Matt Holliday doesn’t have a clear role in the ALDS

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

All but five players on the Yankees’ 25-man ALDS roster have played in this series.

Two of the five are the Game 3 and 4 starters, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, who will each pitch if the series gets to Monday. One is Jordan Montgomery, the break in case of emergency reliever or blowout mop-up man. Another is Austin Romine, the backup catcher.

And then there’s Matt Holliday. What’s his role again? That’s a good question.

Holliday is no longer the designated hitter. That much is clear. The Yankees have flipped between Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley at DH for the last week except during last Sunday’s meaningless game vs. the Jays. While starting Ellsbury at DH means no true backup outfielder, Joe Girardi has gone with him anyway.

Now 37-years-old, Holliday hasn’t played the outfield all year and there’s obviously no way he’s starting ahead of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks or Aaron Judge. It’s highly doubtful the team feels comfortable with him playing the field, even at first base, which he played a few times early in the year. Greg Bird is the man at first, with Headley and Todd Frazier likely ahead of Holliday in the pecking order.

So where does Holliday fit in? In theory, he makes most sense pinch hitting (or starting) against left-handed pitching. He has normal splits, batting .220/.301/.418 (89 wRC+) vs. RHP and .267/.366/.477 (125 wRC+) vs. LHP.

The Indians have a rotation with 4-6 righties and no lefties. That means no starts.

So that leaves him as logically only worth pinch hitting against the two lefties on the Indians’ roster: former Yankees Andrew Miller and Tyler Olson. Olson pitched to only Ellsbury, Frazier and Gardner in the third/fourth inning on Friday, too early to go to a pinch hitter for Ellsbury.

Miller has pitched against the DH twice in this series. In the eighth inning on Thursday, Girardi kept Headley up there with none on and one out (he drew a walk). With Ellsbury coming up and none on, two outs in the eighth on Friday, Girardi pinch hit … Headley, not Holliday.

So in the most logical spot to use Holliday, Girardi chose Headley instead. It’s hard to quibble with the decision, too. Headley had walked vs. Miller the day before and was 5 for 7 with that walk against Miller in his career going into Friday night. Those numbers are hard to argue with.

That’s before you mention that Holliday is 0-for-4 vs. Miller and 0-for-1 vs. Olson in his career. He’s just 1-for-7 as a pinch hitter this year, 9-for-43 in his career. He doesn’t seem well-suited for the job he ostensibly fills.

So I repeat: What is his role on this roster? The Yankees could have used another pinch runner or an extra outfielder, which Tyler Wade or Clint Frazier could provide. They have DH covered. They aren’t facing many LHPs and Miller pitches well against both lefties and righties.

After being unable to play in National League parks early in the year, Holliday ironically makes the most sense in a series against an NL squad where pinch-hitting opportunities abound and all four playoff squads feature left-handed starters.

When asked on Saturday whether Holliday would play on Sunday, Girardi said, “We will continue to look at things and we’ll see.” He’s 1-for-4 with a single against Carlos Carrasco in his career, which is better than Headley’s numbers against the Indians’ starter. However, Ellsbury hits him well (8-for-21 with a triple, home run and two walks), so he makes the most sense to start.

And that likely leaves Holliday waiting on the bench once again, the 25th man on the 25-man roster. Maybe he finds his way into this series, facing Olson at an opportune time or being used to deke Terry Francona away from even going to the lefty. However, it seems like the Yankees could have put the spot to better use than a RHB without a clear position or role.

With the season on the line, the Yankees have to be ready to use Severino in relief in Game Three

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

For the second time in five days, the Yankees will play a win or go home game at Yankee Stadium tomorrow night, in Game Three of the ALDS. It didn’t have to be a win or go home. The Yankees blew an 8-3 lead in Game Two last night, with Joe Girardi‘s non-challenge of the Lonnie Chisenhall would-be inning-ending foul tip strike three dominating headlines, and rightfully so. It was a bad, bad decision.

The task ahead is extremely daunting. To advance to the ALCS, the Yankees have to beat the Indians three straight games, and this is an Indians team that a) has not lost three straight games since July, and b) has lost only four of their last 39 games overall. Rough. You have to win one before you can win three though, and tomorrow night the Yankees will try to win that one.

And, given their current situation — a loss tomorrow ends a season that has been so fun no one wants it to end — Girardi and the Yankees need to be prepared to do basically whatever it takes to win, and that includes using Luis Severino in relief. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The bullpen is gassed. A bullpen game in the Wild Card Game sounds great until your top relievers are running on fumes in the ALDS. Chad Green looked worn down yesterday and David Robertson has to be feeling it after throwing 77 high stress pitches the last four days. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman both went multiple innings in Game Two as well.
  2. He might not pitch in the series otherwise. If the Yankees do not use Severino in relief in Game Three, it is entirely possible they lose the ALDS without their best pitcher throwing a single pitch. That can’t happen. He is one of the team’s best weapons and he has to be used, especially with the season on the line.

