Seeking weaknesses in the Astros’ offense

Lame.

Before the Yankees made easy work of the Twins, I looked for ways to slow down Minnesota’s powerful offense. As great as that lineup was, the Yankees are in for an even better run scoring machine in the ALCS. In fact, they’re about to face perhaps the best offense of all-time. That’s not hyperbole, at least per wRC+, which only puts the 1927 Yankees ahead of the 2019 Astros. Yup, the Yankees will have their hands full. Let’s see how they may try to stop each batter individually.

Yordan Álvarez

Houston’s best hitter is also its youngest lineup mainstay. The 22 year-old designated hitter’s 178 wRC+ was only bested by Mike Trout’s 180 mark. Álvarez didn’t get the call to the majors until this June, but it clearly didn’t take long for him to become one of the league’s best hitters. It’s not easy to find holes in the likely American League Rookie of the Year’s game.

Pitch TypexwOBA (Usage) vs. RHPxwOBA (Usage) vs. LHP
Fastballs.451 (58.9%).472 (58.7%)
Breaking.388 (23.2%).310 (36.9%)
Offspeed.377 (17.9%).193 (4.4%)

He’s feasted on fastballs all year and he’s seen a lot of them. Pitchers began to adjust and threw him about 55 percent heaters in September. It’s probably best to avoid someone fastball-reliant like Chad Green against him.

Lefties don’t slow down the rookie either. Álvarez had a 171 wRC+ against southpaws and 181 wRC+ vs. righties. That said, I’d be curious to see CC Sabathia throw slider after slider after slider to him. Though the rookie isn’t terrible against breaking balls from lefties, he’s got a bigger dropoff on non-fastballs against same-siders than against righties.

(Baseball Savant)

There’s really no place to pitch him, either. He can cover the entire plate and even pitches out of the zone.

Really, the best way to pitch to him is not to. Get the hitters around him out and pitch around Álvarez. Easier said than done, but yeah.

Alex Bregman

We go from likely Rookie of the Year to potential MVP. Bregman’s one of those outliers who greatly outperforms what Statcast expects. The third baseman has a 162 wRC+ since last year but has the 6th-largest discrepancy in wOBA and xwOBA since then. So, it’s probably best to analyze him based on actual results than expected numbers.

(Baseball Savant)

Alright, so there’s no particular pitch category that he has a hard time with. What about location?

(Baseball Savant)

Now we’re getting somewhere. Bregman clearly loves pitches middle-in. But, keep the ball down or up-and-in and you may be in for some good fortune. That leaves little margin for error, but it’s something. Guys like Luis Severino and Aroldis Chapman will need to spot their fastballs upstairs to get him out.

The Yankees may also be able to take advantage of Bregman’s patience. Yes, he walked an impressive 17.2 percent of the time this season, but he frequently takes the first pitch he sees in each at bat (17.4 vs. 28.3 league average). Getting ahead of him 0-1 will be pivotal.

George Springer

Springer is one of three Astros’ hitters who recorded a wRC+ of 156 or better this season. Sheesh. Historically, he’s been a hitter that you could attack with breaking balls and have mild success. That’s not quite the case anymore.

(Baseball Savant)
(Baseball Savant)

Even though he’s a right-handed hitter, he has some interesting splits. He’s hit lefties quite well throughout his career, but this season, he really took advantage of breaking balls from southpaws. So, if you’re James Paxton tomorrow, you probably want jam him with fastballs and cutters.

(Baseball Savant)

Yep, based on those zones, Big Maple will want to jam Springer with high cheese. Meanwhile, righties will definitely want to throw junk away from him. For what it’s worth, the Rays held Springer to a .143/.182/.143 line in 22 plate appearances in the ALDS and look at how they went after him:

(Baseball Savant)

Carlos Correa

Houston’s shortstop was great this season – when healthy. He had a 143 wRC+ in 75 games around a rib fracture earlier this season and more recently, back discomfort. Perhaps that’s why he hit .158/.158/.211 against the Rays which means the Yankees could be fortunate to face a hampered Correa.

I’ll spare you another xwOBA vs. pitch type graph, but all you need to know is that there’s no particular pitch that Correa’s weak against. Interestingly, he absolutely pounded offspeed pitches to the tune of a .455 xwOBA this season, which may render Tommy Kahnle’s changeup ineffective against the shortstop.

