Why the Yankees will win the World Series

In 1923, the Yankees christened the new Yankee Stadium with a pennant and World Championship. 53 years later, Chris Chambliss christened the renovated Stadium with the franchise’s 30th pennant. Both teams faced off in the World Series that year against the respective defending World Champions, and the 2009 squad is no different: winning a record 40th pennant in New Yankee Stadium’s inaugural season, facing off against the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies come in hot, steamrolling the Rockies and Dodgers in four and five games respectively, and showing mettle in coming back in the ninth inning in the fourth game of both series to avoid series-tying losses. They won’t give up their title easily, and the Yankees will have to be at their best to take it from them. Despite the general dislike of the Yankees and frustration over the cold weather that this series will be played in, it is generally conceded that this World Series offers the best possible matchup, and is likely to present a worthy battle for Major League Baseball’s championship.

When they met in late May during interleague play, the Phillies took two of three at Yankee Stadium to break a nine-game Yankees winning streak, but the Yankees came back in the ninth inning of both of the last two games, the first time to win, the second to force extra innings. Those three games showed how well-matched these teams were, and how hard the Yankees will have to play to triumph.

There are some clear advantages for the Yankees coming into this series, beside the obvious home field advantage. For starters, they are clearly, on paper, the more talented team.

The middle of the Phillies order—Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth—appears to match up extremely well to the Yankees’ middle—Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada—but it’s the top and middle of the lineup where the Yankees have a heavy edge. Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon are much better at getting on base than Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, work the count better, and also displaying comparable power and base-stealing ability.

The bottom of the Phillies lineup drops off, as most lineups do, with Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz, while the Yankees’ keeps going with Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher, who posted OBPs over .350 and hit 25 or more homers each. Melky Cabrera is the “weak” spot in the lineup, but his numbers were above league-average for a center fielder, and he was able to tear up the Angels in the ALCS with a .391 batting average. The loss of the DH in the NL parks obviously drops Matsui from the lineup, but the depth of the Yankees’ lineup means that their three through six hitters remain about the same in quality, and in CC Sabathia’s second start, they’ll even have the edge in the 9th batting slot.

The Phillies are also extremely reliant on the home run, scoring just 450 runs without a homer, compared to the Yankees’ 540. If the balls do not fly out of the park in the World Series, the Phillies might have a hard time keeping up with the Yankees’ attack, which Twins manager Ron Gardenhire characterized as a “continuous pressure”.

Lefty-righty matchups don’t faze the Yankees, either. The only two Yankees hitters to show any kind of platoon split are Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon, a righty and a lefty. The same can’t quite be said for the Phillies, who did hit lefties slightly better than righties as a team this season, but whose best hitter, Ryan Howard, has grown increasingly inept against lefty pitchers, which the Yankees will be starting in four or five of the seven games, with two other lefties coming out of the pen.

Those starters are another edge for the Yankees, who will likely be using CC Sabathia twice on short rest in the series, and his matchup against Cliff Lee in Game One negates what would normally be viewed as a certain win by the Phillies. Philadelphia isn’t intimidated by Sabathia after knocking him out of Game One of the NLDS last season, but that start was Sabathia’s fifth in 17 days, while tonight’s start will be Sabathia’s fifth in 27 days.

The rest of the rotation for the Yankees offers solid but less overpowering talent, with A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte posting a 3.38 ERA against two of the best offenses in the American League during the first two rounds, with the only bad start being Burnett’s six-run Game Five in the ALCS.

The Phillies on the other hand are a little shakier after Cliff Lee. The Yankees are 23-15 all-time against Game Two starter Pedro Martinez, including seven wins in their last 10 times facing him. Cole Hamels was the 2008 World Series MVP, but who struggled for much of the season and has put up three poor starts so far in the postseason.

Should the games be decided by the bullpens (as more than one certainly will be), the Yankees have a probable edge as well. Despite some struggles in the first two rounds, Phil Hughes has been a dominant setup man for the Yankees all season, and is more likely than not to continue being so in the next week. Mariano Rivera is his untouchable self (and had the Rockies or Dodgers had him, the Phillies’ first two postseason series might have gone very differently), and the rest of the Yankees’ pen was generally effective in the first two rounds.

