New York Beats The Stuff Godon October 6, 2020 at 2:00 pm

New York Beats The Stuff God

As you’re probably aware, the Yankees took the first game of their ALDS series against Tampa Bay by a score of 9-3. A five-run ninth inning made a laugher out of what had been a very competitive game, one that had swung back and forth several times in the middle innings.

The ninth inning was not short on substance. The Yankees were up 4-3 at the outset of the frame, and rookie John Curtiss came in to keep things close. Instead, the Yankees walked three times and notched five hits. Giancarlo Stanton, finally healthy, put the finishing touches on the rally with a grand slam to center. All told, the Yankees spent more than half an hour at the plate. Things got so out of hand that Kevin Cash felt comfortable bringing Shane McClanahan in for his debut. For his part, McClanahan managed to record his first out and get tackled by Brandon Lowe while trying to field a grounder.

Although it’s nice to see Stanton healthy and smacking dingers again, I found New York’s execution against Blake Snell far more compelling than their late rally. Indeed, the beating they gave Tampa Bay’s ace looks representative of a scary new normal for this group, and reinforces the sense that the Yankees mighty lineup is peaking at the perfect time.

If you graded pitchers simply on the crispness and overall quality of their stuff, separate and apart from command, sequencing or anything else, Snell would have to be among the top five pitchers in baseball.

Aside from James Paxton, he’s just about the hardest throwing left-handed starter the game has ever seen. Nobody touches his slider, and hitters fare even worse against his curve. His change isn’t quite of the same caliber, but it still induces a whiff 15% of the time he throws the pitch, and it’s a very effective weapon against righties. Since his debut in 2016, no starter has allowed a lower contact rate than Snell.

But the southpaw is a little rough around the edges. His release point comes and goes, and his control with it. His success hinges on getting hitters to go fishing: Only three starters over the last five years have thrown a lower percentage of their pitches in the zone. That means lots of long at-bats and not surprisingly, his walk rate is pretty high for someone this successful. Those add up to make it hard for him to work deep in games: Somehow, Snell has only recorded three outs in the eighth inning in his entire career. And because everything is so fast and sharp, he throws a lot of wild pitches — seven this year alone, which lead the league.

These aren’t crippling weaknesses. Snell has a Cy Young on his mantle, and he’ll compete for more so long as his arm strength holds. None of the above are new observations, either. Everybody’s game plan is to wait out the sliders and curves in the dirt until he walks you or grooves a fastball. It’s a testament to the quality and depth of Snell’s repertoire that everybody knows what to do and he keeps chugging along, tossing six innings of two-run ball start after start anyway.

That the Yankees were able to plate four runs in five innings is impressive on its own. But the way they went about their business merits longer discussion.

DJ LeMahieu set the tone in the game’s first at-bat. In a nine-pitch battle, he stared down everything Snell had to offer, fouling off the lefty’s best heat and tightest slider before smacking a firm line drive back up the middle for a single. He then reached second on Snell’s eighth wild pitch of the year, third on a grounder, and scored on a sac fly from Aaron Hicks.

From there, the Yankees demonstrated their fearsome ability to drive even good pitches over the wall. First up was Clint Frazier. Frazier has long been praised for his 80-grade bat speed, and he showed it off in a big way in the third inning. There aren’t many players who can get the barrel around on a 96 mph fastball up and out of the zone, but Frazier’s one of them and there was no doubt about the ball’s destination once it left the bat.

Two innings later, it was Kyle Higashioka‘s turn. In theory, New York’s backup catcher should be an easy out. He’s a .186/.221/.381 career hitter (55 wRC+) and was only in the lineup because he’s become Gerrit Cole‘s personal catcher. But he clubbed four dingers in 48 plate appearances this season, and has shown some aptitude for turning around good fastballs. Snell didn’t get the memo, left a heater in The Bad Place, and Higashioka deposited it off the facade of the second deck.

Two batters later, Judge did something even more impressive. In Snell’s career, he’s thrown a curve nearly 1,700 times; just eight of them wound up flying over the wall. In 2020, opponents batted .136 against the deuce, coming up empty more than a quarter of the time he threw it. Naturally, Judge swatted a first-pitch curve into the third row of the left field bleachers, a screaming liner that would’ve been rather dangerous had any gloveless fans been in the vicinity. Truth be told, this particular curve was a hanger; Judge demonstrated just how little room for error there is against the Yanks right now. That last blast gave New York a 4-3 advantage, a lead they’d never surrender.

Through it all, Snell never found his rhythm. He struck out four and only walked two, but every at-bat seemed like a struggle. Part of that was because the Yankees did such a fantastic job of laying off his offspeed stuff. They only swung and missed on 13% of his pitches, the third-worst mark of Snell’s career. They made him come into the zone with his fastball, and did enough damage to put four tallies on the board and get into the bullpen early.

In short, the Yanks were able to play to their strengths while taking advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses. After two years of fits, starts, and injuries, the lineup has finally clicked into gear. With a 116 wRC+ during the regular season, New York had baseball’s fourth best offense, and that was without Judge and Stanton for most of the season.

With them in tow, the Yankees arguably have baseball’s best lineup. Already they’d vanquished impending Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and broken the unbreakable James Karinchak. Now they’ve taken down Snell.

Like the Yankees clubs of the late-90s, this team is rock solid up and down the order. For Tampa Bay and anyone else who may follow, look out. Increasingly, New York’s offense looks uncontainable. Opponents may well find they need to outslug the Bronx Bombers to move on. Wish them well.

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *