Results tagged ‘ New York Yankees ’

A sticky situation in LF

damon_pb250.jpgTHE MAIN EVENT
The main focus on the Yankees’ offseason seems to be on the big free agent decision, namely Hideki Matsui but not Johnny Damon, or Johnny Damon but not Hideki Matsui, or neither Hideki Matsui nor Johnny Damon and please hold the onions.

This seems like a complicated knot for folks to untangle, and I admit to struggling with it myself, but only because the Yankees have a paucity of replacements in this area. On a basic philosophical level, this isn’t complicated at all: you let both of them go for the simple reason that they’ll be 36 next year, and older still in however many contract years they will require to sign. The problem is that hewing to that old Branch Rickey philosophy of, “better a year too early than a year too late” requires that you know the answer to a subsequent question: “And then what?”

The Yankees are not deep in outfield prospects at the higher Minor League levels. In future years, we may be discussing the merits of Melky Mesa, Neil Medchill, Kelvin De Leon and Zach Heathcott, but for now, Austin Jackson is the only game in town. Hitting .300 with four home runs and 40 walks at Triple-A is better than not, but it isn’t starting corner outfield material and possibly not starting anything material. Jackson, 23 next season, is almost obligated to take a big step forward if he’s going to play regularly for the Yankees, even in center. Suffice it to say that neither Melky Cabrera nor Brett Gardner is qualified to carry left field, a position at which the average cat hit .270/.341/.440 this year.

There are useful outfielders available on the free agent market, but they all have some flaws. Matt Holliday will be only 30 next year, but he will be expensive, cost his team a first-round draft pick, and doesn’t provide the kind of left-handed power which is more important to the Yankees than ever. Jason Bay will be 31, which gives him a year’s head start on Holliday in the decline-phase derby, is a defensive millstone, and like Holliday, he ain’t a southpaw. Rick Ankiel, who will turn 30 in July, does have left-handed pop and as a player who was a bit stretched in center field might prove to have pretty good range in left. He also hit only .235/.285/.387 and rarely walks, so the acquiring team would be hoping for a rebound, but given that Ankiel has only had two seasons as a regular, “Rebound to what?” is a valid question. Jermaine Dye has certainly hit in his career, but he’s 36, wasn’t particularly impressive this season, hasn’t played left field in about a century and a half and is range-challenged in right. Of this group, only Holliday qualifies as an “all-around” player.

Word to the wise: no one had better mention Garrett Anderson if they know what’s good for them.  

Another alternative is to pursue a trade, but that’s going to cost the Yankees pitching resources that Brian Cashman has preferred to hoard, or just money, if he wanted to take on a bloated contract like that of Vernon Wells — not that there’s any reason to do that. It’s hard to know exactly who the Yankees might get, and if they could trade into someone young instead of a veteran as flawed as the free agents above.

If the Yankees prefer to limit their choices to Damon or Matsui, the argument for one vs. the other comes down to which you believe will better bear up at an advanced age. The answer just might be Matsui, compromised knees and all. Damon had a swell year, but a good deal of his power production was due to his becoming adept at poking the ball down the left field line for home runs at Yankee Stadium. His ability to hit on the road, which necessarily is exactly half his job, was less certain. He hit a respectable .284/.349/.446 with seven home runs. Matsui hit 15 home runs on the road, having not taken advantage of Yankee Stadium to the same extent that Damon did. He’s far more likely to adapt to the ballpark next year than Damon is to start hitting on the road.

The downside to Matsui is that while Damon’s days as a defensive asset seem to have gone the way of the economy, at least you can stick him in left field as needed, whereas to have Matsui available at all you have to restrict him to designated hitting. That’s a serious problem, as it clogs up the roster and prevents the Yankees from resting other players in the DH spot. However, it could be a blessing in disguise. The problem with a DH rotation is and always has been who the on-field subs are. If Alex Rodriguez spends ten games next season DHing, then who plays third base for those ten games? If it’s Ramiro Pena, then you’ve taken a huge offensive hit. Ditto any Jorge Posada/Frankie Cervelli DH/catcher combo, or Derek Jeter/Ramiro Pena. If Matsui is on the roster, then subs will play only as needed, whereas with Damon around, Joe Girardi might feel liberated, even obligated, to give players rest.

The best answer remains “neither” and “Get some guys between 22 and 27!” but this is easier said than done in this age of baseball in which “young” is synonymous with “cheap.”

CHRIS SNYDER IN THE WIND
The Arizona Republic (with a h/t to MLB Trade Rumors) reports that the Diamondbacks have been talking about moving catcher Chris Snyder, who lost his job to Miguel Montero this year, for Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay. The deal has apparently fallen through, but that’s good news as this is a player the Yankees should very much be in on if they expect Jorge Posada to spend significant time as the designated hitter in 2010.

Snyder, 28 next year, missed a good chunk of the season due to a nerve problem in his lower back and was no fun when he did play because of it. However, from 2005 through 2008, he hit a combined .251/.346/.438 with a home run every 24 at-bats (or 21 in a 500 at-bat season). Those are strong numbers for a part-time catcher. Now, he did have some flaws during that time. He disappeared versus right-handed pitchers (.222/.314/.374 vs. .273/.374/.460 vs. left-handers) and on the road (.229/.323/.405 vs. 247/.344/.394 at home), though he did maintain his power away from the hot, dry air of Phoenix. In his career, he has caught 32 percent of potential basestealers, which is a bit better than Posada, four or five more caught per 100 attempts, assuming Posada has another year at 2009’s 28 percent in him.

