Garcia over Masahiro? Yes.

I, like you I would imagine, was a little surprised by the announcement that Deivi Garcia would be starting game 2 of the ALDS for the Yankees.

The curiosity about the choice has little to do with Garcia obviously, as he’s been as advertised. It has more to do with skipping Masahiro Tanaka, who as we all know, has not only been a better than league average pitcher for seven seasons, he’s also been phenomenal in the post-season.

When digging deeper into the numbers, nothing jumps out that suggests Garcia matches up better against Tampa Bay than Tanaka does. Actually, the Rays were below league average against splitters this season which would suggest Tanaka needs to be out there.

So what gives?

There are two things to consider:

First, we’re not going to see Tanaka again this series regardless of which game he pitches, so it really doesn’t matter if it’s game 2 or 3.

 Secondly, the games’ start times are factors. On social media recently, former MLB player Preston Wilson explained to those of us who’ve never been on an MLB field, that stadiums are designed for optimal visibility in the early afternoon (high sun) and at night (lights). The time in between can be very difficult on batters and outfielders due to shadows, especially late in the season when the sun sets earlier.

What does this have to do with tonight’s starting pitcher?

Game 2 starts at 5pm west coast time. Game 3 starts at 4pm west coast time – i.e., more of the game will be played in the shadows during game 3 than in game 2. So it stands to reason that if you have a pitcher who throws a majority of moving and/or high spin pitches, he may benefit more from batters having difficulty picking up spin and movement due to shadows than a pitcher who throws predominantly fastballs.

Fun facts: In 2020, almost two-thirds of the pitches Tanaka threw were either splitters or sliders. Conversely, less than one third of Garcia’s pitches this season were curves and changeups, while 60% were four seam fastballs. (For the purposes of simplicity and brevity, I disregarded pitch types either pitcher threw less than 10% of the time.) Given the fact we’re not going to see Tanaka again this series anyway, it certainly makes sense to give him an extra hour of “shadow time” which he’ll have tomorrow instead of running him out there tonight.

Of course, many things can happen over the next two days to render all the above non-factors. But it does make sense from a strategical standpoint and most importantly, there is no downside to Garcia in game 2 and Tanaka in game 3.

Well played, Aaron Boone.

Did I miss something? Let me know.

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