Meet the New York Yankees

The 2009 season is down to its last four-to-seven games. One squad of 25 men will attempt to wrest control of the final series from the other for the right to call themselves “World Champions,” or in the Phillies’ case, “back-to-back World Champions”.

Each team made a concerted effort to get to this point. The Yankees spent an exorbitant amount of money to lure 2007 AL Cy Young award winner C.C. Sabathia, the multi-talented first baseman Mark Teixeira, and the good-when-healthy A.J. Burnett. The Phillies signed Raul Ibanez in the off-season and added former Cy Young award winners Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez mid-season to improve a mediocre starting rotation.

Likewise, each team had to battle adversity. Alex Rodriguez missed the first five weeks of the regular season and had to deal with fallout from his admission to use of performance-enhancing drugs during his tenure with the Texas Rangers. Chien-Ming Wang was ineffective when he took the mound and eventually called it a season after his start on July 4.

The Phillies, meanwhile, had to compete with Jimmy Rollins being a shell of his former 2007 NL MVP self, and Brad Lidge inverting his success from last year. To make matters worse, the Phils lost the voice of the team, Harry Kalas, in mid-April following the conclusion of a series in Colorado.

Back stories out of the way, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and compare the World Series entrants. Fellow ESPN SweetSpot blogger and Yankees representative Jason Rosenberg of It’s About the Money, Stupid! is likewise comparing the teams, so stop by for an alternative perspective.

First, let’s look back on the May 22-24 inter-league series in New York. What happened?

  • May 22: The good guys won 7-3 behind a strong start from Brett Myers. As was typical for Brett this season, he allowed three home runs in the game, but fortunately they were all of the solo variety. The Phillies hit four home runs, including this mammoth shot from Jayson Werth off of A.J. Burnett.
  • May 23: The bad guys won 5-4 thanks to one of Brad Lidge’s many blown saves during the regular season. The Yankees scored three in the ninth courtesy a two-run, game-tying Alex Rodriguez home run, and a walk-off RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Lidge wasted a great start by future Sporting News Rookie of the Year J.A. Happ.
  • May 24: The rubber-match ended as a rubber-match between two elite teams should: with extra innings. The Phillies led 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, but Brad Lidge once again blew the save opportunity on another RBI single by Melky Cabrera. Carlos Ruiz gave the Phillies the victory in the 11th inning on an RBI double that scored Chase Utley.

Judging by the way the inter-league regular season series went, both teams’ offense will figure prominently into the results. As such, let’s take a look at where each team stands offensively.

Offense, Base Running, Defense

The Phillies led the National League, averaging 5.06 runs per game. Being an American League team, the Yankees led with a higher 5.65 RPG average.

At home, the Yankees averaged one home run every 23 plate appearances; on the road, every 30 PA. The Phillies are more balanced, averaging a HR per 25 PA at home and per 28 PA on the road.

The following chart will compare each team’s starters at each position using OPS+. For those unfamiliar with the metric, this Wikipedia blurb explains it rather succinctly.

(WordPress is back to reducing the quality of images. If you’d like to see a clearer version of the charts, just click on them and they will open in a new window.)

The Yankees have clear advantages at catcher, shortstop, and third base, while the Phillies don’t have any clear advantages themselves, though most would take Chase Utley over Robinson Cano and Jayson Werth over Nick Swisher without thinking twice.

Using batting and fielding runs from FanGraphs, and base running runs from Baseball Prospectus, what happens if we also include base running and defense into our analysis? Have a look:

For your convenience, the following chart will quickly show you the advantages, marked with the letter x.

The Yankees’ offense is more powerful than the Phillies’ — without counting Hideki Matsui as the DH — but the Phillies make up a lot of ground with their base running smarts (thanks to first base coach Davey Lopes) and defense.

Catchers

Offensively, the switch-hitting Jorge Posada is clearly ahead of Carlos Ruiz. However, Chooch is enjoying a fine 2009 post-season with a 1.000 OPS in 34 PA. Posada has put up an .845 OPS in 36 PA.

