Opinion

5/31-6/2 Series Preview vs. Los Angeles Angels

Their Story So Far

The Yankees (33-15) head back home after a tough series split in Tampa to take on the struggling Angels (27-22). The Yankees have been hit hard with the injury bug this past week and should be relieved to be matched up with a reeling, albeit dangerous, Angels team. The Halos enter the series fresh off a painful four-game sweep at the hands of the Jays and are losers of nine of their last twelve overall.

Projected Lineup (2022 stats)

Here is the lineup you can expect this week for the Angels:

1. Taylor Ward (R) RF (.359/.472/.709, 239 wRC+)
2. Shohei Ohtani (L) DH (.249/.325/.470, 129 wRC+)
3. Mike Trout (R) CF (.310/.411/.652, 204 wRC+)
4. Jared Walsh (L) 1B (.244/.298/.470, 119 wRC+)
5. Luis Rengifo (S) 2B (.293/.359/.397, 124 wRC+)
6. Brandon Marsh (L) LF (.276/.329/.393, 109 wRC+)
7. Max Stassi (R) C (.250/.330/.417, 120 wRC+)
8. Andrew Velazquez (S) SS (.202/.255/.287, 58 wRC+)
9. Tyler Wade (L) 3B (.229/.288/.302, 75 wRC+)

While Trout and Ohtani are going to be the focus, and rightfully so, former first-round pick Taylor Ward is amidst a breakout campaign. Ward had yet to have much big-league success prior to this season and looking under the hood the improvements seem unthinkable. He has managed to massively shrink his chase rate down from 25.1% to 16.6% (now 99th percentile) while boosting his barrel rate from a solid 10.3% to an exceptional 18.4% (now 98th percentile). With Anthony Rendon on the IL, Ward’s performance will continue to be integral in the Halo’s success.

Yankees fans surely noticed the familiar faces at the bottom of the order in “Squid” Velazquez and Tyler Wade, a duo most would rather not see together in an everyday lineup. But with the David Fletcher and Rendon injuries the two have been tasked with a large chunk of playing time, leaving the Angels a little top-heavy. Luis Rengifo has been playing well at second base, which could shift one of the former Bombers to the bench when at full strength, but at the time being this is a batting order with some serious holes.

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday (7:05 ET): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs RHP Noah Syndergaard

Monty has been a staple in the Yankees rotation and is sporting a smooth 3.30 ERA in 2022, yet it almost feels as if he’s considered the weak link. He has yet to break 90 pitches in an outing and his leash is much shorter than the other Yankee starters, resulting in zero wins in nine starts after only registering six in thirty 2021 outings. Still, his 95th percentile chase rate paired with his 91st percentile walk rate is hard to ignore. His wicked curveball has gotten even better this year, now leading to a 46.9% whiff rate and a .146 wOBA. If he can handle Trout and Ward expect an excellent start for the southpaw.

Syndergaard secured a generous one-year, $21 million deal this offseason after some injuries and diminished performance the last few seasons and so far has looked….solid? The 3.08 ERA is probably a little fluky with a 21st percentile strikeout rate and a 48th percentile barrel percentage, but he’s throwing enough strikes (84th percentile walk rate) to maintain solid results. He is not the pitcher he once was as he’s lost close to 5 mph off his peak four-seam fastball, and I’m sure the Halo’s wished they spent the few extra dollars bidding for Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodon, but for a team regularly let down in free agency Thor looks like a fine signing.

Wednesday (7:05 ET): LHP Nestor Cortes Jr. vs LHP Reid Detmers

Let’s talk about the cutter. The league-wide abandonment of the four-seam fastball was evident even before the Spider Tack crackdown and has only accelerated since. Cortes always had a solid fastball-slider combo but before adding the cutter to his repertoire in 2021 he lacked a complete big-league starter arsenal. He had massive success with the pitch in 2021 and has managed to improve still in 2022. His cutter velocity is up from 85.4 to 86.1 mph which has resulted in shaving his wOBA allowed from .341 to .225 on the offering. Due to the success his usage on the pitch has gone from 23.6% to 39.4%. Cortes is the real deal so expect more of the same from him this week.

Detmers entered 2021 as the Angels top prospect according to MLB.com and in 13 career starts has already pitched a no-hitter. Yet, if you remove that start his career ERA sits at an ugly 6.56. The issue with Detmers thus far is his curveball. MLB.com and Fangraphs graded the pitch as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale but it has only been an average pitch for the lefty in the bigs to date. The 26% whiff rate is far from elite and for a pitcher lacking in other areas, is a glaring concern. His four-seam fastball, which he is throwing close to 50% of the time, is a low-velocity, low-spin pitch, far from a go-to offering. At only 22 years old Detmers has time to figure things out, but with high barrel rates (27th percentile) and low whiffs (17th percentile) I am far from bullish on the lefty for 2022.

Thursday (7:05 ET): RHP Jameson Taillon vs RHP Shohei Ohtani

Jameson Taillon is your dad’s favorite pitcher. He is experiencing a breakout season not due to increased spin rates or black magic, but simply pitching better. He is throwing a ton of strikes, exemplified by his walk rate slimming from 7.3% to 2.5% (97th percentile). He is pitching with quicker tempo, down from 17.6 seconds in 2021 to 16.3 on average, which may not directly relate to improved performance, but at least suggests more confidence and control over the game. His pitch usage is what really brings a tear to my eye. Last season he worked with primarily a four-seam, slider, and curveball, throwing those pitches 84.8% of the time. While those remain his favorite offerings, their combined usage is down to 65.6% due to increased cutter and sinker use. In a world of specialists and one-inning relievers, Taillon is the old-school pitcher we don’t see enough of across baseball.

Ohtani may never match his 2021 season, but overall looks like the same player in 2022. Offensively, while the numbers are down a bit, most of that is likely due to regression to the mean and sample size error, as he is in the 95th percentile in barrels and 100th in max exit velocity. On the pitching side there his more to talk about, primarily in regards to his signature split finger. Maybe the best pitch in baseball in 2021, hitter managed a meager .113 wOBA against the pitch which he utilized 18.3% of the time. That usage has dipped to 12.4% early in 2022 and the wOBA has risen to a still solid, yet unremarkable .267. However, the whiff rates on the pitch have risen from 48.5% to 52.3%, signaling the results may be lacking context. In any case, Ohtani may have the best stuff in all of baseball and has lowered his walk rate from 8.3% to a solid 5.6% (80th percentile), so we may just be scratching the surface of his upside on the mound.

What to watch:

  1. Gleyber Torres: Torres is coming off a three-hit outing on Sunday and looks to be the Yankees most locked in hitter. Still short on offense without Stanton and Donaldson, the Yankees need to put up some runs if they intend to win this series and Torres figures to be a centerpiece.
  2. Angels bullpen: Relief pitching has never been a strength of the Halos and that trend has continued this season. After a disastrous series against Toronto the Angels now rank 20th in bullpen ERA on the season. The starting pitching has been solid for LA but if they hope to be a serious World Series contender they must get more consistency out of the pen.
  3. Clay Holmes: Holmes has been arguably baseball’s most dominant pitcher in 2022. He did not pitch this past Saturday or Sunday, and with the off-day Monday he will be good to go this series. The Yankees pen is thin to the point where Holmes is a lock to pitch in late, high-leverage spots, so expect at least one Trout vs. Holmes matchup over the coming days.

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