Anatomy of a Double Play

Apart  from Swisher’s home run, no other play in the entire game last night had a higher Win Probability Added, in terms of absolute value, than when Andy Pettitte got Joe Mauer to bang into a double play in the eighth inning.  This was a glorious moment, and it was brought about by two key factors: Pettitte’s approach and Jeter’s positioning.

First, some background.  In the sixth inning, Pettitte struck Mauer out on five pitches, which you can see here:

[image title="AAA mauer 6th inning AB" size="full" id="18373" align="center" linkto="full" ]

In this at-bat, Pettitte began with a curveball high and inside, which Mauer took for a strike.  He then followed this with a fastball on the inside corner, and Mauer fouled it off.  With the count at 0-2, Pettitte threw Mauer three consecutive cutters.  The first one was low and away, and Mauer took it for a ball.  Pettitte elevated the next one slightly more, but Mauer took it for a ball as well.  Pettitte then elevated it a few more inches, and Mauer swung and missed for the strikeout.  The pattern was clear: fastballs in, cutters away.

When Pettitte faced Mauer in the bottom of the eighth, with runners on first and third and only one out, the pressure was on.  As you can see in this screenshot of the at-bat, he varied his approach:

[image title="AAA mauer 8th inning AB" size="full" id="18371" align="center" linkto="full" ]

Here he began the at-bat by throwing him two consecutive mid-80s cutters on the outside corner.  This was the same approach as the sixth inning, just with the opposite order.  The first cutter barely missed, but the second one nipped the corner and was called a strike.  With the count even at 1-1, Pettitte attempted to go inside on Mauer, placing two 90 mph fastballs right on the inside corner.   These weren’t brushback pitches, but Pettitte was no doubt attempting to set up the fifth pitch of the at-bat, which was away and offspeed, by changing the velocity and the location.  Certainly he was hoping that at least one of the two fastballs would have been called a strike or fouled off, because he would have had Mauer 2-2 and could have gone for the strikeout.

With the count 3-1, Pettitte threw the same cutter than he had gotten Mauer to chase in the sixth and had thrown for a strike on the first pitch of this at-bat.  This cutter was a bit more outside (and clearly ball four), but Mauer chased it anyway.  It’s unclear why.  Maybe he was frustrated by the strikeout in the sixth.  Maybe he thought the pitch was just too hittable.  Regardless, it was a ball, and instead of walking and loading the bases for the wOBA-leading Morneau, he drove it up the middle.

Off the bat, I thought the ball would go through and the Twins would score the go-ahead run.  However, as you can see in the video, Jeter was positioned perfectly.  He only had to take one step to the right in order to field the ball, and didn’t even need to backhand it.  Maybe the Yankees coaching staff had read JMK’s piece from yesterday on Mauer’s spray data, or maybe they do their own research, but they had Jeter positioned perfectly.

[image title="small screenshot" size="full" id="18368" align="center" linkto="full" ]

The Yankees were out of the inning, and a few minutes later Nick Swisher launched a flat changeup into the night air.  It was a good fifteen minutes, and a great ending to a very successful day for the Yankees.