Last month, I suggested that the Yankees' big bats would enjoy facing the Orioles' subpar starting pitching, giving the Yankees a boost in their win total. The Orioles, responded by signing Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16-million dollar contract, and then reuniting with Chris Tillman for one year and $10 million. These moves completely reshape the power balance of the AL East. Once there were five teams in the division, and now there are four teams and a traveling batting practice facility based in Baltimore.
On a more serious note, the Orioles rounding out their rotation gives us a chance to make more in-depth predictions about how the Yankees will perform against them. I'm particularly interested in the performance of one guy - namely, Aaron Judge. Last year, Judge hit 11 home runs with a 1.637 OPS in 19 games against Baltimore's pitching. That kind of performance couldn't possibly be repeated. Or could it? Let's do some number crunching to find out.
First, let's look at the Orioles' current starting rotation. According to FanGraphs' Depth Charts, the five pitchers currently slated to make the most starts for the Orioles are, in order, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Chris Tillman, and Gabriel Ynoa.
Of the five, only Gausman and Bundy are projected to post an ERA of under 5. They likely aren't going to be good at keeping the ball in the park, either, as Gausman's projected HR/9 of 1.37 is the lowest of the group. Let us assume that Judge will face off against this group of SP in the 19 games he will play against the Orioles. Let us also assume that Judge will have no problem teeing off any of them.
Next, let's look at Judge's splits and see what type of pitchers he owns. Baseball Reference's splits page provides us with two main splits: vs. Power/Finesse pitchers and vs. Ground Ball/Fly Ball pitchers. By comparing Judge's 2017 overall PA/HR rate (52 HR in 678 PA = 13.03 PA/HR) to his splits, he can find out what type of pitchers he can tee off against.
Judge's Power/Finesse splits match the eye test: Judge struggled against high-K pitchers, but excelled against soft-tossing pitch-to-contact types. Against power pitchers, defined as pitchers in the top third of the league in strikeouts plus walks, Judge hit only 9 homers in 193 plate appearances (21.44 PA/HR). However, against finesse pitchers, defined as those who ranked in the bottom third of the league by said measure, he hit 28 homers in 251 PA (8.96 PA/HR). Judge also did well against pitchers stuck in the middle third, hitting 15 homers in 234 PA against them (15.6 PA/HR), though that figure is still below his overall PA/HR.
Judge's Ground Ball/Fly Ball splits are perhaps more surprising, as they suggest that Judge hit better against ground ball pitchers (.313/.445/.615) than he did against fly ball pitchers (.250/.403/.577). However, on a plate appearances per homer basis, Judge was more prolific against flyballers (21 homers in 283 PA, 13.47 PA/HR) than groundballers (8 homers in 119 PA, 14.88 PA/HR). Judge truly shone against pitchers who were neither, hitting 23 homers in 276 PA against them (12 PA/HR). In conclusion, Judge was at his homer-happiest against a) finesse pitchers and b) pitchers who were neither groundballers or flyballers. Let's assume for a moment that these trends hold in 2018.
Finally, let's look at where the members of the Orioles' projected rotation fall into these categories. In terms of Power/Finesse, only Gausman and Bundy profile as power pitchers based on 2017 stats, and their strikeout numbers, while solid, pale in comparison to the very best of the league. Combined with their subpar HR/9s, I don't really think Judge will struggle to hit homers against these two, despite what more general splits say. The rest of the rotation profiles as neither (Tillman and Ynoa) and Finesse (Cashner).
In terms of their batting ball profiles, the Orioles' rotation has two extreme flyballers in Bundy and Ynoa, a groundballer in Cashner, and two in-betweeners in Gausman and Tillman. Going by the splits, Judge should post a higher HR rate relative to his average against this group of pitchers, as he's able to face flyballers/in-betweeners 80 percent of the time. Combined with his Power/Finesse splits, it's safe to say that Judge is primed to take advantage of all members of the 2018 Orioles' starting rotation.
Without further ado, it's prediction time. Judge received 85 PA against the Orioles in 2017 - let's say he gets the same number this year. Considering that the O's starters probably won't be able to pitch long starts, Judge likely gets 60 PA against the rotation - 12 PA for each pitcher, for simplicity's sake - and 25 against the bullpen.
Against the Zach-Britton-less bullpen, Judge should repeat his 2017 PA/HR, giving him 2 home runs in 25 PA. Against Gausman, a power-pitching in-betweener, Judge should be able to get one homer off. Against Bundy, who is an extreme flyballer, I'd say Judge has a chance for two. Cashner, a finesse guy, should be homer fodder for Judge - let's pencil in two against him too. Flyballer Ynoa and blah Tillman should also cough up two each. This would give Judge a total of - drum roll, please - 11 homers against the 2018 Baltimore Orioles.
Let me know your predictions in the poll below, if you are so inclined.
How many home runs will Aaron Judge hit against the Orioles in 2018?
This poll is closed
less than 8
more than 11