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2019 MLB (Non-Twins) Postseason Discussion Thread

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Watching the Twins fail to cobble together runs against even a very good Yankees pitching staff was painful and surprising. They continue...
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Attacking the Heart of the Yankees Order: Part 2

If you haven’t already read Part 1 of this series, I highly recommend that you go and do so. In that installment, I broke down the strengths and weakness of three Yankee hitters (DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton) to help devise an effective game plan for the Twins pitchers and fielders to have going into the ALDS. In this version, I will be doing much of the same, except now we will be looking at three new hitters in heart of the Yankees lineup.
Image courtesy of © Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
The hitters that we will be breaking down in this installment are Aaron Judge, Edwin Encarnacion and Gleyber Torres. Just as the with the three previous hitters, each of these three is also right-handed. This sets up well for the Twins pitching staff that is stacked with right-handed pitchers. Let’s start this breakdown by looking at perhaps the best hitter in the Yankees lineup, Aaron Judge.

Aaron Judge

2017 was a breakout rookie season for Aaron Judge, who hit what was then a rookie record 52 home runs. In the two seasons since, Judge has failed to reach the 30 home run mark, as a result of missing substantial amounts of time with injury in each season. However, when healthy, Judge is still one of the best power hitters in the game. When facing Aaron Judge, getting ahead in the count is vital. Judge has a patient approach, and when he gets ahead in the count, he doesn’t miss his pitch often. Since 2017, Judge ranks third in major league baseball with a .531 wOBA when ahead in the count. A big reason for this is his proficiency against fastballs, as Judge has a .449 wOBA against fastballs over that span.

While Aaron Judge can be deadly when he gets his pitch, he can be susceptible against breaking balls and off-speed pitches. In 2019, Judge has a whiff rate of 52.9 percent against breaking balls, and a staggeringly high whiff rate of 61.9 percent against off-speed pitches. While Judge struggles to make contact with both breaking balls and off-speed pitches, the approach to get him to do so varies drastically. Against breaking balls thrown out of the zone, Judge has a whiff rate of 89.1 percent versus a whiff rate of just 30.4 percent on breaking pitches thrown in the zone. However, when swinging at off-speed pitches out of the zone, Judge has a whiff rate of 75 percent versus a whiff rate of 53.6 percent. As we can see, Judge’s whiff rate varies a lot more drastically on breaking balls than it does on off-speed pitches. Knowing this, the Twins pitchers should focus more on using off-speed pitches, rather than breaking balls when trying to get a pitch over the plate, without having to give in and throw him a fastball.

Now that we have a plan of action for the pitchers against Aaron Judge, let’s take a look at how the fielders should line up against him.

Attached Image: chart (18).png

From the Aaron Judge spray chart pictured above, we can see two things. The first and most obvious is the large percentage of groundballs that he hits to the left-side of the infield. The other obvious thing is that Judge rarely hits fly balls to left field, and when he does, they usually go over the fence. To defend against him, the Twins should have their outfielders shade slightly to right-field so they will have a better chance at catching the larger portion of his fly balls that actually stay in the ballpark.

Edwin Encarnacion

There have been some concerns on the Yankees front about Edwin Encarnacion’s availability for the ALDS. However, reports have been promising, and it does indeed appear as though Encarnacion will be ready to go. With Encarnacion back in their lineup, it adds yet another power-hitting righty into the middle of the lineup that the Twins need to be ready for. While Encarnacion is a big power-hitting righty, like Aaron Judge, Encarnacion and Judge aren’t as similar as you might think. While Judge’s ability is built around excelling at certain aspects of the game, while having holes in other aspects of the game, Encarnacion is much more balanced in his skills. Despite being such a feared power hitter, Encarnacion has a modest 21.2 percent strikeout rate in 2019. This means, the Twins won’t be able to take advantage of his swing and miss tendencies like they can with other hitters in the Yankees lineup. Another thing Edwin Encarnacion does well, is hit against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. In 2019, Encarnacion has a .244 average and a 121 wRC+ against righties, while he had a .245 average and a 152 wRC+ against lefties.

Encarnacion is about as well-balanced as a player can be against all pitch types. In the chart below, we can see that his wOBAs against fastballs, breaking balls and off-speed pitches are nearly identical in 2019. This gives Twins pitchers flexibility to face Edwin Encarnacion with a much more balanced approach than they can with many of the other hitters in the Yankees lineup.

Attached Image: Edwin Encarnacion 1.PNG

One thing that does remain the same with Edwin Encarnacion, in comparison to the rest of the Yankees lineup, is his propensity to pull the ball on the ground, as we can see in the spray chart below. Additionally, much like Gary Sanchez, the Twins should be able to take advantage of Encarnacion’s extremely slow running ability by playing their infielders deeper to cut off more of the groundballs Encarnacion hits, while still having time to throw him out at first.

Attached Image: chart (19).png

Gleyber Torres

The final Yankee hitter that we will be previewing in this series is Gleyber Torres. The thing that has become quite apparent with Torres in 2019, has been his inability to hit breaking balls. For Torres, it’s not so much that he swings and misses at a lot of them, but rather his ineptitude of putting breaking balls in play with any authority. The chart below features Gleyber’s barrel percent, and whiff rate against fastballs, breaking balls and off-speed pitches, in 2019.

Attached Image: Gleyber Torres 1.PNG

One thing that the Twins pitchers shouldn’t have much trouble doing is getting Gleyber Torres to swing at bad pitches out of the zone, as he had a chase rate of 35.1 percent in 2019. For reference, that is almost right in line with C.J. Cron’s 35.6 percent chase rate this season. Now let’s take a look at Gleyber’s spray chart.

Attached Image: chart (21).png

While Torres also hits a large number of groundballs to the left side of the infield, he does hit just enough balls in the vicinity of where a second basemen traditionally plays, to where I think it makes more sense to play Torres straight up.

As we can see from these breakdowns, the Yankees will be sending power-hitting righty after power-hitting righty at the Twins pitchers all series long. This makes it imperative that they keep the ball in the yard at all costs, and not let this lineup slug their way to victory. To do so, they will need to avoid pitching into the Yankee hitters' strengths, and attack their weakness, as I have highlighted here.

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Great article.

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