, and others. Why were these Yankees so uniquely successful? Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein, in Baseball Dynasties, and Bill James, in his book on managers, both specifically ask how these teams were often able to produce great pitching staffs out of Whitey plus a bunch of guys who rarely or never pitched well anywhere else. What was their secret?


Well, I had a hunch based on an idea that?s gained some currency in recent years, and it may give the beginnings of an answer to the question.


As most readers of this site are no doubt aware, the world of statistical analysis of baseball was turned on its ear a few years back by Voros McCracken?s novel restatement of Bill James? longstanding dictum that "much of what appears to be pitching is in fact defense." McCracken?s conclusion, put simply, was that pitchers control how many balls are put in play against them ? since the pitcher greatly influences the number of batters who walk, strike out or homer against them ? but that there is little difference in individual pitchers? ability, from one pitcher to the next, to cause balls in play to become hits or outs. In other words, all else being equal, all pitchers will have similar rates of Balls in Play Average (BIP%), the percentage of balls in play against them that become hits. Thus, differences in BIP% are usually the result of differences in defense or luck rather than pitching ability.


Subsequent research has modified McCracken?s theorem a bit ? knuckleballers, for example, tend to have lower BIP% as a group. But the governing assumption holds up to substantial scrutiny.


What does this have to do with Casey?s Yankees? Well, maybe quite a lot. Because it turns out that the Yankees had a BIP% lower than the league average ? often a lot lower than the league average ? every year in the 1949-64 era. In other words, this team was as much a dominant defensive team, relative to the competition, as it was a great hitting or pitching team. And given the extreme dominance of this team overall, that fact may justify reevaluating how much defense can really mean to a winning baseball team.


Let?s run the numbers. I used two different sources here ( and the STATS All-Time Baseball Sourcebook), only one of which (the latter) used thirds of an inning, and I computed the BIP% in each case from simple division of the following formula:


BIP% = (H - HR) / (((IP) * 3) + H ? HR ? K)


Here are the Yankees? numbers from 1946 to 1967 ? from 3 years before Casey?s arrival to 3 years after the dynasty?s end ? compared to the BIP% for the other 7 (or, after 1961, the other 9) teams in the AL:


1946 4596 1166 .254 32336 8974  .278   -.024
1947 4558 1126 .247 32971 8934  .271   -.014
1948 4636 1195 .274 34476 9304  .270   +.004
1949 4575 1133 .248 34062 9059  .266   -.018
1950 4608 1204 .261 34212 9297  .275   -.014
1951 4635 1198 .258 32995 9066  .275   -.017
1952 4623 1146 .248 32501 8750  .269   -.021
1953 4662 1192 .256 32647 9046  .277   -.021
1954 4680 1198 .256 32245 8745  .271   -.015
1955 4440 1055 .238 32013 8786  .274   -.036
1956 4585 1171 .255 31383 8691  .277   -.022
1957 4463 1088 .244 31683 8591  .271   -.027
1958 4596 1166 .254 32336 8974  .278   -.024
1959 4522 1161 .257 30919 8369  .271   -.014
1960 4584 1102 .240 31173 8501  .273   -.033
1961 4638 1151 .248 41664 11352  .272   -.024
1962 4802 1229 .256 41495 11287  .272   -.016
1963 4506 1124 .249 40917 10996  .269   -.020
1964 4714 1183 .251 40078 10903  .272   -.020
1965 4589 1211 .264 39972 10577  .265   -.001
1966 4599 1194 .260 39832 10446  .262   -.002
1967 4809 1265 .263 39285 10046  .256   +.007


You will notice that the Yankees were already a good defensive team in 1946-47 but had an off-year in 1948; the team showed immediate and lasting improvement under Casey, becoming a truly dominating defensive team from 1955 through 1961; the team remained well above average defensively under Ralph Houk and Yogi from 1961-64, and when the defense slipped back to the pack in 1965, the dynasty evaporated.


Now, a few notes on the numbers. (Apologies where I?ve left some loose ends uncalculated; I do all my calculations by hand. Someone with a good database should feel free to check my calculations and double check some of the loose ends here).


