The New York Yankees lineup is set up in a way to strike fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. Their relentless barrage of slugger after slugger helped them score more runs this season (943) than any team since 2007. They also hit a staggering 306 home runs, a number topped only by this year’s Minnesota Twins. As many Twins fans saw in that Yankees series at Target Field in July, the Yankee lineup can pounce on a pitching staff at any moment, and practically carry their team to victory. This is why it is imperative that the Twins pitchers have a plan in place for attacking each hitter, if they want to “slay the dragon”.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we will be breaking down the strengths and weakness of DJ LeMahieu, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton, and finding the best approach for the Twins pitchers and fielders against each of them.
DJ LeMahieu has quietly been one of the best all-around players in the American League this season. Not only has he filled in well at three different positions in the infield, but his bat came to play, as his 136 wRC+ ranked 21st among all qualified MLB hitters in 2019. What makes LeMahieu so successful is that he doesn’t have many weaknesses. Here are LeMahieu’s wOBA versus each pitch type, and what percentile they rank in Major League Baseball this year.
When breaking down LeMahieu’s splits versus lefties and righties, it comes as no surprise that he is a much better hitter versus lefties than he is against righties, given that LeMahieu is a right-handed hitter, as he has a 182 wRC+ against lefties vs a 119 wRC+ against righties. To get a better idea on how to approach LeMahieu, depending on the hand of the pitcher, lets take a look at the same chart as above, but this time broken down by opposing pitcher handedness.
From these charts, it is clear that Twins pitchers should avoid throwing off-speed pitches, such as changeups and splitters to LeMahieu altogether. Their main approach should be to pepper LeMahieu with fastballs in and force him to hit his way on base. For right-handed Twins pitchers, they should be able to work in some breaking pitches against LeMahieu as well.
Another part of DJ LeMahieu’s game that is quite apparent is his approach at the plate. Illustrated below is DJ LeMahieu’s spray chart from the 2019 season.
From this spray chart, the part that is most clear is DJ LeMahieu rarely pulls the ball in the air. The Twins defenders should take advantage of this by having all their outfielders shade pretty significantly towards right field. Additionally, it would make sense to have Jorge Polanco shade a little more towards the third base bag to help cut off the large amount of ground balls LeMahieu hits in the hole between shortstop and third.
When it comes to facing Gary Sanchez, the key is to avoid letting him make contact. Fortunately for the Twins, Sanchez makes this pretty easy, as his contact rate of 70.2 percent ranks 237th out of the 273 hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2019. Sanchez especially struggles to make contact with breaking balls, as his contact rate on them is just 59.2 percent this season. Another way to induce Sanchez to swing and miss is by getting him to chase fastballs up and in on his hands.
While avoiding contact is an optimal strategy with any hitter at the plate, Gary Sanchez is one of those hitters where it seems especially important, as he barrels the ball up roughly one out of every five times he puts the ball in play. That’s the fourth highest among any hitter who put at least 200 balls in play this year. A big reason for this is the pull heavy approach that Sanchez has at the plate, as you can see in the spray chart down below.
Gary Sanchez’s ground ball distribution is almost exclusively pulls down the third base line. The Twins shouldn’t have much trouble exploiting this with a three-man shift on the left side of the infield. Another thing the Twins should take advantage of is Sanchez’s speed, or lack thereof, as his sprint speed of 25.5 feet per second is down near the bottom of the league. This should allow the Twins infielders to play further back to cover more ground laterally, and still have enough time to make the throw over to first to get Sanchez in time.
Giancarlo Stanton (Note: All statistics for Stanton are from 2018, due to limited sample in 2019)
When it comes to facing Giancarlo Stanton the approach is simple: feed him breaking ball after breaking ball after breaking ball. Whether it is a righty or a lefty on the mound for the Twins, it doesn’t matter, just don’t throw anything straight to Stanton. In 2018, Stanton whiffed at 45.8 percent breaking balls that he swung at. Since he struggles mightily vs. breaking balls against lefties, it is probably their best option to try to get Stanton out, unless they possess an excellent changeup. To illustrate this point further, here are Stanton’s wOBA breakdowns by pitch type and pitcher handedness in 2018.
Just as was the case with Gary Sanchez, the Twins should be able to employ an extreme pull shift to the left side of the infield when Giancarlo Stanton is up at the plate, as we can see from his spray chart down below.
While Stanton isn’t the fastest of runners, at 26.8 feet per second, he still has enough speed where the Twins probably won’t be able to take advantage of it by playing deeper in the hole, like they can for Sanchez. In the outfield, the Twins should pretty much just play straight up, as Stanton's spray is pretty even on balls in the air.
As we can see the Yankees order can provide quite the challenge, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to attack them to keep their lineup in check. The key will be for the Twins to take each hitter one at a time and do what they can to get that hitter out. Stay tuned later in the week, as we will be featuring three more juggernauts in the Yankees order in Part 2.
This story originally appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared as part of a collaboration between Bring Me The News and Twins Daily.