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Series Preview: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays Bombers take on the Yankees at the Trop.

He's back from the DL
He's back from the DL
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays host the New York Yankees in a battle for last place in the AL East. The Rays have lost five of their last six and need to get on track before they are too far behind. Banked wins and losses matter a lot and to reach the 86 wins needed to get into the wild card conversation the Rays need to win at a 90 win pace the rest of the way.

The Yankees come into the series fresh off two straight losses to the Toronto Blue Jays. Before the two losses the Yankees were able to reel off a six game win streak. Alex Rodriguez returned from the disabled list for yesterday afternoon’s game.

The matchups:

Friday: Masahiro Tanaka vs Chris Archer

Saturday: Michael Pineda vs Matt Moore

Sunday: Nathan Eovaldi vs Jake Odorizzi

Will the Rays bats be able to get to the right handed Yankee starters?

The Rays face Masahiro Tanaka and Nathan Eovaldi, two of the three Yankees starters who have pitched well this season. The third starter the Rays will face, Michael Pineda, has struggled limiting the long ball which has led to a 6.34 ERA.

Tanaka is coming off his best start of the season, allowing one run over seven innings against the Athletics. Pineda hasn’t pitched more than six innings in any game this year, and while he has been terrible in every start, opponents have been hitting him fairly well.  His worst start of the year came on April 24 against the Rays:  he allowed seven runs over five innings, and gave up four home runs.

Eovaldi is coming off two of his best starts of the season. He allowed two hits and zero runs over six innings in his last start versus the Blue Jays. In Arizona he allowed one run on one hit over six innings versus the Diamondbacks.

Yankees Starters Last 3 Seasons vs Right Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
Masahiro Tanaka 171.1 25.0% 4.7% 14.0% 0.223 0.265 0.397 0.287 3.20 3.58
Michael Pineda 147.1 23.1% 3.0% 12.4% 0.262 0.293 0.441 0.317 4.46 3.62
Nathan Eovaldi 212.1 18.7% 5.7% 7.4% 0.251 0.301 0.359 0.291 4.03 3.16

All three pitchers have limited walks, especially Tanaka and Pineda. Tanaka has been the most effective overall, but Pineda and Eovaldi haven’t been as bad as their ERAs would suggest.

Tanaka and Pineda have had problems with the long ball and part of that is probably due to their home park, but it matches up well with the Rays strength.

Yankees Starters Last 3 Seasons vs Left Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
Masahiro Tanaka 177.1 22.7% 4.0% 17.2% 0.228 0.263 0.393 0.284 3.15 3.45
Michael Pineda 139.1 22.6% 4.4% 12.7% 0.259 0.292 0.426 0.310 3.62 3.13
Nathan Eovaldi 196.1 17.1% 6.3% 8.5% 0.298 0.348 0.436 0.343 4.49 3.72

The three starters continue to limit the walks against opposite handed batters. Tanaka has no real split to take advantage of. Pineda’s FIP is better against left handed batters and received much better results. Against Tanaka and Pineda the Rays should just put the best hitters they can in the lineup regardless of handedness.

Eovaldi has been crushed by lefties. The Rays need to use their full complement of left handed bats against Eovaldi.

Avoid the three headed monster out of the bullpen.

The Yankees have three elite options to close out games. Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances have been lights out.  striking out 35.5%, 47.1%, and 51.2% of batters respectively. The Rays would like to avoid this part of the pen as much as possible during the series. The big three can’t throw all their bullpen innings and the Rays need to take advantage of any innings thrown by any of the other guys.

Their fourth most experienced bullpen arm is former Ray, Kirby Yates. He has been their fourth most effective reliever, too, as he’s pulled a reverse Steve Geltz. Last season Yates allowed a 30.3% homer per fly ball rate, but this year he hasn’t allowed a home run.

Yankees Relievers Last 3 Seasons vs Right Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
Aroldis Chapman 97.1 43.2% 11.3% 6.2% 0.164 0.269 0.224 0.232 2.22 1.70
Andrew Miller 100.1 39.8% 7.6% 11.3% 0.141 0.232 0.226 0.211 1.70 2.13
Dellin Betances 99.1 41.7% 10.8% 12.5% 0.154 0.255 0.259 0.238 1.90 2.38
Kirby Yates 51.2 25.4% 7.4% 12.7% 0.223 0.295 0.374 0.297 3.83 3.92
Luis Cessa 1.2 12.5% 0.0% 33.3% 0.286 0.375 0.714 0.458 5.40 11.48
Richard Bleier Has not had an MLB appearance.
Nick Goody 10.2 25.5% 10.6% 6.7% 0.200 0.319 0.325 0.295 1.69 4.03

The usual suspects have been tough to righties and Yates has been effective against righties. The other three arms in the pen have very little MLB experience.

Yankees Relievers Last 3 Seasons vs Left Handed Batters:

Player IP K% BB% HR% AVE OBP SLG wOBA ERA FIP
Aroldis Chapman 31.0 53.3% 11.7% 0.0% 0.135 0.252 0.167 0.207 0.58 0.55
Andrew Miller 42.1 48.5% 4.9% 12.0% 0.174 0.216 0.263 0.214 2.34 0.88
Dellin Betances 97.0 39.9% 7.2% 7.8% 0.157 0.225 0.231 0.207 1.11 1.59
Kirby Yates 23.0 26.2% 14.0% 18.9% 0.264 0.374 0.538 0.386 5.87 6.73
Luis Cessa 1.1 25.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.00 1.58
Richard Bleier Has not had an MLB appearance.
Nick Goody 7.1 9.7% 3.2% 0.0% 0.300 0.323 0.448 0.325 4.91 2.70

Chapman, Miller, and Betances are the three effective arms against left handed batters. Yates is a gopher ball machine and Richard Bleier is their LOOGY in the pen if one is needed before the last few innings.

