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Bad Blood: Who the Data Tells Us Has the Best Chance to Fight Through to the ALCS

By: Taylor Bechtold

There’s no love lost between the division rivals who will go head to head in this week’s American League Division Series: the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees in San Diego, and the Oakland Athletics and Houston Astros in Los Angeles.

Each of those teams faced its ALDS opponent in 10 contentious meetings during the regular season.

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said he isn’t sure how much respect his club and the Oakland Athletics have for each other after they were involved in a bench-clearing brawl on Aug. 9. Major League Baseball suspended Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron for 20 games for his role and A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano six games for charging the dugout.

The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays have also had some bad blood this season, which came to a head in early September, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was suspended for three games after igniting a bench-clearing incident by throwing a 101 mph fastball at the head of Rays outfielder Michael Brosseau.

“It’s poor judgment, poor coaching, poor teaching,” Rays managed Kevin Cash told reporters about the Yankees throwing to his club.

Tampa Bay dominated the defending AL East champions, taking eight of the 10 meetings on the way to both winning the division title and finishing with the league’s best record for the first time since 2010. Oakland similarly took down the three-time defending AL West champions in seven of the 10 regular-season matchups to win its first division crown since 2013.

With tensions sure to run high in each best-of-five series, let’s take an advanced look at these neutral-site matchups and determine which teams could move on to the ALCS. To project our winners, we’re using a model that combines each club’s Raw Value data into a single ranking system.

Raw Value+ (RV+) examines how a hitter performs throughout each pitch of an at-bat rather than just the end result, while Raw Value- (RV-) does the same from a pitcher’s perspective.


AL batting champion DJ LeMahieu (.364) and home run leader Luke Voit (22) led the Yankees to the league’s top-rated offense heading into the postseason. LeMahieu has gone 10 for 30 (.333) with two home runs against the Rays this season, while Voit is 11 for 33 (.333) with four homers and eight RBIs in this matchup.

New York has four players who posted an RV+ of 129 or more in Voit (155), LeMahieu (140), Gio Urshela (139) and Aaron Hicks (129). Hicks, however, hit .172 with only two extra-base hits in this season series. Gleyber Torres went 5 for 7 with a home run in the wild card round against the Cleveland Indians, but he batted .182 with one extra-base hit in his 22 at-bats versus Tampa. Giancarlo Stanton appears to be healthy after homering in each of the two games against the Indians.

Though he had a big season with a .269 average, a team-high 14 home runs and an RV+ of 129 for Tampa, Brandon Lowe was just 3 for 24 (.125) – albeit with two home runs – against New York pitching during the regular season. It’s no wonder the Yankees don’t like Brosseau. He went 6 for 14 with three homers against them this season.

The Rays will have 2019 All-Star Austin Meadows (oblique) back in this round at Petco Park in San Diego. The top-seeded Rays finished ninth in the AL with a team RV+ of 95 – below the league average.



Game 1 starter Blake Snell (92) finished the regular season with an RV- better than the league average, but he’s struggled with a 2-5 record and a 5.48 ERA in his last 11 starts against the Yankees. Tyler Glasnow, who is scheduled to start Game 2, has a stellar 75 RV- and he allowed two runs while striking out 17 over 11 2/3 innings to help the Rays win his last two starts versus New York. Charlie Morton had an 83 RV- and could get the ball for Game 3. He’s limited the Yankees to one run and four hits over 10 innings in his last three starts against the Yankees. Overall, the Rays had the fourth-best rotation in the AL during the regular season.

The Yankees are no doubt feeling good about lining up Gerrit Cole for Game 1. Cole finished 15th in the majors in RV- (66) and fourth in Whiff+ (139), but he was less than dominant against the Rays this season. The Yankees dropped two of his three starts, and Cole allowed nine runs and 20 hits, including five home runs, over 16 1/3 innings. Scheduled Game 2 starter Masahiro Tanaka has given up 11 runs and 13 hits over eight innings in his last two starts. He’s fared pretty well in this matchup, however, going 5-3 with a 2.30 ERA in his last 11 starts.

New York starters ended up with the second-best RV- in the AL – behind only Cleveland.



The Rays had one of the best bullpens in the majors during the regular season, ranking fifth with an 81 RV-. The pen also shined in the wild-card round, giving up just one run over 6 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays.

Despite having Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees’ bullpen ranked ahead of only the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers. Their relievers also posted a 5.14 ERA in the two games against the Indians.




George Springer went 8 for 27 (.296) with two home runs in the season series against the A’s. Overall, Springer’s RV+ of 144 (23rd in the majors) helped the Astros overcome subpar performances by Carlos Correa (100 RV+) and Jose Altuve (78). Correa showed signs of a breakout by going 3 for 6 with a home run in the wild card round against the Minnesota Twins. Kyle Tucker (124), Michael Brantley (120) and Alex Bregman (119) also led the way for Houston, but Tucker went just 6 for 36 (.167) against the Rays while Bregman was 2 for 21 (.095).

The A’s won the AL West despite hitting just .225 – the second-worst batting average in the league – and then got past the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card round despite hitting just .194. Mark Canha (113), late-season acquisition Tommy La Stella (113) and Matt Olson (102) were the only A’s to finish with RV+ numbers above league average among those with at least 170 plate appearances. Canha and Olson, though, hit a combined .147 in the series versus Houston and went 1 for 19 in the wild card round. The A’s were our 10th-ranked offense during the regular season, while the Astros finished sixth.



Zack Greinke had a solid 83 RV-, ranked 10th in the majors in Strike+ and 17th in Command+, but he allowed seven runs and 13 hits over 11 innings in his last two starts against the A’s this season. He won’t pitch until Game 3 of this series after Lance McCullers Jr. (109 RV-) and Framber Valdez (94 RV-) get the ball in Games 1 and 2 at Dodger Stadium. McCullers Jr. has a 2.53 ERA over 11 career postseason appearances and he gave up one earned run over six innings in a 4-2 win in his only start versus Oakland this season. Valdez also pitched well in his only start against the A’s, allowing one earned run while striking out nine over seven innings. The Astros had our sixth-ranked rotation in the AL during the regular season.

The A’s are opting to go with Chris Bassitt in Game 1 and Sean Manaea in Game 2. Bassitt has been outstanding over his last five starts including the playoffs, going 4-0 with an 0.53 ERA. The right-hander had an impressive 78 RV- this season. The left-hander Manaea allowed one run and two hits over seven innings to win his only start against the Astros this season. Overall, the A’s finished just ahead of the Astros with the fifth-best rotation in the AL.



Houston’s bullpen was eighth in the American League in ERA (4.39) and also No. 8 in the league by our metrics, but the group stepped up to hold AL Central champ Minnesota scoreless over 9 2/3 innings in the wild-card round.

Oakland’s bullpen did a pretty good job while logging 15 innings in the three games against the White Sox, and limited Chicago’s dangerous lineup to three runs over 7 1/3 innings in Game 3. Behind Liam Hendriks (14 saves), Yusmeiro Petit (1.66 ERA), J.B. Wendelken (1.80), Jake Diekman (0.42) and Joakim Soria (2.82) lead a unit that ranked second behind only the Indians in the American League.

The A’s relievers were also fifth in the majors in Whiff+, which measures the swing and miss ability of a pitcher – a critical component in the performance of a bullpen.




Data modeling and analysis provided by Lucas Haupt.

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