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October 1, 2008

Playoff Prospectus

Red Sox versus Angels

by Joe Sheehan

You don't see this every day. This AL Division Series features the team with the best record in the league against the best team in baseball. As a reward for winning 100 games, the Angels get to try and beat the defending champions, the team with the best run differential in the AL, the best defense in the AL, and far and away the best third-order record in baseball. That's all. Meanwhile, the Rays will draw the weakest team in the field on 38 hours' rest.

Of course, the question is whether the Red Sox that take the field Wednesday night in Los Angeles of Anaheim are that caliber of baseball team. Already, their nominal ace is down to one start in the series, maximum, while their starting third baseman and right fielder, who combined for 42 at-bats in September, are questionable for the opener. The healthy Red Sox are better than the healthy Angels, but that may not be the matchup that we get this week.

Lineups


Red Sox                  AVG/ OBP/ SLG   EqA   VORP
CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury    .280/.336/.394  .263   17.8
2B-R Dustin Pedroia     .326/.376/.493  .298   62.3
DH-L David Ortiz        .264/.369/.507  .295   31.6
3B-R Kevin Youkilis     .312/.390/.569  .313   55.8
RF-L J.D. Drew          .280/.408/.519  .314   33.8
LF-R Jason Bay          .286/.373/.522  .309   47.2
1B-L Sean Casey         .322/.381/.392  .274    8.2
SS-S Jed Lowrie         .258/.339/.400  .263    8.1
C-S  Jason Varitek      .220/.313/.359  .237   -1.4

Angels                   AVG/ OBP/ SLG   EqA   VORP
3B-S Chone Figgins      .276/.367/.318  .258    7.6
LF-L Garret Anderson    .293/.325/.433  .263   18.2
1B-S Mark Teixeira      .308/.410/.552  .328   67.7
RF-R Vladimir Guerrero  .303/.365/.521  .299   44.4
CF-R Torii Hunter       .278/.344/.466  .281   35.5
2B-R Howie Kendrick     .306/.333/.421  .265   15.8
DH-R Juan Rivera        .246/.282/.438  .249    0.9
C-R  Mike Napoli        .273/.374/.586  .316   30.4
SS-S Erick Aybar        .277/.314/.384  .248   10.4

Maybe. The Red Sox could have both Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew, one of the two, or neither of them. It's a guessing game until Terry Francona files his roster this morning. I split the difference here based on a Providence Journal blog report that Drew looked fine during batting practice in Anaheim on Tuesday, but there's still no telling whether he'll even be on the roster. Lowell seems less healthy, and since the Sox have slightly better options in his absence, we'll go with the above. Lowell would bump Casey to the bench and Youkilis to first, and probably shuffle the 5-7 lineup spots. Coco Crisp will play for Ellsbury against Joe Saunders, and possibly for Drew in Game One if Drew can't go, Mark Kotsay being the other option.

There's definitely a drop-off if the two stars can't play. The absence of Drew leaves the team a bit OBP-shy, while Lowell has power Casey doesn't. Missing one of them isn't devastating, but missing both closes the gap between the Sox and Angels significantly. It's not going to be a bad offense, regardless; it's only championship-caliber if everyone plays and is healthy.

Oh, the Sox improved at the trade deadline, and I mean on the field. Manny Ramirez was batting .299/.398/.529 when he was traded. Bay hit .293/.370/.527 for the Sox, and his defense made up for the missing intentional walks that create the OBP gap.

The Angels have everyone healthy, and the lineup above is more or less what they ran out there in the last week of the season. That could work on Wednesday night against Jon Lester, but Kendry Morales should get some time against Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Sox other righties, most likely in Rivera's slot. The use of Garret Anderson in the two slot is something different; his .344 average there means it worked down the stretch for a team that didn't have a clear number-two hitter, although his four walks in 22 games in that spot show that he didn't change much in terms of his approach. Anderson is a slow hitter prone to double plays and needing to get results on balls in play. His GIDP count will be a key stat in this series.

