Key to Game One: Keeping Adam Jones in check

2013 Draft: Yankees will pick 29th overall
Girardi Presser Notes: Rotation & Roster
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Yankees and Orioles will open their best-of-five ALDS matchup tomorrow night in Camden Yards, which will be the first playoff game in the ballpark since 1997. The two teams split the season series 9-9 with the O’s scoring two more runs overall (92-90). They finished two games apart in the standings and were locked in a tight division race right down to the final game of the season. It should be a blowout on paper, but Baltimore has continued to exceed expectations all summer.

When the series opens Sunday night, left-hander CC Sabathia will be on the mound for the Yankees. It’s unclear who the opposing starter will be at the moment, but we’ll find out soon enough. Sabathia closed the regular season out with three dominant starts, allowing four runs total on 13 hits and four walks in 24 innings while striking out 28. He went exactly eight innings in all three starts. Sabathia made just three starts against Baltimore this season, allowing four runs in six innings twice (once in April, once in May) and five runs in 6.1 innings once (in September). He has dominated the Orioles throughout his career, pitching to a 3.12 ERA (~3.40 FIP) in 25 starts and 176 innings. These aren’t your older brother’s Orioles anymore though.

One of the biggest keys to Game One for Sabathia and the Yankees is stopping Adam Jones, Baltimore’s 32-homer center fielder. Stopping the other team’s best player is like, Captain Obvious stuff, but this is a little deeper than that. Jones is one of just six active players with at least 30 career plate appearances and an OPS over 1.000 against Sabathia, so he’s given him some problems in recent years. One of the remaining five players in Sabathia’s teammate, and only one other is on a postseason team…

Evan Longoria 50 14 3 0 5 9 10 3 .359 .500 .821 1.321 4 1 5
Alfonso Soriano 46 13 2 0 6 10 6 9 .333 .435 .846 1.281 1 1 0
Kevin Youkilis 46 14 3 2 2 5 7 8 .368 .478 .711 1.189 0 1 3
Miguel Cabrera 38 10 2 0 2 12 8 4 .357 .474 .643 1.117 3 0 2
Adam Jones 45 14 2 1 3 10 4 6 .341 .400 .659 1.059 0 0 1
Derek Jeter 31 13 3 0 0 2 2 4 .448 .484 .552 1.036 0 0 0
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/6/2012.

Those three homers have come in each of the last three years. Jones took Sabathia deep this past May (solo shot in a 1-0 count), last April (three-run shot in a 2-1 count), and two Junes ago (solo shot in a 0-1 count). Notice the strikeout and walks totals, just six whiffs (13.3%) and four free passes (8.9%). They’re far better than Jones’ career rates (19.3 K% and 4.8 BB%) in the admittedly tiny sample size. Let’s take a look at a strike zone breakdown of where the Baltimore center fielder does his damage and where he struggles against southpaws, courtesy of Joe Lefkowitz’s site

You can click the link for a larger view, but the gist of it is that Jones murders fastballs on the inner half and up in the zone. Catch too much of the plate with an offspeed pitch and he’ll crush that too, though most big league hitters will make pitchers pay for a hanger. The Baseball Prospectus Matchup Page shows us how Sabathia has pitched Jones in their 45 career matchups, and it’s pretty basic Sabathia stuff. Sliders down-and-in, changeups down-and-away, fastballs to both sides of the plate.

Given Jones’ strengths within the strike zone, Sabathia and the Yankees are better off pounding him away with fastballs before coming down-and-in with the slider (or burying a changeup). His spray chart against lefties over the last two years (via Texas Leaguers) suggests that Jones will reach out and poke outside pitches to right for a base hit, but he doesn’t hit for much power to the opposite field…

That career walk rate I mentioned earlier (4.8%) is an indication that Jones is not the most patient of hitters. Even this year, the best year of his career (to date), his walk rate was just 4.9%. Jones will help pitchers get him out, and in fact he’s swung at 40.4% of the pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone in each of the last two seasons. That’s the fourth highest rate in the game among qualified hitters, behind noted hackers Vlad Guerrero, Delmon Young, and A.J. Pierzynski. He will get himself out at times, but Jones isn’t an idiot. He’ll sit on the pitch if the Yankees keep throwing fastballs away, so expanding the zone and intentionally throwing some off the plate, especially later in the count, will be important.

Outside of Jones, two of the Orioles most productive hitters in the last month are left-handed — Chris Davis (190 wRC+) and Nate McLouth (125 wRC+). Sabathia should be able to handle both guys thanks to the left-on-left matchup and his vicious slider, but stopping Jones (and switch-hitter Matt Wieters for that matter) won’t be so simple. Sabathia has had some trouble with him throughout his career, and Jones’ tendencies suggest that staying away with the fastball before coming inside with the slider is the way to approach him tomorrow night. Much easier said than done obviously, location will be very important.