As in the previous section, the Yankees’ ability to live without Hideki Matsui is directly connected to their commitment to upgrading the bench. If you have real players to step in and perform for the stars, great. If you only have Angel Berroa, well, the current world champions were 4-8 in games in which Berroa started. Basically, the Yankees face a Darwinian choice when it comes to going after solid second-string players.

Instant replay classic

arod275.jpgTHE SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE CAMERA
I’m not sure how we ever had baseball without replay. I’m not sure how we can continue to have baseball without replay. Pennant races worth millions of dollars to the teams and a great deal of emotion to the fans are resolved on the whim of umpires — any time a team loses a race by one game, you have to ask, “Did they earn that, or did a blown call earn it for them?” And we have had World Series games decided by poor calls in the past, going back at least as far as the 1922 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants when umpires decided to call Game 2 for darkness in the middle of the afternoon. As far as pennant races altered by umpires, they go all the way back to the very beginning — just ask Fred Merkle. Wherever you are, Fred, we’re sorry.

Alex Rodriguez’s timely camera-shot would have been reviewed whether it occurred in the regular season or the postseason, but all calls should be reviewed. Baseball shouldn’t be a game that is sometimes accurately refereed and sometimes not. As I’ve suggested in previous installments, it wouldn’t have taken a booth umpire much longer than 30 seconds to change Rodriguez’s double into a home run, whereas there had to be a complaint by Joe Girardi, followed by a near-minyan of umpires conferring on the field, followed by the long march off the field, the review, the long march back on — what the heck is this, Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow? Baseball is famous for being a retrograde institution, but let’s get on with it already. Baseball games are slow enough without the March of the Penguins added for no good reason.

That said, the games aren’t too slow for instant replay properly handled. On Saturday, my Baseball Prospectus colleague Joe Sheehan wrote at Sports Illustrated:

The most common objection to this system is that it would cause delays, but both pro and college football have survived, in part by selling additional television ads during the breaks. Delays would happen, but the improvement in accuracy, especially on high-leverage, high-profile plays, would be worth the time investment. You may even save time by eliminating the long arguments and conferences that currently occur.

Actually, the best way to save time would be to have umpires vigorously enforce pace-of-game rules. Doing that would more than make room for the occasional replay. Batters don’t step out. Period. Batters don’t get time called when the pitcher is already in his wind-up. Period. The pitcher holds the ball more than a set number of seconds — less than it is now — then it’s a ball to the batter. Period. If the plate umpire or the base umpires can’t manage a ten-second countdown between pitches, then the aforementioned booth umpire can do it.

Pant. Pant.

…There isn’t much in the way of deep analysis to do with Game Three. Andy Pettitte didn’t pitch well by his standards, but the offense helped him out, including Andy himself. Phillies pitchers were wilder than they’re accustomed to, both with walks and hit batters, and the Yankees finally got a look into the bullpen, and they saw that it was good — looking into it, that is, not the bullpen pitchers themselves. Nick Swisher came back to himself. Jorge Posada stranded a bunch of runners but got a key single. We’re still waiting on Melky, Robbie and Teixeira. Joba Chamberlain pitched his first solid inning in recent memory. Phil Hughes didn’t. Girardi seems convinced that Damaso Marte is back to his pre-injury, 2002-2007 form — I will never cease to be bugged that the Yankees were smart enough to sign Marte as a free agent (out of the Mariners system, where he was a starter), smart enough to move him to the bullpen and make something out of him, and dumb enough to trade him for Enrique Wilson, one of the worst hitters ever to wear a Yankees uniform, worst even when you cut him some slack for being a utility infielder.

When Hideki Matsui came up to pinch-hit for Chamberlain with two outs in the eighth, I said, “This is a kind of low-leverage situation to use Matsui in, but then at this point in the game, a high-leverage probably isn’t going to come up. Girardi might as well just go for it and hope for a solo home run.” Moments later, Matsui made the move pay off, giving the Yankees an extra bit of cushioning which would make Hughes’ failure to contain postseason superman Carlos Ruiz a bit less of a cause for tension. The only drag about THAT was that it momentarily pushed Girardi into Coffee Joe mode and he got Mariano Rivera into a game that he should have been kept out of.

On the topic of subjects for another day, if the Yankees are determined to keep just one from the expiring Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui duo of imminent 36-year-olds, I’m beginning to wonder if the right answer isn’t Matsui, regardless of the roster limitations a pure DH brings.

BLANTON TO START GAME FOUR
This is how chess is played: the Phillies have a paper advantage on the Yankees in starters because Joe Blanton > Chad Gaudin, but CC Sabathia > Joe Blanton. Move and countermove. Of course, it could have been CC Sabathia ? Cliff Lee, but Charlie Manuel didn’t feel comfortable with that. Maybe with tonight’s loss he’ll rethink that decision, but I’ve not heard anything of the sort. Thus Sabathia goes on short rest, and he’ll have to perform to make the chess move good. It might not matter: in four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA. The last time was in June, 2008, so we probably shouldn’t become over-stimulated by this particular bit of trivia.

Just a little patience against Phils, for Swish

lee250.jpgSOMETIMES IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
Before Game 1, I suggested that the Yankees’ trademark patience would test Cliff Lee’s exemplary control. Score that one a clean miss. Unlike just about every other pitcher in the biz, Cliff Lee, who had the demeanor of someone who had just enjoyed a Prozac cocktail, did not bend, did not waver for even a moment. He threw nine innings of mistake-free baseball, never giving the Yankees a chance. A team that walked 38 times in six games against the Angels did not earn one free pass in the game.