These are not your older brother's Angels. While they still emphasize contact hitting and aggressive baserunning, the roster simply doesn't have much speed. Only Figgins, Hunter, and Aybar have above-average speed, and a number of these guys are downright slow. The Angels were 11th in the AL in OBP, so avoiding outs on the bases will be critical.

Keep in mind that the full-season stats don't quite give you the full picture of this offense. He didn't get a fraction of the attention Manny Ramirez did, but Mark Teixeira changed the Angels lineup in much the same way Ramirez did the Dodgers'. As a high-OBP, high-SLG switch-hitter, he's the one player in the lineup, even more than the aging Guerrero, who brings a complete game to the plate. The Angels scored 5.1 runs per game with him, as opposed to 4.6 before his arrival.

Benches


Red Sox                  AVG/ OBP/ SLG   EqA   VORP
3B-R Mike Lowell        .274/.338/.461  .272   17.1
CF-S Coco Crisp         .283/.344/.407  .265   14.2
RF-L Mark Kotsay        .276/.329/.403  .254    6.7
SS-L Alex Cora          .270/.371/.349  .260    5.0
OF-L Jonathan Van Every .235/.278/.353  .217   -0.6
C-R  Kevin Cash         .125/.125/.125 -.079   -1.5

Angels                   AVG/ OBP/ SLG   EqA   VORP
OF-S Gary Matthews Jr.  .242/.319/.357  .243   -3.2
INF-R Brandon Wood      .200/.224/.327  .196   -7.2
1B/3B-R Robb Quinlan    .262/.326/.311  .233   -2.7
OF-S Reggie Willits     .194/.321/.231  .219   -6.9
OF/1B-S Kendry Morales  .213/.273/.393  .225   -2.1
C-R  Jeff Mathis        .194/.275/.318  .215  -10.7

If everyone is healthy, the Sox won't use their bench very often. Cora plays defense for Lowrie, and Crisp platoons with Ellsbury and may play defense for Drew if Drew's back gives him any problems in the field. Francona won't pinch-hit for Varitek, and will rarely pinch-run for him, so there's no argument for carrying David Ross to free him up to do so and still have a backup catcher. Van Every may make the team if Lowell or Drew doesn't, but he wouldn't play much.

The Angels can use Matthews and Willits as legs for Guerrero and Anderson, and pinch-hitters for Aybar and, on occasion, Napoli. Morales deserves at-bats against right-handers, but really, the Angels have a whole bunch of suboptimal DH choices. Their best play is probably to start Willits or Matthews in the outfield and DH Guerrero or Anderson, at least gaining something on defense. Scioscia did that with Matthews a fair amount this season, but it's not clear what he'll do this week. It's not a great bench, but at least there are six men on it, which is the number every team should have. If it's not seven, anyway.

Rotations


Red Sox                  IP      ERA SNLVAR   SNW%
LHP Jon Lester          210.1   3.21   6.4   .600
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka   167.2   2.90   6.0   .610
RHP Josh Beckett        174.1   4.03   4.6   .575
RHP Paul Byrd           180.0   4.60   0.6   .505

Angels                   IP      ERA SNLVAR   SNW%
RHP John Lackey         163.1   3.75   4.5   .594
RHP Ervin Santana       219.0   3.49   5.7   .586
LHP Joe Saunders        198.0   3.41   5.4   .581

The injury to Beckett leads the Sox to ordering their starters by 2008 performance, which isn't such a bad thing. Whether Beckett can pitch in Sunday's Game Three is uncertain, although he is expected to do so. The drop-off from Beckett to Byrd or Tim Wakefield is significant over a season, but small in any one start.

The Angels' decision to take the longer series is peculiar, because they have a significant edge over the Red Sox in the fourth rotation slot no matter who pitches. By allowing the Sox to skip that slot and bring back Lester on full rest in Game Four-the Sox have yet to commit to this-they gave away value. This is probably the most evenly matched element between the teams in a short series because of that decision. They themselves will push both Jered Weaver and Jon Garland to the pen, giving them all-important redundancy in long, long relief. Leaving Garland off of the roster would have been a better choice.