2013 Draft: Yankees will pick 29th overall
Girardi Presser Notes: Rotation & Roster
  • Steve (different one)

    Jones is good, but I feel like it was written into the CBA that JJ hardy must homer once per game against the Yankees.

    • Joe F

      And Reynolds twice a game.

      • Jose M. Vazquez

        I aqgree with Steve and Joe F above. It seems that those two are the ones to be feared most by Yankee pitchers. It is true that Reynolds strikes out a lot but it seems that it’s not the case against us.

  • The Moral Majority is Neither

    I still can’t accept that this Oriole team is any good.

    Even after an entire season.

    • Rich in NJ

      They’re good. The question is are they good enough. Probably not.

  • vnymfk

    Nice work mike

    • Joe F

      Agreed. I can only imagine the time and effort put into this single post.

      I speak on the behalf of the RAB readers when I say that we all appreciate what you do.

      • Jose M. Vazquez

        Second that!

  • Sly Robbie

    Pardon for going off-topic a wee bit, but I had been flirting with the idea of catching one of the games down in Baltimore. Giving Stub Hub a check, I noticed something entirely weird — Standing Room Only tickets (the cheapest ones) were just shy of $100. Upper deck and Bleacher seats for game 3 at Yankee Stadium were like $49! On average its twice as more expensive to watch a playoff game in Charm City than it is to go to the supposedly “prohibitively high priced” New Yankee Stadium.

    Somehow, though, I don’t think that will stop the media (read: N-ESPN) and the anti-Yankees elements out there from regurgitating such a meme.

    Then again, pricing might soar if there ends up being a Game 4 (or, heaven forbid) a Game 5.

    Back on topic, I agree that the Yankee pitching staff is going to have to be vigilant against Jonesy. I am going to display my old-school ignorance here (sabre-stats and WAR and such make my head spin), but I have a feeling that Nate McLouth is going to be primed for a big series. Mike’s stat shout-out in the post seems to back this up, and the gut-feeling quotient of this long-timer predicts that McLouth has a lot of pent-up post-season pounding to do now that he has been liberated from Baseball Purgatory, a.k.a. Pittsburgh.


    • Sweet Dick Willie

      I have a feeling that Nate McLouth is going to be primed for a big series

      Been listening to Franceser, have you?

      • Sly Robbie

        Been listening to Franceser, have you?

        Ouch! Big Blowhard actually said that too?! Man, do I feel like an idiot now. I haven’t tuned into Fatso and Frootloops for years, except of course when Francesca’s more notorious fool moments show up on blogs or YouTube.

        Sadly, though, I can’t back away from the comment. I feel for McLouth, having been one of the few bright spots on some really lousy Pirates teams over the years. This season, when the boys from Steel City finally start displaying some relevance, Nate got kicked to the curb. I’m not saying he’s magically going to turn into a superstar or a post-season sensation a`la Bernie Williams, but he strikes me as the type of player that would make the most of his first taste of “real” October baseball, at least for a short series. Ditto for Ichiro.

        But knowing that Francesca and I are in agreement about something… That sorta ruins my whole evening.


        • Sweet Dick Willie

          Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin your evening.

          I don’t know if he said it recently, because like you, I haven’t listened to him in a long time.

          I just remember a few years ago he was saying the Yanks should trade for him, making him sound like a super star.

  • Dykstradamus

    Ten predictions for the upcoming series:

    1) The series will go 5 games.
    2) The Yanks will win 1 in a blow out.
    3) The Orioles will win 2 by one run.
    4) Hughes will pitch lights out.
    5) Pettitte will pitch lights out.
    6) Manny Machado will become a household name.
    7) The Yankees will strand 1000 guys on base.

    I know it’s just 7, I’m Dykstradamus, I see the future, but I’m not too good with numbers.

    • Captain_Turbo

      Re: #7 — I think you’re under

  • your mom

    Adam Jones reminds me of Jamie Foxx.

  • LarryM., Fl.

    Mike, I appreciate your efforts with the blog.

    As far as the series. I wanted to play Orioles. The first part is complete. I don’t make a prediction on the total amount of games needed to advance. As long as we advance.

    The Yankees are healthier. The rotation will be pinpointed to our best 3 starters. It should do well. They will give up runs but our lineup is deep for the first time this year. Ichiro makes up for Gardner not be able to start. Defensively the team is more than adequate. If they just hit to their BA’s during the regular season, I’ll be happy.

    Baltimore IMHO have been overachieving and its time for good pitching to stop their bats. I look for Showalter to push the envelope when he senses the birds not being very offensive and play aggressive small ball to score runs. The games should be nail biters but I believe we will come out on top. It is AL East. We beat the hell out of each other during the regular season then we get to play them again in the playoffs.

  • Monterowasnotdinero

    With a man on 3rd in a close game, Adam Jones can lay down a bunt (for an rbi) on CC or Andy and an aging Arod playing deep.

    Watch for this play.

    It has happened before. I was there and am partially at fault for it (modestly said).