The Phils, on the other hand, struggled to find reliable relievers in the bullpen all season, with their previously untouchable closer, Brad Lidge, posting an astonishing 7.21 ERA in almost 60 innings and leading the majors with 11 blown saves. He’s been perfect in the postseason so far, but five games do not negate a whole season of struggles, and he remains a bit of a question mark in the ninth inning of a close game.

So all of these factors, all of which seem to clearly favor the Yankees, make the Bronx Bombers a cinch for their record 27th World Championship, right? Wrong.

The difference in all of these things is relatively insignificant, and seven games are too few for whatever advantage the Yankees might have to become apparent. The series will be decided by the little unpredictable things: a two-out rally, a double by a light hitter, a double play by a big slugger. Errors, bad pitches, bad managerial decisions and perhaps another blown call by an umpire will have a greater impact than who had a better No. 7 hitter, talent-wise. The Phillies’ extended wait for the start of the series may have an impact, but it didn’t last year in a similar situation with the Rays. Rain may mess up the Yankees’ pitching rotation, or even enhance it by allowing them to start just three starters on full rest in the first six games, should they get rainouts at the right times. Chad Gaudin, Joe Blanton or J.A. Happ may get starts later in the series, and may either pitch their team out of the game, or singlehandedly win it for them with a dominating performance.

Still, I expect the Yankees to prevail. There is so much front-line talent complemented by so much depth that the Yankees need a lot to go wrong for them to be defeated. This is the team that the Yankees have tried to put together since tearing apart the core of the late ’90s teams after the 2001 World Series. This is more or less the roster that Brian Cashman wanted to put together after taking total control of the front office in2005. They’re four wins away from reaching that goal they’ve chased for almost a decade. They’re the best team in baseball, and they have seven more games to prove it.

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  1. Larry Mahnken said...

    So, a yankees fan picking the yankees.  Didn’t see that one coming.

    A Yankees fan told by his editor to write an article about why the Yankees would win… writing an article about why the Yankees will win!  Doubly shocking!

  2. Larry Mahnken said...

    I’m not so sure you should be so quick to give the hitting edge to Sabathia over Lee.  Not that this is a seried breaker, but I believe Lee hits pretty well for a pitcher.

    Lee is .138/.152/.169 in 68 career PAs
    Sabathia is .261/.269/.391 with 3 homers in 96 career PAs.

  3. Larry Mahnken said...

    So Sabathia’s career OPS is higher than the 2009 OPSs of David Eckstein, Jason Kendall, and Edgar Renteria.

    And Jose Molina.

  4. Dan in Philly said...

    “A Yankees fan told by his editor to write an article about why the Yankees would win… writing an article about why the Yankees will win!  Doubly shocking! “

    I don’t mind the taking of sides, however I found the article too one sided to be given much credibility.  Any good arguement deserves consideration of counter arguements, and although this article is not unique in that respect, I found it lacking and unpersuasive.  It seemed to me that the conclusion was reached before the evidence was considered, which you just confirmed, hense my snarky remark.

    But, as I said, this is common in journalism, so maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.

  5. BD said...

    Dan, the Yankees are considered the favorites by the vast majority of analysts, oddsmakers, etc.  If you don’t think they should be considered the favorites, please enlighten us.  What are all the experts missing?

  6. Gilbert said...

    Cliff Lee has more stolen bases than Sabathia.

    I don’t think I have seen whether Sabathia runs like a Molina but I imagine he (and Livan Hernandez) are really better hitters than the Kendall types but that infielders play them back and can cut off a few grounders more.

  7. Larry Mahnken said...

    Dan, the Yankees are considered the favorites by the vast majority of analysts, oddsmakers, etc.  If you don’t think they should be considered the favorites, please enlighten us.  What are all the experts missing?

    That’s not the point.  There should be a corresponding “why the Phillies will win” article up soon.

    Actually, I said in the article that the Yankees are only slight favorites.  He seems to have missed that part.

