Archive for October 6th, 2010

vs. Francisco Liriano PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Derek Jeter SS 15 0.385 0.467 0.692 1 3
Nick Swisher RF 18 0.294 0.333 0.412 0 0
Mark Teixeira 1B 18 0.176 0.222 0.353 1 1
Alex Rodriguez 3B 13 0.111 0.385 0.111 0 1
Robinson Cano 2B 14 0.308 0.357 0.385 0 0
Marcus Thames DH 15 0.357 0.400 1.000 3 4
Jorge Posada C 8 0.429 0.500 0.571 0 0
Curtis Granderson CF 25 0.182 0.250 0.364 1 3
Brett Gardner LF 9 0.333 0.333 0.556 0 3
Total 135 0.273 0.326 0.488 6 15
vs. C.C. Sabathia PA BA OBP SLG HR RBI
Denard Span CF 7 0.286 0.286 0.429 0 0
Orlando Hudson 2B 9 0.222 0.222 0.222 0 0
Joe Mauer C 28 0.231 0.286 0.308 0 2
Delmon Young RF 18 0.167 0.167 0.222 0 0
Jim Thome DH 30 0.148 0.233 0.593 4 6
Michael Cuddyer 1B 59 0.218 0.271 0.327 1 7
Jason Kubel RF 5 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Danny Valencia 3B 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
J.J. Hardy SS 0 0.000 0.000 0.000 0 0
Total 156 0.197 0.231 0.347 5 15

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I am as superstitious a fan as they come. I also tend to be a lot more guarded in my expectations, at least in comparison to the unmitigated arrogance expressed by the more casual Yankee fan. However, no matter how hard I try to be more even handed in my assessment of tonight’s ALDS, I still can’t help coming to the same conclusion: the New York Yankees are a much better team than the Minnesota Twins. Whether its hitting, pitching or defense, the Yankees seem to have the edge.

At the plate, Yankee batters posted a major league leading wOBA of .347, a good pace ahead of the Twins at .334. In addition, the Yankees have a more diversified offense. Not only did the Bronx Bombers belt 60 more homers, but they also stole 35 more bases while only being caught two more times. What’s more, the Yankees even play small ball as much as the Twins: the two teams were only separated by five sacrifice bunts. About the only thing the Twins do appreciably better is put the ball in play (967 strikeouts to the Yankees’1,136), but, then again, that has led to a league leading 159 double plays, compared to the Yankees’ 124.

Offense Comparison, Season Totals

Yankees 10.4% 20.4% 0.350 0.436 0.169 5.3 865 132 0.347
Twins 8.9% 17.4% 0.341 0.422 0.148 5 785 66 0.334

Source: Fangraphs.com

Much has been made of the thin Yankees rotation, but what about the Twins’? Even including the disastrous seasons of AJ Burnett and Javier Vazquez, the Yankees’ pitching staff still recorded a better ERA+ than the Twins, albeit by a slight margin. However, if you break the comparison down to only include the individual stats of each prospective starter, the edge once again seems to swing more in the Yankees’ favor, especially when you consider the park factors for each team’s home stadium.

Pitching Comparison, Prospective Starters in 2010

Yankees 82 28 3.41 908.5 1.25 8.18 0.90 2.85 7.35 2.58
Twins 65 46 3.83 894.6 1.28 9.16 0.78 2.29 6.69 2.92

Note: The statistics for pitchers scheduled to throw a second time have been counted twice.
Source: Fangraphs.com

On an even more granular level, the Yankees have a decided advantage when comparing the relative performance of each team’s current roster against the scheduled starters in the series. Based on the charts below, perhaps the Twins would have been wise to go with Carl Pavano in the series opener? In any event, C.C. Sabathia gives the Yankees a considerable edge.

