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Team Performance

What Not to Throw Aaron Judge (And Other Less Obvious Matchup Stories Assessing the Yankees-Twins AL Wild Card with STATS TVL Data)

By: STATS LLC

Ervin Santana missed with a slider, then threw Aaron Judge a 94-mph fastball up in the strike zone and not nearly far enough away in a 2-1 count. A predictable conclusion followed: The Yankees slugger hit the ball over the right-center field fence for a 1-0 lead in a game the Yankees won 2-1.

It’s everything the Minnesota Twins will want to avoid tonight as they try to make their first postseason appearance since 2010 stretch beyond one game.

It happened in the bottom of the first with one out on Sept. 18. It was the first time the two ever faced each other, but that’s no longer a passable excuse. There was still probably little need for Santana to throw Judge that pitch in that situation, according to STATS TVL data.

TVL tracks pitch type (T), velocity (V) and location (L) for each MLB pitcher and records the data into categories such as usage percentage of a specific pitch, the average velocity of each pitch type and the percentage a batter hits the ball on the ground against that pitch. The data is broken down further to show opponents’ batting average, slugging percentage, swing percentage and swing-and-miss percentage each time a specific pitch is thrown. A pitcher’s TVL then can be pitted against a hitter’s success when facing specific pitches to project how the hitter would fare versus a particular pitcher, which is what we’re going to use here to give some insight into this winner-take-all wild-card game.

In the next at-bat, Santana threw Judge four straight sliders – a pitch he threw right-handed hitters 48.5 percent of the time in comparison to the four-seamer at 34.6 percent. The at-bat begins with a runner on first before Brett Gardner advanced to scoring position on a ball in the dirt, and the outcome was considerably different with a strikeout on a slider out of the zone:

It’s one thing to be able to analyze these matchups after the fact, but with TVL, we can go a step further and project pitch-specific matchup outcomes. Consider the Santana-Judge numbers, and it’s easy to see Santana should be incredibly selective with when he brings the heat, though that varies throughout the New York lineup:

Aside from Judge’s contrast, the number that stands out here is Greg Bird’s suspiciously low projected average against Santana’s four-seamer. He’s 2 for 5 with two home runs in their career matchups, and one of those came off a four-seamer. But that was back in 2015. Bird missed all of last season with a torn labrum and most of this season after undergoing foot surgery. He’s since shown little ability to catch up to that same pitch and is 3 for 38 off right-handed pitchers’ four-seamers this season, while left-handed batters have hit .173 against Santana’s four-seamer. Bird is still able to mash a changeup, which was the Santana pitch that accounted for that other homer, so the Twins should have an idea of how this matchup has evolved over two seasons, despite the two seeing little of each other again in that time.

There are similar insights to be had when assessing Luis Severino against the Twins, despite the right-hander not facing any of his Tuesday night opponents in more than two at-bats. For example, Severino may want to consider setting up Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario differently than Brian Dozier given the ability of the first two to track the slider:

It doesn’t take quite that level of data to show the Twins have lost their last 12 playoff games or that nine have come against the Yankees. But digging that deep might help Minnesota end its plight in another game where one pitch could prove far more costly than it did two weeks ago.