  8. KRM in HTN said...

    Dan in Philly angry that Philly’s superiority isn’t recognized and making multiple posts,

    Triply shocking!!!

  9. BD said...

    It’s true he doesn’t have to provide a detailed analysis of why the Phillies will win, but I think it’s ludicrous for him to just dismiss your article as lacking “credibility” without at least identifying some flaw in your reasoning.  I mean, it doesn’t exactly lend credibility to his criticism to take a shot like that and then not back it up with a single substantive point.

  10. Chris said...

    Dan in Philly, it’s difficult to understand what your point is when you can’t correctly spell argument and don’t bother to make one yourself. What did the author write that you can prove to be incorrect or misleading?

    Jeter/Damon > Victorino/Rollins = fact
    Howard = terrible against lefties = fact
    Yankees = Pedro’s Daddy = fact

    Oh, I get it, Brad Lidge is a asset in the World Series than Mariano Rivera. There’s the piece I was missing.

    I’m sure there will be a ‘Why the Phillies will win’ just as there is for every series, so sit back and relax…

  11. Jeff Cannon Sr said...

    Speaking as a Philly fan, it is hard to be “unbiased”, but what I can say is that it seems that this article gave a decent analysis pointing to why the author believed the Yankees will win the series – which was the entire point of the thing anyway.  Just because I don’t agree with the assesment in its entirity does not mean that the article didn’t accomplish what the author set out to accomplish.  In my opinion, it would be just as easy to make the case for the Phillies winning as well. 

    After all is said and done, I am just hoping for a great series showcasing the two best teams in baseball (with the Phillies winning of course).

  12. phil said...

    To be fair, there are some problems here. I think Dan’s point is that they tend in one direction. 

    First, you ignore defense and baserunning, where the Phillies have the advantage. (See http://crashburnalley.com/?p=567).

    Second, the bullpen. It’s absolutely true the Yankees have the advantage here. But as you allude, relievers are volatile and I think this makes the advantage slightly less important (see the NLCS). More importantly, the Phillies didn’t have a lights-out guy in the Rivera mold, but got good work from Madson and Park. That should have been mentioned. 

    Third, the rotation. I don’t think this is much of an advantage either way. You say Sabathia cancels out what would normally be a certain win for the Phillies. Doesn’t it go the other way, too? Cliff Lee is a little better than Duensing or Lackey right now. Beyond the aces you seem to see a clear advantage for Burnett and Pettite over Hamels, Martinez, and Blanton/Happ. I’m not so sure. Hamels has the lowest FIP of all those guys by a decent margin. And Burnett and Pettite may be pitching on short rest, so you’ve got to account for that, too. It may not make a big difference but you don’t consider whether it’ll make any difference.

    Finally, there seems to be an analytical inconsistency. In discussing Phil Hughes’ playoff struggles you noted that recent performance doesn’t cancel out an entire season’s work. Agreed. But then how can you account for favoring Burnett and Pettite over Hamels, in particular? You could argue the results haven’t been there for Hamels all year, not just in the playoffs, and that the explanation is probably something more than luck. But you didn’t even acknowledge there’s a serious counter-argument, let alone answer it. It just seems like that’s function of blue-pinstriped colored glasses.

    So—and I admit I’m a Phillies fan—I sorta see Dan’s frustration.

  13. BD said...

    Phil:  Your points all seem reasonable, but in the spirit of friendly discussion, I would respond to them as follows:

    1.  I don’t think the Phillies have any significant advantage over the Yankees defensively.  The link you provided gives the Phillies a 5-3 advantage over the Yankees’ defense by counting both 1B and 2B as positions where the Phillies have an edge.  But both Teixeira and Cano have played excellent defense all year.  Even if Howard and Utley are so outstanding as to be considered marginally superior to Teixeira and Cano, it seems very unlikely the difference would be enough to make a difference in a short series. 

