Home SportsMLB 2020 World Series: Why two-strike fastballs could be key for Dodgers in containing Rays’ Randy Arozarena

2020 World Series: Why two-strike fastballs could be key for Dodgers in containing Rays’ Randy Arozarena

by Ryan
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Here are three things the Dodgers should know about how to retire Arozarena

By R.J. Anderson    CBS Sports

The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves Sunday in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win their third pennant in four years. The Dodgers will now face the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, which begins on Tuesday.

Though this isn’t the case, you can’t blame anyone who feels the Dodgers’ steepest challenge lies ahead; not in defeating the Rays, but in attempting to stymie rookie outfielder Randy Arozarena.

Arozarena has followed up a 23-game regular season stint that saw him hit .281/.382/.641 (179 OPS+) with a 19-game playoff run wherein he’s batted .356/.415/.797. During Barry Bonds’ best offensive season (2002), he hit .370/.582/.799. Clearly Bonds was better — much better, in some regards — but it speaks to Arozarena’s October that he’s closeish in average and slugging.

Given the struggles of most of the Rays’ other hitters, minimizing Arozarena has to be a priority for the Dodgers heading into Tuesday’s Game 1. So, what exactly should they do when he’s up? Below, we’ve formulated three suggestions that should come in handy throughout the series.

  1. Spam him with soft stuff

The universal scouting report prescribed to every hitter is to throw them hard stuff in and soft stuff away. The intent behind the strategy is reasonable enough: you get to test their hand speed and ability to react, and you get to tempt them into swinging over or through a darting slider or fading changeup away. Unfortunately, that strategy is not going to work with Arozarena.

Arozarena has blistered fastballs throughout the year. He’ll enter Game 1 having hit .379/.478/1.052 against hard pitches (fastballs, sinkers, cutters) versus .279/.318/.443 against soft pitches (breaking and offspeed). That’s not feast or famine, but it is the difference between his imitation of Bonds and his cosplay of Whit Merrifield (.282/.325/.440).

Obviously pitching is more complicated than saying, “overload Arozarena with soft stuff.” Not every pitcher can locate their secondaries well enough to make that approach work. Besides, it reasons that Arozarena will adjust if it’s obvious the Dodgers are unwilling to throw him a fastball. The pitcher-batter matchup is, at its heart, an exhibition of game theory, meaning that sometimes you have to mix up your approach to keep the opposition honest.

With that nuance acknowledged, let’s touch on one situation where game theory has failed.

  1. Avoid two-strike fastballs

Getting Arozarena into a two-strike count should feel like you’ve gotten over the hump, and that the hard work is mostly over with. Now, you just have to finish him off and that’ll be that.

In the old days, a two-strike count is where most pitchers would break out their best secondary offering — be it a wipeout slider or a trapdoor changeup. These days, pitching backward is more widely accepted. As a byproduct, pitchers seem more likely to bust out their fastballs when they’re facing a two-count situation. Arozarena, for his part, appears fond of the change.

Arozarena has homered 14 times between the regular season and the playoffs. Of those 14, seven have been launched with two strikes — and all seven of those have been on fastballs:

Arozarena likes to see elevated two-strike fastballs. TruMedia

Arozarena’s ability to hit two-strike fastballs has resulted in a triple slash of .342/.419/.921. That’s not a typo; he has a .921 slugging percentage against two-strike fastballs. Comparatively, he’s hit .161/.235/.258 against two-strike pitches that weren’t fastballs.

We know it’s tempting to elevate a heater when you get to two strikes, but Mark Prior and the Dodgers should resist that temptation against Arozarena.

  1. Shade correctly

We’ll end by assessing where Arozarena hits the ball when it doesn’t clear the fence, or where the Dodgers should position their fielders to maximize their chances of getting an out.

Take a look at Arozarena’s spray chart:

Arozarena likes to hit the ball to right, right-center and to the shortstop lanes. TruMedia

The most populated “bins,” if you will, are to right, right-center field and the two lanes most commonly occupied by the shortstop. The Dodgers would also appear wise to have their second basemen take a step to their right, and to not worry too much about center or left-center fields.

Now, with all that in mind, expect Arozarena to deliver several key hits to those areas of the field while feasting on two-strike changeups and sliders. After all, if it were that easy to gameplan for him, he wouldn’t be in this position to begin with.

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