What to Watch For: Yankees vs Rick Porcello

The Yankees tonight begin a crucial three-game series against the Tigers, who are two games ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. Rick Porcello, who lost to the Yankees earlier this month, gets the ball in the series opener for Detroit. The Tigers have three former Cy Young winners and the reigning league ERA champ in their (healthy) rotation, but that “other starter” - Rick Porcello – might be the most consistent pitcher on their staff this season.

Porcello owns a 3.10 ERA in 2014 and has seen that number drop each month, including a 2.53 ERA in August. He has yet to allow more than three runs in back-to-back starts this season and his three shutouts are tied for the most in baseball.

He held the Yankees to one run over seven innings in his only outing against them this year on August 7, a game the Yankees actually won 1-0 thanks to a more dominant effort by Shane Greene.

How do the Yankees match up with the right-hander from New Jersey and can the offense continue its mini-hot streak tonight in Detroit?

Porcello's repetoire Porcello is a five-pitch pitcher (four-seamer, two-seamer, curveball, slider, changeup), but his sinking fastball is his best pitch and is largely responsible for his groundball-heavy approach.

Opponents have just a .607 OPS against his sinker this season and are pounding it into the ground more than 60 percent of the time. Unlike past seasons, the Tigers infield defense is actually converting those grounders into outs, making Porcello one of the most effective pitch-to-contact pitchers in the majors this season.

The Yankees, however, might be one of the few teams that could give Porcello trouble. Although they scored just one run against him on August 7, they did get nine hits and had multiple runners on base in four of the seven innings he pitched.

The Yankees offense has done few things right this season. But one thing they have been able to do on a consistent basis is hit sinkers from righties (.349/.419/.534 line) – the exact pitch that Porcello loves to throw. The Orioles are the only major-league team that has had better production against sinkers from right-handed pitchers than the Yankees.

Porcello will mix in a few more changeups and curveballs when facing lefties, a strategy that also potentially bodes well for the Yankees. Their lefty-swinging bats have been effective versus those pitch types, ranking second in the AL in OPS against curves and third against changeups.

Notable Matchups Jacoby Ellsbury is happy to see Porcello on the mound tonight -- he is 8-for-13 (.615) against him, including a double and two homers. No player who with at least 10 at-bats vs Porcello has a higher batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage or OPS than Ellsbury. Here's how that looks in heat-map form:

Source: ESPN Stats & Information

Derek Jeter has struggled against very few pitchers in his career, but Porcello is one member of this exclusive group. Jeter is just 2-for-18 (.111) against him, (including the playoffs), which is tied for his third-lowest batting average against any pitcher (min. 15 AB).

Jeter has played to Porcello's strengths, hitting 14 of the 17 balls put into play on the ground. Porcello has consistently pounded the inside corner against Jeter, who so far in these matchups has been unable to execute his “Jeterian” swing and punch the ball into right field against Porcello.