ALCS Game 1 saw its fair share of exit velocity. Nineteen of forty-nine total batted balls were hit at exit velocities of 95 miles per hour or higher, which MLB’s Baseball Savant designates as “hard hit.” Since 2015, hard hit balls have resulted in the following outcomes on average: .540 batting average; 1.085 slugging percentage; .671 wOBA.
Starters Masahiro Tanaka and Zack Greinke served up thirteen of those hard hit balls in their combined total of thirty-one batted balls allowed: seven of eighteen batted balls for Greinke and six of thirteen for Tanaka. One big difference: Tanaka was able to keep the Houston offense mostly grounded.
Tanaka was also able to stay closer to the edges of the zone than Greinke.
And it shows in where they each got hit hard.
The Yankees made Greinke pay when he came into the middle of the zone but particularly on his four-seam fastball. Here’s what the Yankees did against those fastballs in Game 1.
|Aaron Judge||102.8 mph||Fly out to Springer in the 1st|
|Giancarlo Stanton||107.1 mph||Ground ball single in the 2nd|
|Giancarlo Stanton||104.5 mph||Fly out to Springer in the 4th|
|Gio Urshela||105.7 mph||Line drive single in the 5th|
|Gleyber Torres||94.5 mph||Home run to left in the 6th|
|Giancarlo Stanton||110.7 mph||Home run to right center in the 6th|
Greinke’s command will have to be better against the Yankees in the Bronx in Game 4.
On 83 total pitches in Game 1, Greinke threw 47% four-seamers, 30% sliders, 13.3% curveballs, 8.4% changeups, and one eephus. Against righties, Greinke essentially became a four-seamer/slider pitcher, throwing those two offerings about 87% of the time. Look for the Yankees righties to be sitting on either one of those pitches in Game 4.
In ALDS Game 2 against the Twins, Tanaka’s splitter looked like it was back to its pre-2019 form.
|Date Range||Usage||xwOBA||SwStr%||Vertical Break||Spin Rate|
|2019||26.7%||.309||11.2%||-27.67 inches||1588 rpm|
|10/5/2019||34.9%||.147||24.1%||-30.72 inches||1557 rpm|
|10/12/2019||32.4%||.451||0.0%||-30.98 inches||1615 rpm|
The results in Game 1 of the ALCS were something of a mixed bag. If the 2019 playoff baseballs are truly different, there’s even more evidence that the typical movement on Tanaka’s splitter is back, as he got even more drop on the splitter in ALCS Game 1. That extra movement didn’t seem to help too much as the pitch didn’t result in even one swinging strike from the Astros on twenty-two total pitches. The average exit velocity on the five batted balls against the pitch was 90.6 mph, but luckily for Tanaka, that high average exit velocity was accompanied by an average -11.1 degree launch angle, allowing the Yankees righty to limit the Astros to the following batted ball results against the pitch.
|Batter||Exit Velocity||Launch Angle||Result|
|Michael Brantley||102.0 mph||-3.9 degrees||Ground out to second in the 1st|
|Yuli Gurriel||88.0 mph||2.0 degrees||Ground out to short in the 2nd|
|Carlos Correa||90.5 mph||-0.9 degrees||Ground out to third in the 3rd|
|Kyle Tucker||106.6 mph||10.8 degrees||Line drive single to right in the 3rd|
|Carlos Correa||65.8 mph||-63.5 degrees||Ground out to pitcher in the 6th|
Wednesday night’s rainout has resulted in four games in a row if the series goes seven, throwing a large wrench into the Yankees’ plans to lean heavily on their bullpen. Without a built in day of rest for his pitchers, manager Aaron Boone will need length from his starters now more than ever. Swings and misses are the best result you can get as a pitcher, but with the Yankees needing him to eat innings, Tanaka may be able to rely on the splitter to get quick ground ball outs in Game 4.
The slider was extremely effective for Tanaka against the Astros in Game 1, yielding a .006 xwOBA on an average exit velocity of 76.5 mph and 43.9 degree average launch angle (80.0 mph pop ups from Jose Altuve and Tucker both with 69.0 degree launch angles and a 69.6 mph double play ball against Robinson Chirinos at -6.4 degrees). The slider resulted in eight swings and misses (a whopping 29.6% swinging strike rate) and five called strikes in just twenty-seven pitches. His success with the slider was likely due to his excellent location of the pitch.
According to numbers at Baseball Prospectus, Tanaka’s slider tunnels well with his four-seam fastball to both lefties and righties. You can see that the pitch had great shape in Game 1 and had the Astros off balance expecting fastballs.
This is something Tanaka will be looking to repeat in Game 4. He may also be able to take advantage of the slider’s effectiveness in Game 1 and steal some called strikes on four-seamers if Houston is trying to lay off those sliders diving out of the strike zone.
The Yankees have to expect Greinke to work more on the edges in Game 4 and take a selective approach, forcing the Astros right-hander to challenge the power of the Yankees lineup in their home park with his below average fastball velocity.
Tanaka’s solid performance in Game 1 gives him a slight advantage as he might be able to exploit an Astros lineup that could be more keyed in on his slider the second time around.