I don’t know that head-to-head comparisons are truly predictive of anything, but they’re fun and I like doing them, so here we are again for the first time since 2007. As we go down this list, the thing my research has revealed is that though the Twins and Tigers supplied baseball’s one exciting, down to (and past) the wire race, they just weren’t very good teams.
Michael Cuddyer vs. Mark Teixeira
Cuddyer is coming off of the best year of his career, the second in which he justified being a first round pick back in 1997. He closed hot, hitting 15 home runs in the last two months of the season. Normally a right fielder, he’s playing first because Justin Morneau is out for the year. He won’t amaze with the glove-work, but he’s a better choice than any old Chris Richard type. Cuddyer is a career .245/.303/.396 hitter against the Yankees; Teixeira is a career .371/.415/.670 hitter versus the Twins.
This is an EDGE: YANKEES, but Cuddyer isn’t incapable. Note that he hit .307/.363//651 against left-handers, with 15 home runs in 166 at-bats.
Nick Punto vs. Robinson Cano
The best you can say here is that Punto is a nice glove and can play three infield positions with equal aplomb. He’s also willing to take the odd walk, with the result that the gap between his and Cano’s OBP (.337-.352) is much smaller than the gap between their batting averages (.228-.320). Despite that, the overall package isn’t even close to what Cano offers. Just don’t ask who hit better with runners in scoring position. EDGE: YANKEES.
Matt Tolbert vs. Alex Rodriguez
Long is the road from Joe Crede to Matt Tolbert, who sadly will never hit well enough to have any “Tolbert Report” T-Shirts made up. Like Punto, Tolbert is a utility infielder trying to pass as a regular because other Twins’ plans didn’t work out, not that Crede was much of a plan. The amalgam of Tolbert’s two Major League seasons, .251/.310/.338, seems a fair representation of what he’s capable of given his minor league numbers. A switch-hitter, Tolbert has been useless against righties (.221/.290/.286) and hard on lefties (.315/.354/.461) but the samples are small. Against him, the Yankees present A-Rod, who had one of the best seasons ever by a man playing on one leg, Mickey Mantle’s entire career aside.
Another BIG EDGE: YANKEES.
Orlando Cabrera vs. Derek Jeter
Twelve years later, you know what you’re going to get from Orlando Cabrera: a little offense, a little defense, but nothing award-worthy. The Twins infield was bad enough for that to be an upgrade. At .289/.313/.430 and a big home run in the final game, he gave the Twins a little more than they could have expected. Cabrera shared Derek Jeter’s one major negative this year: a propensity to hit into double plays. Jeter, one of the Majors’ most committed ground ball hitters (he ranked eighth in ground ball percentage among batters with 500 or more plate appearances), hit into a double play in 17 percent of his opportunities. Mr. Cabrera was just fractionally off that pace, killing two in 16.4 percent of his chances. The similarities end there — the Captain had one of the best seasons in a career full of them and is somehow better on defense at 35 than he was at 25. Jeter ranked third in the league in OBP, his best finish since his wonderful 1999. One other possible negative: we can only hope his case of postseason bunties doesn’t reappear. In the regular season, Jeter has pulled off a sacrifice once every 126 plate appearances. In the postseason, he’s done it once every 70 plate appearances, which works out to nine in a season of 600 PAs. He doesn’t turn into Jay Bell or anything extreme like that, but it’s still more outs than a hitter of his quality can usefully give away, and it isn’t all that helpful anyway. Regardless, BIG EDGE: YANKEES.
Joe Mauer vs. Jorge Posada
Here we have the probable MVP versus a catcher merely having a very, very good season, which means on any given day the gap between the two isn’t that large. Of course, the gap between Mauer and Jose Molina could span the stars. Not much held Mauer back this year — home, road, lefties, righties, or high-fructose corn syrup. He also hit two home runs in four games in Yankee Stadium II. If you want a down note, Mauer caught only 26 percent of attempted basestealers, which is the lowest figure of his brief career. In this he was about even with Posada.
EDGE: TWINS, but don’t panic about that — panic about the possibility that this fellow has it within him to go George Brett postseason ’78 (or ’76, or ’77, or ’80) on the Yankees.
