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October 25, 2001

World Series Prospectus

Arizona Diamondbacks vs. New York Yankees

by Joe Sheehan

Looking for some perspective? The Yankees' current dynasty is older than the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise.

Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/Equivalent Average)

Arizona Diamondbacks

SS Tony Womack (.266/.307/.345/.234)
2B Craig Counsell (.275/.359/.362/.254)
LF Luis Gonzalez (.325/.429/.688/.354)
RF Reggie Sanders (.263/.337/.549/.286)
1B Mark Grace (.298/.386/.466/.293)
3B Matt Williams (.275/.314/.466/.262)
DH Erubiel Durazo (.269/.372/.537/.302)
CF Steve Finley (.275/.337/.430/.262)
C Damian Miller (.271/.337/.424/.260)

New York Yankees

LF Chuck Knoblauch (.250/.339/.351/.263)
SS Derek Jeter (.311/.377/.480/.308)
RF David Justice (.241/.333/.430/.271)
CF Bernie Williams (307/.395/.522/.321)
1B Tino Martinez (.280/.329/.501/.286)
C Jorge Posada (.277/.363/.475/.293)
DH Paul O'Neill (.267/.330/.459/.283)
3B Scott Brosius (.287/.343/.446/.281)
2B Alfonso Soriano (268/.304/.432/.265)

These are the lineups for the games at Yankee Stadium. In Arizona, look for Erubiel Durazo to return to his cell and chains, while Joe Torre chooses between Paul O'Neill and David Justice to play right field. My money is on O'Neill, with Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, and Jorge Posada all moving up one spot in the lineup.

The D'backs appear to have committed to Craig Counsell every day at second base, and to Steve Finley in center field, so don't look for Jay Bell or Danny Bautista against Andy Pettitte. Against Randy Johnson, Shane Spencer should play right field for the Yankees, and it wouldn't be the worst idea to have Randy Velarde play first base.

These two lineups are fairly similar, which is what you might expect for two teams separated by just two points of EqA during the regular season (D'backs: .267, Yankees: .265). Each features an inadequate leadoff hitter fronting a pretty good two through four. Luis Gonzalez had the best year of anyone on either team, but he hasn't been the same hitter since about Labor Day, and at this point you'd have to consider him and Bernie Williams pretty good comps for each other, with Gonzo having the edge.

After the core, the Yankees have the advantage. That's especially true when playing in the desert, where they suffer the loss of Justice much more easily than the D'backs do Durazo. The Yankees also benefit from the Snakes' lack of a Jeff Nelson-esque righty eater who can tear through the bottom and top of their lineup in the sixth and seventh innings.

Given the caliber of the starting pitching and the overwhelming popularity of little-ball tactics, the difference in this series could well be which lineup yanks a few balls out of the yard. Combined, the two teams have slugged .355 with just 15 home runs in 20 postseason games, so you can expect more 3-2 and 2-1 games. A well-timed jack or two could be all it takes to walk away with the championship.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA)

Arizona Diamondbacks

1B Greg Colbrunn (.289/.373/.495/.292)
IF Jay Bell (.248/.349/.400/.261)
OF David Dellucci (.276/.349/.479/.278)
OF Danny Bautista (.302/.346/.437/.266)
OF Midre Cummings (.300/.286/.350/.223)
C Rod Barajas (.160/.191/.274/.163)

New York Yankees

2B Randy Velarde (.278/.356/.424/.278)
OF Shane Spencer (.258/.315/.428/.265)
UT Clay Bellinger (.160/.207/.383/.206)
UT Luis Sojo (.165/.214/.190/.165)
UT Enrique Wilson (.242/.283/.343/.223)
C Todd Greene (.208/.240/.281/.194)
PH Nick Johnson (.194/.308/.313/..234)

The Diamondbacks' bench strength has been well-covered, and with the Yankees starting three right-handers in Yankee Stadium, the Snakes will get to maximize their top weapon, Erubiel Durazo, as the DH.

Even without Durazo, the D'backs bench is full of great pinch-hitting options from both sides of the plate, as well as guys who can bunt (Jay Bell) and pinch-run (Danny Bautista). The Diamondbacks' bench can handle just about anything the Yankee bullpen throws at them, making them the best-equipped team to face the Yankees in the Bombers' six-year run.

