Breaking down the ALCS

I was wrong on who would emerge from the Rangers-Rays series (Evan Longoria did to my prediction what Garrett Atkins and Matt Wieters did to Baseball Prospectus’s 2009 fantasy projections), but I stand behind my statement that those were the two most balanced teams in the AL and that whoever won that match-up would end up in the World Series.

With a Yankees-Rangers series before us, I refuse to change my position. Name me a Yankee and I can name you an equally good Ranger. Mark Teixeira (.367 wOBA)? Try AL MVP front-runner Josh Hamilton (.447 wOBA). Robinson Cano (.389 wOBA)? Try Nelson Cruz (.408 wOBA). Nick Swisher (.377 wOBA)? Try Big Daddy Vladdy (.360 wOBA). A-Rod (.363 wOBA)? Try Ian Kinsler (.357 wOBA). Brett Gardner (.363 wOBA)/Jorge Posada (.357 wOBA)/Curtis Granderson (.346 wOBA)? I counter with Da vid Murphy (.358 wOBA)/Mitch Moreland (.357 wOBA)/Michael Young (.335 wOBA).

True, the Yankees’ 7-8-9 combo inevitably involving Derek Jeter (.320 wOBA) and Lance Berkman (.314 wOBA in New York) is better than the bottom three guys of the Rangers’ lineup (nobody among Elvis Andrus, Julio Borbon and Bengie Molina has a wOBA of even .300). However, it is not exactly like the bottom third of the Yankees’ lineup is particularly threatening. I’d call the bottom third of both lineups “a push of generally conceded outs, advantage Yankees.”

Noting that the offenses are relatively congruent, the Rangers have both the pitching and defensive advantage.

Give me Cliff Lee (3.23 xFIP, 2.65 tRA), Colby Lewis (3.93 xFIP. 3.52 tRA) and C.J. Wilson (4.20 xFIP, 3.81 tRA) over CC Sabathia (3.78 xFIP, 3.44 tRA), Andy Pettitte (4.05 xFIP, 4.04 tRA) and Phil Hughes (4.33 xFIP, 4.11 tRA). The Rangers could even trust a four-man rotation if they pass the ball to Derek Holland (3.85 tRA, 3.57 MiLB FIP this season), whereas Yankees fans everywhere would (justifiably) cringe at the thought of relying on A.J. Burnett (4.66 xFIP, 4.93 tRA) or Javier Vazquez (4.90 xFIP, 5.56 tRA). Sure, the Yankees have postseason deity Old Man Rivera (3.65 xFIP/2.71 tRA with a career-second worst K/9 showing), but the Rangers have the comparably capable Neftali Feliz (3.65 xFIP/2.66 tRA).

Defensively speaking, the Rangers and Yankees have similar team UZR/150 ratings, but the Yankees have almost all of their defensive chips in one basket (Gardner/Granderson, with a sprinkle of Mark Teixeira on the side). The Rangers’ lineup is evenly distributed with plus-defensive starters (Borbon, Hamilton, Cruz, Kinsler, Andrus, Moreland and Murphy have above-average defensive ratings).

All in all, the series should be exciting and close, but I think the Rangers edge out the Bronx Bombers. Still, it is only a five-to-seven game series, and I’ve been wrong before…

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  1. Tom B said...

    Indeed a fan, but I try not to let it get in the way. smile

    You can scream “sample size” from the top of a mountain Jeffrey, but it doesn’t make the numbers against other hitters/teams more relevant in a 7 game series smile  If anything, the playoffs are all about small sample size (or large sample size, depending on which yankees you are looking at, hehe).

    I just don’t see the clear-cut advantage on defense and pitching that you do.  tRA’s and xFIP’s from april-august don’t really help in this situation.

    Now I’m just rambling, maybe I’ll take Henry’s advice and read the rest of the article now.

  2. Tom B said...

    The Rangers “spread out” UZR numbers are barely positive, as the yankees are barely negative… so I would hardly consider that an advantage.

    Hamilton has done nothing for over a month, and is sporting a swing-debilitating injury. I don’t think his wOBA is very relevant.

    You also give passes to the pitchers with no prior success against the Yankees.  Wilson was 0-1 in 3 starts this year, Lewis didn’t face them this season but is 0-2 in 3 starts with a 6.89 career ERA against, Hunter has a ND this season and again, a career 6.75 ERA against the yankees.

    The yankee starters?  Obviously the Lee vs CC game is a wash, either of those pitchers is capable of dominating and Lee has had 3 good starts in a row exactly once all season.  Hughes doesn’t have much experience vs the Rangers, but still sports a career 0 ERA in 15 innings and is tremendous on the road.  Pettitte beat them in his one start this season. He doesn’t have great career numbers, but his numbers in the playoffs speak for themselves.  Again, game 4 is nothing more than a crapshoot, a rookie coming into yankee stadium in game 4 and shutting down the lineup would be a pretty impressive feat no matter how bad Burnett is.

    At some point, comparing wOBA’s and tRA’s just isn’t enough.

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I agree with you on Hamilton, though I still at least peg him as a comparably capable hitter if you look at his career.

    As to the rest, I simple say “sample size, sample size, sample size.”

    You can’t look at Lewis’ non-2010 numbers for two reasons: 1) he’s taken huge steps since going to Japan. 2) Jeter/Posada aside, the Yankees lineup has had a complete turnover (and change of parks) since Lewis last played in the states before this season. Hence, motion to strike as irrelevant


    Thanks for the input though! Duly noted.

  4. Tom B said...

    Yeah, I forgot that Lewis was in Japan for a few years… so those old stats won’t hurt him.

    There an interesting piece on fangraphs about his flyball rate, and the yankee’s propensity for killing flyball pitchers.

    Regardless, should be an entertaining series.  I hope it doesn’t go where you think its going smile

  5. Henry said...

    “Name me a Yankee and I can name you an equally good Ranger.”

    Ah, paragraph 2, you might want to go check in with paragraph 3…

  6. Henry said...

    Jeff, quick point of clarification:

    Did your initial analysis take into account the fact that the yankees apparently cannot be beaten by any team of any make-up, regardless of score or baserunner state?  Because that seems like an important influence on any model.

    That was a pretty powerful meltdown in the 8th.

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