All season long we’ve heard about how great the Astros are, how amazing that offense is. As annoying as that talk is, there’s some truth to it. The Astros led all of baseball in K%, BB%, and wRC+. They had a team 125 wRC+ and a home 136 wRC+ which is insane. To explain how incredible that is, DJ LeMahieu had a 136 wRC+ on the year. At home, they are literally a team of DJ LeMahieu’s at the plate.
So how do you pitch to them? Jay Jaffe at FanGraphs had a great article previewing the series. Within it, he broke down each team’s hitter performance by pitch type. Here’s the important table:
Let’s break it down by pitch type.
Fastballs: In general, Houston crushes fastballs with a .389 wOBA against four seamers. What is interesting, though, is against fastballs thrown 95mph or higher, that wOBA drops all the way to .326. This amazing offense is just about league average against high velocity fastballs. Look for guys like James Paxton, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Aroldish Chapman to heavily feature their high heat against this lineup. Aka the way to beat this team is to…
Breaking Pitches: Holy hell does Houston crush curveballs and sliders. They are 50-60 wOBA points better than league average against these types of pitches. For guys like Masahiro Tanaka and Adam Ottavino, that may mean adjusting the approach against certain guys.
Changeups: Houston is a little above average against changeups. The main Yankee changeup artist is Tommy Kahnle who basically has the best changeup in baseball. I wouldn’t worry about him needing to change anything.
I wanted to dig deeper into a few of Houston’s stars to see what type of game plan will be effective against them. Here is their MVP Alex Bregman:
Bregman absolutely demolishes fastballs and breaking pitches. Offspeed stuff is where he struggles, so the best bet is to get him out with splitters and changeups. I could see Tommy Kahnle being a huge key to this series for that very reason. Houston likes to sandwich Bregman in between lefties to get him favorable matchups, but a guy like Kahnle can neutralize that advantage since Kahnle excels against lefties with his changeup.
Let’s take a look at how the guy who gets it all started, George Springer, fares against different pitches:
Pretty similar to Bregman, but he absolutely demolishes breaking pitches. Lots of splitters and changeups is the way to go here. Looking at these two guys explains why Masahiro Tanaka got the Game 1 start. His splitter could be the key against Houston’s best hitters.
Now this is interesting because of the contrast between the other guys. Altuve crushes fastballs but struggles against breaking pitches and off-speed pitches. That bodes well for the Yankees staff which is heavily reliant on breaking stuff.
The last guy I wanted to take a closer look at is rookie masher Yordan Alvarez:
Those numbers against fastballs are insane! Encouragingly, he struggles against breaking and off-speed pitches. Alvarez is likely why the Yankees opted to carry both CC Sabathia and Tyler Lyons on the roster. Both have sweeping breaking balls form the left side which can be used to neutralize Alvarez. Look for one of these guys to be a LOOGY for Alvarez in a key spot this series.
I wanted to also take a deeper look at which players hit the high velocity fastballs well and which don’t on the Astros. This table from Baseball Savant can help tell us which guys to throw the heat against and which to not:
Like we saw above, Springer, Bregman, Altuve, and Alvarez are all amazing against fastballs, specifically high-velocity fastballs. It’s guys like Brantley, Gurriel, and Reddick who really struggle against them. Those guys’ struggles are bringing the overall team numbers down when in fact the guys at the top of the lineup crush fastballs.
In short, throw the soft stuff against the Astros’ best hitters, and blow the bottom of the order guys away with the high heat. Let’s go Yankees!