You could dismiss this performance as just one game, and say, “Let’s see the next guy do that,” but for two problems. One, the bullpen took a close game and turned it into a rout. Two, Pedro Martinez. Martinez isn’t the old most-dominant-pitcher-ever Martinez, but the new version, which throws strikes and pulls strings, is still plenty good. He completely embarrassed the Dodgers in the NLCS. I will again cling to the belief that the Yankees’ lineup isn’t the Dodgers’ lineup, isn’t a National League lineup, and that lefties hit Martinez reasonably well in the future Hall of Famer’s brief regular season tune-up. The Yankees have also done good work against him (and bad, that also) in postseasons past.

Lee’s start and Pedro’s excellent control points up a way in which this Phillies rotation can take the Yankees’ best trait, their patience, and turn it against them. The Yankees like to work counts and take ball four. Phillies starters just don’t issue ball four. As a whole, Phillies starters averaged just 2.5 walks a game. Lee walked just 1.1 batters per nine innings as a Phillie, Martinez 1.6, Cole Hamels 2.0. The National League average was 3.5 walks per nine innings (the American League was roughly the same). Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, the club’s wildest starters, walked 2.7 and 3.0 respectively. This staff is simply very good at throwing strikes, and if the Yankees play their usual game — and it’s not advisable that they start hacking, because that doesn’t work either — they may find themselves facing some long counts.

As for the bullpen failure, it had limited bearing on the outcome of the game — you could imagine that if the relievers had held serve, Charlie Manuel might have been more inclined to go to his bullpen — but since the Yankees never made up the initial deficit that resulted from the CC Sabathia-Chase Utley confrontations, it didn’t matter. The real impact is in the uncertainty about the bullpen unit as a whole, which seems to have gone down the rabbit hole this October. Perhaps the relative inexperience of the unit has got them twitchy. Whatever the reason, they have to get over it quickly, particularly Phil Hughes, or this Series is going to end a lot faster than anyone anticipated. Worse, a bad performance could mean a winter of reaction from the Yankees’ front office, chasing veteran relief hands at high cost. This is a subject for another day, but that would be an extremely counterproductive strategy that has rarely worked for any GM that has tried it. It’s a quick path to a job on ESPN, however temporary.

We shouldn’t overstate the impact of one game. Two is a different matter. A lot of pressure falls on A.J. Burnett’s right arm. Does he come ready to dance, or does the wild, uncertain version of the pitcher show up? Mister Cream Pie could do more to improve the Yankees’ morale tonight than all of the cans of shaving cream he’s gone through put together — or he could break it.

AND ONE COFFEE JOE NOTE: THINK!
I buy that Nick Swisher needs a mental health break, but considering yesterday’s performance to be part of his slump isn’t exactly fair given the way Lee pitched. After Lee, the whole roster might need a mental health break. In addition, Swisher continues to get into good counts, working the pitcher, which has value in itself if you want to get to the Phillies’ relievers already. In any case, Jerry Hairston is a bizarre choice to substitute for him. I’m thrilled that Hairston has had 10 hits in 27 at-bats against Martinez IN A PERIOD THAT BEGAN IN 1999 AND ENDED FIVE YEARS AGO. Martinez ain’t the same Martinez, Hairston ain’t the same Hairston, and the relevance is extremely, extremely debatable. As with Jose Molina’s time in the game, we’ll assume that this decision won’t have more than an at-bat or two’s worth of impact, but wow, Coffee Joe, that’s an odd call. You readers know I believe in the stats, but you can’t be a slave to the numbers. You also have to THINK.

More to come…

Beware of small sample size with Swisher

ON NICK SWISHER, BABE RUTH, AND OTHER FAILURE-MINDED BALLPLAYERS
Nick Swisher had a very difficult ALCS. In six games he went 3-for-20 with three walks. He struck out seven times, didn’t have an extra-base hit, didn’t drive in a run. This is the definition of a miserable performance. However, extrapolate at your own risk. Reggie Jackson, Mr. October himself, went 2-for-16 in the 1977 ALCS, just days before he personally bombed the Dodgers to death in the World Series. As I’ve been saying all along, this stuff happens. But don’t take my word for it. Here are just a few other examples:

  • Babe Ruth, 1922 World Series: 2-for-17 (.118), no home runs, one RBI.
  • Tony Lazzeri, 1926 World Series: 5-for-26 (.192), no home runs, three RBI.
  • Bob Meusel, 1927 World Series: 2-for-17 (.118), no home runs, one RBI.
  • Joe Gordon, 1939 World Series: 2-for-14 (.143), no home runs, one RBI.
  • Bill Dickey, 1941 World Series: 3-for-18 (.167), no home runs, one RBI.
  • Phil Rizzuto, 1941 World Series: 2-for-18 (.111), no home runs, no RBI.
  • Joe DiMaggio, 1949 World Series: 2-for-18 (.111), one home run, two RBI.
  • Mickey Mantle, 1962 World Series: 3-for-25 (.120), no home runs, no RBI.
  • Willie Randolph, 1976 World Series: 1-for-14 (.071), no home runs, no RBI.
  • Dave Winfield, 1981 World Series: 1-for-22 (.045), no home runs, one RBI.
  • Paul O’Neill, 1996 World Series: 2-for-12 (.167), no home runs, no RBI.
  • Derek Jeter, 2001 World Series: 4-for-27 (.148), one home run, one RBI.

That’s a dozen examples, and all, with the exception of Winfield, picked at random from the long list of Yankees greats. There are eight Hall of Famers on the list, plus Jeter, who is going in as long as he doesn’t rob any banks between now and 2020 or so. For some of them, the series listed above represented their only poor postseason; for others, I had several choices. Swisher hit very badly in the series just ended. There is no way around that. It changes nothing about the valuable season that he had or other series that he might play in the future.

