The Yankees’ pursuit of the major-league record for home runs continued Wednesday, when they hit three in a 6-2 win over the Braves to give them 144. They are on pace to finish with 278, which would break the 1997 Mariners’ record of 264.
The Yankees also are doing a nearly unprecedented percent of their scoring via the long ball — 52.8, per Baseball Prospectus. It’s the second-highest rate ever and leads MLB by a wide margin.
Only the 2010 Blue Jays produced a higher rate of runs on home runs (53.1 percent), and they were the first team to clear the 50-percent threshold, according to BP. The Yankees could join the 2016 Orioles, 2016 Mets and 2017 Blue Jays as the other teams to do so.
Cleveland is in second place this season, 6.4 percentage points behind the Yankees — wider than the gap between the Indians and the 17th-place Mets.
The so-called “reliance” on the long ball generally has not been an impediment to production this season. The Red Sox, Yankees and Indians rank first, third and fifth in runs, respectively, and all three teams also were in the top five in percentage of runs scored via home run. The Red Sox (59-29) lead the AL East by a game over the Yankees (56-28), and Cleveland (47-37) leads the AL Central.
The five teams least reliant on home runs all rank 24th or lower in runs per game.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman defended his team’s composition of sluggers.
“My job description is to put together teams that score a ton of runs,” Cashman said Thursday. “I think that’s kind of a waste of time to those questions because we’re checking all the boxes we need to be checking.
“It’s a general concept if you hit home runs, your odds of winning games [are high]. If your offense puts home runs on the board — and if they’re two-run homers, if they’re three-run homers — the odds are you’re almost like playing .600, .700 ball.’’
Aaron Boone said before Wednesday’s game that he has no intention of sacrificing the team’s approach at the plate — predicated on patience and power — to make more contact.
“I don’t want our guys putting the ball in play for the sake of putting it in play, expanding the strike zone and making us essentially worse hitters,” he said.
The Yankees have MLB’s fifth-best on-base percentage despite having its eighth-worst strikeout rate. “When you’re controlling the strike zone,” Boone said, “you’ll be in a position to square the ball up.”
There are questions as to whether a home run-based approach is less ideal in the postseason, when offenses must face better pitchers, who are less likely to allow home runs. Recent postseasons suggest this is not the case. Since 2008, 31 teams have made the division series after ranking in the top 10 in percentage of runs scored on home runs. There also have been 24 teams to do so after ranking in the bottom 10.
The first group averaged more runs per game in the postseason than the latter group (4.2 to 3.9). Scoring dropped for both groups relative to the regular season, but the more homer-reliant bunch saw a smaller decline (an 11.7-percent drop versus a 14.1-percent drop).
Ben Lindbergh, then of Baseball Prospectus, reached the same conclusion in 2012 after looking at all postseason teams from 1995 to 2011.
Both teams from last year’s World Series scored more than 40 percent of their runs on home runs, as did the 2009 world champion Yankees, so there’s no reason why this year’s team should stop digging the long ball.
With Steven Marcus