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Rays Playoffs: How to beat the Yankees hitters

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MLB: JUL 24 Yankees at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The table below shows a home/away wRC+ split for the Yankees from 2019-2020.

There is usually not this much of a difference in home/away wRC+ splits, because it is adjusted to the park factor. Such a big difference means that there is something else. We can call it the “Short Porch Advantage.”

The Yankees have a lot of right-handed power hitter, so when teams try to avoid home runs when they face them at the Yankee Stadium they usually have pitchers throw the ball outside. It’s conventional wisdom.

However, Yankees hitters are good at making long balls into home runs by hitting the outside ball to the “Short Porch” behind the RF. Below table is a comparison of home/away results when Yankees RHBs hit a flyball to the RF.

You can see this difference with those clips.

The theme across these clips is simple: The ball that flew farther was an out, and the ball that flew shorter becomes an HR.

LeMahieu, Judge, Sanchez and Torres have a large home/away wRC+ difference in the table above. And they get great results when they hit flyballs to the RF at home, but they don’t get a good result at away games. This is an extreme difference that cannot be adjusted by a park factor.

And why not? What other hitting plan would you need if you hit a flyball to the RF and your AVG become over .400 and ISO become over 1.000?

Well, you’ll need one in PetCo Park...

The Rays New Approach

At the Yankees Stadium last year, Rays pitchers had also been victims of this advantage. Snell and Morton pitched many outside ball and almost zero inside-high fastball. The result was very bad.

Take for example these two outings from Rays starters in 2019:

But this year’s approach was different. Snell and Glasnow coaxed the Yankees hitters into different results by throwing high-inside fastballs more frequently.

I think the bean ball controversy between them is almost in the same vein. Rays pitchers have to throw that ball despite Yankee protestations and chirpings.

The Yanks had nothing to hit to right field, and they went 2-8 vs the Rays this year as a result. No wonder they were so upset!

A Playoff game at Petco Park

But, what about the playoffs? It is reasonable for the Yankees to think that they already know that the Rays make good use of the high-inside fastball and will prepare for it.

The Petco Park also has a small porch behind RF, but it’s a very different stadium from the Yankees Stadium, where a FB to the RF scores wRC+ 203.

So, can Rays pitchers pitch outside again? Or should they stick to the old success strategy?

I think this is different for each pitcher. Let’s look at the heat map of four key pitchers of the Rays:

I think Morton and Glasnow can increase the outside pitch against a RHB. This is partly because the results are not great when they throw a high-inside fastball, so I’d recommend that the high fastball should be pitched out of the zone to induce an empty swing. The Yankees will focus that pitch considering the Rays pitching strategy in this year, so you might as well ensure the expected pitch is something they can’t work with.

But the Rays should also be careful. If you throw an high-inside strikeout pitch outside the zone, I think this strategy could not only embarrass Yankee hitters but intimidate them even more. In which case, Brosseau may have to be prepared for another surprise...