So, what’s the plan here, exactly? Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled start Game Three tomorrow, and I’d say the plan should be Tanaka for as long as possible, Severino out of the bullpen for as long as possible, then hopefully Chapman to close it out. If the Yankees have to use other relievers somewhere along the line, so be it. Severino has bullpen experience. We know he can do it, and he’d be on normal rest tomorrow following his short Wild Card Game start.

The alternative here would be simply starting Severino in Game Three tomorrow, and hey, that’s a great idea. Like I said, he’d be on normal rest, so that’s not a problem. My concern here is that it doesn’t help the bullpen at all. Tanaka does have some bullpen experience — he closed out Game Seven of the 2013 Japan Series, and also pitched in relief early in his career — though it has been a while, and besides, do you want him doing that given The Elbow™?

I think starting Tanaka and letting Severino be the first guy out of the bullpen gives the Yankees the best chance to win Game Three tomorrow, at least on the pitching side of things. It’s unclear how much Green and Robertson (and Betances and Chapman) can provide right now. It might not be much based on last night. So, the options are a) continue to ride those fatigued relievers, b) rely on lesser relievers, or c) use Severino in relief. Give me (c).

If the Yankees use Severino in relief tomorrow and actually win, they’d then need to come up with a starter for Game Four on Monday, and that’s a bridge you cross when you come to it. Maybe Jordan Montgomery gets the ball? Or Jaime Garcia following his solid relief work in Game One? Sonny Gray on short rest could be an option. I hope this is a decision the Yankees have to make, because that means the season will not have ended tomorrow.

The Yankees right now have to treat every game like a Game Seven, because it is a Game Seven. One more loss and they’re going home for the winter. And in Game Seven, using Severino in relief — Girardi said Severino was available yesterday had the game gone deep into extra innings — is such an obvious move. He gives you the best chance to win. With their bullpen gassed and their season on the line, using Severino out of the bullpen tomorrow is a no-brainer.

Indians 9, Yankees 8: Yanks grab defeat from jaws of victory in Game Two of ALDS

I don’t even know what to say. A litany of mistakes turned an 8-3 lead into a disastrous 9-8 loss in 13 innings Friday night, putting a Yankees on the brink of elimination in the ALDS. There are no excuses for this one and plenty of blame to go around, and no one deserves more blame than Joe Girardi.


Sometimes Indecision Is Worse Than A Bad Decision
This game turned in the sixth inning. I’ll get to everything that happened before the sixth and after the sixth in a little bit, but right now, let’s focus on the sixth. The Yankees took an 8-3 lead into that sixth inning and CC Sabathia was cruising. He’d retired 11 straight batters before walking Carlos Santana on four pitches to start the frame. Jay Bruce lined out softy to Didi Gregorius at shortstop and that was it, Sabathia’s evening was over.

Personally, I was totally cool with removing Sabathia, even after only 5.1 innings and 77 pitches. We’ve seen Sabathia have trouble this season once his pitch count gets over 80-85, so going to a fresh Chad Green in a very important postseason game was a-okay with me. I just didn’t expect Green to be less than dominant. He looked pretty fatigued. Following an Austin Jackson fly out and a Yan Gomes double, Green hit Lonnie Chisenhall in the hand with a two-strike fastball. It is maybe the single biggest play of the season.

Immediately, Gary Sanchez pointed to the dugout telling the coaching staff to ask for a review because the pitch did not actually hit Chisenhall in the hand. It hit the knob of the bat and deflected into Sanchez’s glove. That’s a foul tip! That’s strike three! The inning was over! Sanchez was telling the Yankees to challenge … and the challenge never came. Chisenhall went down to first and everyone looked at each other for a moment, but no challenge. Here’s the play:

I am going to repeat this: the ball hit the knob of the bat and deflected into Sanchez’s glove for an inning-ending foul tip strike three. That’s what the Yankees had to gain there. The third out of the inning with two men on base to preserve their 8-3 lead through six innings. Inexplicably, the play was not challenged, and two pitches later Francisco Lindor walloped a grand slam off the right field foul pole. That 8-3 lead was suddenly an 8-7 lead. Some numbers:

  • Yankees win probability had strike three been called: 97.3%
  • Yankees win probability after the hit-by-pitch to load the bases: 93.2%
  • Yankees win probability after the grand slam: 68.4%

The difference between a strike three and the grand slam was roughly 30 percentage points of win probability, which is massive. That’s on par with the biggest non-walk-off hits in baseball each season. Green was having trouble putting hitters away and did not look very good — he’d warmed up three times since the second inning, which probably didn’t help — and eventually put a yucky slider on a tee for Lindor.