If we conservatively assume Correa is healthy, then the Yankees have their hands full. There’s really nowhere in the zone to pitch him:

(Baseball Savant)

I suppose you could say he’s primarily a low ball hitter, but it’s not like the xwOBA marks at the top of the zone are poor. If anything, maybe Zack Britton is the worst potential matchup for Correa given that Britton needs to keep his sinker down to be effective.

One thing I found interesting is that Correa is very aggressive on pitches up-and-in:

(Baseball Savant)

Considering his low xwOBA in that region and his penchant to go after pitches in that area, the Yankees are probably best-suited to jam him with high and tight fastballs.

José Altuve

Altuve can hit anyone, though he does have a fairly pronounced platoon split for his career. This year, he had a 176 wRC+ vs. lefties and 125 wRC+ against righties. For his career, the split is 149/119. Houston has plenty of righties, so I expect to see a lot more of Adam Ottavino this series, but Altuve is one particular hitter I expect to see a lot of Ottavino against. The second baseman doesn’t fare well against breaking balls (particularly vs. righties), making him right up Otto’s alley.

(Baseball Savant)

Altuve’s pretty aggressive at the plate; he swung at 41.3 percent of first pitches as compared to the league’s 28.3 percent mark. He still draws his fair share of walks, but he’s definitely more of a free swinger than other Houston hitters. That doesn’t mean he’s a guy who’s easy to strike out, though. Still, there are some holes in the strike zone that the Yankees may be able to exploit:

(Baseball Savant)

Michael Brantley

Here’s the other potent left-handed bat in Houston’s lineup. But unlike Álvarez, Brantley can be shut down by southpaws. He’s a lifetime below average hitter against lefties, so it’s plausible that CC Sabathia and/or Tyler Lyons will face him quite a bit.

Brantley struck out in just 10.4 percent of plate appearances this season, so the Yankees will have to force him to put the ball in play. There’s no real reason to nibble against him either as he’s not an exit velocity darling. That said, he obviously excels in batted ball placement given his 133 wRC+ this year.

(Baseball Savant)

He’s a pretty classic lefty low ball hitter, though it looks like pitches down and away give him some trouble. Considering his slightly above average ground ball rate, it makes sense to work him out there. There’s no particular pitch category he struggles with from righties, so it’ll take a mix of offerings in that region to get him out. Given his ground ball tendencies, expect to see a decent amount of shifting against him:

(Baseball Savant)

To my surprise, opponents didn’t shift too often against him:

MetricShiftNon-Shift
Percentage of PA36.863.2
wOBA.357.369

I know he has a reputation of being a guy who can spray the ball to all fields, but it’s pretty evident that most of his grounders go to the right side.

Yuli Gurriel

Houston’s first baseman is the rare right-handed hitter who has a reverse platoon split. He still hits lefties well (112 wRC+ this year), but does much better against righties (140 wRC+). His career splits aren’t as dramatic as this season, but he’s still been better against right handers.

Gurriel is very aggressive at the plate and only walked in 6 percent of plate appearances this season. That’s an improvement over last year’s 4 percent mark, but it’s still not great.

(Baseball Savant)

He’s willing to chase pitches, so the Yankees should oblige. It’s interesting that he saw a league average amount of pitches in the chase region of the zone, so maybe the Yankees will try to pitch him out there more than others. However, they shouldn’t try to get him to chase high cheese:

(Baseball Savant)

Per xwOBA, Gurriel is a fastball hitter and doesn’t make great contact against breaking balls and offspeed pitches. Nonetheless, his actual wOBA against breaking balls (.365) greatly exceeded his xwOBA (.305).

Robinson Chirinos, Josh Reddick, and Martín Maldonado

It’s not worth a deep dive into any of these three others likely to play. Chirinos is a slightly above average hitting catcher who strikes out a lot. That should play well into the Yankees high strikeout arms. Reddick (94 wRC+) just isn’t much of a threat at all. Ditto Maldonado (76 wRC+), who will likely only start the games Gerrit Cole pitches.

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2 Comments

  1. Joy Illimited

    This is great content! Detailed and clear. Thanks for it. Makes you wonder just how much info front offices have, if this level of analysis is available to the public.

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