    2.  As for BP, just because relievers tend to be more volatile doesn’t diminish the importance of the Yankees’ advantage in this department.  Volatility may mean that an excellent BP could pitch anywhere from terrific to just average, while a merely average BP could perform anywhere from above average to piss-poor.  Obviously, there’s a huge range of possible performances from every player at every position.  That’s why they play the games.  But it seems pretty arbitrary to imply that, because BP performances tend to be somewhat more unpredictable than say starting pitching, the team with the better BP doesn’t have an important edge. 

    3.  SP: Cliff Lee may be better than Lackey, but is he better than CC?  That’s the question.  CC has an ERA+ this year of 133 vs. 126 for Lee.  Burnett’s 110 is lower than Pedro’s 118, but Pettitte’s 107 is higher than Hamel’s 99.  (Also, FWIW, both CC and Andy currently “look” better than their season-long stats would indicate.)  So the matchups seem to favor the Yankees in at least 4 out of 6 starts.  Unless the Yankees use Gaudin, I’m not sure Blanton/Happ would create a favorable matchup against any of the Yankees starters.

  14. MC in VA said...

    The part you Phillies fans seem to be missing is that these pieces are specifically intended to be one-sided.  If you haven’t already done so, I suggest that you read some of the others from earlier series.  They are not intended to be balanced, exhaustive, or even overly analytical.  The whole model is “get a fan of each team to tell us why his team will win.”  Like Larry said, there will be one from a Phillies fan up soon.  What’s so hard to understand about this?

  15. Dan in Philly said...

    Hmmmmm, since the coming of “Why the Phillies will beat the Yankees” is slow, I’ll present my own totally objective article:

    Fact: Since 2008, the Phillies are 18-5 in the postseason, and the trend is clear.  Mathematically, it’s an easy call.

    Fact: The Phillies starters are 3-1 in the current postseason, which indicates dominance which will continue.  Again this is an undeniable mathematical trend.

    Fact: Sabathia, the Yankees so-called Ace, is so intimidated by Lee he lost the last time the two met, 10-2.  He is clearly not up to facing his friend and former teammate again.

    Fact: In the last 2 innings, Mariano Rivera has an ERA of 4.5, and trend analysis again shows he will be totally ineffective in the world series.

    Fact: The Phillies are so hot right now, even their poorest hitter, Pedro Feliz, has an OPS of 1.25 over the last game.

    Put it all together, and it is plain to see there is no way the Phillies can possible lose the series.  All trends and statistical analysis points to a Phillies sweep!

  16. John in Philly said...

    Rollins 2009 OBP: .296
    Jose Molina 2009 OBP: .292

      Cool, the Phillies leadoff hitter gets on base as often as the Yankees backup catcher. 

      After years of Rollins not being a good choice to lead off, but leading off anyway, the dude has spent this season as a god-awful leadoff hitter, and leads off anyway.

      Urge to kill: Rising.

  17. Dennis in Denver said...

    I’m not so sure you should be so quick to give the hitting edge to Sabathia over Lee.  Not that this is a seried breaker, but I believe Lee hits pretty well for a pitcher.

  18. Jim C said...

    Any backtracking after tonight’s beatdown? What most stat geeks fail to consider is the human factor. Most of the Phils have been there and done that, winning last year or on other teams. Most of the Yanks are playing in their first Series. I can hardly wait to watch Pedro torture them tomorrow night. Just hope he flips A-Rod a couple of times.

  19. BklynMoonshiner said...

    Dan in Philly,

    Don’t try matching stats with Mencken. Go look at his blog.  Two big teams with big numbers.  Fact 3 and 5 are a bit silly, being “so hot right now” and Sabathia being intimidated by his friend don’t really fit in with Stat Sheets.  Lee is looking better as far as the 1st inning. 

    Go Yanks
    Go Menken

  20. Rebecca said...

    Geez. This is just one man’s opinion. Insecure about your Phillies? Why so defensive?? There are many commentators and writers saying that the Phils are going to win. Here’s one:

    Quit whining! People have opinions, especially sports writers. Yankees fans have to endure the “Jeter overrated” nonsense. It’s annoying but it doesn’t make it the Truth. Both teams are very, very good this year and it should be exciting and interesting for a change. Be glad! (go Yanks)

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