We have to go back to the non-challenge though. I’ve been harping on this for years. Girardi does not use his challenges enough. He has a great success rate year after year, but he also challenges fewer plays than just about every other manager, and that feels like a giant waste. Furthermore, you get two challenges in the postseason, not one. And Girardi still did not use one. Did I mention it would’ve been an inning-ending strike three? Because it would’ve been an inning-ending strike three.

I don’t blame home plate umpire Dan Iassogna for calling that a hit-by-pitch. It happens so fast I think it’s easy to understand why you’d call it a hit-by-pitch. But it wasn’t, and plays like that are why replay exists. There was nothing Girardi could’ve said after the game to make things better. He instead somehow made them worse. Here’s the video, if you want to watch. Here’s what Girardi said about the non-challenge:

“There was nothing that told us he was not hit on the pitch. By the time we got the super slo-mo, we were a minute — probably beyond a minute — and it was way too late. They tell us we have 30 seconds … Being (an ex-catcher), my thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm. That’s how I think about it.”

I … uh … what? First of all, your catcher was telling you the batter was not hit by the pitch. Maybe Girardi would’ve listened if Austin Romine was behind the plate? If you’re not going to trust your starting catcher on a potentially huge play like that, it’s a big problem. Secondly, Chisenhall sure as heck did not react like a hitter who just a took pitch the hand, and that was an indication something was up. Pitches to the hand hurt. Girardi should know that. Chisenhall is either the toughest dude in history or he didn’t get hit.

And third, holy crap the “I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm” stuff is unbelievable. What a joke. Girardi had no problem breaking Aroldis Chapman‘s rhythm in the tenth inning when a ball may or may not have been thrown into the camera well. He had no problem with the endless parade of mound visits we saw this summer breaking his pitcher’s rhythm. Something tells me Green would have been totally cool with sitting in the dugout with a five-run lead having his rhythm broken had the call be challenged and overturned.

That to me sounds like a manager who screwed up, knows he screwed up, and doesn’t want to admit he screwed up, so he came up with that ridiculous excuse. Where is the accountability? Aaron Judge struck out in a record 30-whatever straight games this year and answered every question, took all the blame after each game. Tyler Clippard coughed up how many games this year? He took responsibility for all of them. The manager completely botches a challenge situation in the postseason and we get “I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm” as an answer? Seriously?

Even if Girardi challenges and the replay crew in New York doesn’t overturn the call, fine, who cares? You did all you could do. A play that enormous can not go unchallenged. Just challenge it. Don’t wait for the thumbs up from replay guru Brett Weber. It’s the sixth inning and possibly the last best chance for the Indians to get back in the game. It was inexplicable and a complete failure on Girardi’s part. This was his Buck Showalter/Zach Britton moment. He will never escape it. It is part of his legacy. The decision — indecision, really — flew in the face of common sense, it cost the Yankees dearly, and Girardi wouldn’t even accept responsibility. Awful. Absolutely awful.


Breaking Down The Klubot
Okay, let’s get to the rest of the game. Who had the Yankees scoring six runs in 2.2 innings against Corey Kluber? Not me. That’s for sure. Most runs he’s allowed this season. True story. Right in the very first inning it was clear Kluber was not the usual F.U. mode Corey Kluber. He walked Judge and gave up a two-run home run to Sanchez to give the Yankees a quick 2-0 lead. Hooray!

The best part: the Yankees continued to work Kluber after the homer. By time Aaron Hicks struck out to end the first inning, they’d forced Kluber to throw 38 — 38! — pitches. Kluber hadn’t thrown 30 pitches in an inning since July 9th, in his final start of the first half. Couldn’t have asked for a better start. Two innings later, Starlin Castro poked a two-strike single back up the middle to give the Yankees their third run, and two batters after that, Hicks crushed a three-run home run to right field. Look at this thing:

Given the stakes and the pitcher, it is one of my all-time favorite home runs. Kluber just could not get the third out of that third inning and Hicks made him pay big time on that hanging slider. Two innings after that, Greg Bird demolished a two-run home run against Mike Clevinger to stretch New York’s lead to 8-3. Eight runs through five innings in a game Kluber started? We all would’ve taken that in a heartbeat. More than anyone expected.

Sabathia Grinds It Out
Man do I love Sabathia. His defense does not, apparently. Right after the Yankees took that 2-0 lead in the top of the first, they gave it right back with a gift-wrapped rally. Todd Frazier made an error on Lindor’s ground ball — he tried to ole it and missed — Sabathia walked Jose Ramirez on four pitches, then Sabathia hit Edwin Encarnacion in the knee with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Suboptimal! Carlos Santana tied the game with a two-run single.

