Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Yankees
Tuesday, September 15, 2020 at 7:05 p.m. ET in Yankee Stadium
The Blue Jays want to halt New York’s win streak tonight. But can they? Current Blue Jay starter Taijuan Walker (3-2, 2.95 ERA) continues to bounce around from team to team. After starting this season as a Mariner and joining Toronto, he has been on three different teams in two seasons.
While his current ERA may suggest that his former teams should regret letting him depart, this statistic is deceptive. His 2.95 ERA masks a 4.83 FIP (like ERA, but factors out fielding) and 5.09 xFIP (like FIP, but adjusts for league average ratio of fly balls to home runs). He has benefitted from leaving 85.5 percent of opposing baserunners stranded.
This strand rate is, statistically speaking, unsustainable. In his last start — which came against the Yankees — he was quite fortunate to allow zero runs. He yielded a low, .200 BABIP (batting average of balls in play) despite inducing zero soft contact. So his FIP was 6.20 and xFIP 7.66 in that game.
Walker vs. Yankee Batters
Part of why Walker may be unwanted by team after team is the fact that his velocity has depreciated over the years. One forgets that he started out his professional career slinging 95-96 mpg fastballs on average. This season, his average fastball velocity is down to 93.48 mph.
To try to compensate for his reduced fastball velocity, he looks to inject more variety into his pitching repertoire by emphasizing different pitches. Still, one can point to his fastball along with his cutter as his favorite pitches. They combine to form about 60 percent of his pitch usage. He is not going to use these pitches or his pitches in general to generate whiffs. While he wants to throw strikes, he often leaves them in the more middle parts of the plate where opponents take advantage with high slugging rates.
This locational tendency explains his measuredly poor performance against teams that match up poorly with him. But the Yankees match up very well with him as they rank fourth in slugging .553 against his two favorite pitches from righties. Clint Frazier, for example, is hitting nearly .500 and slugs .1000 against these two pitches from righties.
We are finally getting to see New York’s top prospect, Deivi Garcia. He’s been excellent, producing a 3.06 ERA and 3.14 FIP. He’s dispelling criticism right now from scouts who pointed out his lack of size in order to generate doubt about his ability to handle a starter’s load.
Garcia is also refuting those who questioned his capacity to accumulate strikeouts against professional opponents. Right now, he’s averaging 9.17 strikeouts per nine innings. While, like many young pitchers, he focuses on his fastball over half the time, he possesses difficult off-speed stuff.
His curveball is, actually, probably his best pitch given its extreme spin, which makes its location deceptive for batters. Like his changeup, which he throws slightly less often, his curveball creates an absurd, double-digit change of pace (in terms of mph) relative to his fastball. So opponents hit and slug only .182 again his curveball and .214 against his change-up.
Garcia vs. Blue Jays Batters
It’s not fair to raise the objection against Garcia that he’s facing Toronto a second consecutive time and therefore faces a disadvantage. If we remain consistent, we have to apply this objection to Walker, who will see this Yankee lineup a second consecutive time. So following this objection doesn’t give us a handicapping edge for our MLB Pick.
I think Garcia can and will repeat his strong performance against Toronto because he matches up well with its lineup. Right now, the Blue Jays rank 22ind in slugging .419 against Garcia’s two favorite pitches, his lively fastball and his high-spin, change-of-pace curve. Expect, for example, Randal Grichuk to struggle. He’s already 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Garcia.
We have a potentially overrated pitcher in Taijuan Walker, who’s bouncing from team to team with his mediocrity, who matches up poorly with Yankee batters. Meanwhile, top prospect Deivi Garcia is showcasing his unique stuff, which is more difficult to punish even when its location is poor. Garcia has greater margin of error and in any case a strong match-up against Blue Jay batters.
For the above reasons, take the Yankees on the run-line when top sportsbooks like Bovada release their first-five betting odds. I want to focus on the first five innings to take advantage of New York’s edge in starting pitching.