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On June 2, word spread that Major League Baseball had suspended four minor league pitchers for using illegal foreign substances to enhance movement of their pitches. With the knowledge that such enforcement was coming shortly to the big leagues, that set in motion what might be the most impactful in-season alteration to baseball in the game’s history.
The hope that the Yankees, their offense dormant for the season’s first two months, would benefit more than their competitors from this sea change, has slightly come to fruition — but at a price. If anything, Aaron Boone’s bunch reported to Yankee Stadium on Wednesday prepared to take on the Royals with the reality that the sticky-stuff policing — which began in earnest Monday yet compelled people to change their ways starting on June 3 — seems to have hurt them more than it helped thanks to a cratering of their run prevention.
If we designate June 3 as the first day of this new “era,” with pitchers largely aware that increased policing was coming, we can see the breakdown:
— From the start of the season through June 2, the Yankees ranked 13th in the American League in runs scored per game (3.77) and second in runs allowed (3.57).
— From June 3 through Tuesday’s action, the Yankees ranked eighth in runs scored per game (4.69) and ninth in runs allowed per game (5.44).
Their pitchers, in other words, had suffered more than their hitters benefited.
“That’ll be something we look at in the weeks ahead to see what kind of impact this is having,” Boone said Wednesday afternoon.
Boone said, fairly, “There’s also ebbs and flows throughout the course of the year, offense and pitching obviously, as the summer months get here that usually leads to an uptick in offense, so that’s probably part of it. So how you parse that will be one of the challenges, I guess, moving forward.”
Sixteen games, the Yankees’ sample since June 3, hardly constitutes a huge sample. Nevertheless, we need to only look at Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who has pitched well despite seeing significant spin-rate drops, to appreciate the real-world hit.
Let’s check out other Yankees who look different, good or bad, since June 3.
Before: .255/.339/.328. After (through Tuesday): .286/.333/.471. The increase in power stands out the most there. The Machine registered four doubles and three homers in his last 70 at-bats after tallying six doubles and three homers in his first 204 at-bats.
Asked whether he thought LeMahieu in particular could credit the eradication of sticky stuff, Boone said, “Possibly. I think it’s certainly possible and fair to ask.”
Before: .205/.331/.386. After: .319/.373/.723. His surge actually began about a week before June 3. Though it’s reasonable to wonder whether the catcher got even better once the pitchers had some toys taken away.
Before: .185/.272/.235. After: .278/.426/.583. He went hitless in his last 11 at-bats leading up to June 3, then went 2-for-3 on the 3rd.
Before: Opponents slashed .224/.262/.424 against him. After: .333/.385/.550. Yeesh. Although his spin rates actually increased from his season average in his most recent start Saturday against Oakland, when he allowed four runs in five innings.
Before: .088/.213/.176. After: .417/.481/.750. His spin rates have dropped noticeably.
Before: .203/.243/.305. After: .341/.388/.477. This is attributable primarily to his horrendous start (one-third inning, four runs) June 3 at Philadelphia. And some of his horrendousness that day can be attributed to … yup, low spin rates.
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