Austin Jackson opened the second inning with a single, then Frazier committed his second error of the game when his throw to second base on Gomes’ potential 5-4-3 double play short-hopped Castro at second. Castro couldn’t make the pick and both runners were safe. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners up, then the Yankees a) intentionally walked Lindor to load the bases, and b) brought the infield in. Why set up the double play with the intentional walk only to bring the infield in? I do not understand. Jason Kipnis poked a single threw the drawn in infield for a 3-2 lead. Sigh.

Had the Yankees gone on to win this game, I was all ready to write that Sabathia’s escape job in the second inning as the biggest moment of the game. The Yankees were down 3-2 and the Indians had the bases loaded with one out. Sabathia managed to get Ramirez to pop-up in foul territory and Michael Brantley to strike out to end the inning, limiting the damage. That was huge. Ramirez and Brantley were the first two batters of an eleven straight batters retired stretch.

Sabathia’s final line: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Frazier did him no favors with the two errors and Green allowed the runner he inherited from Sabathia to score as well. Like I said, I was cool with pulling Sabathia after 5.1 innings and 77 pitches. I just didn’t expect Green to come in and not be able to put guys away. He allowed nine two-strike foul balls to the four batters he faced. That’s not the Chad Green we saw all season.


Blowing The Rest Of The Game
The non-challenge and grand slam were terrible, BUT, the Yankees still had the lead. It was 8-7 and the Yankees needed some combination of nine outs from David Robertson — Robertson replaced Green after the grand slam — and other relievers to earn the win in Game Two. Easy? No, not against the Indians. But doable.

Robertson mowed through the middle of the order in the seventh inning, then, despite Girardi saying he might not be available at all following his extended outing in the Wild Card Game, Robertson went back out for the eighth inning as well. He then gave up the game-tying solo home run to Bruce. Remember when the Yankees didn’t claim him on trade waivers or agree to take on his salary at the trade deadline? Think they regret that one? They should.

The Bruce home run tied the game 8-8. It was pretty crushing. Tommy Kahnle came in to finish off the eighth inning, and in the ninth, out came Chapman. He threw a scoreless ninth and tenth inning. So, just to circle back, Chapman could throw two innings in a tie game but not two innings with a one-run lead. Why not just use him to start the eighth instead of a fatigued Robertson? What the hell is going on here? I can’t be the only one who thinks this makes no sense.

While the bullpen did its thing, the offense was busy doing not much of anything. They had five baserunners in 8.2 innings after Bird’s dinger. Frazier led off the sixth with a single, then Gardner banged into a double play. Frazier led off the eighth with a single, Gardner bunted him up, but Judge grounded out and Sanchez struck out. Bird drew a walk and Hicks singled to put men on the corners with two outs in the tenth, then Chase Headley grounded out.

Worst of all, Frazier reached base again leading off the 11th, this time when third baseman Erik Gonzalez threw away a routine ground ball. Threw it way over Santana at first base and into the stands, allowing Frazier to advance to second base. Pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes then ventured too far off the bag and was picked off by Gomes from behind the plate. Brutal. Just brutal. Torreyes was originally called safe before the play was overturned.

A potential rally was snuffed out just like that. The Yankees never had another baserunner. Meanwhile, on the mound, Dellin Betances was throwing fire for the second straight night. Six up, six down in the 11th and 12th. As good as Betances has looked all season. Girardi decided to send Dellin back out for a third inning, which is when things went south. Jackson worked a leadoff walk, stole second, then scored on Gomes’ walk-off double down the third base line to end the game. Betances gets saddled with the loss but doesn’t deserve it. That game was lost long before he took the mound.

The Yankees had eleven hits and somehow they were all tied up in five players. Two hits for Sanchez, two hits for Castro, two hits for Bird, two hits for Hicks, and three hits for Frazier. All other Yankees went 0-for-20. Judge did draw three walks though. Gregorius drew one and Bird had one as well. Eight runs should be enough. More than enough. I mean, six innings in 2.2 innings against Kluber and lose? Turrible.

Green was charged with three runs in one-third of an inning. Robertson, Kahnle, Chapman, and Betances then combined to allow two runs in 6.2 innings, which isn’t bad in the grand scheme of things, they just happened to be two back-breaking runs. The Bruce game-tying homer and the Gomes walk-off double. Well, technically it was scored a single, but it would’ve been a double under normal circumstances.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head over to ESPN for the box score and for the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the loss probability graph …

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The ALDS now shifts from Cleveland to New York, where the Yankees have been a much better team in 2017. Hopefully that trend continues in Game Three. It kinda has to. This season has been fun as hell and I’m not ready for it to end. Saturday is a travel day and the series will resume Sunday night. Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Carrasco are the Game Three scheduled starting pitchers. The Indians, in case you’re wondering, have not lost three consecutive games since June.

