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Ex-New York Yankees prospect Ben Ruta has some harsh words for the current version of baseball’s most storied franchise.
Ruta recently appeared on the Foul Territory podcast, where he said the firing of hitting coach Dillon Lawson is going to bring about major changes in the minor leagues. According to Ruta, Lawson was one of the key figures in incorporating analytics into the Yankees’ farm system.
“Fully expect them to clear house in the minor leagues,” Ruta wrote. “All the coaches were brought in by Dillon Lawson and the analytics guys. Lawson is the hitting coach who was let go. They will change developmental culture back to old Yankees days. Keep in mind, I played in the Yanks org. before analytics in ’16 to ’18, and then after in ’18 to ’20. Stark difference in development.”
He added that the team used to be more focused on fundamentals, but switched to prioritizing walks or hard hit line drives.
“Here’s all you need to know: In 2020, before COVID, we played a game called pitchers vs. hitters,” Ruta wrote. “The only way to win was to walk or hit a ball 95-mph-plus. There is no baseball being taught there anymore. No baserunning, moving runners, fundamentals, etc.”
Are The Yankees Too Reliant On Analytics?
Ruta also tweeted about the New York marketplace being difficult to deal with. And that the fans are increasingly frustrated about the bad product being put out on the field.
“New York is a tough market,” Ruta posted on Twitter. “Fans and media. Analytics are fine BUT when you have a bad product (and it’s obvious) and it gets defended by constantly telling you it’s not as bad as it looks b/c so and so analytic is actually really good. This is how a fan base gets frustrated.”
But is Ruta right?
Just last season, the Yankees were one of baseball’s best teams, taking the AL East with 99 wins. That success was due in large part to all world superstar Aaron Judge, who embodies the analytics movement Ruta claims is hurting the organization.
In 2022, Judge walked in 16% of his plate appearances, and 19% in 2023, both among the highest rates in baseball. When he doesn’t walk, he hits the ball incredibly hard.
Last season, his average exit velocity was 95.8mph, in the 100th percentile in MLB. This year it’s even higher at 97.3mph.
It’s much the same formula as Juan Soto. Soto’s been 47% better than the league average hitter this season, walking over 20% of his plate appearances and in the 96th percentile in exit velocity.
If you walk and hit the ball hard, odds are you’re going to be a very successful major league player.
There’s a case to be made that focusing exclusively on analytics in developing players isn’t the right course, considering fundamentals are still required to win baseball games. But an MLB team that had a whole bunch of Aaron Judges and Juan Sotos would be pretty darn tough to beat.
The answer is to do both. Prioritize walks and hard hit balls, AND teach prospects to be productive even if they can’t hit the ball hard. Despite the disappointing 2023 season, maybe that’s the path forward for the New York Yankees.