Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
When to lift your starter?
Analytics-driven game planning calls for managers to remove starting pitchers before they start to struggle. This is a major change from the traditional approach, when you waited for the guy to labor before taking him out.
The new model creates a challenge for managers, who must balance the script with what they see, and pinpoint the perfect moment to make a change.
For example, according to sources, one likely plan on Saturday was to use Chad Green as a type of piggyback starter after Masahiro Tanaka. That's why Green pitched just ⅔ inning in Game 1, in order to save his arm for this role.
As expected, Green began throwing in the bullpen once Tanaka allowed a few baserunners in the fourth. But Tanaka got out of the jam, and Green didn't need to come in.
In the fifth, the second and third batters due up were lefties. Tyler Lyons began throwing; he replaced CC Sabathia on the roster as the matchup lefty. This was the "lane" -- a Yankees term for the optimal spot to use each reliever -- for which he was intended.
Tanaka was cruising, though, and he had a seven-run lead. Boone let him retire the lefties, finish the inning, and qualify for the win.
What we saw there was Boone flirt with several different game plans, and ultimately toss them aside to let Tanaka continue. He saw a player still capable of succeeding, and score afforded him that luxury.
"At that point, a little bit of traffic there and I would have probably gone and gotten him," Boone said. "Right now, it's about us winning, and I think everyone's on board with that.
The eighth inning, incidentally, presented a perfect lane for Lyons, with lefty Max Kepler and switch hitter Jorge Polanco due up second and third.
Polanco is a better hitter from the left side, and Lyons' presence in the game turned him around to bat righty. Lyons struck out Kepler and retired Polanco on a fly ball to left.
Boone's spooky hunch
Didi Gregorius struggled through September, and seemed lost in Game 1. But on Saturday afternoon, Aaron Boone said this about his shortstop:
"Sometimes it just takes one at-bat, one swing to kind of turn it, and I believe that's what's in there for Didi still."
Boone might have simply gotten lucky and stumbled into a well-timed compliment. But this is a manager who watches players closely, and knows them well. And sure enough, Gregorius sealed the game with a third-inning grand slam.
Questionable call on Dobnak over Odorizzi
After the Twins lost Game 1, manager Rocco Baldelli announced that rookie Randy Dobnak, not All-Star Jake Odorizzi, would start on Saturday. His reasoning was that Dobnak was a better fit for the bandbox of Yankee Stadium.
The data clearly backed him on this: Dobnak's ground ball rate this year was 52.9 percent, while Odorizzi's was 35 percent. But that might have been an overly zealous application of data. Sometimes, it's simple: Go with your best guy in a must-win game.
Even before the Yankees knocked Dobnak out in the third inning, he was allowing ominous hard contact. Gleyber Torres' lineout in the second left his bat at 107.9 mph. Edwin Encarnacion later
Dobnak allowed four runs on six hits in two-plus innings. His stuff was clearly no match for the Yankees' powerful lineup, and the Twins found themselves facing elimination in the series before using Odorizzi.
Ground ball rate be damned, Dobnak was clearly not the right pitcher for the assignment.
Enough time for Duffey?
Around the time that Encarnacion singled to load the bases with no outs in the third, reliever Tyler Duffey began warming up.
Then, pitching coach Wes Johnson sprinted to the mound. Baldelli soon followed and called for Duffey.
Duffey, a breaking ball specialist, was one of the top relievers in the game in the second half of the season. But on this day, he allowed two hits, including a grand slam, and hit a batter. Did he have enough time to get fully ready?
"Duff's pretty good about getting ready," Baldelli said. "He gets ready quick. Every guy is a little different. He's a guy that we don't have to give him several batters to get ready, and there are other guys that you would want to give that time to. He is an extraordinarily low maintenance relief pitcher and a very good one at that. He gets ready quick. He's ready to go."
Tanaka's filthy slider and split
When Masahiro Tanaka is at his best -- which often seems to happen in the postseason -- he commands both his split-fingered fastball and his slider. The Yankees' starter had both pitches working from the start on Saturday, baffling a powerful Twins' offense.
In the second and third innings alone, Tanaka struck out four batters, three on sliders -- and used the splitter to induce ground balls.
Though he labored a bit in the fourth, Tanaka mostly dominated through five innings, before the bullpen took over.
"The off-speed stuff, slider and splitter, I think they were both pretty consistent throughout the game, which helped me, made me successful in the game, obviously," Tanaka said. "I wish the fastball was a little bit better, you know, tried to use that a little bit, but I feel like I was able to use that enough so both the off-speed stuff were working."
More Yankee plate patience
The Yankees are always a patient team, but this year were only 11th in MLB in walk rate -- not quite middle of the pack, but not upper-echelon either. In the early part of this series, though, many of their hitters have frustrated the Twins with extreme patience.
That stingy approach to swinging contributed to the game's first run. With D.J. LeMahieu on second base in the first inning, Aaron Judge took five borderline pitches to work a walk and push Dobnak's pitch count up. Two batters later, Encarnacion singled in LeMahieu.
The Yankees' game-deciding rally in the third came together in similar fashion, extended in different spots by Brett Gardner and LeMahieu walks.