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The Yankees are down two-zero in a best of seven, staring down the barrel of a Justin Verlander. There's blood in the water and the majority of it belongs to Yankees batsmen who, despite a league leading .342 wOBA in the regular season, have been largely impotent. They've been reduced to waiting around for Raul Ibanez -- of all people -- to show up and save the day.
Several times the TBS booth brought up Tigers pitchers showing a propensity for going to their off-speed pitches in fastball counts. That seemed to jibe with reality and inspired me to investigate a little bit further into the effectiveness of the Yankees offense against certain pitch types. What I found seems to illustrate that general point.
Per Fangraphs' PitchF/X data, the Yankees were incredibly proficient at hitting the fastball, ranking as the best team in all of baseball against the fastball, the two-seamer, and the sinker. At the head of the list are the suspects that you'd expect to find: Swisher, Granderson, Jeter, Rodriguez, and Martin all demonstrated a fastball-friendly split.
The rational response from an opposing pitcher? Don't throw fastballs. Especially don't throw fastballs when Yankees batsmen are looking for fastballs. It makes abundant sense and has been used successfully as a gameplan so far in the playoffs.
Last night, Anibal Sanchez threw forty-five change ups and sliders, resulting in thirty-three strikes and eleven whiffs. Compare that to fifty-one fastballs for twenty-seven strikes and three whiffs. The success that enabled Sanchez to throw seven scoreless innings largely happened with off-speed pitches and it may prove to be a roadmap for success against the Yankees.
This is a team that has shown that it can turn around a fastball, anybody's fastball. If Justin Verlander tries to blow 98 MPH past the Yankees lineup in Game Three, I'll take my chances with this lineup cranking out some extra base hits. If he mixes in his change up and curveball -- as he is more than capable of doing -- there could be a lot more zeros up on the board.
As you may have noticed, one of the Yankees who was not listed as having a large dependency on punishing fastballs was Robinson Cano. Should the Yankees climb out of the hole that they have dug themselves, it will likely be as a result of the awakening of Cano. As the colossus of talent that he is, there really is no pitching style that truly neutralizes him, making his playoff slumber the biggest damper on the Yankees offense.
The Yankees offense has been criticized as being home run reliant, and I have often objected to some of the logic behind that. The Yankees offense is Cano reliant and really does not have the peripheral pieces that can be expected to pick up the slack should he continue to hit like Ramiro Pena. It's small sample sizes that decide who goes on and who goes home, but it's hard to imagine the Yankees making a push in Detroit without Cano making a major contribution.
As someone who can hit any pitch, an awakening of Cano might be the best hope for the offense, as the league seems to have figured out the best way to neutralize most of the Yankees other weapons.