Yankees Starters vs. Current Twins Batters

Sabathia 214 5 18 9 54 0.229 0.272 0.353 0.626
Pettitte 184 4 17 8 29 0.277 0.313 0.416 0.729
Hughes 40 0 3 5 6 0.333 0.400 0.394 0.794
Total 438 9 38 22 89 0.258 0.290 0.383 0.673

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Twins Starters vs. Current Yankees Batters

Liriano 156 6 17 13 46 0.266 0.338 0.475 0.812
Pavano 120 4 12 6 26 0.245 0.288 0.409 0.697
Duensing 58 2 9 9 5 0.292 0.397 0.479 0.876
Blackburn 156 4 19 14 19 0.305 0.368 0.447 0.815
Total 490 16 57 42 96 0.276 0.333 0.450 0.782

Source: Baseball-reference.com

In the bullpen, the two teams are relatively comparable from a statistical perspective. However, with all due respect to Jon Rauch, the Yankees have a monumental advantage in the ninth inning. Mariano Rivera’s post season performance has been historic to say the least, and until he proves otherwise, there is no reason to suggest that he won’t continue his dominance this October.

Bullpen Comparison, 2010 Totals

Yankees 3.47 7.69 3.61 2.13 0.92 0.232 1.25 77.0%
Twins 3.49 6.74 2.95 2.28 0.87 0.254 1.29 75.9%

Source: Fangraphs.com

Probably to the surprise of many, the Yankees are also a better defensive team than the Twins, according to defensive efficiency (.707 to .688). Although UZR/150 favors the Twins as a team, it is worth noting that the Yankees have a decided edge in the outfield (8.6 to -3.7). Considering the spacious outfield in Target Field, the Yankees ability to run down balls could prove to be a deciding factor.

Yankees, Twins Outfield Defense

Yankees Innings UZR/150
Brett Gardner 1211 28.7
Curtis Granderson 1120 10.3
Nick Swisher 1103 -0.9
Austin Kearns 236 5.7
Greg Golson 75 29.2
Twins Innings UZR/150
Denard Span 1349 5.9
Delmon Young 1277 -10.8
Jason Kubel 801 -19
Michael Cuddyer 550 -18.6
Jason Repko 306 51.5

Source: Fangraphs.com

Prediction: Yankees in three games

It would be easy to hedge my bet and give Minnesota Twins a game or two, but all of the data and every instinct suggest that the Yankees could be poised for another sweep of the Twins. Of course, being baseball, anything can happen. The Twins are, in fact, a very good team…just not as good as the Yankees. If they were to win the series, it certainly wouldn’t send shockwaves, but make no mistake, it would absolutely be an upset.

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Cincinnati Reds (91-71) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65)

Game 1: Edison Volquez vs. Roy Halladay
Game 2: Bronson Arroyo vs. Roy Oswalt
Game 3: Johnny Cueto vs. Cole Hamels
Game 4*: Edison Volquez vs. Roy Halladay
Game 5*: Bronson Arroyo vs. Roy Oswalt
*Projected and if necessary.

Because the Phillies have so many impact left handed hitters, the idea that the Reds will be hampered by their all-righty rotation has emerged as a popular misconception. Despite the presence of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez in the middle of the lineup, the Phillies still managed to record a higher OPS against southpaws (.767 vs. .736 against righties). Part of the reason for this contradiction is the Phillies’ lefties do not mash righties. In fact, right handed swinging Jayson Werth is the only regular with an OPS above .900 against them. Meanwhile, the Phillies big lefties seem to handle southpaws just fine. In the regular season, Utley had an OPS of over 1.000 against lefties, while Ryan Howard checked in at .826. Their production added to the .900-plus OPS output of guys like Victorino and Ruiz make the Phillies much more formidable when facing pitchers throwing from the port side.

In addition to preferring lefties, the Phillies lineup also seems to enjoy the fastball. According to fangraphs.com, six of the Phillies’ regulars feast on number one. Unfortunately for them, the Reds’ starters are not very big on throwing heat. Both Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez threw around 55% fastballs in 2010, while Arroyo only went with the express 39.5% of the time. Because all three Reds’ pitchers making their living with off speed pitches, it could spell trouble for the fastball hungry Phillies lineup.

