My process always starts by reviewing pitching matchups.
Tonight, we get a good one in Toronto’s Kevin Gausman vs. New York’s Luis Severino.
At first glance, my gut told me to back the Under in what shapes up as an elite pitching matchup on paper. That thought was short-lived, as I noticed BallParkPal.Com lists Yankee Stadium as a top target for Home Runs tonight based on the weather forecast .
That led me to wonder, who is most likely to hit a home run?
- On paper, based on past matchups, the clear choice appeared to be Yankees slugger Aaron Judge.
- In 22 career Plate Appearances (PAs) vs. Gausman, Judge tallied 8 hits, 4 walks (BB) and a 0.471 Batting Average (AVG). 5 of the 8 hits went for extra bases, and 3 cleared the fence for home runs.
That all sounds good, but it’s worth noting that those plate appearances all occurred between the 2016-2018 seasons.
Since then, Gausman has improved. A lot. Since 2018, his:
- Strikeout rate rose from 19.1% to 29.3% last season (2021).
- Earned Runs Average (ERA) dropped from 3.92 to 2.81.
- Expected ERA (xERA) dropped from 4.76 to 3.52.
- Expected Slugging Percentage (xSLG) dropped from 0.445 to 0.382.
Back in 2018, the last time NYY saw Gausman, 58.5% of his pitches were 4-Seam Fastballs (4SFB). It goes without saying Yankees slugger Aaron Judge is dangerous against most types, but especially 4SBs.
Since then, Gausman’s pitch mix has shifted somewhat meaningfully, and it’s proving effective.
- Last year, only 52.7% of Gausman’s pitches were 4SBs (down 5.8% from 2018).
- This was offset by a rise in Split Finger Fastballs (also referred to as Splitters), which he threw 35.3% of the time in 2021, up 11.3% from just 24.0% in 2018.
- In his first start this year, he threw even fewer 4SBs (just 42.5%) and slightly more Splitters (36.3%).
Seeing this data made me wonder: how do Yankees sluggers do against Splitters?
The short answer: not well, as shown below:
Before seeing this, I was planning to back Aaron Judge Total Bases and sprinkle on his Home Run prop. Now, I’m eager to back Gausman’s strikeout prop.
Last year, his 29.3% K rate was in the Top 15% of MLB.
- His primary put away pitch was his Slider (46.2% Put Away rate)
- Next came his Splitter with a 29.1% Put Away rate
If he sticks with that mix vs. NYY, I expect Gausman to have success.
- Yankees’ superstar Giancarlo Stanton, for example, had a 36.2% K rate vs. Sliders last year and was even worse vs. Splitters (40% K rate).
- Aaron Judge didn’t fare much better with a 31.9% K rate vs. Sliders and 33.3% K rate vs. Splitters.
In 2021, Gausman whiffed 6+ batters in 23 of his 35 starts (65.7%).
- It’s worth noting he was with the San Francisco Giants last year, a national league team, which means he had the benefit of facing other pitchers in the batters box.
- Importantly though, only 9.6% of his strikeouts were vs. opposing pitchers. This tells me he wasn’t overly reliant on facing the 9 spot in the lineup to rack up Ks. I mention this because the days of facing opposing pitchers in the 9 spot are over.
In his first start this year, he whiffed 5 batters in 5 innings and was tracking towards 6, but the team pulled him from the game after 80 pitches, citing lack of work in Spring Training (he only had 1 tune up start). Assuming he’ll get more leash tonight, I think 6+ Ks is reasonably likely vs. this Yankees lineup.
The risk relates to weather, which is favorable for home runs tonight, as I mentioned in my intro. It’s not a comfortable risk to take against the powerful Yankees lineup, but it’s one I’m willing to accept since Gausman doesn’t allow many home runs. If he keeps his Splitter down in the zone, it should be a non-issue.
If you’re comfortable double dipping, I also like Yankees pitcher Luis Severino to cover his strikeout prop number, currently o4.5 Ks.
- Severino is one of the best in the game when it comes to Strikeouts, but there’s risk he won’t pitch enough innings to get 5+ since he’s ramping up after missing 3 straight seasons with injuries.
- In his last full season (2018), he was in the top 18% of MLB in K rate, collecting 5+ Ks with ease in 29 of his 32 (90.7%) starts.
I’m feeling risky tonight, so I did a Same-Game Parlay for both pitchers to go over their K prop at FanDuel Sportsbook. Pairing the props together is paying +216 odds, which I see as a nice risk/reward trade off. To be safe, you could consider buying down 1 strikeout each using the ‘Alt K’ prop lines to get the parlay odds closer to -120.