We could also throw a Jorge Posada series or two onto the list above; in 23 World Series games, he’s a .208/.337/.338 hitter. He’s also had some very good postseason series. For example, he drove in six runs against the Red Sox in the 2003 ALCS. These are very small segments of performance we’re talking about, and they don’t have much in the way of predictive power. As the Jackson and Jeter examples above show, they can call you Mr. October or even Mr. November, but, in the words of Casey Stengel, sometimes it doesn’t always work.

For once, nothing amiss, just a win

yanksalcs_1_250.jpgCONGRATULATIONS, YANKEES!
There were no insects this time, no Paul Quantrill making his 90th or so appearance of the season. A terrified Esteban Loaiza did not make an appearance in extra innings. Tom Gordon did not pitch with his arm hanging by a thread. Tanyon Sturtze was not called upon in a big spot. Alex Rodriguez did not hit .133 for the series and get demoted to eighth in the batting order. The starting ace, whoever it was, did not fold in the key game. Jaret Wright did not start, and Kyle Farnsworth could not be found in the bullpen. Randy Johnson did not pitch like a 42-year-old. An injured Gary Sheffield was not called upon in desperation. In short, aside from some compulsive pinch-running and pitching changes by the anxious manager, there were no Hail Mary passes, no fourth stringers dressed up as stars. There was, shockingly for the Yankees, NO WEIRDNESS. They played their games, played them well, and for the first time since 2003, they will return to the World Series. The 2009 Yankees have one of the deepest rosters in the history of the club and they played like it. Finally. Congratulations and good luck to the entire organization.

SOME NOTES ON GAME SIX

1. Even though he didn’t hit, Nick Swisher played his best defensive baseball in this series, culminating in his doubling Vladimir Guerrero off of first in the second inning. He also looked more relaxed at the plate in this game.

2. Jorge Posada was having a decent offensive series (.267/.450/.533, a home run and five walks) before Game 6, in which he had several chances to break the game open and failed miserably, going 0-for-5, hitting into two double plays and stranding 10 runners. Had the Yankees somehow lost the game, you would have had to point the finger his way.

3. Joe  Girardi was fully in the grips of Coffee Joe mania when he went to Mariano Rivera for a two-inning save. Asking your closer to pitch two innings is normally a great idea — it’s always better to cut out the (pardon the expression) middle-man — and that’s the way it was done until Bruce Sutter and then Dennis Eckersley cemented the idea that closers could only be used one inning at a time. The truth was that THEY could be used one inning at a time, but not everyone was subject to the same limitation. The difficultly with asking Rivera to do it in Game 6 is: (a) He’s about four weeks from turning 40; and (b) He had been asked to get six outs just once all year, and that was during a tie on May 16; so (c) As a result, Rivera threw over 30 pitches (31 and 32) just twice all season, and between 20 and 30 pitches just 11 times. This meant that (d) when Rivera ended his difficult eighth inning having already thrown 21 pitches, he had already exceeded his pitch count for all but a handful of his appearances. By the time it was all over, Rivera had thrown 34 pitches, his high for the season, and that was after sitting through the long bottom of the eighth. It worked, but it was risky, and it did nothing to reestablish Phil Hughes, who is going to be needed.

4. I wonder if Dave Robertson is going to get dropped from the World Series roster on the basis of injury. Girardi said he pulled him from Game 3 because his velocity was down (though he had pitched well) and never went back to him again. It wouldn’t serve the Yankees to announce that Robertson was injured as long as the round continued given that they couldn’t do anything about it, and the idea that their bullpen was short a man could somehow impart a psychological or tactical advantage to the Angels. Perhaps we will see the triumphant return of Brian Bruney, though part of me thinks that with the Phillies’ left-leaning batting order, the Yankees would be better off pulling Mike Dunn out of the Arizona Fall League, thereby giving themselves a third bullpen southpaw. I’m half-kidding about that, but only half.

5. It’s amazing how badly one can mess themselves up by thinking about purely physical things. Normally, your hypothalamus controls your breathing. Start trying to control it with your conscious mind — you’ll be gasping for air directly. Similarly, pick up a baseball and simply throw it as you’ve known how to do all your life and you make the play. Think about it, aim it, and you’re going to toss it into short right field. Yes, I’m talking about Scott Kazmir, who could probably make a 40-foot throw to first base blindfolded. Under most conditions, you and I could (I would probably need an empty stadium and advance notice that all errors would be forgiven). Make things just a little tense and even a professional ballplayer can fumble away a key play. The Angels, normally a very together club, did it repeatedly in this series.

6. Why was Gary Matthews, Jr. allowed to make the last out of this series? Why was he allowed to make any outs this series? Why did Mike Scioscia keep pinch-hitting him for Mike Napoli and Howie Kendrick, who are both far better hitters than Matthews? I’ve been hard on Girardi, but Scioscia, normally a fine manager, had his own Coffee Mike problems during 30 Days of ALCS.

7. At least there were no umpiring controversies in the last game.

8. What is with the faux-stitch-style league championship caps? They’re terrible. From spring training, your team plays nearly 200 games to get to the World Series and then you’re forced to put something on your head that looks like it was cut from the backside of your overweight older brother’s hand-me-down jeans. I guess someone thinks the kids really like stitching this year.

9. I don’t know what’s going to happen when Andy Pettitte becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame. I imagine not much, just “thanks” and “no thanks.” Before the voters dismiss him, they ought to give him some outsized credit for his going 16-9 in 38 postseason starts.  

