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The Rays high fastballs and the mighty Dodgers lineup

How will they match up?

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

This was where my mind went when Correa hit a walk-off home run against Nick Anderson’s high fastball. I think a lot of Rays fans went to this place.

I tweeted in anger; this was a stupid tweet.

Sometimes the Rays have given up home runs, but at the same time, the high fastball strategy of the Rays is very effective. The Rays throw a high fastball to get strikeouts and make easy flyouts for their good outfield defense. It is one of the reasons for the Rays’ success.

But for the final two games of the ALCS, the Rays too thought they needed to make an adjustment away from their high fastball strategy. In game six, Blake Snell instead worked the bottom of the zone. Charlie Morton lives there naturally.

Now against the Dodgers, the team that hit the most home runs in the Major League this year and 16 home runs in seven games in the NLCS, should the Rays go back to their high fastball strategy? Should they be more careful now?

Let’s look at the data.

Reviewing the NLCS

Let’s look at the pitching charts of the Braves three best pitchers in the NLCS.

They threw many high fastballs and had success against the Dodgers. These are pitchers with good velocity and some kind of movement. They allowed only three hits and one home run in 13 innings. The Braves won two of the three games.

Expanding the scope of investigation to look at every ball Atlanta threw to the Dodgers in the NLCS, there were a total of 192 four-seam fastballs with speeds at or above 95 mph.

The 192 results are as follows: 25 ball-in-plays; 32 swinging strikes; 33 called strikes. For a sense of what these numbers look like on a baseball field, look at the comparison below.

Data from FanGraphs

Just as the Rays did nothing against Framber Valdez, Dodgers hitters were lethargic against hard heaters. We’re not looking specifically at fastball location here, but even if the Rays pitchers can’t throw the ball quite where they mean to, the chances of paying for that mistake don’t seem disproportionately high.

Moreover, the Rays have more pitchers who can throw a good fastball than the Braves had.

Data from FanGraphs

I believe these Rays pitchers are better suited to deal with their opponents with a high fastball than the Braves pitchers are. Among them, there are two starters (Snell and Glasnow) who could make four appearances as a starter in the series, and five key bullpen players. And don’t forgot Morton. While he leans more on his sinker, he can throw a high four-seam well, too.

Which Dodgers to attack high?

But it’s probably not the right approach to throw a high ball against every batter too frequently. Let’s take a look at a few Dodgers batters’ AVG/P heatmap against four-seam fastball and Cutter in the 2019-2020 season.

FanGraphs

These four above are the batters against which the Rays will be especially served by throwing high fastballs against: Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Will Smith and Chris Taylor. Smith and Betts are generally weak on the pitch, while Bellinger has struggled on the inside high fastball, Taylor on the outside high fastball ball.

FanGraphs

It is less good to throw too many fastballs to Corey Seager, Max Muncy, Joc Pedrson and Justin Turner. The strategy against Pederson and Seager should be to match them up with a left-handed pitcher whenever possible, and let that pitcher work the way he’s most comfortable. Against lefties they become below-average hitters.

Muncy and Turner? That is a harder question. Against Muncy there is room to work high on the edges but danger in the middle. Against Turner there is nowhere clear to pitch. I am sure Rays know better than me.

Pitchers should set strategies slightly differently for each batter, but overall, a high fastball ball will be a big challenge for the Dodgers.

Conclusion

If Max Muncy takes Blake Snell long in the first inning of game two, I may make another angry, stupid tweet. But, let’s think of a home runs as a kind of tax. You shouldn’t be afraid to make a profit out of fear of a tax.

The Rays have done this well against the Yankees and Houston. And I believe they can bravely throw a high ball in the World Series, too. Then we will see these scenes more often.