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How Yankee hitters perform against offspeed stuff

Find out which Yankees are the best (and worst) against changeups

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Statcast classifies pitches thrown in three macro-categories: fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed stuff. The first one includes four-seamers, two-seamers, cutters and sinkers; the second has curveballs, sliders and knuckleballs; and the last one counts splitters, forkballs, screwballs, and the ever-important changeup.

Fastballs and breaking stuff are the bread and butter of most pitchers, and they are the two most commonly thrown types of pitches. But a good changeup has the ability to freeze a hitter that was expecting the heat, or mess with his timing to induce soft contact. Having an effective offspeed pitch is critical to a hurler’s success.

In previous installments of this series, we have reviewed the Yankees hitters’ performance against fastballs and breaking balls. By looking at the table below, we can get an idea about which ones have been the team’s best against offspeed stuff:

Yankees’ best hitters against offspeed stuff

Batter BA vs. CH xBA vs. CH wOBA vs. CH xwOBA vs. CH Whiff% vs. CH SLG vs. CH xSLG vs. CH
Batter BA vs. CH xBA vs. CH wOBA vs. CH xwOBA vs. CH Whiff% vs. CH SLG vs. CH xSLG vs. CH
DJ LeMahieu 372 345 451 397 17.1 679 544
A. Romine 321 324 395 396 22.6 571 553
G. Torres 254 274 347 373 25.0 507 543
G. Sánchez 229 216 390 369 24.4 583 518
G. Stanton 143 190 335 368 46.7 571 597
E. Encarnación 410 243 587 367 25.0 1026 552
G. Urshela 322 311 362 363 24.1 508 503
L. Voit 200 216 335 354 43.1 400 426

With fastballs and curveballs, it is easier to have a more accurate assessment of a hitter’s performance, because the sample size is usually bigger. After all, the vast majority of at-bats end after one of those has been thrown by the pitcher. We have to take offspeed stuff’s numbers with a grain of salt, especially if the batter has had an abbreviated season. In that case, the number of batted ball events ending on a changeup is just too small.

That being said, what we want is to have an idea about how successful or vulnerable the Yankees’ batters have been against this particular type of pitch. The preferred stat to assess the hitters’ performance is expected weighted on-base average, or xwOBA, which helps us remove defense and ballpark from the equation and instead focuses on exit velocity and launch angle, while also adding walks and strikeouts.

By looking at the table, we can see just how dominant DJ LeMahieu has been this season, and as a matter of fact, he feasts on changeups. He has an xwOBA of .397, which is simply amazing. He has achieved the number in 72 batted ball events, and he has the same number of strikeouts versus offspeed offerings as homers, with six.

While he hasn’t fared well against breaking balls, Gleyber Torres has excelled at hitting changeups, with a .347 actual wOBA and a .373 xwOBA. He slugged .507 against the pitch in the regular season. Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton have very good numbers against offspeed stuff, albeit in smaller sample sizes.

Giovanny Urshela has also hit changeups very well, with a .322 batting average and a .311 expected batting average. Both his SLG and xSLG surpass .500, and his wOBA and xwOBA are over .360.

Changed-up

At the other side of the spectrum, we have some Yankee hitters that have struggled to do damage against offspeed stuff.

Yankees’ worst hitters against offspeed stuff

Batter BA vs. CH xBA vs. CH wOBA vs. CH xwOBA vs. CH Whiff% vs. CH SLG vs. CH xSLG vs. CH
Batter BA vs. CH xBA vs. CH wOBA vs. CH xwOBA vs. CH Whiff% vs. CH SLG vs. CH xSLG vs. CH
C. Frazier 158 118 216 164 57.1 368 276
T. Wade 77 160 67 169 13.0 77 232
K. Higashioka 250 195 309 197 42.9 500 270
D. Gregorius 213 203 244 227 29.4 319 270
B. Gardner 257 245 277 243 22.7 392 290
M. Tauchman 234 209 301 267 16.9 404 334
M. Ford 259 247 361 302 25.0 556 409
A. Judge 152 174 273 317 61.9 261 359

The most notable names in the list are Clint Frazier (.216 wOBA, .164 xwOBA), Didi Gregorius (.244 wOBA, .227 xwOBA), and Brett Gardner (.277 wOBA, .243 xwOBA).

We assess other stats as well to get a glimpse about possible things that may be missing by examining just the xwOBA. For example, Aaron Judge has a .317 wOBA against changeups, which may not seem so putrid at first glance. However, he has an absurdly high 61.9 whiff% versus the pitch. His average of .152 indicates he struggled with the pitch in 2019, as does his .261 SLG%.

The Twins and their use of changeups

The Minnesota Twins have the ninth-highest changeup usage in the big leagues with 13.3%, which is greater than any of the American League contenders. However, they are in the 19th place in the changeup Pitch Value ranking that FanGraphs offers, with 1.2 runs above average, far from the league’s top mark of 40.1 posted by the Luis Castillo-led Cincinnati Reds.

Of the Twins’ starting rotation, no current member boasts a particularly strong changeup. The best one belongs to an ex-Yankee, Michael Pineda, but he is currently suspended and won’t face the Bombers in the postseason. The righty’s offspeed pitch generated 4.8 runs above average in FanGraphs’ Pitch Value chart, as he held hitters to a .238 batting average and .321 slugging percentage with it.