With his cannon arm, Chooch threw out 23 of 84 base-stealers (27.4%) during the regular season. Posada matched him, throwing out 31 of 111 (27.9%).

As Phillies fans are well aware of, though, is that Ruiz’s strength is blocking balls in the dirt, a very important feature particularly for closer Brad Lidge. Ruiz led all qualified Major League catchers, averaging just .184 wild pitches and passed balls per game. In other words, Ruiz will let one skip by once every five games. Posada was among the bottom ten in the American League with a .562 WP+PB/G according to The Hardball Times.

Posada, a potential Hall of Famer, is clearly the superior catcher here, but in a short series where small events are magnified, Ruiz’s fundamentally-sound game reduces that gap.

Bench

Both teams’ benches aren’t exactly filled with batting champions, but they are deep and versatile.

The Phillies have left-handers Matt Stairs and Greg Dobbs; Stairs will likely DH when A.J. Burnett starts. Infielders Miguel Cairo and Eric Bruntlett allow manager Charlie Manuel the flexibility to pinch-run late in the game to increase the probability of scoring an extra run. Right-hander Ben Francisco will likely play left field when a left-hander (C.C. Sabathia, Andy Pettitte) starts, allowing Raul Ibanez to simply DH. Finally, left-hander Paul Bako is the back-up catcher to Carlos Ruiz.

The Yankees have several pinch-running options as well in outfielders Brett Gardner and Freddy Guzman. Jerry Hairston, Jr. is the lone back-up infielder. Jose Molina will back up Jorge Posada and will likely catch when A.J. Burnett starts.

Pitching

It’s like staring into a mirror. A look at each team’s starting and relief pitching during the regular season:

  • Phillies starters: 4.29 ERA
  • Yankees starters: 4.48
  • Phillies relievers: 3.91 ERA
  • Yankees relievers: 3.91

I’ll compare the starters once the rotations are set. For now, we’ll just focus on the bullpen using WXRL from Baseball Prospectus.

Mariano Rivera, Phil Hughes, and Alfredo Aceves during the regular season were better than any of the Phillies’ relievers. Almost everyone said that the Phillies’ biggest weakness heading into the NLCS was their bullpen, but that wasn’t fleshed out by the results, as only Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson gave up runs out of the ‘pen against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Meanwhile, Rivera, Hughes, Aceves, and Joba Chamberlain allowed runs in the ALCS against the L.A. Angels.

It would be foolish not to assign the Yankees a huge bullpen advantage, but the Phillies have made a habit of disproving conventional wisdom.

Offense Splits

Since the Phillies and Yankees play in different leagues, we can’t just compare raw OPS figures. Instead, what I will use is tOPS+. To paraphrase Baseball Reference, tOPS+ is defined as:

OPS for split relative to total OPS. A number greater than 100 indicates the batter did better than average in this split. A number less than 100 indicates that the batter did worse than average in this split.

  • Yankees LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 102
  • Yankees LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 103
  • Yankees RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 101
  • Yankees RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 90
  • Phillies LH batters vs. LH pitchers: 103
  • Phillies LH batters vs. RH pitchers: 108
  • Phillies RH batters vs. LH pitchers: 100
  • Phillies RH batters vs. RH pitchers: 85

Both teams’ right-handed hitters struggle against right-handed pitchers, which makes the likes of Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Alfredo Aceves, Ryan Madson, Phil Hughes, and Ryan Madson, as well as starters A.J. Burnett and Pedro Martinez, pivotal figures in this series.

Pitching Splits

Both teams’ left-handed hitters hit left-handed pitchers surprisingly well, which will minimize the effectiveness of Phil Coke, Damaso Marte, Scott Eyre, and J.A. Happ.

Here are similar split numbers for the pitchers. This time, numbers above 100 signify below-average pitching.

  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 70
  • Yankees LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 95
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 106
  • Yankees RH pitchers vs. RH batters: 106
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. LH batters: 90
  • Phillies LH pitchers vs. RH batters: 101
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. LH batters: 99
  • Phillies RH pitchers vs. RH pitchers: 106

The reason why Phillies’ right-handers perform better than the Yankees’ right-handers against left-handed batters is because of the preponderance of change-ups thrown by Ryan Madson, Pedro Martinez, and Joe Blanton.

