Yankees vs. American League East starters; Red Sox edition

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 19: Chris Sale
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 19: Chris Sale /

The Yankees will play 76 of their 162 games against American League East teams; 19 against each. Therefore, the Yankees and their fans hope the team to be successful against pitchers of these clubs more so than any other.

The American League East has its plethora of extraordinary and sub-par pitchers. With three teams having ERAs under four, and one near five, this division isn’t the most pitching competitive in baseball, but the Yankees still need to hit well against these clubs to have a chance of winning 76 of their 162 games this season.

As a series of analyses, one for each team, I will delve in detail into the strengths and weaknesses as well as how the Yanks look matched up against each team’s starting pitchers. Along with that, all data, unless otherwise noted are from the 2017 season.

Jumping right into it, the Red Sox were the best team in the division, finishing with a 93-69 record, and are looking to be just as successful after retaining all of their potential starting pitchers.

Before analyzing the pitch types of each Red Sox starters, one of the most significant flaws of Boston’s team is the lack of long relievers. Because Red Sox relievers averaged about an inning per appearance, one of their six potential starters (Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez) will likely revert to a bullpen role.

As for the stamina of the starting rotation, the Sox seem to be around par, with the stronger pitchers averaging over six innings per start, either last season or the season before (the season before for Price and Wright due to injuries). The lesser able pitchers still average over five innings per start.

The most noticeable factor in the Red Sox rotation’s pitch arsenal is the commonality of three pitches; four-seam fastball, sinker and changeup, among all six potential starting pitchers. Of course, most pitchers throw a four-seam fastball, but to align the other two pitches among six different starters is not just a coincidence.

These two other pitches are even utilized here and there by the heavy knuckleball throwing Steven Wright. Wright is the conundrum in the rotation for the Yankees as only one of their batters faced at least one knuckleballer this past season — that being Giancarlo Stanton.

Stanton, who hit two home runs off the 26 knuckleballs he saw in 2017, hits exceptionally well off the pitch, putting the pitch type in play at a rate of almost 27%, more than any other pitch type he faced last season.

Back to the three pitch types included by all the Boston starters.

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Four of the six Red Sox starters (Sale, Pomeranz, Porcello and Rodriguez) heavily rely on four-seam fastballs. That being said, the Yankees hit well off the pitch — as a team batting over .250, with five known starters (Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner) hitting over .260 last season against the pitch. These men also hit around one percent of fastballs for home runs.

Now that one percent may not sound like a lot, but compare that to 2017s MLB home run leader, Stanton, who hit 59 home runs out of 2,702 pitches faced; resulting in a home run rate of just over two percent.

Against Boston’s sinker reliant pitchers (Price and Porcello) the Bombers will hit the life out of the ball, with four players hitting at least .300. Even the lapsed Jacoby Ellsbury hit .268 against sinkers and only swung and missed just 6.23 percent of the time — second lowest on the team.

The last of the Boston pitch type trio is the changeup. No Red Sox pitcher is too dependent on their changeup — Rodriguez relying on the pitch almost 18 percent of the time.

But for the most part, the Yankees hit well against changeups. Sanchez hit over 4 percent of the changeups he saw for long balls, along with a .319 batting average against the pitch.

Other successful hitters against the change include Judge, who hits almost .400 off it; Gregorius hits over .300, along with a few other bench players (Tyler Austin and Ronald Torreyes).

The only starter who honestly struggles against the pitch is the newly acquired Stanton, who hits a meager .208 against the pitch, whiffing on 22.38 percent of all changeups last season.

Next up is the slider; with three Red Sox starters regularly using the pitch (Sale, Porcello and Rodriguez). This is the Yankees downfall, despite Gregorius hitting over .300 against sliders, the majority of the team struggles against the pitch, including three of the Yankees starting outfielders (Gardner, Stanton and Judge).

Judge struggles the most with sliders, hitting just .154 with four home runs against the pitch — lowest of all balls he has seen.

The upside of the slider is Ronald Torreyes, a potential starter with two infield spots open; Toe hit above .300 with a low whiff rate of just under 13%.

Torreyes could earn a sporadic starting job in the infield if his hitting against sliders keeps up; especially in crucial games when facing the slider-heavy Sale.

The last two pitches which appear in any of the Red Sox starters’ pitch repertoire include the curveball and cutter. As a team, the Yanks hit around average against both pitches — Stanton thriving against cutters in all forms including a high batting average, a high number of home runs and low whiff percentage.

Although there are a few who struggle against the curve and cutter, the Yankees should be fine, especially with Clint Frazier perhaps earning another sporadic starting job in the outfield with his success against the two breaking pitches.

Next: Yankees state of the system: Second Base

Of course, Yankee fans will see a plethora of long balls from the upcoming season’s team, but there is more to hitting than just home runs.

As seen through this analysis, the biggest problem is the struggles against sliders, along with the unfamiliarity and erratic behavior of Wright’s knuckleball, Boston’s rotation will not be easy to compete against, but the Yankees are not without a chance of success.