Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains. For the Yankees and Cleveland in Game Two of their Wild Card matchup, all three things happened.
On the way to a 10-9 win by the Yankees, there were two rain delays and questions about why the game started when it did and whether or not it should’ve been played at all. But play they did in a marathon, back-and-forth game that saw the Yankees advance to the ALDS.
Indeed those rain-soaked questions arose early for the Yankees as Masahiro Tanaka got off to an incredibly rough start. It was clear the rain was messing with him as his command and control were absolutely all over the place, leading to a four run inning for Cleveland, right off the literal and metaphorical bat. Before the game was delayed a second time, he gave up back-to-back doubles to Cesar Hernandez and Jose Ramirez to get Cleveland on the board. Any thoughts of a reset after the rain delay were quickly washed away.
After getting Carlos Santana out, he fell behind Franmil Reyes, eventually walked him, then gave up a two-run double to Josh Naylor followed by a rocket on the ground to Roberto Perez that took a bad hop, ate up Gleyber Torres at short, and plated a fourth run for the home side. Tanaka looked about as bad as possible in his interrupted first inning.
In 2019, Gleyber Torres set the baseball world on fire, knocking 38 homers and loudly announcing himself as a star in the making. But a funny thing happened on the way to true superstardom in 2020: his power completely dropped off the table. While power wasn’t his calling card as a prospect and it seemed unlikely he’d push 40 homers again, the drop has been dramatic, though subtle. In fact, I didn’t realize just how drastic it was until Derek mentioned on the most recent edition of the podcast that, at the time it was published, Gleyber Torres and Mike Tauchman had the same amount of extra-base hits. If you’re tied with Mike Tauchman in any sort of power category, something has gone wrong.
After processing what Derek said, I went to Statcast to see what I could find about Torres’ power and the first thing that jumped out at me–given its position on the page–was the display of Torres’ percentile ranks:
That is a lot of blue. It’s worth noting that Torres didn’t tear it up by Statcast stuff in 2019–his exit velocity wasn’t anything special then, clocking it at under 90 MPH as it does now. Still, though, it’s shocking to see a hitter so good rank so low relative to his talent and skill. This made me dig into the swing data to see what’s behind this bevy of blue.
Overall, his swing rate his down over 10% from last year–41.2 this year compared to 51.8 last year. As such, his in-zone swing percentage has dropped, too, from 75.6 to 65.6. On the plus side, his chase rate is way down and he’s walking more than he ever has. This comes despite a whiff rate–28%–that’s identical to last year’s and has led to a career low in strikeout rate–18.1%, part of a positive trend since 2018. But there’s a tradeoff to this drop in swings. Swinging at fewer pitches in the zone isn’t necessarily good or bad, but when you’re passing up good pitches to hit, it can be detrimental. Torres may be doing that.
While pitchers aren’t throwing him as many ‘meatball’ identified pitches–he’s seeing a career low 5.6% of those, indicating they’re are being careful with him–he’s swinging at drastically fewer of them than he did last year: 74.1%, down from 84.9%. This would suggest he’s not taking advantage of the few very easy-to-hit pitches he’s seeing. Those are pitches he–and anyone, really–should be doing damage on. By not swinging at them, he may be robbing himself of XBH opportunities. The same might be true when it comes to attacking pitchers on their first pitch to him.
Last year, Torres hit .362 on first pitches while slugging .862. This year, he’s hitting .400 and slugging .800 on them. Those numbers are similar and both great. However, since his first pitch swing percentage has dropped from 36.4 to 25.0, the overall impact may be lessened.
Aside from swinging less overall, there seems to be another problem: breaking balls. In 2019, Torres hit .256 with a .442 SLG against breaking balls, good for a .302 wOBA. Those numbers don’t look great (though that’s a solid ISO of .186), but that’s the point of breaking balls, isn’t it? So far in 2020, the numbers are way worse: .125 BA; .156 SLG; .197 wOBA. His whiff rate on breaking balls is also way up from 32.2 to 40.9. It’s hard to hit for any sort of power when you’re missing on that many breaking balls.
