Say Farewell to Yankees’ Win Streak in ESPN Showdown vs. Red Sox

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 11:33 AM UTC

Wednesday, May. 9, 2018 11:33 AM UTC

The Yankees host Boston for the second game of a three-game series Wednesday at 7 ET.  New York has won seven in a row, but Boston starter Rick Porcello has an undefeated streak of his own. And he’s not the only reason why Boston will win.

Boston Red Sox (25-10) at New York Yankees (25-10)Free MLB Pick: Boston MLBest Line Offered: Bookmaker

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The lineups tonight are two of the very best. The key for MLB bettors tonight is to determine which starting pitcher is more vulnerable.

New York’s Masahiro Tanaka (4-2, 4.39 ERA) is on fade alert in our MLB Picks. On April 11, Boston shelled him for six runs in five innings. Tanaka did not simply have an off evening; he matches up poorly with the Red Sox. Tanaka has deviated from his notoriously poor fastball and emphasized particularly his slider and splitter. Tanaka already began this deviation last year. He had one awful performance against Boston, but otherwise pitched well against them. In 2017, though, Boston’s xSLG (expected slugging percentage; measures what slugging percentage a team should achieve) in 2017 against the slider and splitter was mediocre. This season, Boston ranks first in the category.

Boston’s significant improvement in these two pitches creates a perfect storm with Tanaka's further elevated usage of his two favorite pitches. He is throwing them 56% of the time. Part of the reason for Boston’s improvement is the addition of J.D. Martinez, whose xSLG is .436 against the slider and splitter. In his career against Tanaka, Martinez is 7-for-12 with two doubles and three homers. Another reason is the bounce-back season of Mookie Betts, who is batting .360 and slugging .825. His xSLG against Tanaka’s favorite two pitches is .667. So when Tanaka faced Boston in April, the BoSox achieved a .750 slugging percentage against his slider and .500 against his splitter.

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#StartSpreadingTheNews, the first one is ours.

— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 9, 2018

Rick Porcello (5-0, 2.14 ERA) counters for Boston. Porcello is enjoying a renaissance with an ERA 2.51 lower than that of last year. He is striking out more batters, inducing a vastly higher ground-ball rate, and allowing fewer homers. His performances against the Yanks were all over the place last year. Nonetheless, the Yanks are batting only .204 against him in 157 career at-bats. This year, Porcello is achieving consistency by improving his pitch selection and the pitches themselves.

Last year, for instance, the bane of Porcello’s performance against New York was his change-up. The Yanks achieved a slugging percentage of .800 or better against his change in three outings against him. Overall. Porcello’s opposing slugging percentage against the change-up was .597. This year, he has brought that number down to .344 despite throwing change-ups more frequently. He added two mph of velocity and eliminated much of its vertical movement, so that it has essentially become like a fastball, except that it throws hitters off-balance by being slightly slower. The key for Porcello’s change has been location. He is throwing it with 23% higher frequency in the lower-middle part of the strike zone. The Yanks owned Porcello’s change last year because they have one of the best lineups against this pitch. But since 2017, they rank outside the top half in terms of slugging percentage against the change-up thrown in the lower-middle part of the zone, where Porcello has been throwing it consistently against all of his opponents thus far.

Porcello has improved himself in other ways. Opponents are less able to sit on his fastball, which he throws less frequently and with much less threat to himself. He recreated his two-seam fastball by giving it different movement and is making fewer location errors with his slider. The opposing BA against both pitches is consequently drastically lower. Also, he’s throwing with 5% higher frequency in the lowest part of the strike zone in order to induce more non-threatening ground balls.

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