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October 2, 2005

Prelude to the Playoffs

The Yankees Clinch

by Paul Swydan

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This was supposed to be a pitcher's duel, wasn't it? Each team had their best pitcher on the mound--Randy Johnson vs. Tim Wakefield--a pair that combined to allow just one run in 15 innings 22 days ago at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately for those looking for a duel, the Yankees hitters pulled a Peyton Manning with the script, calling audible after audible on their way to seven runs in five innings off the majors' foremost knuckleballer.

Two at-bats had a profound impact on this game. The first took place with Wakefield on the hill and Bernie Williams standing in the batter's box in the second inning. Williams laced a first-pitch double off the glove of Kevin Millar. The ball was hit so hard that no one in Fenway, Millar included, really saw it happening. The double put runners on second and third with nobody out, and eventually both runners were driven home on sacrifice flies, making the score 5-2.

The other pivotal at-bat was a microcosm of the 2005 season for Edgar Renteria; good intentions but no results. Facing a suddenly shaky Johnson, who had loaded the bases on two walks and a single in the second, Renteria worked a 3-2 count, bringing the Fenway Faithful to their feet. Finally, Johnson decided enough was enough and blew a fastball right past Renteria for the strikeout. The inning was over, the momentum gone, and Sox fans had little reason to stand up for the duration.

This at-bat was just another example of how poor Renteria has performed in 2005. This past off-season, the argument for Renteria over Orlando Cabrera was that they were both competent defensively, but that Renteria had a decided offensive advantage. It has not played out this way:

Renteria vs. Cabrera 2005 Comparison
Player     BRAR   FRAR   WARP1   VORP
Renteria     14     11     2.7   26.0
Cabrera       7     39     5.0   17.3

While the decision should not be scrutinized too severely--Cabrera's FRAR numbers had declined from a peak of 57 in 2001 down to 15 in 2004, Cabrera's defensive dominance in '05 makes Renteria's offensive edge trivial, especially given Renteria's recent struggles. Looking at the Expected Runs Matrix chart, we can see that his struggles played a large role in the game. During Renteria's four at-bats, he totaled an ERM score of 2.51 runs, producing zero. This is something that is fast becoming a problem for the Red Sox offense, and is being exacerbated by the fact that Damon seems to be coming around these past two games (1-5, 3 BB, 3 SB). The more poorly Renteria performs, the less likely it is that the team can leverage the greatness of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.

One solution would be to insert Tony Graffanino into the two-hole and drop Renteria to the bottom of the lineup.

                Sept-Oct         w/Red Sox in 2005
Player       AB    AVG/OPS      AB   AVG/OPS    EqA
Renteria    113   .221/595     620   .276/720   .261
Graffanino   79   .316/844     187   .321/815   .280

Graffanino is doing better overall, but more importantly he's better right now. Given that Graffy has hit in the two-hole this season, it should not be a shift of seismic portions.

After the Red Sox failed to score in the second, the game was largely academic. The Yankees scored again in the top of the third, further dulling any Red Sox momentum. Entering today's game, the Yankees were 61-8 when scoring six runs or more, the Red Sox 15-47 when allowing six runs or more. Johnson, who the Red Sox forced to throw 51 pitches in the first two innings, settled down nicely, needing just 71 pitches to get through the next 5 1/3 frames. After Ortiz started the third with a double, Johnson set down 16 of his last 18 hitters, surrendering only a single and a homer to Graffanino before giving way to Tom Gordon in the eighth.

There are other accolades for the Yankees in today's victory. Sheffield made two diving plays in the outfield, showing that while he may not be 100%, he can still fly around. Joe Torre also deserves credit for not screwing around in managing the bullpen. He went right to Gordon and Mariano Rivera, even with a four-run lead. Watching the White Sox take the lead on the Indians, Torre correctly realized that if the Yankees won today he could afford them two or three days' rest, and did not want to give the Sox a chance to come back. The Red Sox were able to produce a couple of runs, but never put together the string of hits necessary to start a rally, and had to watch the Yankees celebrate an eighth consecutive AL East crown on their home turf, conjuring up painful memories of 1999.

Paul Swydan is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Edgar Renteria

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