The run-down, sans starting pitching:

  • Offense: Slight advantage Yankees
  • Base running: Advantage Phillies
  • Defense: Advantage Phillies
  • Bullpen: Advantage Yankees

Once the rotations are announced, we will look at the starting pitching match-ups. If you need something to hold you over, stop by It’s About the Money, Stupid! for some Yankees-themed coverage.

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15 comments

  1. Frank

    October 26, 2009 05:28 PM

    Wow. I didn’t expect it but this is a great post and a great blog. Excellent stuff here; very fact-driven and staying away from the “101 Reasons to Hate the Yankees” posts. I’m a Yankees fan, and if you’re looking for a laugh, go on over to HalosHeaven. They are absolutely atrocious over there.

    Every Yankees win was a nation-wide conspiracy!

    Looking forward to an all-time series. The two best teams in baseball here no doubt.

  2. Jason@IIATMS

    October 26, 2009 06:02 PM

    Frank’s right. Bill, you do an excellent job here. I look forward to some give and take with you guys, with the hope that we can keep it away from the “youz guys suck” stuff!

    This should be a tight, fun, wild series and if any Yanks fan thinks it’s gonna be easy, they’re nuts!

    Jason @ IIATMS

  3. sam

    October 26, 2009 06:03 PM

    I very much enjoyed this article, it lacks the overt bias that most articles have this time of year.

  4. John M

    October 26, 2009 09:04 PM

    I like the post. Very informative. I have one question, though. According to the charts on defense, it says Howard is a better defender than Teixeira, right? This seems counter-intuitive. How can this possibly be correct? I watch Howard and Tex a lot, and this seems wrong. Maybe the numbers back it up, but my eyes tell me differently. Same with Jeter versus Rollins. How can Jeter be considered a better defender? Makes me wonder about the validity of the stats. Any response?

    Should be a fun, heart attack type series. Go Phils!

    Thanks!

  5. Bill Baer

    October 26, 2009 09:35 PM

    Human eyes, as complex as they are, make a lot of mistakes. It’s a pivotal reason why eyewitness testimony by itself is only very lightly regarded in the court of law.

    Howard, before the season, worked with Sam Perlozzo to improve his defense and it has paid off in spades. Likewise, Jeter had for a while been a very poor defender, but whatever he has done this year has worked well.

    I used fielding runs from FanGraphs in my analysis. FanGraphs bases fielding runs off of UZR/150, which is generally regarded as the most reliable fielding metric available, and is as stable from year-to-year as wOBA.

    Teixeira, over his career, has been a slightly above-average fielder, but I believe his reputation as an elite defender really took off last year, when he posted an insane (for him) 9.3 UZR/150 with the Braves and Angels. He had posted a UZR/150 in the negatives from 2005-07 and once again in ’09.

    What that could signify is that the fielders around him in ’08 were much better than those in other years. In other words, if Teixeira is surrounded by good fielders, especially a good second baseman, he can let ground balls go by and simply cover first base. On the other hand, if he is teammates with a poor-fielding second baseman, he will have to play a more aggressive first base and as such will make more mistakes.

    That’s one of the issues we are dealing with when it comes to quantifying defense. Simply put, Teixeira is not as good as he showed in ’08 (9.3) but he is also not quite as bad as he showed in ’07 (-5.2).

    To illustrate this, check out the graphs made by Justin Bopp at Beyond the Box Score.

  6. John M

    October 26, 2009 09:50 PM

    Bill – Thanks for the reply. I agree Teixeira has quite the reputation which is somewhat overstated. And Howard has definitely been better this year than he has been in the past. I guess I just can’t get over the huge difference in defensive value between Teixeira and Howard. It makes it seem suspect. As you said, defensive statistics are tough to quantify. And memory does come in to play (or the lack thereof!). I guess we’ll see how it plays out.