Phillies Lineup, by Pitch Value

  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Jayson Werth 20.2 0.3 1.6 1.1 7.5
Ryan Howard 19.3 3.7 -3.9 4 -4.7
Chase Utley 16 4.1 0.6 4.8 0
Shane Victorino 15.3 -0.5 1 -2 -8.3
Carlos Ruiz 12.2 0.9 -0.3 0.3 1.3
Placido Polanco 8.1 -5.7 -2 2.5 -1.7
Jimmy Rollins 0.1 1.9 -1.2 -0.4 0.8
Raul Ibanez -2.7 -2.8 -0.9 4.5 7.6

Source: Fangraphs.com

Reds Rotation, by Pitch Selection and Value

  FB%  SL% CT% CB% CH%
Bronson Arroyo 39.5% 13.6% 7.3% 14.6% 25.0%
Johnny Cueto 55.2% 26.7% 8.2%   10.0%
Edinson Volquez 56.7% 1.4%   19.1% 22.8%
  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Bronson Arroyo 5.7 5.7 0.9 10.4 4.1
Johnny Cueto -0.5 -1.7 6.9   3.4
Edinson Volquez -2.1 0   2.3 1.4

Source: Fangraphs.com

The Phillies aren’t likely to dominate the Reds with their bats, but that’s not really how they played all season. Although the team did experience a significant increase in offense performance over the final month, the Phillies were still a middling offense over the entire regular season. Instead, what fueled the two-time defending NL champions was an outstanding starting rotation. In the NLDS, however, they will be facing the NL’s best offense in terms of runs per game, slugging and OPS+, among other stats. Even more impressive, they have performed well above league average against both righties and lefties. Led by potential MVP Joey Votto, the Reds feature a malleable lineup of veterans and youngsters. The Reds also bring one the strongest and most tested benches into the post season, as five “backup players” have produced around or above league average in at least 180 plate appearances. As a result, Dusty Baker could have the upper hand when it comes to late game substitutions.

Another advantage for the Reds lineup is it features an eclectic group of hitters. Unlike the Phillies who feast on the fastball, the Reds lineup consists of hitters who handle a variety of pitches. Because the Phillies projected three starters also do not rely on the fastball, the Reds’ offensive flexibility could prove to be another important competitive advantage.

Reds Lineup, by Pitch Value

  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Joey Votto 39.3 8.2 1.2 0.9 4
Ramon Hernandez 9.9 -4.1 1.4 0.6 -2.5
Jonny Gomes 8.1 -1.7 5.4 0.8 -5.4
Scott Rolen 7.1 -1.2 -0.9 5.9 7.7
Brandon Phillips 6.4 -5.8 0 -0.5 8.2
Jay Bruce 5.3 -5.1 2.5 4.3 4.2
Miguel Cairo 4.9 -2.5 -1 0.6 1.2
Laynce Nix -0.2 0.4 1.8 0.3 -1.4
Ryan Hanigan -0.9 7.5 -0.3 1.6 -1.9
Orlando Cabrera -2.2 -4.2 -1.8 0.4 -2.8
Chris Heisey -2.5 6.2 1.9 -4.2 -1.7
Drew Stubbs -2.9 14.2 -0.6 -4.4 -1.2
Paul Janish -3.5 0.9 1.8 -0.5 0.7

Source: Fangraphs.com

Phillies Rotation, by Pitch Selection and Value

  FB%  SL% CT% CB% CH%
Roy Oswalt 55.4% 11.5%   12.7% 20.3%
Cole Hamels 54.3%   14.7% 8.2% 22.8%
Roy Halladay 37.4%   34.2% 16.9% 11.5%
  wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH
Roy Oswalt 11.8 2.1   0 9.5
Cole Hamels 11.5   -1 1.3 8.8
Roy Halladay 6.5   18.1 8.9 6.1

Source: Fangraphs.com

While the Phillies have a decided advantage in terms of overall talent, the matchups seem to favor the Reds more than one would think at first glance. As a result, this series could come down to which bullpen is best able to hold a lead in the late innings. For the Phillies, that means Brad Lidge must maintain his second half resurgence. Since the All Star Break, Lidge has earned 21 saves while holding opposing batters to a .532 OPS. Meanwhile, a secret weapon for the Reds could be Aroldis Chapman. Although the Phillies have had success against lefties and as a group seem to prefer hitting the fastball, they’ve likely never seen a pitcher like Chapman. With his 100-plus mph fastball, Chapman has the potential to become an important part of the Reds’ bullpen, much in the same way Francisco Rodriguez burst on the scene for the Angels in the 2002 post season.

