What Are The Cleveland Indians Doing Differently Than The Rangers?

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Two games into the American League Championship Series and the Cleveland Indians have more wins against Toronto than the Rangers did in the American League Division Series.

Two games into the ALCS and the Indians have only allowed a single run – a RBI double from Josh Donaldson. How on earth, after averaging more than seven runs per game against the Rangers, have the Blue Jays managed just one run in 18 innings?!

What the hell are the Indians doing differently than the Rangers? What’s the secret?

The Rangers philosophy all season has been to pitch inside more on hitters and back them off the plate. And that works – until you face a team that has power hitting right handed bats that love inside pitches.

The Rangers did not waver from their season-long approach and because of not making the adjustments, it may have cost them the series.

Through the first two games of the ALCS, it would appear that it’s as simple as pitch location and pitch type. Allow me to explain.

Let’s take a look at the pitch locations and types of pitches for the Rangers starting pitchers. We’ll start with Cole Hamels.

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Cole Hamels’ pitch chart from ALDS Game 1. Graphic courtesy of BaseballSavant.com

First of all, as you can see, Hamels’ command wasn’t very good. He was all over the place. But if you draw a line down the center of the zone, you’ll find that the majority of his pitches were inside to right-handed batters. We all know the Jays are a very right-handed heavy team and love to hit those inside pitches.

You’ll also notice that Hamels threw a lot of fastballs. 59 to be exact or 72%. That appears to be a few too many fastballs to a team that hits the fastball very well.

Yu Darvish followed the same path for the most part. Throwing lots of fastballs and working on the inner half of the plate.

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Yu Darvish pitch chart for ALDS Game 2. Courtesy of BaseballSavant.com

Again, the same pattern was followed by Darvish. Pitch inside, throw a lot of fastballs. The end result was the same. Darvish did throw more sliders which would have been fine had he located them down and away. Instead, he left a lot of them middle in and up in the zone. Flat sliders that are left up, get hammered. Just ask Joe Blanton and the Dodgers.

Surely after two rough starts, Colby Lewis and Jonathan Lucroy would have a change in philosophy and maybe pitch these hitters away? Maybe pitching coach Doug Brocail intervenes and has some input on the game planning?

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Colby Lewis pitch chart for ALDS Game 3. Courtesy of BaseballSavant.com

Well, we got off the inside of the plate at least. Lewis’ repertoire is the fastball and slider. The Jays are one of the best slider hitting teams in the majors so, in order for it to work, you need to get it way down and way away. Looking at the above chart, Colby didn’t get the slider far enough down or far enough away. The result, much like Hamels and Darvish, was less than optimal.

So after examining the Rangers pitchers, we’ve concluded that they stuck to mostly fastballs, very little offspeed or breaking pitches, and lived on the inner half of the plate.

We can’t simply rely on the three pitch location graphs, so let’s verify our hunch with more proof. Let’s take a look at the Blue Jays big four hitters – Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, and Tulowitzki – since they did the most damage.

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BrooksBaseball.net

This graph, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, shows the contact percentage of Josh Donaldson from the catcher’s perspective. As you can see, Donaldson makes the most contact with pitches on the inner half of the plate. Isn’t that exactly where Darvish and Hamels lived?

What about Edwin Encarnacion?

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BrooksBaseball.net

The Parrot Runner loves the ball, just like Donaldson, middle and middle in.

Jose Bautista?

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BrooksBaseball.net

Yup. You guessed it. Middle and middle in. Yet the Rangers starters continued to live there.

Just for good measure, let’s see where Troy Tulowitzki likes his pitches.

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BrooksBaseball.net

Tulo isn’t as picky as the others, but again, lots of warm colors there in the middle and middle in.

The starters didn’t give the bullpen or the offense much of a chance. That’s not to say the offense isn’t to blame because it is.  But let’s not play the blame game, let’s take a look at what the Indians are doing differently.

We’ll start with Game 1 starter and Cy Young candidate, Corey Kluber.

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Corey Kluber pitch chart in ALCS Game 1. Courtesy of BaseballSavant.com

Now, this looks like a cool tone color palette unlike the warm tone colors the Rangers were throwing out there. Granted Kluber isn’t a fastball pitcher. He works the sinker and slider to his advantage. But notice all the curveballs he threw. Kluber threw 38 curveballs Friday Night or 40%. His regular season curveball usage? 19%.

Look at the location compared to Hamels and Darvish. The majority of everything is away and down especially the curveball. Kluber kept the Jays hitters off balance by throwing a ton of curves down and away. He threw one traditional fastball. One. The result? A shutout on just one extra base hit.

Another thing that stands out, at least to me, is that Kluber got 14 swinging strikes. 10 of those were on his curveball. Hamels got four swinging strikes the entire game.

So what about Josh Tomlin? Tomlin is a cutter/fastball pitcher so that has to spell trouble for the Indians right?

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Josh Tomlin pitch chart in ALCS Game 2. Courtesy of BaseballSavant.com

Oh. That doesn’t look like warm colors to me. That looks an awful lot like Kluber’s cool tone color palette. Look at all those curveballs again. Look at all those pitches on the outer half of the plate.

Tomlin threw just 15% curveballs during the regular season. Saturday afternoon he threw his curve 42% of the time. Tomlin also got six swinging strikes on his curveball and three on his cutter. Darvish only had six swinging strikes the whole game.

One big difference between getting swept and being up 2-0 is pitch selection and location. It really has been one of the biggest differences between the two series’.

The ability the Indians have shown to make adjustments to stay away from the Blue Jays strengths says a lot about their game planning personnel. The same could be said for the Rangers lack of ability to make the adjustments.

Or can it?

During my research, something I found interesting was that the Rangers relievers made some adjustments. Particularly Alex Claudio and Tony Barnette.

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Look at the difference between Claudio’s two appearances. In his Game 1 appearance, his command was shaky probably because of nerves but he was still working the middle of the plate and even slightly inside.

Look at this second appearance on the right graphic. Down and away with the sinker. Still not a ton of offspeed stuff but at least he was keeping the ball away. Claudio pitched a total of five innings in series and allowed just three hits and no runs.

Now take a look at Tony Barnette’s appearances.

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Look at the gradual adjustment Barnette made from his first appearance (top center) to his second (bottom left) and third appearances (bottom right). He stayed with his cutter, his bread and butter, but moved from the middle of the plate to the outer half and then he moved down and away.

Barnette finished the series with four innings of the hit baseball allowing no runs. Paired with Claudio, these two, along with Matt Bush, were the highlights of the Rangers postseason.

Someone was making adjustments. Whether it was Lucroy or Barnette and Claudio, someone was making the right adjustments.

If you’re watching the game tonight, look to see if Trevor Bauer works the outer half and look to see if he throws an excessive amount of curveballs. If he does, we know this working theory is on the right track.

There is no telling what would have happened had the Rangers pitchers had a different approach, however, we do know is that the Indians aren’t making the same mistakes the Rangers did. And by staying away from those mistakes, the Indians are halfway to the World Series.

The Rangers?

Well, they’re halfway through a round of 18.

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Billy Casey
Billy is a baseball fanatic and has been around the game since he was four years old. The first ever game he attended was in September of '89 and Pete Incaviglia denied him an autograph after he had a bad batting practice session. Billy has held a grudge since. Billy is also a baseball coach who is known to dance around the dugout like Ron Washington during big plays in the game.

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