First, attentive readers will notice that the formula above is really hits on balls in play compared to outs on balls in play ? I?ve counted a double play as two balls in play rather than one. This is a significant part of the Yankees? advantage, though not enough by itself to make up the difference. As Bill James observed in his book on managers, these Yankees completely dominated their opponents on the double play, leading the league six times in Stengel?s twelve years at the helm and averaging about 40 more DPs than their opponents (owing as well to the team?s knack for avoiding double plays on offense). I haven?t run the cumulative numbers, but the Yankees BIP% advantage comes to anywhere from 70-130 hits a year in this period; the double play advantage accounts for around 20-25 of those, at most.


Second, you may wonder if there is a park effect at work here. Yankee Stadium in the 1950s was an extreme pitcher?s park; less clear is why it was a pitcher?s park (i.e., what elements of offense it hurt the most). There are a few ways to check, and I did a little checking here. For example, I checked the Yankee offense?s BIP% against the rest of the league from 1949-54; they came out at +.003, even, even, +.014, +.011, and +.009. (Note that the offensive BIP% figures do not double count DPs). A good offense should be above the league average in this, and the Yankees had very good offenses, so these results could still be consistent with a pitcher?s park effect. But they certainly don?t prove one.


What about other years further in time? I checked a few ? the Yanks came in at -.025 in 1942, and -.026, -.026, -.023, and -.052 from 1936-39. Maybe that means that Yankee Stadium is an easy place to have great defenses, or maybe that means that those were also great defensive teams. As with many other aspects of the game, I suspect that if you go further back in time, you will see greater variation among teams in general in BIP%.


The other item worth reviewing was individual pitchers, and here again I didn?t get to everyone, but sampled a few of the more prominent guys who moved around to other teams. The results, while not uniform, strongly support the idea that something ? the team, the park, or both ? gave pitchers a huge advantage when they arrived in the Bronx:


Vic Raschi:

1946-48 Yankees: 285/1129, .252

949-53 Yankees: 957/3892, .246

1954-55 Browns/A?s: 285/1019, .280

Tommy Byrne:

1943-48 Yankees: 109/524, .208

1949-51 Yankees: 295/1295, .228

1951-53 Browns/White Sox/Senators: 315/1246, .253

1954-57 Yankees: 321/1295, .248

Ed Lopat:

1955 Yankees: 89/325, .274

1955 Orioles: 49/186, .263

Johnny Kucks:

1955-59 Yankees: 608/2378, .256

1959-60 A?s: 271/978, .277

Don Larsen:

1953-54 Browns/Orioles: 385/1392, .277

1955-59 Yankees: 492/2102, .234

1960-61 A?s/White Sox: 164/574, .286

Art Ditmar:

1954-56 A?s: 427/1615, .264

1957-61 Yankees: 588/2457, .239

1961-62 A?s: 84/279, .301

Bob Turley:

1951-54 Browns/Orioles: 217/911, .238

1955-62 Yankees: 907/3805, .238

1963 Angels/Red Sox: 102/383, .266

Tom Sturdivant:

1955-59 Yankees: 404/1644, .246

1959-61 A?s/Red Sox/Senators: 212/808, .262

Bobby Shantz:

1955-56 A?s: 199/753, .264

1957-60 Yankees: 373/1485, .251

Turley, a successful pitcher despite deplorable control, seems to have had a genuine ability to turn BIP into outs, peaking with BIP% figures of .215 in 1957 and .213 in his Cy Young season of 1958. Most of the others, though, show a strong effect, most notably Don Larsen.


I wanted to check the numbers against Bill James? Win Shares system, but Win Shares places some artificial upper limits on the credit it gives for team defense. I believe that the evidence set forth above strongly suggests that the Yankees of 1949-64 were an outstanding defensive team, and that this constituted a substantial factor in their consistent dominance.

But there is much more to learn. Were these Yankee teams truly historic in their defensive accomplishments, or have other successful teams had long runs of defensive dominance? What, really, is the impact of park effects on BIP%? Do teams with exceptional defenses do better in the postseason? Further study in these areas is a promising field for understanding facets of the game?s history that were always there on the field and in the numbers but never properly accounted for. You could look it up.