Prediction: Reds in Five Games

Roy Oswalt has pitched excellently since being traded over from the Astros, but while in Houston the right hander surrendered nine runs in 12 innings against the Reds. A mostly fastball and changeup pitcher, Oswalt could be vulnerable to a Reds lineup that has several hitters who perform well against both pitches. As a result, look for the Reds to win both games he is tentatively scheduled to start, meaning Cincinnati will need to either steal one game from Roy Halladay or find a way to beat Cole Hamels. Either task won’t be easy, but with a deep lineup like the Reds, I’ll take my chances for one late game comeback.

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For some reason, the Rays have emerged as a decided favorite in their ALDS showdown with the Rangers, despite the two teams being relatively equal in most facets of the game. In fact, based on ERA+ and wOBA, the Rangers actually come out ahead. Although the Rays rate better on defense, their advantage is not to the degree that would mitigate all other factors.

Tale of the Tape

  wOBA ERA+ UZR/150
Rays 0.333 110 5.0
Rangers 0.328 104 1.6

Source: Fangraphs.com

Of course, season long performance loses a lot of its relevance in a short series. In this case, the most important factors for the Rangers (the acquisition of Cliff Lee and health of Josh Hamilton) would be disguised in the regular season statistics. Meanwhile, for the Rays, their most prominent regular season strength (the depth of their pitching staff) seems as if it started to crumble down the stretch. Because the teams are really so closely matched, this series seems as if it has the potential to turn on the performance of each teams’ best player.

Key Player for the Rays: David Price

While the rest of the Rays rotation was crumbling in September, David Price was a rock. However, Price is now entering unchartered territory as the lefty approaches a 50 inning increase over his previous season’s workload. As the innings continue to mount on Price’s young arm, it’s hard to say how he will respond. With Cliff Lee being his game one mound opponent, even a slight slip in his game could prove costly to the Rays. In the event Tampa should drop game 1, they’ll then have to turn to the veteran duo of Matt Garza and James Shields. The only problem with that strategy is both were awful coming down the stretch. In September, Garza and Shields posted ERAs of 5.88 and 7.59, respectively.

Key Player for the Rangers: Josh Hamilton

The Rangers offense does not feature the same dynamic lineup of year’s past. Instead, much of the power is centered around the trio of Nelson Cruz, Vladimir Guerrero and Hamilton. As the only lefty of the group, Hamilton has emerged as the focal point of the Rangers’ attack. Without him, the team struggled in September, so for the Rangers to win, they’ll need their MVP candidate to be fully healthy. Otherwise, Texas will find itself vulnerable to the Rays preponderance of right handed pitchers.

Prediction: Rangers in Three

If Cliff Lee pitches anything like he did in the 2009 post season, the Rangers could be in line for a sweep. The biggest problem for the Rays is even if Price can pitch as well as Lee, he isn’t as likely to pitch as long. Because both teams have relatively strong and diverse bullpens, the series will likely come down to which rotation holds up its end of the bargain. Considering Shields’ and Garza’s late season struggles, a loss in the first game could quickly snowball into a sweep. Game one will definitely be a close one, but if Lee can prevail, I like the chances of that happening.

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Can Boone Logan Do a Damaso Marte Impersonation?

Can Boone Logan get as many big outs as Damaso Marte?

This time last year, Yankee fans were scratching their heads over the decision to place Damaso Marte on the post season roster, much in the same way they may be perplexed by this year’s inclusion of guys like Sergio Mitre and Dustin Moseley. A 9.45 ERA in 13 1/3 innings will elicit that kind of response. Of course, we now know how that decision turned out. For those who may have forgotten, just ask Ryan Howard. I am sure he remembers that Marte was near perfect in the 2009 post season, retiring 12 of the 14 batters he faced, including an unblemished 2 2/3 innings with five strikeouts in the World Series.

This year, the Yankees will look to Boone Logan to fill the role of lefty specialist. Unlike Marte, however, Logan excelled in the regular season, pitching to a 2.93 ERA in 40 innings. What’s more, Logan was dominant against left handed hitters. In 91 plate appearances against lefties, Logan kept the opposition to an OPS of .501. Therefore, if Joe Mauer, Jim Thome or Jason Kubel come up in a big spot, there’s a great chance Logan will called upon to face them.