Delmon Young vs. Johnny Damon
Young had a big finish to the season, winning the final Player of the Week award, but most of the time he’s a Player of the Weak, a player who simply kills his own team. He doesn’t hit for average, doesn’t hit for power, doesn’t walk, doesn’t run, and is an egregious fielder. He also kills his team on the double play, banging into a twin-killing in 21.5 percent of his opportunities, top 10 in baseball in the 400 PA and up division. Young is still young; he turned 24 about three weeks ago. His second half, spiked by that big finish, totals out at .300/.322/.500. You can live with that, in kind of a B- version of Garrett Anderson way, and Anderson at his peak was just okay. Perhaps he has finally gotten in touch with the talent that made him the first overall pick in 2003 and a Major Leaguer at 20, but I remain skeptical that he’ll peak at anything more than Jose Guillen.
Damon had one of the best years of his career at 35, but there were caveats; just about all his power derived from the new ballpark (17 home runs at home, seven on the road), and he disappeared in September. In the same way Young’s finish and his age may interact to say something about his future, so might Damon’s age and his finish. Whatever happens with his bat in the coming years, his best defensive days are definitely behind him, but compared to Young he’s Tris Speaker. EDGE: YANKEES.
Denard Span vs. Melky Cabrera
Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2002 initially looked like a bust, but he’s proved himself to be a strong on-base threat with some pop in his bat and good range afield. Note that he did almost all of his basestealing at home, as if he needed ‘Turf to give him an extra push. Left-handed hitters don’t bother him much. As for Melky, he is what he is, does what he does. He hit .264/.324/.393 in the second half, which is about right. EDGE: TWINS.
Nick Swisher vs. Jason Kubel
Writing the line above the first time, I typed Joe Kuhel, which isn’t a total miss — they both played for the same franchise, sort of. Kubel broke through in his age-27 season, with a season at-bat far beyond his previous achievements. Note that he was seriously diminished both on the road and against lefties (.243/.299/.345). Conversely, Swisher might be the only player on the Yankees who feels bad about having home field advantage. That said, he did finally figure out how to hit at YS II in September, batting .314/.417/.686 with five home runs in 51 at-bats. That’s something you might expect to continue in the playoffs, given that there was no reason for it to happen in the first place.
Swisher looks erratic on defense but makes most of the plays, while Kubel is a DH pushed into wearing a glove due to Morneau’s injury. Their seasons had different shapes, but the difference in value between the two was
minimal. I’m calling it NO EDGE, but you can make a case for Swisher based on his being the better all-around player.
Jose Morales vs. Hideki Matsui
Morneau’s injury set off a chain reaction which pushed right fielder Cuddyer to first base and DH Kubel to right field. Without an obvious DH candidate (their Triple-A version of Juan Rivera, Garrett Jones, had gone off to do wonderful things for the Pirates), they turned to 26-year-old catcher Jose Morales, an almost pure singles hitter. He gave them a good on-base percentage and zero power, which is something. Matsui had a fantastic year, especially considering that he’s now more machine than man from the knees down. Of special note was his performance against left-handers. Matsui is the rare lefty who isn’t troubled by a left-handed pitcher (you wish he could teach that), and this year he was especially cruel to them, slugging 13 home runs in 131 at-bats. Big EDGE: YANKEES.
CC Sabathia goes in Game One against the average-at-best Brian Duensing. Lefties slugged only .268 against Duensing, hitting no home runs in 82 at-bats, but small-sample caveats apply. Duensing was actually more of a fly ball pitcher, so that shouldn’t last, especially in the friendly confines of YS II. I haven’t seen how Ron Gardenhire intends to set up the rest of his rotation yet, but Nick Blackburn has been savagely raked by the Yankees in the past, and Carl Pavano is, well, Carl Pavano. Scott Baker is the only starter with swing-and-miss stuff on the staff, and the Yankees won’t get him more than once. You know who the Yankees’ other starters are and what they’re capable of. EDGE: YANKEES.
Both teams have nigh-unbeatable closers. Otherwise, I see two small advantages for the Twins: first, rookie southpaw Jose Mijares killed left-handers, holding them to .155/.228/.252. The Yankees’ spot relievers, Phil Coke and Damaso Marte, aren’t nearly that effective. Otherwise, the Twins aren’t nearly as deep, but with pitchers like Ron Mahay, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch, they’re more of a veteran group. As good as Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves and pals were, they haven’t been here before. I’m calling it EDGE: YANKEES, but with reservations.
If Joe Girardi doesn’t over-manage the way Gardenhire does, wasting time on bunty one-run strategies, this is a big advantage for the Yankees. Note that Gardenhire doesn’t quite know when to get Joe Nathan into games — Girardi has done a much better job of placing his fireman in the same place as the actual fire. EDGE: YANKEES.
PB PREDICTION: YANKEES IN THREE.