2017 ALDS Game Two: Yankees at Indians

2017-alds-logoGame One of the ALDS did not go particularly well for the Yankees last night. They were completely flummoxed by Trevor Bauer and held to three hits and three walks in the shutout loss. That means the Yankees have to win three of the next four games against the best team in the AL (and MLB?) to advance to the ALCS. Daunting!

HowEVA, I like to be optimistic, so let’s highlight some positives today. A few:

  • Sonny Gray stunk and the Plan B relievers pitched, and the Yankees still held a very good offense to only four runs and five hits last night.
  • Chad Green and David Robertson will be available today, and with an off-day tomorrow, both should be available for multiple innings.
  • In 12 starts following a loss this season, CC Sabathia had a 1.71 ERA and the Yankees went 11-1. The big man is still a stopper.

All true! As is the fact Corey Kluber starts for the Indians today, and that’s kinda scary. He’s sooo good. The Yankees are going to have their hands full with this one. I think the goal in the first two games of any series on the road is to earn a split, and if the Yankees are going to earn that split, they’ll really have to earn it against Kluber. Here are the starting lineups:

New York Yankees
1. LF Brett Gardner
2. RF Aaron Judge
3. C Gary Sanchez
4. SS Didi Gregorius
5. 2B Starlin Castro
6. 1B Greg Bird
7. CF Aaron Hicks
8. DH Jacoby Ellsbury
9. 3B Todd Frazier
LHP CC Sabathia

Cleveland Indians
1. SS Francisco Lindor
2. CF Jason Kipnis
3. 2B Jose Ramirez
4. DH Edwin Encarnacion
5. RF Jay Bruce
6. 1B Carlos Santana
7. LF Austin Jackson
8. C Yan Gomes
9. 3B Giovanny Urshela
RHP Corey Kluber

The heaviest rain has stopped and we will have baseball in Cleveland today, as scheduled. It’s not the best baseball weather, but it’s playable and that’s all that matters. Game Two begins at 5pm ET and MLB Network has the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Scouting Game Two of the ALDS: Corey Kluber

(Mark Brown/Getty)
(Mark Brown/Getty)

Three days ago, when Indians manager Terry Francona announced Corey Kluber would start Game Two of the ALDS rather than Game One, it seemed … questionable. Kluber is arguably the best pitcher in the league and you’d think they’d want to go with their best to start the series to try to get a quick lead. Instead, Trevor Bauer got the ball so Kluber could start Game Two and potentially Game Five on normal rest.

Now, following Game One, that move looks genius. Bauer was masterful in Game One last night, holding the Yankees to two hits in 6.2 innings, and the Indians now have a shot to take a two games to none series lead with Kluber on the mound this afternoon. The Yankees are in trouble. There’s no sugarcoating it. Kluber threw 203.2 innings with a 2.25 ERA (2.50 FIP) and hysterical strikeout (34.1%) and walk (4.6%) rates during the regular season. He’s a monster.

Of course, Kluber can be beat. He took four losses during the regular season and 13 times in his 29 starts he exited the game with the score tied or the Indians trailing. On three other occasions the Indians had a one-run lead when Kluber was pulled. Those are winnable games! The Yankees are probably going to need to employ the old Pedro Martinez strategy to win tonight — wait out Kluber and beat the bullpen. Let’s look at the Indians’ ace.

History Against The Yankees

Tonight will be Kluber’s eighth career start against the Yankees, and in those eight starts he has a 1.80 ERA (2.60 FIP) with a .185/.225/.326 batting line against in 50 innings. That includes two starts this season, in which he allowed three runs in 17 total innings. Kluber has thoroughly dominated the Yankees in his career.

Players currently on the Yankees’ ALDS roster have hit a combined .155/.204/.250 with a 28.0% strikeout rate in 157 career plate appearances against Kluber. That dates all the way back to his rookie season in 2011, however, before he went from Corey Kluber to Corey effin’ Kluber. Here’s how the Yankees have fared against Kluber the last three seasons, via Baseball Reference:

Todd Frazier 24 22 3 0 0 0 2 2 8 .136 .208 .136 .345
Aaron Hicks 22 19 3 1 0 0 1 3 6 .158 .273 .211 .483
Brett Gardner 14 13 2 0 0 0 0 1 4 .154 .214 .154 .368
Didi Gregorius 13 13 2 1 0 0 0 0 2 .154 .154 .231 .385
Starlin Castro 12 12 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 .167 .167 .167 .333
Jacoby Ellsbury 12 11 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 .091 .167 .182 .348
Chase Headley 9 9 1 0 0 1 1 0 3 .111 .111 .444 .556
Gary Sanchez 9 9 2 1 0 1 2 0 4 .222 .222 .667 .889
Ronald Torreyes 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .167 .167 .167 .333
Austin Romine 4 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000
Greg Bird 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .000 .000 .000 .000
Matt Holliday 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0  .000 1.000  .000  1.000
Total 129 121 17 4 0 2 6 7 35 .140 .194 .223 .417

