If the regular season ended today, just one team from the American League East would make the playoffs. Indeed, with the Central Division emerging as the strongest division in baseball this year, it seems increasingly unlikely that the Wild Card will come out of the East. As a result, the closest thing we're likely to see to a playoff series between the Red Sox and Yankees this year is the five-game series in Boston that kicks off with the first game of today's double-header at 1:05.
With that in mind, I thought this would be a good occasion to drag out that old standby, the position-by-position comparison. You'll see that I do this a bit differently than most, preferring to compare the offense by position in the batting order rather than defensive position in order to avoid absurdities such as comparing Derek Jeter with Alex Gonzalez and Manny Ramirez with Melky Cabrera. That said, I'll fudge the line-ups slightly to produce closer comps. Also, I should point out that the statistics below, save for those of recently promoted Yankee relievers Octavio Dotel and Brian Bruney, are from Wednesday night. Right, on with it . . .
missed a month and a half at the beginning of the season with a broken left index finger
Both of these guys can be expected to perform better than the above numbers in this weekend's series. Damon has hit .309/.366/.505 on the road this year and is a career .309/.376/.462 hitter in Fenway Park. Crisp, meanwhile, is just hot, having hit .330/.358/.473 since July 23. No matter how you slice it, however, Damon has clearly been the better hitter both this year and over his career.
Next up, a pair of All-Star middle infielders:
No contest. Jeter is a Hall of Famer having his best season since he was robbed of an MVP the award in 1999.
We'll fudge a bit with the third place in the order by compare the teams' beefy, lefty slugging, clutch-hitting, creatively facial-haired, first basemen-turned-designated hitters, despite the fact that the Yankee version actually hits fourth or fifth:
Ortiz has far more impressive counting numbers than Giambi due to his having 75 more plate appearances, a by-product of several minor injuries suffered by Giambi and Jason's having played more first base and thus losing late-game at-bats to defensive replacements. Assume both will have equal playing time this weekend and, as their EQA's show, this is basically a draw. I'll give the edge to Ortiz as, while he's actually hit better on the road than at home this year, Giambi's home-road splits are even stronger in the other direction and he's historically his below his career averages at Fenway.
Next up two of the best hitters and most highly paid and therefore heavily criticized players in the history of the game:
0 (1 CS)
The simple fact of the matter is that Manny Ramirez is and has always been a better hitter than Alex Rodriguez. Consider their career numbers:
Rodriguez: .306/.388/.573 (.318 EQA), 2,023 H, 454 HR
Ramirez: .314/.410/.600 (.331 EQA), 2,052 H, 467 HR (in 122 more PAs)
Factor in Rodriguez's speed and defense and things get closer, but EQA already factors in base running and Alex's defense has been erratic this year, not quite Manny-level erratic, but enough to undermine any attempt to portray Rodriguez as anything approaching Ramirez's equal this season.
Having skipped the Yankees actual number three hitter, we'll drop him in here in a comparison of players whose primary skill is getting on base:
5 (71 %)
*combined EQAs adjusted for all time for multi-team players are not available; Abreu had a .305 mark with the Phillies and thus far has a .342 EQA as a Yankee
Youkilis has been great for the Sox thus far this year, but comparing him to Abreu is just not fair, though it's a credit to Youkilis that this is even close.
Normally the teams' two catchers are an ideal pair for a break down like this, but with Jason Varitek on the DL, I'm going to stick with the plan and compare the two sixth-place hitters:
Posada has the edge in EQA, despite Lowell's doubles-aided advantage in slugging. Given that gaudy doubles total (37), one would think that Lowell has benefited greatly from being able to knock hits off the Green Monster. Well, it's true that Lowell has more doubles at home than on the road, but it's actually a pretty even split (20/17). Meanwhile, Lowell is hitting just .249/.315/.416 at home this year. That increases the advantage for Jorge, who roughly equals his career averages, which aren't a far cry from his line above, in Fenway.
Next up a pair of righty-hitting former National League platoon players:
Wilson had a .272 EQA with the Pirates and has a .265 mark with the Yankees
Wily Mo Peña
Peña missed nearly two months in the middle of the season with a wrist injury
Update: It appears the Red Sox plan to platoon the righty Peña with newly-aqcuired lefty Eric Hinske, thus I've updated the above chart to add Hinske. The AVG/OBP/SLG numbers for Peña and Hinske are now their platoon splits against opposite-handed pitchers only, while their EQA's remain their overall season figures.
