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Game #3 Starting Lineup Ins and Outs

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game Three Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Red Sox v. Yankees 2018 Division Series

New York Yankees Lineup vs. Right Handed Pitching

The Yankees were able to manage their injuries and overcome regression from the 2017 team to hit a historic 267 home runs. The key to this Yankees team being the new and improved “Murderers Row” was how they supplemented their roster with trades for Giancarlo Stanton, to a lesser degree, Luke Voigt, and the prospect promotions of Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.

In 2017, Gary Sanchez hit 33 home runs in 122 games, while being limited to 89 games, 18 home runs, a .186 batting average and a .291 OBP in 2018. In 2017, Aaron Judge had a historic rookie season when he hit 52 home runs, 127 walks and a 1.049 OPS. He followed that up in 2018 with 27 home runs and a .919 OPS in only 112 games. The Yankees were able to overcome the drop off of two of their mightiest sluggers with the addition of 38 home runs and a .852 OPS from Giancarlo Stanton, 27 home runs, up from 15, from Aaron Hicks, 14 home runs and a 1.095 OPS from Luke Voit, 24 home runs and a .820 OPS from Gleyber Torres, and 27 home runs, 47 doubles, and a .855 OPS from Miguel Andujar.

The Yankees lineup against David Price and Chris Sale were heavily right handed with Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner being the only left handed bats in the starting lineup Saturday night. Aaron Hicks was out with a hamstring injury and won’t start Monday night either. In tonight’s matchup against hard throwing, right handed starter Nate Eovaldi the Yankees lineup should be similar in its makeup with a potential adjustment in the order.

McCutchen has a .440 OBP in 63 at-bats against right handed pitching as a Yankee while Gardner has a .327 OBP this season against the right handed side. The larger sample size against right handed pitching suggests they should move McCutchen down in the lineup, but his small sample in pinstripes will probably lead Yankee brass to leave him at the top and play left field, which allows them to load up on the sluggers in the middle of the order if the top can set the table.

This would be the Yankees best starting lineup against the right handed Nate Eovaldi with Hicks out.

1. Andrew McCutchen LF

2. Aaron Judge RF

3. Didi Gregorius SS (Luke Voit is batting here)

4. Luke Voit 1B (Stanton here)

5. Giancarlo Stanton DH (Gregorius here)

6. Miguel Andujar 3B (Sanchez here)

7. Gleyber Torres 2B (Andujar here)

8. Gary Sanchez CA (Torres here)

9. Brett Gardner CF

There is zero chance that my projected batting order would be one that the Yankees brass send out there in game three or any other game, but that doesn’t change the data. Gary Sanchez has an OBP of .269 and a batting average of .171 against right handed pitching while Giancarlo Stanton has struck out 165 times, has an OBP of .328 and a batting average of .249 and OPS of .792 versus right handed pitching. Luke Voit, in only 89 at-bats, has an OBP of .406 and an OPS of .854 (.62 points higher than Stanton and .218 points higher than Sanchez. Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar both have higher OPS’ and on-base percentages against right handed pitching than Stanton and Sanchez as well. Stanton and Sanchez should be moved down in the order and in the case of Sanchez, he should be benched.

Benching Gary Sanchez

An argument can be made that Sanchez shouldn’t even be playing tonight against Nate Eovaldi. Sanchez has only thrown out 12 of 40 potential base stealers and he led the American League East with 18 pass balls. He has been publicly criticized for poor defensive effort to poor blocking and backhanding pitches in the dirt.

Offensively, Sanchez has a .171 batting average, .269 OBP, .636 OPS and 71 strikeouts in 241 at-bats against right handed pitching in 2018. The argument against starting a more defensively proficient Austin Romine is that the upgrade in defense isn’t significant enough to justify the drop off in offensive production.

In 2018, against right handed pitching, Romine hit four fewer home runs in 63 fewer at-bats while batting .237 vs. Sanchez’s .171, with an OBP of .299 vs. Sanchez’s .269 and an OPS of .712 vs. .636. The numbers are only in 2018 and I won’t argue that Romine, at his best, can swing a candle to Sanchez, but in 2018 Romine has been the better catcher in every facet.

There is zero chance that a franchise in a media market like New York City would bench a core of their future and a superstar with his offensively ability regardless of how he is performing now or has throughout the season regardless of what the circumstances might dictate, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sanchez should be a bat off the bench rather than a starter behind the dish.

There are legitimate arguments for starting Sanchez and I realize my suggestion here is overly aggressive and may sound absurd on the face of it, but the numbers are the numbers. The argument for Sanchez is that the defensive upgrade isn’t a significant one and the offensive potential is impossible to bench in a playoff game. Judge is probably a better all around slugger, but with Stanton’s struggles and extreme strikeout problems, if Sanchez played 162 games at DH he could be a better all around producer than Stanton.

Another argument for starting Sanchez regardless of how he is struggling is that the Red Sox bullpen is heavily right handed. If the Sox had a wipeout left hander like Andrew Miller for the late innings, a case could be made that the defensive upgrade, Romine’s better 2018 against right handed pitching and the strategic element of having Sanchez as a power bat off the bench in a key spot late in the game would all justify the controversial decision.