Will Logan take his place among Graeme Lloyd, Mike Stanton and Marte as a lefty killer in the post season? The answer to that question could go along way toward determining how deep the Yankees play into October.

Will the Yankees Finally Miss Matsui and Damon?

Even with Nick Johnson missing most of the season and Curtis Granderson struggling over the first four months, the Yankees’ offense still managed to compensate for the losses of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. Will the same be true in the post season?

Who will be the Yanks' MVP this October?

Matsui’s 2.027 OPS in the 2009 World Series speaks for itself. Obviously, the Yankees will not be able to replace that. Before his outburst against the Phillies, however, Matsui had produced a sub-.700 OPS in four of his previous five post season series. Even though his cumulative post season totals are all very good, Matsui was far from consistent in October. The same holds true for Johnny Damon, who has had just as many series with an OPS below .700 as above .900.

The point isn’t to denigrate the contributions of Matsui and Damon, but to point out that performance in the post season can be somewhat variable. There is no reason why Curtis Granderson and Lance Berkman can’t have a big series this October, but by the same token, no one should be surprised if they do not. The bottom line is the Yankees have replaced Damon and Matsui with accomplished hitters, so their success or failure should not be judged through the prism of whom they are replacing.

Will Alexander the Great Conquer October Again?

Saying Alex Rodriguez had a monster post season in 2009 would be a gross understatement. The much maligned Yankees third baseman not only shed the image of not being clutch, but emerged from October with an aura of invincibility. Of course, Arod had put up big numbers in October before, but for some reason, he came to be defined by his struggles in the 2005 and 2006 ALDS.

Will Arod have an ALDS identical to last year's series against the Twins?

What Arod will show up this post season? If his strong September (.295/.375/.600 with 9 HR) is any indication, the Yankees could be in line for another magic carpet ride. Although the Yankees can’t expect Arod to repeat his 2009 post season, there is a benefit in knowing that questions no longer swirl around the cleanup hitter. An even bigger benefit will come from an increased contribution by Mark Teixeira, whose struggles last post season were completely obscured by Arod’s amazing performance. With Robinson Cano thrown into the mix, the Yankees have a very strong middle of the order, so the burden shouldn’t have to fall on any one player’s shoulders. Should that be the case, at least we now know Arod’s are broad enough to carry the load.

Is Andy Dandy?

Another parade could depend on the health of Andy Pettitte.

Too much has been made of the “disarray” in the Yankees starting rotation. They still have C.C. Sabathia taking the ball in game 1, and Phil Hughes was just as effective in 2010 as AJ Burnett was in 2009. So, the only potential difference between this year and last is Andy Pettitte, or more precisely, which Pettitte will take the mound.

If the Yankees get the pitcher who was on his way to having a Cy Young season before being injured, the rotation could actually be stronger than last year’s. If, however, Pettitte is still hampered by the lingering effects of his injured groin, the Yankees will have to scramble. The only way to answer that question is to give Pettitte the ball. So, after game 2 of the ALDS, we should have a pretty good idea about the Yankees’ chances to repeat.

Catch Me, If You Can?

Jorge Posada's arm could be just as important as his bat during the post season.

With AJ Burnett not part of the ALDS rotation, the plan is to play Jorge Posada every game. From an offensive perspective, that’s a great thing. However, it does raise some red flags on defense. Posada not only ranked at the bottom of the league in terms of nabbing base stealers, but he also ranked near the top in passed balls. Making matters worse, Posada’s backup, Francisco Cervelli, hasn’t been any better behind the plate.

In the ALDS, only Denard Span and Orlando Hudson are significant threats to run, so the Yankees vulnerability behind the plate may not come into play. If the Yankees, advance, however, you can bet that either the Rangers or Rays will plan to run the Yankees out of the series. As a result, it will be incumbent on the pitching staff to hold runners, or even better, keep them off base altogether. There is no Jose Molina this time around, so defense at catcher could wind up being the Yankees’ biggest Achilles heel.

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