The addition of Wilson makes this less of a landslide than it would have been with Andy Phillips (.234 EQA) in Wilson's place, but it's still an easy win for the Sox, especially now that they have Hinske to give them a strong platoon advantage. That said, Hinske is ice cold right now, going .167/.310/.208 thus far in August. Curiously, Wilson, who has hit .283 with a .478 slugging percentage as a Yankee and has a career on-base percentage 90 points higher than his batting average, has yet to draw a walk since coming to the American League and has just one walk since June 23.
The last two spots are a bit of a muddle due to the Varitek injury, particularly as the Red Sox have been suckered into giving Doug Mirabelli (.234 EQA since returning to the Red Sox) the bulk of the starts behind the plate despite their recent acquisition of Javy Lopez. No matter how you slice it, Robinson Cano, who has a .282 EQA and has hit .353/.371/.676 since being activated from the DL, is clearly better than each of the Red Sox's catchers at the plate, Varitek (.258 EQA this season) included.
That brings us to the number nine hitters:
spent April in the minors
Just squeaking by Alex Gonzalez doesn't reflect well on young Melky, but at age-21 he's improving on a monthly basis. Since July 1 he's hit .329/.386/.520 and is 6 for 8 (75%) on the bases. Thus far in August, he's upped that to .358/.433/.604 while smacking three of his seven career home runs. Gonzalez, meanwhile, has cooled off from a strong June and July showing to hit .186/.255/.372 thus far in August and has been forced to share his position with the lefty-hitting Alex Cora (.256 EQA) throughout the season. Thus, this isn't nearly as close as it looks.
So what's the conclusion? The Red Sox have the better big boppers in Ortiz and Ramirez (and, further down, former Yankee farmhand Peña), but the Yankees have the deeper line-up, with superior hitters in six of the nine spots in the line-up. Indeed, checking the gross totals shows just how evenly matched these two offenses are, with the Red Sox maintaining a slim lead in runs per game over the Yankees, 5.53 to 5.48, a lead that was held by the Yankees a couple of days ago.
As for the benches, faced with five games in four days the Red Sox had pared down to a three-man bench in order to add an extra pitcher, but yesterday they picked up former Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske from the division rival Blue Jays, giving them the edge here. Here are the four players on each bench along with their EQAs:
Eric Hinske (RF/3B/1B/LF): .288 or Wily Mo Peña (RF/CF/LF): .306
Gabe Kapler (RF/LF/CF): .262
Alex Cora (SS/2B/3B): .256
Javy Lopez (C): ~.251
Bernie Williams (RF/CF/LF): .262
Andy Phillips* (1B/3B/2B): .234
Sal Fasano (C): ~.221
Nick Green (2B/SS/3B): ~.197 (.293 with NY)
*Update: Andy Phillips has been placed on the DL with what I suspect is a phantom rib cage injury in order to allow the Yankees to add another bullpen arm in the person of T.J. Beam, giving the Sox an even bigger advantage in this department.
With the hitting out of the way, here's a quick look at the defense, starting with the two teams' defensive efficiencies with their major league ranks:
NYY: 70.8% (4th)
BOS: 69.1% (19th)
That advantage exists despite the fact that the Yankees have committed nearly twice as many errors as the Sox, with 54 to the Sox major-league low 28.
For fun, here are the Rates of the eight starters for each team:
That takes care of the regulars. I'll address the starting pitchers on a game-by-game basis with my usual game previews. That just leaves the bullpens.
First the closers:
I don't think there's any denying that Papelbon has been the surer thing this year, though the difference between the two is slight to be sure. Yankee fans can point to Mo's higher save conversion rate, but Red Sox fans can counter by pointing out that Mo has five losses to Pap's two. The problem, of course, is that loses and blown saves can and often do occur in the same game. Looking over their game logs, both closers have exactly six outings that resulted in a loss, a blown save or both. Papelbon, however, has one outing on his log in which he blew a save but held on to earn the win (no, David Ortiz had nothing to do with it, he actually went 0 for 4 with four men left on base in that game), while Mo has none. But one could also point out that two of Papelbon's five blown saves have come in August, a month in which he has posted a very human 3.38 ERA. Another fun stat from the game logs is that Papelbon has had 13 outings that have lasted more than an inning, Mo has had 15. All of which simply illustrates just how slim the margin is by which the Red Sox rookie has the edge here.
