Saturday, September 29, 2018

Yankees' Pitching Strategy Against Oakland

The Oakland Athletics made a lot of headway and almost overtook the New York Yankees for the right to host the 2018 AL Wild Card Game. The Yankees held on and get to host the game. There are pluses and minuses there. The A's do not hit nearly as well at home as they do on the road. But, then again, the Yankees have won one game in Oakland combined in 2017 and 2018. Besides, in games like this, the crowd and lack of travel will be big items. The biggest question will be how the Yankees will set up their pitching for the game.

If you take a deep look at Oakland's team batting splits, two things become noticeable. The first is that Oakland fares much worse against power pitchers than others. The A's' team OPS sits at a very healthy .765 to go along with a slugging percentage of .439. Against power pitchers, those rates are .734 and .411 respectively.

That bodes well for the Yankee bullpen, but the Yankees' resident power starter is Luis Severino. Severino has faced Oakland three times since the beginning of 2017 and has an ERA over 6.00 in those three games. The Yankees on paper (with small sample sizes) should probably avoid Severino. But that is a little unfair to the pitcher. He pitched a good game (at home) against the A's early in the season and his last loss was that disaster when his catcher fouled him all up.

The other telling split is the difference when the A's face right-handed pitching versus left-handed pitching. The A's' OPS against LHP is 30 points lower than against RHP, but more importantly, had a 22 point lower slugging percentage against the lefties. The most important thing for both teams in this game is to keep the opponent in the yard.

The Yankees have two lefty starters, J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia. While the heart yearns for Sabathia to get the start for the old warrior he has been, The only other good start this season against the A's other than Severino was Happ. You would probably not even consider putting Sabathia on the roster for the game.

The lefty vs. righty split would seem to also give Stephen Tarpley the edge for a roster spot over Tommy Kahnle.

So we have two little weaknesses for the A's. They do not hit power pitchers as well and they fare worse against lefties. This is not to say they are not capable of mashing either. The only point is that there is an edge with these two scenarios.

So, who should it be? Well, we can rule out Sabathia, Lance Lynn (gosh no), Masahiro Tanaka (not a good match-up) and (does it need to be said?) Sonny Gray. That leaves Happ or Severino.

Let's face it: these games are a crap shoots where anything can happen. But the feeling is that it should be Luis Severino over Happ for two reasons. First, it always seems better to go with your best real talent. No starter on the Yankees has more talent than Severino. Secondly, if all goes well and the Yankees win the game, then you have Happ for two games against the Red Sox.

One other point to consider for whoever does get the start: The Yankees and the A's both put the first pitch of an at bat in play at the same rate. In fact, only two at bats separate the two teams. But while the Yankees have a .773 OPS on doing so, the A's have an incredible .883 OPS. The lesson here is that the A's like to jump on a good fat first pitch and the Yankees should not let them do it.

Now that we have decided who should start the game, we need to think about who should be on the 25-man roster for the game. Let's start with the line-up:

  1. Andrew McCutchen - LF
  2. Aaron Judge - RF
  3. Aaron Hicks - CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton - DH
  5. Didi Gregorius - SS
  6. Miguel Andujar - 3B
  7. Luke Voit - 1B
  8. Gary Sanchez - C
  9. Gleyber Torres - 2B
  10. Neil Walker - Reserve
  11. Austin Romine - Reserve
  12. Brett Gardner - Reserve
  13. Ronald Torreyes - Reserve
  14. Tyler Wade - Reserve (base running)
  15. Luis Severino - SP
  16. Jonathan Holder - RP
  17. Stephen Tarpley - RP
  18. Adam Robertson - RP
  19. Chad Green - RP
  20. Dellin Betances - RP
  21. Zach Britton - RP
  22. Aroldis Chapman - RP
  23. Luis Cessa - RP
  24. Lance Lynn - RP
  25. Domingo German - RP
You hope to get five innings out of Severino and then go: Robertson, Betances, Britton and Chapman. If you get less than five, go with Chad Green and perhaps Tarpley in a situational at-bat. If Severino is terrible from the start, go with Holder. The last three are in case of extra innings.

A one-game scenario is no fun. As they say, "Anything can happen in one baseball game." The Yankees should win with a better overall offense and bullpen and a better starter than any that Oakland can throw out there. But what will be will be. The most a team can do is field its best talent and hope that it is enough.