Nick Johnson is included on the Yankee bench, even though Johnson has yet to appear on a postseason roster. With at least two games, and as many as four, being played without the DH, Torre may decide he needs someone other than David Justice to pinch-hit for the pitcher. With the Yankees having right-handed hitters in the #7, #8, #1, and #2 lineup slots, having an extra left-handed bat available to hit for the #9 slot would be optimal, and Johnson fits that bill. One of the extra infielders could be dropped to make room.

Other than Shane Spencer, the Yankee bench doesn't play much. Todd Greene, Enrique Wilson, Luis Sojo, and Clay Bellinger have combined for five appearances and four at-bats this postseason, with all but a Bellinger pinch-running appearance coming in Saturday's blowout loss to the Mariners.

Rotations (Support-Neutral Value Added, ERA, IP)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Curt Schilling (5.0, 2.98, 256 2/3)
Randy Johnson (6.0, 2.49, 249 2/3)
Brian Anderson (-2.2, 5.20, 133 1/3)
Miguel Batista (0.8, 3.36, 139 1/3)

New York Yankees

Mike Mussina (3.9, 3.15, 228 2/3)
Andy Pettitte (0.4, 3.99, 200 2/3)
Roger Clemens (2.0, 3.51, 220 1/3)
Orlando Hernandez (0.1, 4.85, 94 2/3)

Bob Brenly is leaving his options open for the fourth game, having not announced a starter yet. I believe he'd be best served by using Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson as much as possible, but there's an argument for keeping both pitchers on their normal schedules, given that neither pitched on short rest in 2001.

My bigger disagreement is with the decision to start Brian Anderson in Game Three. Miguel Batista has been very good in his two postseason starts, and in fact, was an excellent pitcher for the D'backs all season long. Brian Anderson was a forgotten man before his relief outing against the Braves last Saturday, and jumps from there to the third-game starter?

If this was 1952, or 1982, I might understand the decision, but Death Valley just isn't there anymore. There's not much to be gained by starting the left-hander Anderson over the right-hander Batista, not when all the available evidence suggests that Batista is the better pitcher at this point.

There's not as much to say about the Yankees' rotation, except that they've finally decided to open a series with their #1 starter. Orlando Hernandez and Roger Clemens appear to be healthy again, although neither is at 100%, all the more reason for Brenly to match Schilling up with Hernandez in Game Four, to press his advantage.

Bullpens (Adjusted Runs Prevented, ERA, IP)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Byung-Hyun Kim (23.3, 2.94, 98.0)
Greg Swindell (3.8, 4.53, 53 2/3)
Bobby Witt (0.2, 4.78, 43 1/3)
Mike Morgan (0.0, 4.26, 38)
Albie Lopez (-0.4 SNVA, 4.81, 205 2/3)
Mike Koplove (-3.8, 3.60, 10)

New York Yankees

Mariano Rivera (20.5, 2.34, 80 2/3)
Ramiro Mendoza (20.0, 3.75, 100 2/3)
Mike Stanton (14.4, 2.58, 80 1/3)
Sterling Hitchcock (-0.8 SNVA, 5.63, 70 1/3)
Jay Witasick (-9.3, 3.30, 79)
Mark Wohlers (-1.3, 4.26, 67 2/3)

The D'backs haven't used a tenth pitcher yet in the postseason, so whether the last spot goes to Mike Koplove or Russ Springer or the winner of an auction held Friday night really doesn't matter too much. With Albie Lopez booted from the rotation, there's no need to have him around, but the Snakes don't have many good candidates for his spot. Brian Anderson is scheduled to start, so it might make sense to scare up another left-hander to supplement Greg Swindell. Troy Brohawn is the obvious choice, but lefties crushed him to the tune of a 1076 OPS this season.

With Miguel Batista not scheduled to start until Wednesday, he'll be available out of the bullpen in the first two games. On the off chance Brenly needs to relieve Schilling or Johnson, Batista gives him an effective right-handed set-up man to use in front of Byung-Hyun Kim.

Mike Morgan and Bobby Witt were pretty good in 1988.

The Yankee bullpen trio is as much a part of fall in America as turning leaves, as familiar to October television viewers as the cast of "ER." The set-up tandem of Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza will face their toughest test, though, as the Diamondbacks have a lineup that alternates lefties and righties pretty well, and a bench that can bring at least two good hitters from each side of the plate.

