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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.