Dan McLaughlin Posted: March 26, 2003 at 05:00 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. tangotiger Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609973)
From 1974 to 1990, here are the DIPS figures for the Yankees.

When NYY are at home

Team   SafeBIP   BIP   $H
Opp defense  10727 37767  .284
Yankee defense  10685 38504 .278

When NYY are on the road

Team SafeBIP   BIP $H
Opp defense         11211 39999 .280
Yankee defense         10815 37573  .288

Sorry for the formatting. So, the Yankee fielders give up .010 more hits/BIP on the road. Yankee opponents give up .004 LESS hits/BIP at home.

Overall, at Yankee stadium, the $H is .281. On the road, it's .284.

1 standard deviation is .0016, making the difference of .003 (284-281) not that big a deal.

I realize that Yankee Stadium itself has changed, so this shouldn't be taken to mean that this applies to pre-1970 performance.

(Note: I made BIP=PA-K-BB-HBP-HR-SH)
   2. Ephus Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609979)

The changes to Yankee Stadium over the last three decades have been extreme, so the numbers you post really have little meaning.

I pulled these numbers from

Dimensions: Left field: 280.58 (1923), 301 (1928), 312 (1976), 318 (1988); left side of bullpen gate in short left-center: 395 (1923), 402 (1928), 387 (1976), 379 (1985); right side of bullpen gate: 415 (1937); deepest left-center: 500 (1923), 490 (1924), 457 (1937), 430 (1976), 411 (1985), 399 (1988); left side of cente-field screen: 466 (1937); center field: 487 (1923), 461 (1937), 463 (1967), 417 (1976), 410 (1985), 408 (1988); deepest right-center: 429 (1923), 407 (1937), 385 (1976); left side of bullpen gate in short right-center: 350 (1923), 367 (1937), 353 (1976); right side of bullpen gate: 344(1937); right field 294.75 (1923), 295 (1930), 296 (1939), 310 (1976), 314 (1988); backstop: 82 (1942), 80 (1953), 84 (1976); foul territory: large for the catcher behind home plate, but small for fielders down the foul lines.

Up until the mid-70s remodeling, Death Valley went all the way to the monuments , right handed power hitters were at an extreme disadvantage and left and center field had an enormous amount of ground to cover. In addition, left hand hitters had an extreme short porch to shoot for down the right field line.

Moving the left-center fences in during the mid-late 80s made two big changes, 1) centerfield became the deepest part of the ball park and 2) it became plausible for right handed hitters to believe that they could pull a ball out of the park, even if it was not right down the line.

Moving the right field fence back made one big change, it meant that a popfly right down the line would be an out, rather than a home run.

These changes have to have made a real difference in the hitting philosophy that right handers brought to Yankee Stadium. They likely made a difference for left handed hitters as well. Positioning a defense to deal with such an extreme ballpark could make a defense much more effective.

I would be very intrested to see a breakdown of home/away Yankee stats from this era.
   3. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:50 AM (#609994)
While it may sound like a good idea to look at SLG (or ISO) on BIP, it really reveals less than you might think. SLG on BIP is heavily influenced by the ballpark, to a far greater degree than BABIP; a large park with lots of gaps will tend to inflate the number of doubles and (especially) triples allowed, whereas a small park will tend to depress those totals. SLG on BIP is also heavily influenced by pitching staff characteristics; fly ball pitchers will generally allow more EBH on BIP (and thus have a higher SLG/ISO) than will ground ball pitchers.

-- MWE
   4. tangotiger Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#609999)
Looking the 500 guys with the most BIP from 1974-1990, and sorting them by (2b+3b)/BIP, this is what you get:

top 100 in (2b+3b)/BIP: have a $H of .287
bottom 100: have a $H of .278

The .287 breaks down to .217 on singles, and .070 on XBH
The .278 breaks down to .227 on singles and .051 on XBH

If you apply LWTS of .47 on singles, .81 on 2b/3b and -.27 on outs, you get:

slugging pitchers: -.034 runs / BIP
singles pitchers: -.047 runs / BIP

So, the singles pitchers are worth .013 runs / BIP more than the slugging pitchers, or over 700 BIP, 9 runs. This is substantial.