That said, Mendoza looks absolutely nasty right now; he's pitching as well as any Yankee other than Mike Mussina. The Yankees have a massive advantage in the bullpen, more than making up for the Diamondbacks' edge in the rotation.

Defense

You can make a pretty good argument that at least three of the six playoff teams no longer with us are gone because they played poor defense. The Athletics, Braves, and Mariners can all point to key plays that they didn't make as integral parts of their downfalls.

On the other hand, you have to work to think of defensive mistakes either of the two World Series teams have made. There was Miguel Batista's mental error on the bunt late in Game Two of the Division Series, but that didn't make much difference in the game. Derek Jeter has let his usual handful of singles get through the middle, but he's also made the kind of plays that mark him as a great baseball player. Mike Stanton has the Yankees' biggest defensive blunder, a terrible throw on a bunt that set up the Mariners' blowout win over the weekend.

Both of these teams are veteran-heavy, with players whose great defensive reputations were established back when Bud Selig was just an "interim" commissioner who didn't want the job full time. They don't make a lot of obvious mental or physical mistakes, which can make up for declining range. Because the Diamondbacks' rotation strikes out so many hitters, defense is a bit less important for them than it is for the Yankees' pitchers.

I said it before the ALCS, and I'll say it again: Joe Torre's refusal to use a defensive replacement for Chuck Knoblauch is going to cost the Yankees dearly at some point. Knoblauch stumbles around left field like Kevin Reimer in a dizzy-bat race, and has no business on the field when the Yankees are protecting a late lead. Torre got lucky once--anybody remember Game 5 of the 1996 series, with a crippled Paul O'Neill chasing Luis Polonia's fly ball?--but continuing to push his luck is a recipe for disaster.

The Managers

Bob Brenly has had an interesting first season as manager, bouncing from controversy to controversy while charming the media with his "old-school" values. He's been blessed with a veteran team and two awesome starting pitchers, minimizing the need for his input and freeing him to shout for Fox's Middle-Aged Man Mike. When he does get actively involved--as in Game Five of the Division Series--hilarity ensues.

Joe Torre has won 11 straight postseason series, and 14 of 15. so I think he's established himself as a capable postseason manager. His roster construction leaves something to be desired, but he more than makes up for it by the way he uses his bullpen. Torre plays to win the game he's playing, without much regard for the next one, which is exactly how you need to manage the postseason.

The big decision to watch is whether Torre goes back to the Shane Spencer/Randy Velarde options against Randy Johnson, sitting Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez. Johnson isn't like Jamie Moyer, and Torre needs to react to that, and to the problems his lefties have with left-handed pitchers.

Both of these guys have become way too enamored of one-run strategies; the first guy to step back from that and let his offense have a three-run inning is going to be far ahead of the game.

The Call

The Yankees have now won six straight postseason series against teams with superior regular-season records, stretching back to the 1999 World Series against the Braves. This is, in fact, the first time since the 1999 ALCS that the Yankees are facing a team who did worse than them from April through September.

The Yankees are the best postseason team of all time. They've won four championships in five years in the most difficult sport in which to win short series, at a time in that sport when you have to win three short series to be crowned champion. Maybe other teams have been better, and maybe some teams have won more titles, but no team has performed in the playoffs the way the 1996-2001 Yankees have.

On the other hand, the Diamondbacks, despite a record three games worse than the Yankees, might be the best short-series team the Yankees have faced in their run. They will start the two best pitchers in baseball at least four times, maybe five, they have two good relievers in Kim and Swindell, and they have a great bench with which to counter the Yankee bullpen.

This postseason had been a blur of low-scoring, tight games, and there's not much reason to expect that to change. These two teams have comparable lineups and comparable rotations, with an edge to the Yankees in the former and the D'backs in the latter. The Diamondbacks have a much better bench, but that's countered by the Yankees' much better bullpen. The two teams play adequate defense.

The Yankees have a big edge in the dugout, though, and given what Joe Torre has done over the years--even just this year--it's hard to disregard that as a major advantage. I can't get Bob Brenly's odd bullpen management--from how he warms up his relievers to his panicky decision to bring back Miguel Batista in relief two days after Batista threw 80 pitches in Game Two of the NLCS--out of my head. The Yankees should be able to beat the aces at least once, and in the games they don't start, Brenly is going to be out of his depth.

Yankees in seven.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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