The Yankee lineup is a dangerous offense for a right handed pitcher in the small dimensions of Yankee Stadium, at least it used to be. Here, you can watch how batting coach Kevin Long trains his lefties to hit balls thrown on the inside part of the plate. The net drill, as he calls it, allows lefties to pull fast pitches thrown on the inside part of the plate, allowing them to aim for the shallow right field porch. It’s worked by boosting Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson‘s homerun totals, but I wondered if there could be a downside to this.
Aside from the shifts that teams now put on the Yankee lefties, the Orioles took a different pitching approach on the lefty stacked lineup this weekend. The theory was that if the Yankees were going to look for fastballs inside, the pitchers would simply throw fastballs away, and offspeed pitches down in the zone. On Friday night, that meant Miguel Gonzalez had to attack hitters with his great changeups down, and fastballs away. Only two lefties had hits against Gonzalez, which becomes an issue when you play six of them in your lineup. Curtis Granderson will demonstrate what the fastballs and changeups looked like.
This was the first pitch Granderson saw in this at bat. Although the pitch isn’t a strike according to the rule book, this “lefty strike” is an all too familiar call in the modern game. John Walsh did some work on what the typical left handed strike zone looks like, and found that it extended 4.5 inches towards the right handed batter’s box. As unfair as it sounds, it’s a part of the game. Before PITCHf/x pioneer Mike Fast started working with the Astros, he left us what BrooksBaseball call Fastmaps, which helps show the typical modern strike zone compared to the rule book zone.
You’ll see that the typical strikezone above slightly extends outward toward the right handed batter’s box. The pitches called strike here are “lefty strikes”, and Dan Bellino the homeplate umpire, was not shy in calling them. When you consider that the Yankee lefties make their living off pulling pitches, calling these pitches strikes makes it difficult for any hitter to make good contact.
And here is that changeup, which is absolutely killer. The pitch has nearly 9 inches of additional sink compared to the fastball, just about the exact same horizontal movement, and a 9 mph velocity difference. Gonzalez is sporting a 28.7% whiff rate and a 71.3% swing rate on the pitch to lefties this year, which is about double the league average in both cases. The pitch is single handedly responsible for his 8.79 K/9 against these hitters, compared to just a 4.88 K/9 against righties. All-in-all, stacking lefties against a pitcher just because he’s right handed might not always be the best decision Mr. Girardi.
Let’s play a game and try to predict how Gonzalez pitched to Cano on Friday night.
Gonzalez starts Cano off with a changeup:
This changeup is nothing but nasty. The pitch has an extraordinary amount of late sink to it. At first it looks like a fastball that will hit a sweet spot, down and in, but then drops at the last second. This also lets us know that Gonzalez should be pitching Cano backwards, but with this type of swing, the changeup is never out of the question.
The second pitch is the fastball:
So we have a fastball middle away that he fouls off the end of his bat. This pitch is likely a lefty strike if Cano doesn’t make contact with it, so he made the right decision to try for the opposite field hit. The fastball here also indicates that he still may be pitching backwards.
After seeing this sequence, what do you expect Gonzalez to throw next?
1) Another fastball away
2) Go back to that ridiculous changeup
3) The curveball that he hasn’t seen yet, and one that really isn’t that good
4) The knuckleball, why not?
Cano actually does his best work with offspeed pitches from right handed hitters. Unless you’re throwing the pitch up and in, he’s probably gonna hit it hard , as long as you’re in the strikezone. He also hits fastballs away well, but this is a big strikezone today. Which is why Gonzalez does this.
The third pitch is the …
Although you might have wanted Cano to hold off on this fastball up and away, it’s almost the same exact pitch that we see for a called strike to Granderson above, and it was called all game. You can’t hit this pitch, and with two strikes, you can’t take this pitch. Your best bet is to follow it off, but in this case, the foul ball ends up finding the catcher’s glove.
Cano’s only chance in this at bat was with the second pitch, but I’d like to argue that it wasn’t entirely Cano’s fault. As I mentioned above, the emphasis for left handed batters is to sit on pitches in and pull them, with just one strike, Cano is likely still sitting on a pitch to pull. It’s just a theory, but lefties did nothing in this recent series. Take a look at how Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen attacked them.
I could add Randy Wold, Chris Tillman, and pretty much every Orioles pitcher and you’d all see that same trend. Pitchers attacked lefties away, and the Yankees offense looked like junk. Correlation does not imply causation, but it’s certainly something to stay mindful of.
The other issue I found with this weekend was that Joe stacked lefties against Gonzalez, despite him having much better strikeout numbers against them. We all know he loves taking advantage of platoon splits because of the advantage, but the way he does it is way too one dimensional. At some point you have to look beyond just righty v. lefty and examine the numbers in depth.
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