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Trouble Could Find Him

By: Stats Perform

STATS TVL Data Shows Why Cleveland Indians Manager Terry Francona’s Decision to Start Trevor Bauer against the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS May Backfire

It’s bold.

The decision to bypass an adequately rested ace in Game 1 of a five-game series comes with the hope that postgame praise of an intrepid call will follow. For Terry Francona, though, there’s reason to think there’ll only be more questions concerning the decision to start Trevor Bauer over Corey Kluber.

Some of the surface-level data supports the Cleveland manager’s decision. Dive a bit deeper into STATS TVL data, and it looks more like the Indians might need to put up some serious offense to not fall into an early hole in their ALDS matchup against the New York Yankees.

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 the specific Bauer-Yankees matchups that’ll take place tonight.

Francona’s reasoning is centered around the series including two days off, so Kluber, the AL Cy Young frontrunner, would still be starting a decisive Game 5 and doing so on a normal cycle. The manager said the routine was important to Kluber, and there wasn’t another viable option to line it up that way. Additionally, if they win in four, then Kluber lines up nicely for Game 1 of the ALCS. But there’s also something to be said for avoiding a 1-0 hole in a five-game series, and few will argue which pitcher gives you a better chance there.

Now, the surface-level data. Both pitchers have been great in two starts against the Yankees this season. Kluber has probably been a bit better, going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA and .105 opponent batting average and .381 OPS while chewing up 17 innings. Career: 5-1 with a 1.80 in seven starts with five straight dominant wins.

Bauer went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings, winning both home and away in August with a .229 OBA and .661 OPS. His career numbers against the Yankees aren’t nearly as strong, and they roughed him up as recently as last season with present Yankees Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley all notching two-hit nights and an RBI each to tag Bauer with all five runs in a 5-4 final. So he’s not Yankee-proof.

Such individual matchups, and specifically how the New York lineup projects to hit against Bauer, is where the decision becomes particularly teeth-clenching from a predictive standpoint. Using TVL, the Yankees lineup projects to have a .289 average and .525 slugging percentage against him. Get even more granular, and six batters project to hit at least .303 against Bauer’s entire arsenal of pitches:

There’s a lot of projected doom there, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for Bauer to work through it. Let’s now look into how he might best handle the order and exploit the occasional projected weakness to maintain his manager’s reputation. Bauer’s second-half pitch selection shows how he evolved over the course of the season – just not always for the better.

In the first half, Bauer’s four-seam fastball and curveball accounted for 67.1 percent of his pitches. Those are still his most-used pitches, accounting for 68.5 percent in the second, but the effectiveness of the four-seamer has actually fallen off. In the first half, he threw it 39.0 percent of the time with a .269 OBA and .433 slugging. In the second, 36.6 percent usage with .295 and .476 splits. Return to the chart above, and that doesn’t bode well against the likely Nos. 1-5 in the New York lineup. He’ll also want to be selective with his curve against a few of those bats.

The more positive change for Bauer arrives in that he was in the first half making far more use of a two-seamer (15.3 percent vs. 6.5 in the second half) and cutter (10.7 vs. 5.0). Opponents hit .333 against the cutter with a .704 slugging percentage in the first half. They were at .289 and .566 against the two-seamer – still impressive numbers.

Bauer has in part replaced them with an effective slider, which probably bodes well against the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. But he still only threw that pitch 11.6 percent of the time in the second half. Is that enough to maintain what’s been an impressive 13 innings against the Yankees, or is the bottom about to fall out?

Gregorius is 4 for 9 with a home run and double in the last two seasons against Bauer. Gardner is also 4 for 9 in that time. Todd Frazier is 6 for 14 with a home run and double. Bauer is yet to retire Aaron Judge – 1 for 1 with two walks – and from the looks of it, he should have very little confidence throwing the young slugger either of his go-to pitches.

Those numbers are from Bauer’s top two seasons in the bigs. Many of them also happen to be in line with TVL. Regardless, the 26-year-old’s manager has expressed plenty of confidence in him.

Again, it’s bold.