251 of the 500 pitchers have a XBH rate that is within 1 SD of the league average. 403 of the 500 pitchers are within 2 SD. My numbers are not park adjusted.
   5. tangotiger Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610003)
Actually, when I break down by FB/GB, what Vinay says is correct. And when you include GIDP, the LWTS run values between the two groups show almost no difference.

Go to the above link to see my quick study on this.
   6. KJOK Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610019)
The most major renovations to Yankee Stadium were post-1973. This probably won't format very well, but here are some stats for home and away Yankee games that may help determine the park effects of BIP:

---------------- Yankee Stad ---------------- --------------- Other Parks ----------------
1963 NY A 5394 1304 216 46 143 444 892 .241 .378 5471 1322 204 29 160 466 882 .241 .377 1963 NY A
1967 NY A 5658 1263 184 32 107 509 996 .223 .323 5328 1337 201 36 103 503 946 .250 .360 1967 NY A
1968 NY A 5438 1224 184 42 106 479 888 .225 .332 5331 1221 161 35 102 511 900 .229 .329 1968 NY A
1969 NY A 5195 1168 183 39 95 535 779 .224 .329 5461 1337 208 30 117 552 862 .244 .358 1969 NY A
1972 NY A 5113 1250 188 33 90 432 643 .244 .346 5244 1344 194 20 100 478 671 .256 .358 1972 NY A
1973 NY A 5407 1360 193 30 116 477 657 .251 .362 5512 1454 210 18 124 469 731 .263 .375 1973 NY A

   7. KJOK Posted: March 26, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610020)
First, I forgot to cite Retrosheet as the source of the excellent data just posted.

Second, that formatting was even worse than expected, so to summarize:

For the seasons 1963, 1967-69, and 1972-73, and substituting AB's for 3*IP-H in the formula, I get:

BIP% Yankee Stadium = .2589
BIP% Yankee Road Games = .2743

Looks like there may be a strong park effect here to me...
   8. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 27, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610026)
hmm. I know that they commonly list on pitchers, "opponents BA". Has anyone expanded on this and gone into "opponents SLG" and "opponents OPS" and tried to correlate that to 'expected wins' or VORP, or some other relevant stat??

The information needed to calculate opponents' SLG (doubles and triples allowed by pitchers) isn't available in the official stats, so you don't have it unless you have PBP data. does have opponents' SLG for pitchers from the 1999 season forward.

-- MWE
   9. Ephus Posted: March 27, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610029)
Thanks KJOK. I suspect that if we compared the Yankees home/away splits for the pre-1973 era with opponents, we would find that the Yankees were good defensively on the road, but particularly good at turning balls in play into outs at Yankee Stadium.

One anecdote stands out in my mind. IIRC, Billy Martin wrote in "Number 1" that Yogi Berra was incredibly angry when Sandy Amoros started the double play on the ball he hit down the left line because a left-fielder had no business guarding the line against him. In other words, the Yankees had internalized their defensive alignments so deeply that it "offended" them when a team did not adopt the "correct" alignment and had success as a result.
   10. Scott Posted: March 27, 2003 at 01:51 AM (#610047)
Um, maybe I'm being a bit dense about all this... but what's the conclusion about how much of the Yankee dynasties' low $H is due to the park as opopsed to reflecting good fielding? I got lost somewhere.
   11. KJOK Posted: March 29, 2003 at 01:52 AM (#610098)
Scott asked "Um, maybe I'm being a bit dense about all this... but what's the conclusion about how much of the Yankee dynasties' low $H is due to the park as opopsed to reflecting good fielding? I got lost somewhere."

Hard to say without complete data, but based on what I posted above, I think that, while the Yankees may have had good fielding, there IS a strong park effect that helped the stats of the fielders (BIP%) and the pitchers (Earned Runs, Hits, HR's, etc.)

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