At this point in the season, there are no secrets. We know who the Twins are. (But Imma’ tell you anyway…)
Their pitching staff on a whole likes to be aggressive and throw strikes. It’s almost as if their pitchers are from the 19th century when the point of the strike zone was to force pitchers to throw a hittable pitch so we’d have some action to see. Games will be played literally but not figuratively with this gang – they’re going to go right after you if you’re in the box, savage or otherwise. They’re first in the American League in first-pitch strike percentage, 2nd in overall strike percentage, 3rd in fewest pitches per plate appearance and have the league’s lowest walk rate.
If you like to watch pitchers nitpick, the Twins aren’t the team for you.
And they aren’t just laying BP pitches in there either. The Twins staff was 3rd in the AL in Fielding Independent Pitching and 4th in strikeout to walk ratio in 2019 – both numbers placed them ahead of the Yankees’ staff. However, a few defensive standouts aside, they don’t turn batted balls into outs very well. Their 3rd worst defensive efficiency in the AL explains how they’re 6th in runs allowed per game despite the good pitching staff.
But as we know, the story with them is their bats. This team does not try to put the ball in play softly to the opposite field. They are going to grip it and rip it and they’re pretty damn good at it.
In 2019, they led the AL in SLG %, percentage of at-bats resulting in extra-base hits, and lowest groundball to fly ball ratio. Because they don’t hit the ball on the ground, they don’t hit into double plays. (And if you’re thinking they stay out of double plays with situational hitting and productive outs, think again – they were 11th in the AL in sacrifice bunts, and dead last in both stolen bases and stolen base percentage.)
But the philosophy is only part of their success. The problem for the Yankees is that they’re really good at implementing it. Despite swinging from the heels, the Twins have the league’s 3rd lowest strikeout percentage and the 4th highest OBP.
Good OBP plus a ton of power means one thing: A lot of runs. 5.81 per game in 2019 to be exact, which was second to the Yankees 5.85 this season.
So what does this mean for the Yankees?
If I were Aaron Boone, here’s what I’d consider:
Luke Voit has the 2nd highest in-zone swing percentage on the Yankees. Knowing he’s also a high OBP guy who has a good eye, we know if he sees something good, he’s going to let it rip, without having to worry about him chasing. Against a staff that comes right after the hitters, Voit is a good matchup for the Yankees. I’d get him in the lineup in a prominent spot each game if I were Boone – I like the odds of Luke having a big series.
Because we know the Twins want to elevate the ball and are pretty good at it, the Yankees need to get important innings from their pitchers who keep it in the park:
Zack Britton has the best ground ball percentage on the Yankees’ staff by far. If there is a crucial situation before Chapman comes in, Britton needs to be in the game. If that situation arises in the 5th or the 8th is irrelevant – Britton’s the Yankees’ best chance of keeping the baseball on the field instead of the seats.
Among Yankees starters, Tanaka has the best ground ball rate. During his starts, if you have a choice of getting a few more batters out of him instead of going to Chad Green, you may want to stick with Tanaka.
Why am I picking on Chad Green? I’m not. I’m a fan of his. But he has the highest fly ball percentage among Yankee relievers. He should be used in mop-up duty only against the Twins as there are just too many better options for the Yanks. Additionally, Green also has one of the lowest chase rates on the Yankees’ staff. A team that doesn’t K, and hits long flies against a pitcher who doesn’t induce chases or ground balls is a bad matchup for the pitcher.
Among starters, James Paxton has the highest fly ball rate. Does that mean keep him away from the Twins? Of course not, he’s your best pitcher. You need him out there pitching to his strengths, regardless of matchup. That being said, if he’s struggling and/or if there’s any question about leaving him in a 3rd time through the lineup or in a tight spot, Kahnle or Severino would be better options.
Given we know that the Twins don’t hit ground balls, bunt, steal or hit and run very often, infield defense against them isn’t much of a difference-maker. Play Gleyber at short, Didi on the bench. If Encarnacion is healthy, he’s at first with Voit DH and Stanton in left. If Edwin is not ready to go, it’s Voit at first, Stanton DH and Maybin in LF.
Did I miss something? Let me know –
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