And that brings us to the last bit I found, everyone’s favorite bugaboo, from the aforementioned Mike Tauchman to the much-maligned, much-struggling Gary Sanchez: middle-middle pitches. Torres, like those two, is failing to punish pitchers for leaving balls over the plate.
He’s hitting .273 on pitches right down the middle that he makes contact with. Not bad in a vacuum, but considering where those pitches are and who he is, that should be much higher. Slugging?
He’s slugging .462 on contacted middle-middle pitches. Fine…ish, but not for him. And not for that location. It’s possible that Torres is experiencing some bad luck on those pitches, though. His expected batting average on contact for the zone is .383; his expected slugging on contact in the zone is .622.
However, given that this is a shortened season and that it’s almost over (went fast, didn’t it?), there may not be time for things to even out, to progress to the mean. Torres has to make some adjustment to get the power back–swinging more? swinging at different pitches?–because it’s not just going to fall into place like it might over 162. With his talent, I’m sure he can.
Few people in our little extremely online corner of Yankee baseball are as happy about Clint Frazier’s 2020 success as I am. I’ll say it shamelessly that I’m a complete and total Stan for Frazier and likely always will be. Regardless of that, he’s played well in a time of need for the Yankees and has (hopefully) made himself indispensable for their future outfield plans. One thing that’s stood out about Clint’s performance this year has been an inflated walk rate.
After last night’s game against the Orioles, his walk rate is 14.9%, well over anything he’s produced at the Major League level. He racked up a 12.2% rate in 2018, but that was in just 15 games. This year’s sample isn’t huge–and won’t be, given the 60 game schedule–and could easily be a blip, an aberration, but for now, it’s a pattern I noticed and it’s worth digging into.
Below is his chase rate by pitch category per Statcast:
While we see an increase in his chase rate on fastballs, the rate has gone way down for both breaking and offspeed pitches. On breaking balls, he’s brought his chase rate down from 23.5% to 15.4. On offspeed pitches, the shift has been even more stark: 43.1% to 17.2%. Taking a look below at the percentage of pitch types that are out of zone, we can see a pattern:
Pitchers have greatly increased the percentage of breaking and offspeed pitches out of the zone against Frazer. Given his chase rates last year, that makes sense. They responded, but so has he by taking more and more of those pitches instead of chasing them.
If we break it down by zone, we see a logical extension of this. Pitchers in general aim to keep offspeed and breaking pitches low in the zone, even out of the zone to get hitters to chase. And in terms of out of zone pitches, Frazier has seen the most in the lower portions:
This is a pattern that repeated from last year. However, when it comes to swing rate, we see a change. Last year, he swung at 28% of pitches in the lower left out of zone area and 23% of pitches in the lower right out of zone area. Let’s take a look at this year:
He’s dropped his swings at both lower areas and that tracks with the pitch data from before. He’s laying off breaking and offspeed stuff out of the zone and it’s helping him generate more walks.
Given his history, I doubt Clint will keep up a 15% walk rate as the year goes on and into 2021. However, if he can add just a little bit of this to his game, he becomes even more dangerous at the plate.
A few weeks back, I took a look at Gary Sanchez’s slow start to the season, particularly the fact that he was striking out so damn much. While the results weren’t great, there were subtle hints he’d be able to pull out of it. Since then, he hasn’t. His struggles at the plate have continued and the process seems just as ugly as the results. For today, I’m going to take a look at some things I didn’t touch on the first time around and see what else is going on with Gary.
Last time, I noted that Sanchez’s chase rate was no different than it normally was and that remains true. What is a bit different, though, is his chase contact percentage. As of writing this, it’s at a career low 48.6%. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; making contact on pitches you’re chasing usually doesn’t lead to good results. However, that low contact rate helps explain the uptick in strikeouts.