The Rays need to do their best to get to their starters early because the road to victory is tough if they are behind after six innings.

The Yankees offense is their weakness.

Atypically, the 2016 Rays boast a stronger offense than their Yankee rivals.  So far the Yankees have only hit .238/.306/.382, .302 wOBA, 88 wRC+. The last week they have been better as they have hit .241/.310/.409, .313 wOBA, 97 wRC+, but this isn’t an offense you would expect from the Bronx Bombers. Indeed, their offense has been one of the worst in the American League.

Their most productive batter has been Carlos Beltran with a .262/.291/.512, .339 wOBA, 114 wRC+ line. He is joined by Jacoby Ellsbury (.277/.342/.433, .337 wOBA, 113 wRC+) and Brian McCann (.244/.344/.420, .335 wOBA, 112 wRC+) as the only regulars well above average. Brett Gardner is the only other starter above 100 wRC+ (.228/.350/.362, .323 wOBA, 103 wRC+).

The Yankees have averaged 3.89 runs a game this season and have outscored their wRC by 5 runs.

Yankees Batters Last 3 Seasons vs Right Handed Pitchers:

Player PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Jacoby Ellsbury 871 17 50 7.5% 14.0% 0.261 0.319 0.386 0.310 95
Brett Gardner 1024 32 43 10.4% 20.2% 0.253 0.337 0.427 0.336 113
Carlos Beltran 790 34 2 8.6% 16.5% 0.272 0.335 0.481 0.353 124
Alex Rodriguez 474 25 2 11.8% 23.4% 0.234 0.327 0.446 0.336 111
Brian McCann 905 40 0 8.8% 16.1% 0.226 0.304 0.441 0.312 96
Mark Teixeira 785 46 2 10.6% 24.1% 0.226 0.313 0.466 0.337 114
Starlin Castro 1013 28 9 4.4% 16.4% 0.271 0.309 0.411 0.313 96
Chase Headley 920 19 8 9.3% 22.4% 0.247 0.326 0.362 0.308 95
Didi Gregorius 763 18 8 5.5% 14.7% 0.259 0.307 0.393 0.306 90
Aaron Hicks 480 8 11 10.2% 17.1% 0.219 0.300 0.321 0.278 72
Dustin Ackley 667 23 6 6.9% 14.2% 0.246 0.298 0.426 0.315 103
Ronald Torreyes 36 0 0 8.3% 13.9% 0.344 0.400 0.500 0.388 150
Austin Romine 30 0 0 0.0% 26.7% 0.233 0.233 0.300 0.231 40

The Yankees have been more productive against right handed pitchers, hitting .241/.310/.399, .310 wOBA, 94 wRC+.

On the season Gardner (136 wRC+), McCann (136 wRC+), and Beltran (130 wRC+) have been their biggest threats. The fall off is pretty big after their top six batters.

Yankees Batters Last 3 Seasons vs Left Handed Pitchers:

Player PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Jacoby Ellsbury 426 8 19 7.3% 18.8% 0.276 0.339 0.404 0.327 107
Brett Gardner 446 6 6 9.2% 21.7% 0.256 0.337 0.352 0.311 95
Carlos Beltran 369 10 1 6.0% 20.3% 0.228 0.274 0.389 0.284 76
Alex Rodriguez 230 13 4 15.2% 24.3% 0.259 0.383 0.545 0.389 149
Brian McCann 319 15 0 6.9% 19.4% 0.256 0.320 0.453 0.338 114
Mark Teixeira 355 10 2 15.5% 14.4% 0.233 0.361 0.382 0.329 108
Starlin Castro 317 3 2 6.0% 18.0% 0.293 0.334 0.404 0.322 103
Chase Headley 402 8 2 8.0% 19.4% 0.251 0.318 0.366 0.305 92
Didi Gregorius 267 1 1 6.4% 16.1% 0.244 0.307 0.311 0.276 70
Aaron Hicks 240 6 6 12.9% 23.8% 0.269 0.363 0.399 0.338 114
Dustin Ackley 200 1 4 6.0% 23.0% 0.198 0.254 0.275 0.240 52
Ronald Torreyes 20 0 0 5.0% 15.0% 0.211 0.250 0.263 0.230 39
Austin Romine 35 1 0 5.7% 14.3% 0.281 0.324 0.500 0.343 118

The Yankees have really struggled against left handed pitchers as they have hit .232/.299/.352, .288 wOBA, 78 wRC+. The return of ARod is big for the Yankees as he can still crush lefties. He’s hit for a 151 wRC+ in a small 37 plate appearance sample this year.

Didi Gregorius (133 wRC+) and Starlin Castro (127 wRC+) have been their big threats against lefties along with Rodriguez. Teixeira (117 wRC+) has been effective against left handed batters even though he’s struggled against righties (32 wRC+).

Is this real life? Rays hitting better, Yankees pitching better.

It’s not often when the Yankees are talked about as a potential team to help your starting rotation get on track, but  that’s where we are in 2016.

Of course that was supposed to be true of the Athletics as well -- curse you Danny Valencia -- and the Yankees still   have a number of guys that can still hurt you.

The Rays pitchers need to focus on keeping runs off the board to give the offense a chance to do some work against the Yankee starters/middle relievers. They need to avoid falling behind early as the game could be over after six innings.