In general, I ignore the order of the Rays lineup and focus on the personnel, and the explanation behind those choices. Joe Maddon’s decisions are typically easy to figure out, except for when they aren’t. Tuesday’s lineup was an example of where extra thought was required to figure out the so-called “Maddoness.”
Maddon penciled in six right-handed batters against Yankees right-hander Freddy Garcia. With a plethora of left-handed options available (as covered earlier this week), Maddon’s decision seemed odd. The right-handed Garcia has enjoyed facing right-handers more than left-handers this season. Lefties have a .812 OPS against him compared to a .749 for righties. It is not a huge split, but a split nonetheless. Since returning to the rotation in July, Garcia has held same-handed batter to a .565 OPS—a .303-point gap compared to the .868 OPS posted against him by lefties.
Garcia’s stuff is that of a generic, back-end starter. He throws in the upper-80s and makes up for quality of pitches with a quantity. The Chief throws in upwards of eight pitches on any given night: four- and two-seam fastballs, a cutter/slider, a changeup, a curveball, and a splitter. Add in the platoon split and Garcia fits the profile of a pitcher Maddon usually stacks the lineup with lefties against.
Although the true origin will remain unknown, the decision might be rooted in pitch selection. Against left-handers, Garcia is all-in. He throws all of his pitches without much discrimination. Each pitch’s usage falls between eight and 27 percent with the cutter/slider being the most dominant. His pitch usage is more uniform against right-handers. Nearly 80 percent of Garcia’s pitches to right-handers are comprised of two pitches: fastball (both types) and the cutter/slider. That is until he gets in two-strike counts when he dumps the fastball in favor of the splitter. He will throw the curveball to righties, but seeminglyprefers the cutter/slider as his breaking ball.
Garcia threw 101 pitches against right-handed heavy Tampa Bay lineup. Fastballs, cutter/sliders, and splitters comprised about 90 percent of those pitches, with just a handful of curveballs and true changeups. Result wise, all five of the Rays hits and two of the four walks allowed by Garcia came against right-handed batters including three home runs and a double.
Isolating the home runs, each came in a two-strike count when Garcia becomes his most predictable, throwing a slider or splitter 75 percent of the time. “A couple of home runs looked like splits that stayed inside,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “The one to Longoria stayed inside and didn’t move much. The one to Jennings was kind of the same pitch” he added. The third—and loudest—home run came off the bat of B.J. Upton, who turned on a cutter/slider and crushed it for a 427-ft bomb.
Considering the Rays recent struggles with pitchers that possess a lot of variety (Yu Darvish and Carlos Villanueva) perhaps Maddon’s mission was simple: limit Garcia’s pitch usage to three or four pitches and cut down the amount of guessing needed to be done by his hitters. If that was the plan, it worked.