Now here’s how Yankees on the ALDS roster have fared against Kluber the last three seasons in meme form:

Noticeably absent from that table: Aaron Judge. He did not play in either of Kluber’s two starts against the Yankees this season, nor did he face him last year. Going into a postseason game having never seen Kluber is also not great, Bob.

Also, allow me to note Ellsbury is 5-for-19 (.263) with two doubles against Kluber in his career, which is probably why he is in today’s lineup. That is broken down into 4-for-8 from 2011-14 and 1-for-11 from 2015-17. Shrugs.

Pitch Selection

There are not too many pitchers in baseball who can match Kluber’s stuff. He is a five-pitch pitcher, though his straight four-seam fastball and fading changeup are distant fourth and fifth pitches. The sinker, slider, and cutter are his main three pitches. Here’s how one player described Kluber to Joel Sherman recently:

One frequent opponent likened Kluber to vintage Roy Halladay because “There is nothing straight. He doesn’t throw many four-seam fastballs. The ball darts both ways, and he is so precise that he can pitch to the quarter of the plate. You won’t get much over the middle of the plate. His cutter is so deceptive that guys come back over and over to the dugout saying they were right on the pitch, and then it was off their sweet spot.”

Here, via Brooks Baseball, is Kluber’s pitch selection against right-handed and left-handed batters during the regular season:


When he’s ahead in the count, Kluber is going to try to put the hitter away with the slider, both righties and lefties. It’s so good he can use it against batters on both sides of the plate. For the most part, his pitch selection split is fairly small. Lots of sinkers, cutters, and sliders against everyone. A few more changeups against lefties, though not a ton.

Here is every pitch from Kluber’s three-hit shutout of the terrible White Sox — to be fair, Kluber makes just about everyone look terrible — back on April 21st:

I’m not sure how anyone ever gets a hit against this guy. You basically have to hope he makes a mistake. His pitcher’s pitches don’t get hit. If Kluber throws you a fastball, you don’t know if it’s a cutter or sinker until it’s about halfway to the plate, and by then your brain is already telling your arms to start swinging. If he throws you a slider, well, good luck.

Platoon Splits

Kluber does have a platoon split, but it is a small one, and he’s so damn good against righties that he’s starting from a very low baseline. He dominates lefties too, just not as much as righties. His 2017 numbers:

  • vs. RHB: .185/.218/.321 (.230 wOBA), 36.6%, 4.4 BB%
  • vs. LHB: .199/.255/.321 (.251 wOBA), 31.3 K%, 6.0 BB%

Great pitcher is great against hitters on both sides of the plate. News at 11.

Can The Yankees Run On Him?

Yes! You need to get runners on base first and that’s a tall order, but opponents went 15-for-20 (75%) stealing bases against Kluber this season, and that’s with the great catch-and-throw tandem of Roberto Perez (43% caught stealing) and Yan Gomes (42%) behind the plate. Last season runners went only 4-for-11 (36%) stealing bases against Kluber, but the year before it was 16-for-23 (70%). I wonder what the fluctuation is about. Maybe just sample size?

I am generally anti-stolen base, especially early in the game — just let the game’s best home run hitting team swing the bat with men on base! — but if the Yankees have an opening with either Gardner or Ellsbury (or Hicks), it might be worth letting them try to steal. You can’t count on stringing together walks and base hits against Kluber. It’s a risk. No doubt. But sometimes you have to take risks to beat the best.

* * *

Against a pitcher like Kluber, a legitimate ace at the peak of his powers, there’s not a whole lot you can do other than a) hope he makes some mistakes, and b) try to work long at-bats to get him out of the game as quickly as possible. If he’s on, forget it. There won’t be much the Yankees can do, as defeatist as that sounds. Kluber can be beat. Absolutely. It’ll just take pretty much everything going right for the Yankees.

The Indians are forcing the Yankees to hit breaking balls by not throwing fastballs

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Last night, in Game One of the ALDS, the Yankees were thoroughly dominated by Trevor Bauer for the first six innings and change. Bauer held the Yankees to two hits and one walk in 6.2 scoreless innings, and struck out eight. He, along with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, held New York to three hits total in the shutout loss. The Yankees were overmatched.