    If you had to choose two guys to play defense, would it be Jeter and Howard or Rollins and Teixeira? The stats say one thing. My heart tells me another. Funny.

    Thanks so much for all your work. This only makes me more excited for the Series, if that is possible.

    John

  7. Bill Baer

    October 26, 2009 10:29 PM

    If you had to choose two guys to play defense, would it be Jeter and Howard or Rollins and Teixeira?

    That’s a hard question to answer because one tends to base the judgment on recent performance. Right now, we have no way of knowing if their 2009 defensive performances are flukes.

    Based on probabilities, I would say it’s more likely that Jeter’s and Rollins’ 2009 seasons have been flukes while Howard’s and Teixeira’s have not, but there’s no possible way I can prove that.

    So, hesitantly, I would take Jeter/Howard over Rollins/Teixeira.

  8. DSFC

    October 27, 2009 12:04 AM

    Yanks fan here…..a very fair assessment. One minor correction – you have Francisco Cervelli (the catcher who not going to pinch run) confused with Freddie Guzman (the outfielder who adds nothing besides speed on the bases). In any case, I’d be shocked if they keep Guzman over Eric Hinske for this one since they’ll need Hinske as a PH for the games in Philly….unless Girardi decides to drop Cervelli instead. I can’t see that happening though, unless he decides to stop starting Molina when Burnett starts, and there’s been no indication that he will. If he’s starting Molina, Cervelli will be on the roster.

  9. kay Wahrsager

    October 27, 2009 12:05 AM

    I was also confused by the defensive stats. Although Ryan Howard has made huge improvements it seems impossible to believe that he would be rated by any defensive system over Texeira. I watched a large number of Philly games and in no way would Howard be compared to Keith Hernandez or Don Mattingly with the glove. With the bat he is amazing and a huge threat. I would take Rollins and Tex since Derek’s range other than this year has long been suspect.

  10. Bill Baer

    October 27, 2009 12:36 AM

    DSFC, thanks, fixed that up.

    Kay,

    I watched a large number of Philly games and in no way would Howard be compared to Keith Hernandez or Don Mattingly with the glove.

    Maybe not, but neither would Teixeira.

  11. John

    October 27, 2009 03:48 AM

    My understanding is that Mayberry isn’t eligible for the postseason because he wasn’t on the 25 man roster on Aug 31st. (Called up on Sept 6th, after being optioned down on July 30th)

    He was on the 40 man, but without an injured outfielder I don’t think there is a way to add him to the postseason roster.

  12. Bill Baer

    October 27, 2009 10:34 AM

    John,

    That’s a good point. I couldn’t find anything to disprove what you said, so I think you’re right. I had thought that because he was on the 40-man roster, he would be eligible, but I guess not.

    Thanks for clarifying that.

  13. Rob in CT

    October 27, 2009 11:36 AM

    Good stuff. We’ll have to see how much of these advantages and disadvantages will be reduced or amplified by the managers. Girardi has me worried. He’s already started Jose Molina over Posada, he’s pinch-run and bunt happy, and he’s made some odd pitching choices. Then again, he’s made some good ones (his use of Mariano).

    I’m sure Hinske will be added to the NYY bench. I imagine that will cost Guzman or Cervelli his spot.

    I think we’ll see Molina catching Burnett again (ugh), and far more trust in Joba Chamberlain than is warranted. Too little trust in David Robertson. I can only hope that Charlie Manuel does some wierd stuff too (starting Pedro in game 2, for instance).

  14. Frank

    October 27, 2009 03:13 PM

    Re: Teixeira’s defense

    Tex is a great first baseman. No doubt about it. But he’s never been – I would say – a “rangy” first baseman. Everything else he does is above average: his footwork, throwing arm, scooping, stretching ect. UZR really isn’t the best way to qualify a first baseman because of everything else involved. Especially when the difference is +/- 1.5 (above or below average), it really doesn’t make a big difference.

    Obviously, when you see a bigger discrepancy in UZR in SS and 2B, it’s a much bigger deal. Not so much at 1B.

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