Luis Severino vs. The Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox entered 2018 after winning the American League East title by two games with a record of 93-69 over the New York Yankees. They did it with a relatively disappointing season from most of their players in 2017. Xander Bogaerts had a SLG percentage of .403, a drop from .446 in 2016 and .421 in 2015. Mookie Betts had a good season by any reasonable measure, but a disappointing one by his own. His batting average dropped from .318 in 2016 to .264 in 2017, his OBP dropped from .363 to .344 and his SLG went from .534 to .459. In 2018, all of the big bats improved almost universally across the board from Bogaerts and Betts to Benintendi and even Moreland. In 2017, their first year without David Ortiz, the Red Sox ranked 27th in home runs with 168 and 22nd in OPS (.736). In 2018, after the addition of J.D. Martinez, they ranked first in OPS (.792) and 9th in home runs with 208, a 40-home increase.

The Red Sox 2018 roster isn’t significantly different than it was in 2017 with the enormous exception of J.D. Martinez. They hit 40 more home runs (168 vs. 208), scored 91 more runs (785 vs. 876) and had an OPS of .736 as opposed to .792 in 2018. The addition of Martinez and the return to the career norms of bats like Bogaerts, Benintendi and Betts is where the jump from 93-69 to 108-54 is most apparent.

Their team ERA (3.70) ranked third in 2017 and eighth in 2018 (3.75) without a meaningful statistical difference, while their team WHIP ranked fifth in 2017 (1.25) and ninth in 2018 (1.25) with the same exact number.

David Price was limited to only 74.2 innings pitched in 2017. He pitched to an ERA of 2.25 with six wins in 11 starts in the second half of 2018 (2.25 ERA) and an overall ERA of 3.58 in 176 total innings pitched, 16 wins and a WHIP of 1.14. Nate Eovaldi, tonight’s starter, was a nice trade deadline addition as well. He had an ERA of 3.33 in 12 starts and 54 innings pitched as a Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox Lineup vs. Right Handed PItching

1. Mookie Betts RF

2. Andrew Benintendi LF

3. J.D. Martinez DH

4. Xander Bogaerts SS

5. Rafael Devers 3B

6. Steven Pearce 1B

7. Brock Holt 2B

8. Christian Vazquez CA

9. Jackie Bradley CF

The Red Sox have a multiple of options for alternate lineups without significant differences from one player to the next.

At catcher, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon are both relatively equal defensive catchers that struggle at the plate. Vazquez has a .518 OPS while Leon has a .527 OPS against right handed pitching. Blake Swihart is thought to be an offensive upgrade with defensive deficiencies and he did have an OPS of .748 in only 131 at-bats against right handed pitching in 2018. An argument can be made that Swihart could pop a few home runs into the cheap seats of the short right field porch at Yankee stadium, but he hasn’t been an effective offensive player this season and the defense is highly suspect.

At second base, Brock Holt has a 2018 OPS of .788 against right handed pitching while Ian Kinsler has a .678 OPS. The Yankees can go left/right left /right better than any bullpen in baseball with Robertson, Green, Betances, Britton and Chapman. There is limited strategic benefit to starting or sitting Holt or Kinsler, so they can play the matchups to open the game by starting Kinsler vs Sabathia or the better hitter in Holt. Its almost a coin flip. Cora is likely to start the righ thanded Kinsler against the left handed Sabathia

Third base, Rafael Devers has an OPS of .771 while Eduardo Nunez has an OPS of .691. The Red Sox have said that they believe Nunez is a plus defender at third base, but that’s a hard sell to anyone that has watched the games. Devers isn’t overly mobile over there and he is a defensive deficiency, but Nunez doesn’t have the golden glove ability to say he is a meaningful defensive upgrade at the position and he does provide defensive versatility as a pinch hitter off the bench late in the game.

The Red Sox “versatility” is partly due to a majority of their second-tier batters ineffectiveness. Post All-Star break, Kinsler has an overall OPS of .604, Holt .809, Nunez .736, Devers .781, and Swihart .706. None of them are gold glove caliber players defensively or overwhelmingly separated themselves from the rest at the plate. Cora is more or less going on gut and feel, something that would make Sabermetric analysts cringe.

Against right handed pitching, Devers does have an OPS of .771 vs. Nunez’s .691 and Holt has an OPS of .788 vs. Kinsler’s .678, while Leon has an OPS of .527 vs. Vazquez .518 OPS, a miniscule difference. So, maybe Cora IS playing the percentages tonight, but it’s hardly an overwhelming sample or distinct difference player to player and these numbers were all there for Cora ro decide between when he made out Saturday’s lineup against Masahiro Tanaka. Steven Pearce would be an oddity if not for a hamstring injury to Mitch Moreland that probably explains the decision there.

The Red Sox group of alternatives don’t provide Cora with the kinds of splits that make for a nice, clean platoon or serious threat off the bench in the late innings. Most of them hit the same side or match up comparably, right versus left, to their alternative teammates. The Red Sox live or die based on how their core players perform and with the bullpen struggles, they have to come out of the gate fast and try to hold on to the finish line like they did in Game one against J.A. Happ and didn’t do in Game two against Masahiro Tanaka.

Nate Eovaldi is unlikely to make it through six full innings unscatched, so the Red Sox will have to put up a touchdown or two or this one could be a tough ride to the finish, where the largest difference in these two teams lie, the bullpens. The Red Sox have a better starting rotation and a distinct advantage in outfield defense, but it’s the bullpen that is the Red Sox achilles heel and where the Yankees have an even larger advantage. The Red Sox are built to be the better team over a 162 game marathon while the Yankees are constructed better to win the sprint of a seven-game playoff series. The Red Sox do benefit throwing a right hander rather than a lefty, where the Yankees have an OPS of .773 vs. .800.

You can follow me on Twitter @CJMitch73.