Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young winner has firmly re-established himself as the Rays ace after a rough 2019. As such, the Rays handed him the ball for the first game of their Wild Card series against the Jays, and were rewarded with 5.2 scoreless innings.
He’s likely to take the hill on Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees. If so, the no-days-off schedule means Snell may be the only starter with a chance to be available in a decisive Game 5.
It makes sense — he’s one of the top pitchers in the game with a 3.24 ERA, he’s coming off a dominant outing, and the hardware speaks for itself. But, Snell has struggled — relative to his young and impressive career — against the Yankees, pitching to a 4.31 ERA and mediocre 2.09/1 strikeout to walk ratio.
You shouldn’t read too much into a player’s career splits against one team. Rosters turn over all the time, players blossom, flounder, and play through pain or don’t play at all. The usual warnings about a small sample size get magnified. But in Snell’s situation, I don’t believe it’s a fluke. If I were game-planning against the Yankees, I wouldn’t go with Snell first.
Snell allowed a .232/.316/.420 against righties, including 7 home runs and 17 walks in just 36.1 innings. Compare that to .217/.234/.457 against the 47 lefties he faced. (Yes, with four home runs — he struggled with the long ball even when he thrived.) Career-wise, the advantage against southpaws holds up (.597 OPS for lefties, .679 righties).
Fortunately for Snell, the Yankees don’t have much right-handed power. He’ll just have to get past DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres *exhales* *reaches for water* Clint Frazier, Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez and the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks.
Wait — that’s nine right-handed power bats! Yikes!
The Yankees, if they desire, could go one through nine with righties, even if Higashioka starts over Sanchez in a Gerrit Cole start.
But didn’t the Yankees struggle against lefties this year? That’s true, their OPS was .715 and per Fangraphs, they were 3% worse than the league average against lefties. However, the Yankees gave a lot of at bats to players Blake Snell won’t see. Mike Tauchman hit .143 against lefties and struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances. He had as many had chances against southpaws as Giancarlo Stanton. Somehow, the Yankees gave even more to Tyler Wade (.080/.174/.254). Brett Gardner (.451 OPS) is almost certain to get benched for Frazier (.884).
Suffice to say, this is not the Yankee team Snell will face in the postseason.
The injuries are in the rearview and the Wades and Tauchmans of the roster will be serving exclusively as defensive replacements and pinch runners. The Yankees' rough numbers against southpaws were a short-season defect.
Tampa has a better choice
Instead, if the Rays want to optimize their chances, they should do whatever they can to ensure Tyler Glasnow gets two starts. Despite his relatively pedestrian 2020, he offers a much greater challenge to the Yankees compared to his rotation counterpart.
Glasnow’s fine, but not great 4.08 ERA belies an absolutely insane 91 strikeouts over 57.1 innings. His 38.2% K rate was third-highest among pitchers with at least 50 innings, on the strength of a deadly two-pitch fastball-curve combo. After posting a 1.78 ERA during his breakout 2019, you can bet 2020 1/4 u2032s so-so results are an 11-start blip.
The Yankees were dominated by Glasnow in his last two starts against the team. They were unable to lay off his curve or catch up to his fastball, which often landed on the edges of the zone.
Granted, though Glasnow’s career platoon splits are identical (unlike Snell’s) he’s been much worse against righties than lefties the last two seasons. But righty’s heavy dose of curveballs might help explain his success against New York (.173 BA) this year, particularly his last two starts.
Some of the Yankees' best hitters struggled mightily with curveballs. Using Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) — a stat that takes a player’s successes and failures at the plate and churns it into a single number scaled to on base average — we can see the sluggers' weak point. Voit had a .280 wOBA on curveballs. Torres was just .260, while Frazier .138.
And that’s in the aggregate, but the eye test confirms it: Glasnow has one of the best curves in baseball. Even for those like Urshela who were better at handling curves (.390 wOBA), it’s another thing entirely to connect with his kryptonite (peep the :18 second mark).
Going to your number two for more potential outs than your ace is far from conventional. But for the Rays, a team that popularized openers, a postseason matchup against a dominant offense like the Yankees is no time to settle for convention. Especially if they intend on making it from San Diego to Arlington.
©2020 New York Daily News
Visit New York Daily News at www.nydailynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.