Here are their support teams:
Ron Villone (L)
Mike Myers (L)
*relief appearances only
We can see that the Yankee bullpen has a small issue with walks while the Red Sox pen has had a bit of problem with home runs, but overall the Yankees have the better, deeper collection of relievers. This is partially because of the unexpected performances of Ron Villone and Scott Proctor, the latter of whom has rediscovered his dominating April form since the All-Star Break (1.31 ERA, 0 HR, 20 2/3 IP, 15 H, 21 K, 5 BB). But it is also because Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez have been awful while Craig Hansen continues to disappoint, perhaps because the Red Sox continue to rush him out of desperation.
So the starting line-ups are in a dead heat, the Sox have the better bench, and the Yanks have the better bullpen. So what else is new? About the only new development here is that the Yankees have a vastly improved team defense. At least we know more about the players we'll be watching this weekend.
For reference, here's the Red Sox roster the usual way, minus the bells and whistles:
Manager: Terry Francona General Manager: Theo Epstein
Home Ballpark (2005 Park Factors): Fenway Park (101/101)
Who's Replaced Whom?
Javy Lopez replaced Jason Varitek (DL)
Wily Mo Peña (DL) replaced Trot Nixon (DL)
Eric Hinske replaces J.T. Snow
Gabe Kapler (minors) replaced Willie Harris
David Wells (DL) replaced Tim Wakefield (DL)
Jon Lester (minors) replaced Matt Clement (DL)
Jason Johnson replaced Josh Pauley (minors)
Mike Timlin (DL) replaced Keith Foulke (DL)
Craig Hansen (minors) replaced David Riske
Kyle Snyder replaces Jermaine Van Buren
1B Kevin Youkilis (R)
2B Mark Loretta (R)
SS Alex Gonzalez (R)
3B Mike Lowell (R)
C Doug Mirabelli (R)
RF Wily Mo Peña (R)
CF Coco Crisp (S)
LF Manny Ramirez (R)
DH David Ortiz (L)
L Eric Hinske (UT)
L Alex Cora (IF)
R Javy Lopez (C)
R Gabe Kapler (OF)
R Curt Schilling
L David Wells
R Jason Johnson
L Jon Lester
R Josh Beckett
R Jon Papelbon
R Mike Timlin
R Manny Delcarmen
R Julian Tavarez
R Rudy Seanez
R Craig Hansen
R Kyle Snyder
15-day DL: S Jason Varitek (C), L Trot Nixon (OF), R Tim Wakefield, R Keith Foulke
60-day DL: R Matt Clement, L Lenny DiNardo
S Coco Crisp (CF)
R Mark Loretta (2B)
L David Ortiz (DH)
R Manny Ramirez (LF)
R Kevin Youkilis (1B)
R Mike Lowell (3B)
R Wily Mo Peña (CF)
R Doug Mirabelli (C)
R Alex Gonzalez (SS)
**WXRL is a complex, but informative statistic. The acronym technically stands for Relievers Expected Wins Added, but is better remembered as Win eXpectancy adjusted for Replacement level and Lineup. The statistic tallies a reliever's effect upon his team's Win Expectancy (also known as Win Probability) then compares that to a replacement level pitcher while also adjusting for the strength of the actuall hitters faced.
For those unfamiliar with Win Probability, say a visiting team has a two run lead in the bottom of the ninth with the bases empty and one out. At that moment they have a 95.9 percent chance of winning that game. If the pitcher gives up a home run in that situation, reducing his lead to one-run, he drops his team's Win Expectancy to 90.8 percent, thus he's docked 5.1 points. If he strikes out the batter in that situation, to put his team one out from a win with a two-run lead, he improves his team's Win Expectancy to 99.6 percent, thus he's credited with 3.7 points. WXRL tallies all these pluses and minuses and adjusts them as stated above. It is a counting stat, not a rate stat.