If you’re getting ready for the American League Championship Series, here are some things you need to know:
The Houston Astros having a great offense isn’t a secret. They lead all of baseball in both runs scored and in On Base Percentage, which of course always go hand in hand. But unlike the recently dispatched Indians, who also presented a difficult challenge for any pitching staff, the Astros go about scoring runs in a different manner.
The Astros are far more aggressive than the Indians were and do their damage by making consistent and hard contact. The problem however, if you’re pitching against them, is they aren’t so aggressive that they leave the zone often – they were 9th in the AL in percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone. But what they do swing at, they hit and they hit hard. In addition to leading the league in runs and OBP, they also lead the league in contact %, slugging percentage and batting average on balls in play in addition to striking out less frequently than any American League team.
So how do you stop them? If you can say a team as good as the Astros are offensively has a chink in the armor, I’ll give you a few possibilities:
First, as a result of their aggressiveness and proclivity to make hard contact, they don’t walk very often (11th in the AL in base on ball %). Yankee pitchers have to induce soft contact and keep the ball in the park. I know, not ground breaking but that’s far more important against this team than any other the Yankees will see. Keep it down and hit the black, you have a chance – up and out over the plate and you’re done – simple as that.
Secondly, the Astros have a propensity to run into outs on the bases. They stole 98 bases this season but were caught 42 times for a very “meh” 70% success rate. The 42 outs were 3rd in the league behind the Angels and the Rangers who both stole considerably more bases than Houston. I’m not sure if you can goad players into attempting stolen bases (pitchers and catchers pretending to ignore baserunners? Pre-set pickoff plays?) but it’s worth trying here.
And it may not be an offensive Kryptonite, but the Astros weren’t very good defensively this season. They came in 2nd to last in the AL according to Fangraphs in defensive runs saved. You certainly don’t want to change your own strengths if you’re the Yankees, but if you aren’t named Judge or Sanchez, and you have two strikes on you, adopting a “just make contact” approach is probably the correct one.
I’d also like to throw some credit in A.J. Hinch’s direction – he’s one of the best managers you don’t hear about. He’s on the same page with Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow, which in and of itself makes A.J. a bright guy. The Astros rarely bunt (4th fewest in the league) and he was one of the first to use the “super reliever” concept with Chris Devenski. I’m sorry to say if you’re a Yankee fan, if this series comes down to managerial decisions, we Yankee supporters have a problem.
Despite the size of the mountain, I’m optimistic. The Yankees have been far better at preventing runs than anyone has given them credit for this season, and they managed to score runs off the best pitching staff in baseball in the ALDS without much help from a sleeping giant in their lineup.
Yankees in 6.
As always, thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for the stats.