Bauer pitched very well down the stretch in the regular season — he had a 2.42 ERA (3.66 FIP) in his final 12 starts and 78 innings — so last night’s performance didn’t come out of nowhere. It was just a continuation of what he’d done over the final three months of the season. What was different was Bauer’s pitch selection. He went curveball heavy Thursday night.

  • Fastball: 50.0% (49.5% during the regular season)
  • Curveball: 36.7% (29.1%)
  • Cutter: 9.2% (8.2%)
  • Changeup: 4.1% (6.3%)

Sample size noise? Sure, that’s always possible. Recent postseason history suggests it was by design, however. Last postseason the Indians went to the World Series by emphasizing breaking pitching pitches and making life miserable for hitters. Josh Tomlin, the epitome of a back-end starter, had great success doing exactly that. Consider Cleveland’s pitch selection last year:

Regular Season Postseason
Fastballs 65.4% 57.9%
Curveballs 11.9% 16.9%
Sliders 10.3% 15.1%
Changeups 9.7% 4.5%

Fewer fastballs, fewer changeups, more bendy pitches. Why more bendy pitches? Because bendy pitches are hard to hit. The Indians increased their breaking ball usage considerably in the postseason last year and they’re poised to do it again this year. They did it last night. Bauer, Miller, and Allen combined to throw 38.5% breaking balls last night. Four out of ten pitches were breaking balls. It was 29.4% during the regular season.

The Yankees were a good breaking ball hitting team during the regular season. They were a good hitting team overall during the regular season. All types of pitches. You don’t lead baseball in homers and finish second in runs by hitting only fastballs. Look at their numbers:

  • Fastballs: .360 wOBA (.351 league average)
  • Curveballs: .274 wOBA (.267 league average)
  • Sliders: .297 wOBA (.274 league average)
  • Changeups: .351 wOBA (.304 league average)

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing: it’s harder to hit breaking balls than fastballs. Look at the league averages. Generally speaking, a great curveball hitting team hits curveballs worse than a bad fastball hitting team hits fastballs. Bendy stuff is hard to hit, even if you’re good at it. The Indians are trying — and based on last postseason and last night, succeeding — to gain an advantage by emphasizing breaking balls.

Also, keep in mind the Indians do not have a normal pitching staff here. They have pitchers with great breaking balls. Miller’s slider. Allen’s curveball. Bauer’s curveball. Corey Kluber’s slider. Carlos Carrasco’s slider. The Indians aren’t sending a bunch of generic middle relievers out to the mound and telling them to throw more breaking balls. They’re telling pitchers with some of the best breaking balls on the planet to throw more breaking balls. That’s tough.

So what do you do if you’re the Yankees? It’s easy to say “sit breaking ball,” but that creates it’s own set of problems. Do that and you’re going to miss hittable fastballs. Most hitters prefer to sit fastball and adjust to the breaking ball because it’s easier to react and slow down your bat than react and speed it up to catch up an unexpected heater. Maybe sit location and zero in on that, then adjust when you’re down to two strikes? I’m not sure.

A case can be made the Indians had the best pitching staff in history during the regular season. I won’t make that case, but it can be done. Now that they’re in the postseason, the Indians are again going breaking ball heavy, which means their pitching staff will be that much harder to hit. The one thing the Yankees can’t do it sit back and wait for fastballs. They’re not coming. They’ll instead have to hope for mistakes, and try to hit a steady diet of some of the nastiest curveballs and sliders in the game.

Indians 4, Yankees 0: Bauer dominates Yanks in ALDS Game 1

Well that was no fun. The Yankees dropped Game One of the ALDS on Thursday night and they didn’t put up much of a fight at all. Trevor Bauer started over Corey Kluber and no one would be able to tell the difference looking at the stat line. The Yankees lost 4-0 and the game didn’t feel as close as the score indicates. They trail the best-of-five series one game to none.

(Gregory Shamus/Gett)
(Gregory Shamus/Gett)

Gray Day
Sonny Gray‘s control is officially A Problem. He walked four batters in 3.1 innings Thursday night and is up to 12 walks in his last three starts and 14.1 innings. Furthermore, Gray went to a three-ball count on eight of the 17 batters he faced. Can’t pitch behind in the count that often. Can’t do it. And yet, Sonny has been doing it a lot lately.

In those 3.1 innings Gray allowed three runs, and it could’ve been worse. The Indians loaded the bases with no outs on a double, a single, and a hit batsmen in the second inning, but a double play ball and a fly out helped the Yankees limit the damage to one run. In the fourth inning, Gray walked leadoff hitter Edwin Encarnacion, then allowed a two-run homer to Jay Bruce. Somehow Bruce hit an up-and-in pitch out of the park:


I thought that was a little jam shot fly ball off the bat, yet it carried over the right field wall. It was the kind of home run that, if it were hit at Yankee Stadium, we’d blame the short porch and say it wouldn’t have been a home run if the game was being played in Cleveland. Go figure. The home run gave the Indians a 3-0 lead and that was pretty much that.

