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Pick Your Poison: How AL East Aces Should Approach Judge and Stanton

By: Stats Perform

American League East teams not located in the Bronx have a problem. It’s two problems, really, and they both stand at about 6-foot-6 and have over 500 pounds of pure muscle between them.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combined for 111 home runs last year, clearing outfield wall after outfield wall at a historic pace. They played their home games 1,300 miles away from each other, though. This year, they’re sharing a dugout.

That causes a problem for first-year Yankee manager Aaron Boone, though his is a good one. Where do you hit the new-age Bash Bros in the order?

If one follows the other, opposing pitchers won’t want to pitch to either of them. They wouldn’t be able to afford to pitch around both of them either, or they’re putting a guy into scoring position before bat meets ball. This kind of problem is the bad kind once again, and it falls back in the lap of opposing pitchers.

How do you choose who to pitch to, and who to tip-toe around? A lot of that has to do with matchups, of course. Some of it has to do with what you do well as a pitcher compared against what Judge and Stanton do well at the plate. STATS TVL projections – pitch type (T), velocity (V) and location (L) – take all of that into consideration (along with many other factors). We’ll take those projections for the 2018 season, and go through which Bash Bro each of the projected Opening Day starters in the AL East should choose to attack.

Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

For all the success Judge had last year, Sale owned him. The AL Rookie of the Year was 0 for 12 against Sale with 10 strikeouts.

The Boston ace pumped fastballs to opposing right-handed hitters about 50 percent of the time last year, and that was the case against Judge as well. Judge’s stat line against lefty fastballs was nothing to write home about: .203 AVG/.378 OBP/.469 SLG with five home runs, eight RBIs, and 22 strikeouts.

That’s probably why Sale finished off Judge with a fastball seven times.

The 2018 projections against Sale are more favorable for Judge, though they still aren’t too flattering: .214 AVG/.462 SLG. He isn’t projected to hit higher than .187 against Sale’s four-seamer or slider.

Stanton has never faced Sale, though his numbers last season against lefty fastballs – .356/.465/.763 with six doubles, six home runs, 17 RBIs – make his 2018 projections against Sale much better than Judge’s. Stanton projects to hit .317 and slug .927 off the Red Sox lefty, while clobbering his slider to the tune of a .445 average and 1.675 slugging percentage.

Sale isn’t one to back off any hitter, but he would be wise to be careful with Stanton and attack Judge instead, just like he did last summer.

Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

Archer has thrown against Miami twice in interleague play, so there’s a sample size for both Judge and Stanton against him.

Stanton didn’t figure Archer out in those two starts, going 0 for 6 with two strikeouts and no hard contact to speak of. In both at-bats that ended in a punchout (one in June 2014 and one in April 2015), Archer went slider-heavy. In that two-year span, Stanton hit .194 off righty sliders and slugged .453.

Those numbers haven’t gotten any better since. He raised his average to .214 against righty sliders, but his slugging percentage dropped to .373. For that, Stanton’s 2018 projections against Archer don’t project much confidence – .227 AVG/.477 SLG overall, and a .223 average and .412 slugging percentage off the slider.

Judge cracked a double off a hanging slider on the first pitch he ever saw from Archer in April of last year. It wasn’t a forecast of what was to come, however; since then, Judge has gone 0 for 8 with five strikeouts. Like with Stanton, Archer’s slider has been the catalyst.

However, Judge’s 2018 projections against Archer don’t scream doom – .252 AVG/.593 SLG. That has a lot to do with the assumption Judge will eventually get fastballs to hit off Archer, as he’s projected for a .364 average and .953 slugging percentage off that Archer offering.

If Archer wants to steer clear of too much damage against the Yankees, he’s better off testing Stanton than Judge, and with a steady diet of sliders.

Marco Estrada, Toronto Blue Jays

Estrada has seen plenty (in our view and in his, probably) of Stanton and Judge, because of his stint in the National League with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Stanton is 4 for 11 with a double, three home runs, and six strikeouts against Estrada, but that’s a little skewed; Stanton struck out the first four times he faced Estrada. He has figured him out since then, and if you do some subtraction, you see he’s four for his last seven against him with those three home runs and the double.

Estrada is essentially a fastball-changeup pitcher against right-handers, leaning more on his changeup late in at-bats, and he’s more likely to start an at-bat with a curveball than he is to end one with it. That’s what’s gotten him into trouble with Stanton in their most-recent encounters.

Stanton’s 2018 projections against Estrada are .320 AVG/.745 SLG. His individual pitch projections (four-seam: .296 AVG/.678 SLG, changeup: .314 AVG/.779 SLG) don’t give him an avenue to get Stanton out, so he might be better off pitching around the slugger, if it weren’t for one detail – Judge’s projected numbers against Estrada are even better.

In Judge’s short career, he has already collected seven hits in 14 at-bats off Estrada, with two doubles, two home runs, three walks, and five RBI. That’s after starting his career one for his first four off him.

Six of his seven hits off Estrada have come on a fastball, which is why Judge’s 2018 projections off the Blue Jay righty scream to not throw him a fastball –  .385 AVG/.900 SLG overall and .439 AVG/1.080 SLG off the fastball.

Choosing to pitch to either Stanton or Judge will be like pulling teeth for Estrada. The projections say less damage will be done by Stanton; common sense says to tell the outfielders to move back either way.

Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles

Gausman has suffered the same fate as Estrada against Judge, giving up six hits in 12 at-bats, including one double, three home runs, four walks, and five RBI.

The young Orioles righty was 65 percent fastball last year, which is appetizing for Judge, who hit .352 and slugged .819 off right-handed fastballs in 2017. Each of his three home runs off Gausman have been off four-seamers.

However, if Gausman made the decision to go offspeed-heavy against Judge, he might have more luck. He struck Judge out three times with the slider in 2016, though Judge wasn’t the same player during his September call-up that year as he was in 2017. His splitter is his “out” pitch, and it projects well against Judge – .209 AVG/.341 SLG.

His splitter really projects well against Stanton – .036 AVG/.241 SLG – and should give Gausman some clarity on who to attack between the two 50-home run sluggers. Stanton has struggled with the splitter in his career, hitting just .143 on the offering in 2017 with a 59 percent swing and miss rate. Overall, Stanton projects to hit .209 and slug .511 off Gausman, who he has yet to face in his career.

Each of these pitchers made Opening Day starts last season, except for Sale (when the Red Sox gave the nod to reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello instead), and they all could very well take the mound on Opening Day again this season. These are some of the best pitchers the AL East has to offer, and to see what Judge and Stanton have done to them in the past and what they are projected to do against them in 2018 should raise the eyebrows of every member of every pitching staff in the division and beyond.

To make matters worse, they might seem them back-to-back, and if they aren’t careful, they might see them trot around the bases back-to-back.