Next on the list is first pitch swing percentage. This cropped up as an issue because it seems so different from the rest of his career. So far this year, Gary has swung at the first pitch of a PA 17.8% of the time, a career low by about four percentage points. It’s been declining since 2017, so perhaps this is a concerted effort for Sanchez. It’s possible that it’s backfiring this year and pitchers are using this strategy of his to get ahead of him, setting him up for strikeouts later in the at bat.
Then we come to what Statcast calls “meatballs.” This year, Sanchez is swinging at 61.3% of the meatballs he sees, the second lowest percentage in his career. This comes while seeing the highest number–7.6% of pitches–in his career (not including his cup of coffee in 2015). When we see a player letting first pitches and meatballs go, we see a player setting himself up to be in a hole; that’s what seems to be happening to Gary at the beginning of at bats, then he’s pressing and chasing later, leading to more whiffs, more strikeouts.
To drive the point home about Sanchez struggling against pitches he should mash, let’s take a look at a pertinent chart.
On contact, Sanchez has a .000 batting average on middle/middle pitches. In turn, that means he has a .000 SLG for that zone. A hitter as talented and as powerful as Sanchez should be destroying those pitches, no matter how frequently or not they come. And that gives credence to the eye test, doesn’t it? How many times this year–regardless of exact location–have you thought, ‘Wow, he should’ve crushed that pitch!’? For me, it’s been a lot and I assume the same is true for you, too.
With the season reaching its final month, time is running out for Sanchez to turn things around. With Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gleyber Torres all out until who knows when, it’s beyond important that Gary break out of this season-long slump.
Dispensing with pleasantries before we even get to one, let’s just say that Gary Sánchez is not having a strong start to the 2020 season. In eight games, he has just two hits and one walk. In his 27 plate appearances, he has struck out 14 times. To quote a former Yankee manager and recent Yankee opponent, it’s not what you want. Let’s take a look at the how and the why for this ugliness and try to draw some conclusions.
When a player is striking out a lot more than normal, the first thing to consider might be if he’s swinging any more or less in general. That doesn’t seem to be the case as he’s about where he was last year, though with a slight downturn against offspeed pitching.
To spare you some more graphs, I’ll skip ahead to what I found most interesting in Sánchez’s swing profile this season. First, here’s his in-zone swing percentages.
Pretty normal, huh? And it seems to match with his overall swing percentages: about the same as always, but slightly less on offspeed. Now, here’s his in-zone swing-and-miss percentages.
Oh, boy. While the breaking and offspeed lines aren’t too alarming, that fastball one is…yikes. Whiffing on that many fastballs in the zone is not going to be a winning strategy for any hitter, even one as talented as Gary.
His out-of-zone numbers tell a similar story: a relatively normal distribution of pitches and a higher rate of whiffs:
We can see increases in chase/whiff percentages on both fastballs and breaking pitches. It’s never good when you expand the zone and miss those pitches you’re expanding on.
Overall, his strikeout percentages look like this:
Two of those lines are heading in a Not Great direction, aren’t they?
To drive the point home about misses even more, let’s look at his zone profile from Brooks:
Middle and up in the zone, he’s whiffing a lot. Up out of the zone, he’s wiffing a lot; those two areas–broad as they are–correlate with the fastball whiff percentages from the Statcast graphs. The middle and lower right portions of the zone profile correlate with the breaking whiff percentages from the Statcast data.
Almost nothing on the offensive side has looked good for Gary in 2020. But there are silver linings. It’s early in the season (funny to say in August) so there’s a lot of variance and extremity to these numbers. That alone means they’re going to come back down. Additionally, according to Statcast, the little contact he’s making has been pretty quality. He ranks in the 83rd percentile for exit velocity and in the 6oth for hard hit percentage. Once Gary starts making more consistent contact, things should level out for him. And when that happens, he can carry an offense.