Throughout Monday, the hot topic surrounding the World Series was whether Game 3 would take place despite a rainy evening forecast. But it wasn’t what warranted the most speculation from the Astros’ side of things.
Because there was likely to be an extra off-day, much of the focus regarding the Astros shifted from Game 3 to Game 4, specifically with respect to who would be starting the latter: Cristian Javier, who had already been tabbed the Astros’ Game 4 starter, or Justin Verlander, who would be available to start on normal rest due to Monday night’s impending postponement.
Although Dusty Baker eventually confirmed last night that Javier would be the guy, the Astros skipper seemed to flirt with the idea of going back to his ace for Wednesday night’s contest in Philadelphia.
It’s arguably for the best that he didn’t.
First and foremost, Phillies hitters just saw Verlander four days ago. And not only did they get a close-up of JV’s repertoire, they fared well against it, collecting six hits and drawing a pair of walks in five innings, all of which resulted in five runs.
Beneath the surface, the data only gets worse for the future Hall of Famer.
While Verlander was only barreled once, half of the 16 batted balls he allowed were hard-hit, and seven were in the Sweet Spot. The Phillies lineup did what few have been able to against Verlander in 2022: consistently make quality contact while lifting the ball. Or, in layman’s terms: hit a bunch of solid line drives.
Perhaps even more concerning for the Astros was the presumptive AL Cy Young winner’s inability to generate whiffs.
Missing bats hasn’t necessarily been a strength for Verlander in 2022, but his slider has notably remained a viable swing-and-miss offering nevertheless.
It did not miss one bat in Game 1.
To be fair to Verlander, the sample size may as well be microscopic, but it doesn’t bode well for him that the one pitch he relies on to induce whiffs failed to against an offense that will soon see him again. The Phillies swung at it eight times Friday night and connected with it all eight times.
Was Game 1 simply an off-night for Verlander? Were his first three-plus hitless innings more meaningful than his disastrous last few frames? These are reasonable questions. Luckily for the Astros, they can save their ace for Game 5 and give him and his 3,000-inning arm an extra day of rest.
Game 4 is Javier’s, as it should be.
When it comes to pitching in the playoffs, two aspects stand above the rest: missing bats and keeping the ball in the park. The former is seemingly second nature for the 25-year-old Javier, and the latter has shown signs of improvement.
Among Astros starters in 2022, Javier registered the highest whiff rate, and finished the regular season in the top 20 percent in that category among all pitchers to boot.
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Though the third-year righty is still fairly average when it comes to minimizing home runs and barrels, Javier did allow fewer barrels as the season progressed. Moreover, he has an elite xSLG.
It’s no secret what Javier’s bread and butter is: his four-seam fastball. It misses bats and is difficult to square up. Throwing it nearly 60 percent of the time has helped generate his outstanding overall results.
Only two starters in the big leagues have a lower xSLG on their four-seamer (min. 750 pitches) than Javier, which is notable because the Phillies own the sixth-highest xSLG against four-seamers.
Lowest 4-seam xSLG
From a matchup standpoint, Javier could have the edge against a potent fastball-hitting lineup with his ability to miss bats while generally being hard to hit. What improves his case is the fact that the Phillies have never faced Javier and his invisiball before.
Though he doesn’t possess Verlander’s ability to consistently pitch deep into games, Javier won’t need to. Not with an obscenely deep and talented bullpen at his back. Merely going twice through the Phillies lineup could prove more than sufficient, and few pitchers fare better when turning over a lineup twice than El Reptil. In fact, only one starter had a lower xwOBA during the regular season when going through an order two times: Atlanta’s dynamite rookie flamethrower Spencer Strider.
In a vacuum, it’s fairly bizarre for a club to pass on using their ace as much as possible in a playoff series, especially when it’s all on normal rest. But considering the remarkable pitching depth the Astros have, as well as the specific circumstances from a matchup standpoint, sticking to the original plan is not only the right move, but the logical one.