Gray’s final line: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 2 K on 73 pitches. In other words, bad. Very bad. The Indians are really good team and they make a lot of pitchers look bad, but yeah, Gray was behind in the count all night and living on the edge. His last two starts haven’t been good at all. Hopefully he gets a chance to make up for it in five or six days.

Overpowered Over-Bauer-ed
Real talk: Trevor Bauer was razor sharp Thursday night. That doesn’t make it any less annoying. He crushed the Yankees will a steady mix of curveballs at the knees and fastballs on the corners. More than one left-handed hitting Yankee took a little comeback two-seamer on the inside corner for strike three. Bauer was really, really good.

It wasn’t until Aaron Hicks smoked a double the other way off the left field wall with one out in the sixth that the Yankees got into the hit column, and it wasn’t until the eighth inning that the Yankees had two runners on base at the same time. They never had a runner make it to third base in the game. Not one. Yeesh. Bauer’s pitch selection:

  • 49 fastballs (50% after 49.5% during the regular season)
  • 36 curveballs (36.7% after 29.1% during the regular season)
  • 9 cutters (9.2% after 8.2% during the regular season)
  • 5 changeups (5.1 % after 6.3% during the regular season)

Lots of curveballs. Lots and lots of curveballs. And the Yankees are a good curveball hitting team! They ranked tenth among the 30 teams with a .274 wOBA against curveballs during the regular season. (The league average is .221.) But, like everyone else, the Yankees have more success against fastballs — they were 12th with a .361 wOBA against fastballs (MLB average is .308) — and Bauer didn’t throw many.

Bauer’s final line: 6.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K on 98 pitches. Great pitching has a way of making an offense look lethargic and that was certainly the case Thursday night. The Yankees didn’t look to have much of a chance at any point. Pretty much the exact opposite of the Wild Card Game, when they threatened every inning.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

The Late Innings
Gray bowed out early and the good news is Jaime Garcia did a helluva job soaking up 2.2 innings out of the bullpen, sparing the other guys out there. He threw 44 pitches and allowed two walks but not a hit. Jaime gave the offense a chance to get back in the game — the Indians didn’t capitalize on two bases loaded opportunities early in the game and I was really hoping they’d end up regretting it — but the offense never reciprocated.

The Yankees had two chances to get back into the game, though one wasn’t much of a chance at all. Starlin Castro poked a two-out single the other way in the seventh, ending Bauer’s night. Andrew Miller came in and made mince meat of Greg Bird. Struck him out on four pitches to end the inning. If Matt Holliday is not going to pinch-hit there — guaranteed at-bat against a lefty, albeit a great lefty — I’m not sure what he’s doing on the roster.

Then, in the eighth, Chase Headley and Brett Gardner worked walks against Miller to put two men on base with two outs. That gave Aaron Judge a chance to make it a one-run game with one swing of the bat. Instead, Cody Allen struck him out on seven pitches. Judge went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and is the first Yankee to strike out four times in a postseason game since … Johnny Damon in 2009? Huh. Wouldn’t have guessed that.

Judge and Gary Sanchez went a combined 0-for-8 with five strikeouts and a double play ball. Ouch. They saw 35 total pitches and 21 were curveballs. Those two are not going to see any fastballs this series. The Indians made it pretty clear in Game One. Now it’s up to them to adjust. I’m pretty confident Judge will. Sanchez? Eh, he gets a little hacky at times.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

The Yankees had three hits total — the double by Hicks and two opposite field singles by Castro. Gardner, Bird, and Headley drew the walks. Rough. The Yankees struck out 14 times as a team, only the third time they’ve done that in a nine-inning postseason game. The last time was Game Three of the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers, when they struck out 15 times.

The good news: Garcia spared the bullpen and Dellin Betances struck out the side on eleven pitches in his inning of work. Hopefully that helps him build some confidence and feel good about things. Of course, Dellin can be razor sharp today and unable to find the plate tomorrow, so who knows.

And finally, the Yankees have been shut out in Game One of a postseason series twice before: 2000 ALCS by the Mariners and 2004 ALDS by the Twins. They came back to win both series. This one’s in the bag.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score and for the video highlights. Here is the loss probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Friday’s forecast has improved quite a bit over the last 24 hours or so, so things are looking up for Game Two. We’ll see how it looks tomorrow. That’s a 5pm ET start. Former Indians ace CC Sabathia and current Indians ace Corey Kluber are the Game Two scheduled starting pitchers. Obvious big game is obviously big.