Athletics vs. Yankees: The biggest reason New York's pitching staff matches up well against the A's lineup

NEW YORK -- The two 2018 American League wild card teams could not be more similar and yet so different. The Yankees and Athletics are on opposite ends of the payroll spectrum and Wednesday's winner-take-all game will be played in state of the art Yankee Stadium rather than the rundown Oakland Coliseum. 

And yet, the Yankees and Athletics reached the Wild Card Game because they're similar teams. The Yankees led baseball in home runs this season. The Athletics were third. The A's received a 3.37 ERA from their bullpen this year. The Yankees? A 3.38 ERA. The A's are planning to bullpen game the Wild Card Game. The Yankees might do the same should Luis Severino struggle early.

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The Athletics have a chance to beat the Yankees at their own game Wednesday night. They could easily use a bevy of home runs and a lock down bullpen to stifle the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. The A's have been doing it to teams all season. For that to happen though, Oakland's hitters will have to handle New York's pitching staff and the premium velocity they bring to the table.

As good as the A's were this season -- and they were very, very good -- they were the worst team in baseball against high-end velocity. Their offensive numbers against 95-plus mph fastballs were not good:


AthleticsMLB averageMLB rank

Batting average

.187

.241

30th

Slugging percentage

.279

.377

30th

Weighted on-base average (wOBA)

.262

.309

30th

No team in baseball has less success against premium velocity in 2018 than the A's. They didn't hit for average against big velocity and they didn't hit for power against big velocity either. The Yankees had a difficult decision to make regarding their Wild Card Game starter, and Oakland's issues with big velocity no doubt played a role in their decision to do with Severino.

"Everything goes into the decision. I mean performance, experience, stuff, opponent. All those things, all of it, goes into it," said Yankees manager Aaron Boone on Monday. "But I just felt really comfortable going with Sevy and feel like he's going to get us off on a good note tomorrow ... He's equipped with amazing stuff and the ability to dominate big league hitters because he's such a talented pitcher."

MLB: AL Wild Card-New York Yankees Workout
The A's will have to contend with Luis Severino's big fastball in the Wild Card Game. USATSI

Severino's fastball averaged 97.9 mph during the regular season, the highest in baseball among the 57 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. His slowest average fastball in a start this year was 96.9 mph. Furthermore, the Yankees' bullpen averaged 95.6 mph with their fastballs, collectively. Consider some of the bullpen arms they'll throw at the A's in the Wild Card Game:

  • Dellin Betances: 97.9 mph average fastball (10th highest among all relievers)
  • Aroldis Chapman: 99.1 mph average fastball (3rd highest among all relievers)
  • Chad Green: 96.5 mph average fastball (26th highest among all relievers)

That list does not include Zach Britton, who threw only 40 2/3 innings this season after returning from an Achilles injury. He did not have a normal spring training and has been gradually regaining velocity on his trademark sinker as he's gotten further away from the injury:

zach-britton-sinker.png
Zach Britton has been regaining velocity on his sinker as the season has progressed. FanGraphs

The Yankees are built around power. Power bats and power arms, especially in the bullpen. The A's are built around power too. They hit a ton of home runs and have a knockout bullpen themselves. Offensively though, that same power-laden lineup struggled against premium velocity all season long. They did more than struggle. They were the worst team in the league against top shelf fastballs.

On paper, the Yankees and their power arms match up well against the A's lineup. From Severino at the start of the game to the bullpen arms in the middle and late innings, they all bring the heat. They Yankees even made an intentionally cheesy promotional video about it before the season.

For the Athletics to beat the Yankees in the Wild Card Game, they're either going to have to hit high-end velocity better than they have all season, or they're going to have to take advantage of every mistake breaking ball out over the plate. It's baseball. The Yankees could execute their best fastballs well and the A's could still hit them. In this case, one team's strengths match up very well with the other team's weakness, and it could shape the outcome of the Wild Card Game.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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