10. Was their ever a time in history when players actually drank the champagne they were given upon winning? That must have been the original intention, and then somewhere in the TV era somebody started spraying champagne, and everyone watching thought that was pretty novel, and soon everyone was doing it. Now the original thing would be to have a decorous toast. If players know to bring goggles to the party, the celebration is no longer spontaneous.

NEXT UP

We begin the Yankees-Phillies head to head comparisons.

Angels-Yanks: Head to head, Part III

damon250.jpgFALL WEATHER: SHOULD’VE PUT A DOME ON IT
Hey, when you’re spending that much money, what’s a few dollars more?

ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART III

LEFT FIELD: JUAN RIVERA (22.4 VORP, 14th among left fielders) vs. JOHNNY DAMON (39.3, 4th)

Rivera was having a breakout year until his bat went dead in August and stayed dead through the end of the season. On the last day of July, he was hitting .314/.357/.525. From then on he hit .246/.296/.408. A hamstring injury might have played a part. Note that even with the slump, he did smoke southpaws to the tune of .333/.385/.645, with 12 homers in 141 at-bats. Righties were a different story: .271/.313/.418. Rivera is a fair defensive left fielder. The same can’t be said of Damon, who is getting to fewer and fewer balls these days as he loses speed and bobbles more than his fair share of those he does get to. However, with the aid of the New Yankee Stadium, which supplied almost all of his home run power, Damon was an offensive plus in left. Unfortunately, he went cold in September and stayed cold in the first round of the playoffs. The good news is that he has a good record against John Lackey and Joe Saunders, not so much against Jered Weaver. Then again, the predictive power of those small samples is exactly zero. I’m calling it EDGE: YANKEES on the home field advantage; Damon knows how to pull the ball into the right field wind tunnel. Rivera faces the wrong way to do that, and hasn’t hit the Yankees pitchers well in any case.

CENTER FIELD:  TORII HUNTER (41, 3rd) vs. MELKY CABRERA (17.1, 22nd) and BRETT GARDNER (11.4, 28th)

On a per-game basis, Gardner was more valuable than Cabrera; he was also the better ballhawk in center field. The presence of Freddy Guzman on the ALCS roster suggests that Joe Girardi might have it in mind to start him some; we can only hope so. Cabrera will undoubtedly play against lefties Scott Kazmir and Joe Saunders, though he can’t really hit lefties. Hunter did slump a bit in the second half, following an injury time-out, but he did hit a home run against the Red Sox (again, for whatever these three-game samples are worth). Hunter’s defensive abilities, always overstated, have shrunk a bit, but he’s still very capable. EDGE: ANGELS

RIGHT FIELD: BOBBY ABREU (35.6, 7th) vs. NICK SWISHER (30.9, 10th)

On a per-game basis, there was very little difference between Abreu and Swisher, and Swisher is by far the superior defensive player, despite his staggering about the outfield about once a game. He usually catches up to the ball he’s weaving after, while Abreu does not. In short, the offense is a wash, the defense is not. One note: in a decent sample of plate appearances, Swisher has been fairly helpless against John Lackey, though he did once touch him for a home run. Small EDGE: YANKEES.

DESIGNATED HITTER: VLADIMIR GUERRERO (15.6, 8th) vs. HIDEKI MATSUI (33.4, 3rd)

After his July DL stint, which lasted for about a month, the Impaler hit .300/.347/.498. Weird thing about his season: he hit just .250/.276/.410 against lefties, whereas he usually destroys them. We have to consider that a fluke that could reverse itself at any time during the playoffs. Conversely, you can hope that Matsui gets to face a lefty in the late innings — and since the Angels two best relievers are southpaws, he will. He’s never been bothered by them, and he positively smooshed ’em this year. EDGE: YANKEES.

STARTING PITCHER , GAME 1: JOHN LACKEY vs. CC SABATHIA

The Angels whacked Sabathia around a bit this year, but as we covered a couple of entries back, not in a way that suggests that they have his number. Lackey pitched well against the Yankees in his one start against them this year. His career record against them is 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA. As you know, he has good control and keeps the ball down without exactly being a groundball pitcher. He’s always been very effective against right-handed hitters, but that’s less of a problem for the Yankees with their lineup of switch-hitters and lefties. Lackey is an excellent pitcher with a fine postseason record (3.02 ERA in 12 games) and due to injury he hasn’t pitched all that much this year. Call it EDGE: YANKEES, but it’s not a sure thing.

THE BULLPENS

This is all Yankees. The Angels will rely mainly on four relief arms: Brian Fuentes, Darren Oliver, Jason Bulger, and Kevin Jepsen. Jepsen throws hard but can be wild, and left-handed hitters smoked him (.373/.426/.455). Bulger is almost the same story. He throws hard but wild. He was, however, very hard to hit, allowing opposing hitters just a .207 average. Left-handers did manage to touch off five home runs in only 107 at-bats. The second act to Oliver’s career is a wonderful story. Primarily a starter from 1993 to 2004, he was generally pounded, his ERA 5.07. He spent 2006 in the minors and got pounded there as well, but nonetheless caught on with the Mets as a reliever in 2006. Since then, he’s pitched 223 games, has a record of 19-4, and an ERA of 3.19. In several seasons, including this one, he’s had a reverse split; lefties have hit him better than righties. He’s the team’s most reliable reliever, but the Yankees really damaged southpaws this year, something which also does not bode well for closer Brian Fuentes. Fuentes struggled at times this year, and manager Mike Scioscia flirted with a demotion, but there was really nowhere else to go. That he ended up leading the American League in saves tells you just how valuable the saves statistic is.

