Yankee manager Joe Girardi decided that Sonny Gray should get the game 1 start in the ALDS tonight.
This is classic Joe: Pick the wrong pitcher for the wrong situation. It’s not a coincidence that the Yankees had the 2nd best run differential in baseball in 2017 but the 8th best record. It’s not a coincidence the Yankees had the best bullpen in baseball and were 18-26 in one run games. Joe picks the wrong pitcher at the wrong time most of time, as I’ve been preaching all season. Hell, when he went to Chad Green in the first inning on Tuesday night he was praised widely and loudly by both professionals and amateurs for doing…what was pretty frigging obvious: When the game is on the line, put your best reliever in the game.
Masahiro Tanaka is a far better option in general, and tonight against the Indians specifically, than Sonny Gray. There are a few reasons for this, both on the macro level and the micro level but we’ll start with the obvious:
Masahiro Tanaka is a better pitcher than Sonny Gray. Frankly, Jordan Montgomery is better than Sonny Gray and one can easily make a case that C.C. Sabathina and Luis Severino with 2 days to recover from 29 pitches are better than Sonny Gray – but we’ll keep this short and stick with Tanaka.
Tanaka has been better than Gray for four seasons.
Depends on what measuring tool you like, but if you like Strikeout to Walk Ratio, Walks plus Hits divided by Innings Pitched, Fielding Independent Pitching, Earned Run Average Plus, Wins Above Replacement, or Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, Tanaka has been better than Gray in every one of those categories over four seasons.
You have recency bias? More of a what have you done for me lately, kind of fan? That’s cool…
Tanaka has been better than Gray over the past two months.
Since 8/3/17 (Gray’s debut with the Yankees), Tanaka has a better K/BB ratio, a lower opponents’ OBP, and has given up fewer Home Runs. You read that correctly, Sonny Gray has allowed more HR than Tanaka has over the past two months.
Tanaka is a better matchup against an offense like the Indians.
Before we get into matching up pitchers vs. particular offenses, there are some things about the Indians offense on which we need to be clear before discussing this any further: In the American League in 2017, the Indians swung at the lowest percentage of pitches, they were 1st in BB%, 2nd in OBP, they struck out the 2nd lowest percentage of at bats, they tied for 2nd in Slugging Percentage, but (here’s the interesting and important part) were only 8th in HR.
What does that tell us? They don’t chase pitches, they hit the ball when they do swing and they hit it hard.
More specifically: 2nd in SLG% and 8th in HR means one thing – this isn’t a lineup full of Todd Fraziers and Rougned Odors who occasionally pop a fly 360’ for a HR, and do absolutely nothing else. This teams hits triples, doubles and singles at a very high rate. Combine that with forcing the pitcher to throw strikes, drawing walks and you have a scary offense with which to contend.
This is not the team to nitpick with around the corners – they don’t chase. This isn’t the team with which you should pitch to contact – they hit it hard and on a line.
This is a team that you need to make swing and miss. This is a team to whom you cannot issue walks.
For your consideration, since Girardi ignores me: Tanka has a higher swing and miss rate than Gray. Tanaka Ks a higher percentage of batters than Sonny Gray. Tanaka walks a lower percentage of batters than Gray.
The conclusion any reasonable person would reach: Masahiro Tanaka needs to be pitching tonight against the Indians.
Maybe Tanaka has the flu. Maybe he has relatives in Japan who are sick and his mind isn’t with the Yankees. Maybe Girardi knows something along these lines that we don’t because that would be the only explanation for Tanaka not being on the mound tonight.
Again, to be clear, both Tanaka and Gray are good enough to throw a gem on any day and virtually guarantee the Yankees a win. And neither are good enough that getting blown out of the water isn’t well within the realm of possibilities, especially against a great team. But that’s not the point. We won’t use the result to justify the decision. You have to go with what the percentages tell you and apply them. That’s how you end up winning more games than you lose.
And that’s why Joe is screwing up…again.
As always, thanks to Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for the statistics.