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Projecting the Rays-Yankees Deciding Game 5

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The ALDS comes down to this.

Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Rays and the Yankees have played their way to a decisive game five in the ALDS, and now both teams are set up to give this last game something approaching their best shot. JT Morgan ran down what that might look like for the Rays, with Tyler Glasnow starting on his bullpen day, Charlie Morton available for an inning just two days after his last start, and the Rays big three righties of Peter Fairbanks, Diego Castillo, and Nick Anderson all set to empty the tank.

On the Yankees side that likely means Gerrit Cole on short rest pitching as long as he can be effective, and then turning the game over to Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. Aaron Boone will hope there’s no gap between his starter and his relief aces, the Rays will try to make sure there is.

Given more time and skill, I’d build a projection system and sim this final game ten thousand times. Instead, let’s walk through it together with matchup projections, once.

The Numbers

I’ll be generating matchup projections from an implementation of the research on platoon split regression published in The Book, and then updated based on Bojan Koprivica’s work. Basically, it takes the observed career split for each player, regresses it towards the mean, spreads that regressed split around FanGraphs Depth Charts projection, and then combines the two into a single wOBA projection for the batter-pitcher matchup set in PetCo Park.

Those who have been around the site will recognize this methodology. I have made a few tweaks recently on the pitching side though, which has widened the difference between good pitchers and bad pitchers in the numbers.

First off, here’s what the projections for the available Rays pitchers look like. The first number is a wOBA projectin in PetCo park against an average right-handed or left-handed batter, while the percentage is a thing I call a “pitcher effect,” which is how much better that pitcher is expected to be as compared to an average pitcher of his same handedness.

The colors are spread around league average wOBA, which is currently .320.

The Stable

The Yankees lineup is stacked with powerful right-handed batters, which is convenient, because The Stable is made to shut down right-handed hitters. Note that the weakest number out of the big three is Diego Castillo, on account of his 3.72 ERA Depth Charts projection. I think a reasonable person can believe he’s better than that. A reasonable person could (should?) also believe that Aaron Loup is worse than his 3.63 ERA projection.

The biggest question will be about Charlie Morton. On the one hand, he’s an absolute, verified righty-killer. On the other hand he pitched five innings two days ago. Can he be CFM for one inning today?

On the Yankees side, there’s a similar question about Gerrit Cole. He’s arguably the best pitcher in the league right now, but he’ll be pitching on short rest, which is something he’s never done before. Can he be himself, and for how long?

Yankees Pitchers

The lefty relievers at the back-end of the Yankees bullpen are as good a pair as exists anywhere, but the good news for the Rays is that their third wheel, Chad Green, is probably unavailable except in an emergency, after pitching two innings yesterday and one the day before. That leaves Adam Ottavino and Jonathan Loaisiga as the likely options should the Yankees need to bridge some middle innings.

The Sim

For this thought experiment, I’m giving both teams their best options and assuming that everything goes right. I’m factoring in a modest ~2.5% times through the order penalty, and assuming that each pitcher will face exactly four batters each inning.

This is not the way it will turn out. Nothing ever goes all the way right. But it’s a framework to start with.

These pitchers are really really good, so the projections are really low. The highest wOBA number I’ve got on the sheet is .312 for Brandon Lowe vs Cole, third time through the order. That’s still below league average. In fact, Lowe is the only player on either team to crack a .300 wOBA projection in any single at bat, so we’re going to dispense with color coding with regard to average now (it would be nothing but varying shades of blue). All colors are relative to this single game of matchups.

Innings 1 and 2 - The Pirate Tears

As they have done so many times before, Cole and Glasnow will face each other in game one.

Innings one and two

The Yankees lineup runs better and deeper than the Rays, but Glasnow will have the platoon advantage in every matchup except for Gardner. And is Arozarena really a step back from those lefties in the third spot? Maybe Cole can throw him a fastball up on the outer third and we’ll see what happens.

Inning Three - CFM, or just CM?

The third inning shapes up to be a swing inning in this scenario. On the one side we have the top of the Rays lineup getting their second look at Cole, and if they want to push him out of the game early, they need to at least make him work here. On the other side, we have the Morton wildcard.

Inning three

With these bullpens it gets early late. The game could very easily be won or lost in this inning. I expect Kevin Cash to have both Anderson and Castillo warming here, but for our purposes we’ll say that Charlie Morton does his thing and strands DJLM on third after hitting him in the ribs with a sinker and then spiking two curves into the dirt.

Innings Four and Five - Stretching Cole

The spreadsheet sees this as the weakest pitching inning for the Rays, based on that aforementioned Castillo 3.72 ERA projection. The spreadsheet doesn’t know how Cole will pitch on short rest, and whether he will start to run out of gas here. There is danger for both sides in the middle innings.

Innings four and five

I’m going to say that Choi leads off the fourth with a solo home run, and that the Rays load the bases in the fifth before Lowe scorches a 98 mph grounder straight to Urshela for a inning-ending triple play.

1-0 Rays

Innings Six to Nine - The Backends

As we said, it gets late early late against both of these bullpens. In this scenario, Aaron Boone sends Cole out to start the inning, but once Cole walks Arozarena on four pitches there’s no way he’s facing his bugaboo for a second time. Cole out, Britton in. The Rays will pinch hit Brosseau for Wendle after Arozarena advances to second on a Margot chopper, but it will do no good.

On the Rays side, it’s the perfect spot for Fairbanks, who’s posted a reverse split this season and who the Rays have used with confidence against opposing lefties. He’ll give up a double on a line drive to the wall by Stanton, but strike out every other batter in the sixth in full counts.

Innings six to nine

It gets a little bit easier for Pete Fairbanks in the seventh inning, but, as a reminder that baseball gonna baseball, let’s say that Boone inexplicably doesn’t pinch hit for Kyle Higashioka, and then Higashioka ties the game with a blast onto the roof of the Western Metal Supply Company.

That sets up a tie game, and because this isn’t 1950, both managers will lean on their relief aces. By all rights these two should throw up zeroes, but karma is a powerful force in the universe. Mike Brosseau pulls a 101 mph fastball down the left-field line for a double, and a pinch-hitting Yandy Diaz (in Zunino’s spot) flares a liner into right to bring the go-ahead run home. Not pictured on the sheet here is Austin Meadows striking out to end the top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the inning, a visibly tiring Anderson works through Gardner before walking Gleyber Torres on four pitches. Both Snell and Loup start warming. After Urshela scorches a liner direct to a perfectly positioned fourth outfielder, the Yankees pinch hit slugger Mike Ford for Higashioka, in a totally obvious move that gets roundly panned by the national punditry. Only Loup is ready, and only Loup is what the Rays need.

Ballgame: 2-1 Rays

Of course it won’t go that way, but this is as reasonable a walkthrough as any. For your perusing pleasure, here’s the full make-believe game of projections.

Make believe is fun

The total Yankees projection is slightly above the Rays, with an average wOBA of .235 compared to the Rays .253, but both of these numbers are insanely low. If the pitchers on each team are physically able to be their normal self, this should be a pitching duel for the ages, and a game five worthy of a game seven.