The Yankees pen is deep and versatile, deep enough that if a rainout means that the Yankees have to start a Joba or a Chad Gaudin somewhere, they could survive a short start without too much trouble. EDGE: YANKEES.

THE MANAGERS

This is Joe Girardi’s first time in the rarified air of the LCS, whereas Mike Scioscia has been here before. The trick for Girardi will be, as it was in the first round, good bullpen handling and not getting too caught up in one-run strategies. Scioscia’s Angels run quite a bit and throughout the days leading up to this contraction the Yankees sounded almost jealous of their speed, but the fact is that the Angels do not always run well. They also bunt quite a bit, primarily with Erick Aybar and the punchless Jeff Mathis. This represents Scioscia trying to do more with these players than they are truly capable of doing, but except for select situations is probably counterproductive. It is worth noting that when both the Angels and Yankees did attempt to bunt, neither team was particularly successful — they failed to advance the runner about a third of the time. Girardi seems to like to hit and run quite a bit, a reaction to his team’s relative lack of speed. The Angels, on the other hand, seem to like to keep the bat in the batter’s hands and run and hit, letting the runner go, and if the batter swings, fine, and if not, not. On the pitching side, Scioscia had nine blown quality starts, which is to say that his starting pitcher had pitched well enough to qualify for a quality start but Scioscia kept in him long enough to give up some more runs. Girardi had only five, despite receiving more quality starts from his pitching staff. I’m going to rate this EDGE: YANKEES, because Girardi, having superior resources, knows he doesn’t have to push as hard. Scioscia is doing more “managing,” which often doesn’t help.

OFF TO THE ROUNDTABLE
Today, BP is doing another roundtable, a doubleheader covering both games. All are welcome. For more info or to submit a question, join us here.

Angels-Yanks: Head to head, Part II

hinske250.jpgFIRST WONDERFUL SURPRISE OF THE DAY
My first kidney stone attack in 4.3 years. I am a happy, happy, happy guy right now.

SECOND WONDERFUL SURPRISE OF THE DAY
It turns out that I can write this entry while curled into a fetal position and begging my wife to kill me.

THIRD WONDERFUL SURPRISE OF THE DAY

The Yankees dropped Eric Hinske from the ALCS roster and added Freddy Guzman. The Yankees now have three non-bats on the bench in Jose Molina, Francisco Cervelli, and Guzman, and arguably another in Jerry Hairston. It’s wonderful that Girardi can pinch-run for the catchers and never run out of spare tires, but who the heck is going to hit for these guys if they get into a 1-1 tie in the tenth? Hinske can play four positions, and though he doesn’t man any of them brilliantly, that versatility is an asset in itself, even before you account for the fact that he’s the only guy reserve who can come off the bench and hit a home run. If baseball teams had larger rosters, you could stash a track and field guy at the end of your bench, but as things stand now you pay a definite price for the luxury of being able to win the broad jump event but not the home run derby.

ANGELS-YANKEES HEAD TO HEAD, PART II

THIRD BASE: CHONE FIGGINS (37.8 VORP, 8th) vs. ALEX RODRIGUEZ (52.3, 4th)

A-Rod was actually the most productive third baseman in baseball on a per-game basis. That whole hip thing hurt his totals. We have apples and oranges here, a singles hitter who has learned to take a walk (Figgins’ walks and on-base percentage are career highs) and an apparently mellow slugger who had a terrifically productive year despite a bad leg. The further A-Rod was from his surgery, the better he was, hitting .310/.394/.518 in the second half. He had a more relaxed approach, seemingly trying for fewer home runs. Rodriguez also ran the bases surprisingly well for a man who was supposed to be, as Peter Cook famously put it, a unidexter.

Small sample caveats about, but it may be safe to call Figgins a poor postseason player. He’s participated in six October series over the years and is a career .182 hitter in 29 games. He actually went 0-for-12 against Boston. Note also that Figgins can be neutralized by southpaws. He hit only .246/.325/305 against left-handers, which is consistent with his career-long predilections. EDGE: YANKEES

SHORTSTOP: ERICK AYBAR (30.5, 13th) vs. DEREK JETER (72.8, 2nd)

Aybar is an interesting player, a singles hitter with great speed who isn’t allowed to run much because he’s so bad at it. A switch-hitter, his left-handed stroke is pretty much all singles, as is his right-handed stroke, only he gets a few more of them from that side of the plate. You don’t need me to tell you that Captain Jeter is a more rounded player and then some. EDGE: YANKEES

CATCHER: MIKE NAPOLI (24.8, 5th) and JEFF MATHIS (-9.2, 107th) vs. JORGE POSADA (35.8, 3rd)

Napoli is a fine, almost Posada-esque hitter who creamed lefties this year (.330/.417/.606). If he’s not in the lineup against Sabathia, officially deduct two genius points from Mike Scioscia. That he might not be in the lineup is because Mathis plays quite often due to various real or perceived defensive deficiencies on Napoli’s part. The problem is that neither player throws well, so you’re pretty much down to handling of pitchers, and Napoli would have to receive like an octuple-amputee octopus with a raging substance abuse problem to justify sacrificing the amount of offense that comes with dragging Mathis into the lineup. Mathis is a career .200/.277/.320 hitter and was worse than that this year. Oddly enough, Jose Molina is almost exactly the same hitter, .235/.277.332 for his career, so if Scioscia happens to time a Mathis start with A.J. Burnett’s game, it will be like both teams decided to forego the catcher’s spot and play an eight-man lineup. If Napoli or Posada is playing when the other one is not, the imbalance between the two positions is huge. Otherwise, Posada is the better all-around hitter, especially in Yankee Stadium, but Napoli has some advantages too, like striking out and hitting enough fly balls to rarely hit into a double play. Overall we’ll call this EDGE: YANKEES, but not a huge one.

