Okay, I realize that not everyone wants to analyze baseball right now. The Yankees just suffered the most frustrating loss of the year two days ago, and we're all frustrated. Thinking about the team right now gives me heartburn. The site must go on, however, and I have a weekly quota to fill. With that in mind, I'm going to talk about Game One, which was a pretty big fiasco in itself.
During the series opener, Trevor Bauer pitched 6.2 innings, struck out eight, and allowed zero runs on two hits and a walk. How'd he do it? Curveballs. Of Bauer's 98 pitches that game, 35 were curves, according to Brooks Baseball. Of those 35 hooks, 23 went for strikes, 15 induced swings, and four garnered whiffs.
After the game, many sports outlets praised Bauer for this groundbreaking approach. Yeah, he has a great curve, smart of him to throw it more often, whatever. Some, however, claimed that Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez were particularly bamboozled by Bauer's approach. Is there truth to this? Do the team’s two best hitters really have problems with hitting curveballs?
Baseball Savant is usually the website to go to for these kind of questions, and it proves to be a useful resource here as well. It allows us to examine how hitters did against specific pitch types in a given season. So how did Judge do? In 2017, he saw 182 curveballs and whiffed at 33 of them, good for an 18.1 whiff rate. Not ideal. When he did make contact, though, he did serious damage, hitting .297 and slugging .622 on curveballs. Doesn't exactly sound like the profile of a guy with a curveball problem.
Gary's numbers, on the other hand, are a little more problematic. Of the 167 curveballs he saw in 2017, he whiffed on 27 of them a rate of 16.2%. Not quite as high as Judge's, but still troubling. The real problem, however, lies in his performance on contact. He hit just .108 and slugged .162 against curveballs. For comparison's sake, Yankees legend Pete Kozma hit .111 while slugging .178 this season. When pitchers threw a curveball to Sanchez in 2017, he turned into Pete Kozma. Nobody wants to hit like Pete Kozma.
Of course, there is the chance that this is all sample size noise. In 2016, Sanchez teed off on curveballs, hitting .350 and slugging .600 against them. He had a whiff rate of just 8.5%. We'll have to await further data before proclaiming that Sanchez definitely has trouble with curveballs. Judging by his 2017 data, though, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on how he handles them going forward, especially in an era where more and more pitchers are warming to the idea of throwing hooks more often.
As for Judge? The sample size caveats apply here too, but so far it doesn't seem like curveballs particularly trouble him. His four-strikeout performance in Game One probably has more to do with the fact that Bauer has a great curveball - one of the best in baseball, in fact. That, and the fact that Bauer was helped by a strike zone wider than Lake Erie. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland's Game Three starter, also has one of the better curveballs in the game and is upping his usage, although not to the extent that Bauer has. Yankees fans can at least take solace in the fact that Judge has crushed the bendy pitches all year. That, or booze. Booze will always be there for us.