Ex-Texas Rangers scout Frankie Piliere identified four matchups worth noting in the upcoming American League Championship Series between the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees.
The two areas of most interest to me are how Hughes will approach the potent Rangers lineup in Game 2 and how C.J. Wilson will attack Yankee batters in Game 1.
Regarding the two matchups (with emphasis added):
Phil Hughes vs. Texas:
Hughes put the Minnesota Twins to sleep in Game 3 of the Division Series primarily on the strength of his fastball. Odds are he won’t be able to use a similar approach against the Texas Rangers. The good news is, he is perfectly capable of changing his approach. Texas did most of its damage against Tampa Bay on the fastball and didn’t miss too many mistakes over the heart of the plate.
Hughes gets a lot of outs on his fastball, which sneaks up on hitters at 92-94 mph with his short arm action and big life through the zone. That fastball still won’t be an easy task for the Rangers bats, but his curveball and changeup will have to play a much bigger role. There is one particular hitter in the Rangers lineup that right about now would love to see a pitcher primarily throwing fastballs, and that’s Josh Hamilton.
I find this interesting because so much has been made of Hughes as a predominantly two-pitch pitcher (fastball/curveball). Granted, Hughes mixes in two different types of fastballs — a straight four-seamer (58% of all pitchers in 2010) and a cutter (16.6%) that tails away from righties — but the fact remains that Hughes tends to work in the 89-93 mph range with his two fastballs and still threw them a combined 75.8% of the time, against 16.6% for his curveball. Considering Hughes only threw 83 changeups all season (2.7%), I’m curious where Piliere gets the belief that Hughes “is perfectly capable of changing his approach.” In 2010, it doesn’t appear that such a belief is particularly well-founded.
C.J. Wilson vs. New York:
You could make the case that C.J. Wilson is the top X-factor in this series, period. Texas has a good shot at taking two games simply on the strength of Cliff Lee’s performances. If Wilson can pitch up to his potential and neutralize the Yankee lefties then suddenly the Rangers have a very legitimate chance to steal the whole thing.
Wilson did a superb job following Lee’s lead against the Rays, using many of the same patterns, particularly against their right-handed hitters. He’ll be facing New York this time around, and he’ll have to keep his command in check if he’s going to succeed. Most importantly, he has to prove very early on that he can throw his slider and changeup for strikes.
Against most lineups, you can get away with throwing strikes with your fastball and making hitters chase secondary offerings down and out of the zone. It’s not quite that simple against the Yankees. Wilson of course doesn’t have the pinpoint command of Lee, but he’ll have to be very fine with those secondary pitches to keep New York off his fastball.
As I noted yesterday, Wilson experienced mixed results against the Yankees in three starts this season. Although he struck out a high degree of the Yankees he faced (11.9 K/9), he was nevertheless hittable (6.91 ERA/1.81 WHIP) in his 14.1 innings vs. New York. Further, Wilson is prone to losing the strike zone, allowing 4.1 BB/9 with a less-than-stellar 1.83 K/BB ratio. Given the patience the Yankees exhibit and their ability to hit all types of pitches (see FanGraphs’ Pitch Type Values), I have confidence that the Yankees will present a far greater challenge to C.J. Wilson than the Rays did in his previous start.