We’ll wrap this up with the outfield and the first three starters in part three.

TONIGHT, TONIGHT, TONIGHT

I’ll be participating in a BP roundtable during the first game of the NLCS. All are welcome. Information is available here.

Five years, what a surprise

yanksalcs250.jpgFIVE YEARS LATER…
…The Yankees are back in the American League Championship Series. This is an accomplishment, no doubt about it, but the sweep of the Twins shouldn’t be taken as any sign of the Yankees’ predestination as champions. Despite their exciting charge into the postseason (or the Tigers’ historic collapse), the Twins were not a very good team, but rather the last survivor of one of baseball’s weakest divisions. They were there because a team had to represent the AL Central, not because they had any claim on greatness. They were no better than the Tigers, Rangers, Rays, Mariners, Marlins, Braves, Cubs, or Giants, teams with similar records who now compete only on the nation’s golf courses. Moreover, the Twins were missing one of their big bats, Justin Morneau; the Yankees defeated a half-strength team that was down half its strength.

The point here is not to diminish the win any, because the Yankees played excellent baseball against an opponent that didn’t roll over. Game Three’s key defensive play by Derek Jeter is another great, heady move to add to his Hall of Fame case, one of two in the series. Actually, the very fact that he was able to make those plays points up the very inadequacy of the Twins as an opponent. Just as Jeremy Giambi made Jeter’s most famous play possible by failing to slide, the Twins made mistakes that an intelligent player like Jeter could exploit. During the broadcasts of the series, you heard a great deal about what a gritty, gutty, speedy, fundamentally sound, ballclub the Twins were — this despite their tripping around the field at every opportunity. The Twins are a myth, one created because calling things what they are isn’t something the media does. Yes, the Twins are small-market. Yes, they have had a miserable stadium deal. Yes, their late billionaire owner never seemed that interested in spending for another winner after the team’s 1987 and 1991 championships. None of that means they had to play Nick Punto or Joe Crede or Delmon Young or any of their other compromise ballplayers. Not counting midseason acquisitions Orlando Cabrera and Ron Mahay, Punto is the highest-paid Twin after Morneau, Joe Nathan, Joe Mauer, and Michael Cuddyer. That’s just not right.

It seems as if The Angels will represent more of a test, because they have things the Twins can only dream of. The Twins have emphasized the drafting and development of low-stuff college hurlers who pitch to contact (Johan Santana was a Rule 5 accident), though they did strike out more than their share of Yankees in the series just completed. Overall, the Angels did not have a great pitching staff for strikeouts, but of the pitchers the Yankees will see in the ALCS — John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders — only Saunders would fit in on the Twins. They also have a deeper offense. Not all of their .290-.300 hitters are created equal given their organizational reluctance (despite much lip-service being given to the positive influence of Bobby Abreu) to reach base via walk. As for their vaunted baserunning game, it wasn’t the most successful operation in the world — the Angels stole at a 70 percent success rate, which was one of the worst rates in the league. By contrast, the Yankees stole at an 80 percent rate, which is to say that in every 50 attempts, the Yankees went 40-10 and the Angels 35-15. Finally, the Angels haven’t much in the way of bullpen. They very much missed the injured Scot Shields. Darren Oliver was their most productive reliever, followed by closer Brian Fuentes. Notwithstanding their historic aversion to playing well against the Angels, something that the Yankees might have put behind them in taking two of three at Anaheim in late September, there is no reason the Yankees cannot take this series.

We’ll get into the head-to-head stuff tomorrow. We’ve got all bloody week to delve into this series.

PUT MARIANO RIVERA IN THE HALL OF FAME TOMORROW OR TODAY
Not that he needs another paean to his brilliance, but the series again demonstrated why Mariano Rivera is a unique talent. If you compare Joe Nathan to Rivera during the regular season since 2004, there isn’t a lot to suggest that Rivera has been dramatically better than Nathan in that time, if he has been better at all. Nathan has pitched in 412 games and converted 247 of 272 save opportunities with an ERA of 1.87. Rivera has pitched 405 games and saved 243 victories in 261 chances. Rivera allowed 26 percent of his inherited runners to score. Nathan allowed only 20 percent. Under most conditions, if you had traded one for the other the teams would have seen a minimal change in outcomes.

“Most conditions” do not include the postseason. Rivera is one of the greatest postseason performers in history. You could make a reasonable argument that he is in fact the greatest postseason performer in baseball history given his level of excellence over so many games, the expansion of the postseason to three rounds in recent years having provided him with more October opportunities than even some of the Dynasty greats like Yogi Berra. Nathan has had many fewer opportunities, but he’s one of the reasons that he’s pitched in fewer games, not having done very well.

Rivera only got one chance at a save in this year’s ALDS, pitching with a big lead in Game 1 and coming in to try to protect a tie in Game 2, something at which he failed, so it’s not as if this series is going to deserve a track on his greatest hits album, though aside from allowing those runners inherited from Phil Hughes to score he did quite well. What he did isn’t as important as what he has done, and what Nathan wasn’t able to do.

PRODUCTIVE OUTS

I was disgusted to see a list of “productive outs” pop up towards the end of TBS’s broadcast last night. It just cemented TBS’s status as a network that broadcasts baseball but doesn’t pay enough attention to the game in any of its aspects to be successful. How the heck do we kill this concept that making  outs can be a good thing? Check out the stats: A team with a runner on first with no outs has the expectation of scoring .88 runs, but a team with a runner on second and one out will score just .69 runs. Even though the runner moved over, the chances of scoring went down. Similarly, a runner on second with no outs meant that teams scored 1.14 runs on average, whereas hit a grounder to the right side and “productively” move that sucker over, and the run expectation drops to .97. Now, it is preferable to have the runner at second with one out (.69) then it is at first with one out, that is, having received a “non-productive” out (.53), so the productive out would be worth .16 of a run. That’s nice, but it’s such a small thing that it doesn’t really mean anything, doesn’t add up into anything you can see in the final record.

If the Yankees can be credited with having a high total of such outs, it is because they had a high total of runners on base. Scoring is the result of reaching base and making extra-base hits, not making outs. All this stuff about productive outs is purely imaginary corn for suckers, and TBS embracing it is just one more embarrassment for an amateurish production.  

I BELIEVE IT IS A CHAT OR AN ELEPHANT

I’m not certain, but I believe that I and some Baseball Prospectus colleagues will be hosting a live chat during this evenings Phillies-Rockies game. Drop by BP.com around game-time for more info.

A postseason thriller for the ages

teix250.jpgYANKEES CLASSIC
This was one for the ages, a nail-biter all the way through, a game with clutch failures and successes, controversial moments. As I write this, the game has been over for about an hour and I don’t feel like I’ve absorbed all of it; I feel like I should watch it again right away, like a great movie you need to go through one more time to make sure you caught all the important lines.

There were many reasons why the Yankees should not have won this game. The Twins reached base by hit, walk, or hit batsman 21 times, the Yankees only 10 times. The Twins stranded every runner in baseball history this side of Goose Goslin. If Kirby Puckett were still alive, they would have stranded him, too. Rickey Henderson in his prime could not have scored for the Twins on this particular night. Part of that is a reflection of the depth of the Yankees’ bullpen, which is undergoing a kind of trial by fire; some of it is bad luck for the Twins and good luck for the Yankees; a big bit of it might have been a blown call by an umpire.

Much of it, though, was purely magical, the culmination of stories long brewing in the Bronx. Alex Rodriguez had two big hits and looks so mellow that you expect to see him turning up at Bernie Williams’ next cool jazz concert sitting in on the pan flute. If Mark Teixeira’s excellent regular season hadn’t earned him his “True Yankee” badge, he won it tonight with his walk-off shot. Rodriguez and Teixeira hit their shots off one of the top two closers in the league and an up-and-comer who may soon aspire to that status, respectively. We also saw the arrival of David Robertson as a bullpen force to be reckoned with. No Edwar-dian flash in the pan, Robertson was on the verge of establishing himself as a late-inning alternative to Phil Hughes when elbow troubles halted his progress. After pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam tonight, it seems likely he’s back on the path towards replacing Hughes in the eighth inning when the latter graduates (back) to the starting rotation next year. First, though, we may see more good things from this 24-year-old, a 17th-round pick of the Yankees in 2006.

So you had heroism, but you also had the Twins failing to execute. Last week, when I wrote up my hypothetical awards ballot, one reader took me to task in the comments for failing to include Ron Gardenhire. I’m not a Gardenhire fan, and we saw why tonight. Gardenhire has undoubtedly achieved something in posting a .547 record and five postseason appearances in eight years as Twins manager given just how little ownership supports that team. The Twins do not sign big free agents and they rarely make a big effort at the trading deadline (this year they did reach for Jon Rauch and Orlando Cabrera, though more was needed). The Twins try to mask their complacent approach by hyping themselves as paragons of fundamental baseball. Yet, when you see them in a big spot, they don’t carry through. Their defense shakes, they get caught up in one-run strategies, and they go home. The Twins should not have been expected to win this series against the Yankees, and they almost certainly will not. They should, however, be expected to win the games that they can win, and Friday night’s contest was one of those that was gift-wrapped for them. Instead, they ran into outs, threw away balls, and helped the Yankees stay alive.

A last note: in my pre-game entry, I challenged Joe Girardi to get Jose Molina out of the game as soon as possible so as to minimize the downside of using him. This he did at the first opportunity. Indeed, he used all three of his catchers, also pinch-running for Jorge Posada in the tenth. All credit to the Yankee skipper for making the obvious strategic calls. That sounds like a weak compliment, but most managers never get that far.  

AND ONE MORE THING

Not meaning to jump on the now famously mal-informed TBS broadcast crew, but Ron Darling said that Nick Swisher was primarily a designated hitter and first baseman with the White Sox. In fact, he played 97 games in the outfield for the Sox, played first base 71 times, and did not DH once. Not ever. None. Indeed, Swisher has always been a fielder, DHing exactly 10 times in his career.

FINALLY…

At this writing, the Angels are up on the Red Sox late. A Yankees-Angels ALCS sounds scary given the history between the two teams, but given seven games and home field advantage, the Yankees will take that series on pitching depth every time.  Before I attempt to defend that statement, let’s see if we actually get there. Due to the glacial pace of these series, there’s a Marco Polo road-trip’s worth of off days before we’ll get any resolution. 

Twins vs. Yankees: Head to Head

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.

FIRST BASE
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.

SECOND BASE
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.

THIRD BASE
Matt Tolbert vs. Alex Rodriguez

arodtolbert.jpgLong 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.

SHORTSTOP
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.

CATCHER
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.

LEFT FIELD
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.

CENTER FIELD
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.

RIGHT FIELD
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.

DESIGNATED HITTER
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.

gardenhire275.jpgSTARTERS
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.

BULLPENS
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.

MANAGERS
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.