Bullpens


Red Sox                  IP     ERA   WXRL   FRA
RHP Jonathan Papelbon    69.1   2.34  3.29   2.90
LHP Hideki Okajima       62.0   2.61  1.31   3.83
RHP Justin Masterson     88.1   3.16  1.15   3.08
LHP Javier Lopez         59.1   2.43  1.63   3.14
RHP Manny Delcarmen      74.1   3.27  1.32   3.56
RHP Mike Timlin          49.1   5.66 -0.89   6.61
RHP Tim Wakefield       181.0   4.13  4.2*   4.32

Angels                   IP     ERA   WXRL   FRA
RHP Francisco Rodriguez  68.1   2.24  5.67   2.97
RHP Scot Shields         63.1   2.70  3.23   3.26
RHP Jose Arredondo       61.0   1.62  2.74   2.80
LHP Darren Oliver        72.0   2.88  2.12   3.20
RHP Kevin Jepsen          8.1   4.32  0.13   5.59
RHP Jered Weaver        176.2   4.33  3.9*   4.40
RHP Jon Garland         196.2   4.90  2.0*   5.47
*: SNLVAR

Sox fans head into October a bit nervous about their pen, not unlike how they entered October 2007. That worked out all right. The key element here is Masterson, the nasty side-armer who is a better reliever than starter. The Angels, with just one big-time lefty power threat in Teixeira, could be vulnerable to multi-inning outings by Masterson in which he mows down their many righties. It's why I list him ahead of Delcarmen above; he'll be more important than MDC, and maybe more important than Okajima, in this series.

The Angels' bullpen is well-known, has been long before Rodriguez ripped off a new single-season saves record this season. With Shields back to form after a rough 2007 and new arm Arredondo stretching the pen's dominance into the seventh, the Angels are once again a team you want to beat in the first six innings. The lack of a lefty specialist is worth noting; Oliver has never been that guy, and the Sox are actually a team that makes it worth having one around, with Ortiz and Drew. Scioscia should remember that he's managed almost his entire career without a LOOGY, and go after those two with his best relievers, rather than messing around with Oliver in a key spot, the way he did with Jarrod Washburn a few years ago.

Defense

The Angels' decline in baserunning is mirrored by the degradation in their defensive performance, which is slightly below average per Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. With aging legs on the outfield corners and an ever-changing middle infield, this is something short of surprising, but look for the discussion of the Angels this week to reference their great defense repeatedly. This will overlook that the Red Sox have the best defense in the AL, with the league's best first baseman and candidates for "best" at second base, third base, and center field. With a strikeout staff and a great defense, you have to beat the Sox with short-sequence baseball-home runs. That is not the Angels' game, even with Teixeira.

Managers

There's not much to choose from here, as you have two of the very best in the game, managers of three of the last six World Champions. Each runs a bullpen well, each avoids going too long with starters and neither is prone to the big mistake. We can nitpick any individual decision, but on balance, neither team has an edge, and neither will be hurt by its man in the dugout. If there's something to watch, it's whether Scioscia lets his team be overly reckless on the bases, given that they won't have many baserunners to play with.

Prediction

The Angels have lost nine consecutive post-season games to the Red Sox, and were swept out of last year's Division Series almost without a fight. With that said, the roles are a bit reversed this time; the Angels come in mostly healthy, while the Sox are fighting injuries. That could make the difference. It's hard to make a prediction without knowing the status of Drew, Beckett, and Lowell, and even that statement implies that it would be easy to do so if we did. It wouldn't be. These are two of the best teams in baseball playing three to five games. There is no result-a sweep, a five-game series, either team winning-that would come as a surprise. With that said, I'll go with the better team when healthy, and say Red Sox in four.

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

Related Content:  Defense,  Angels,  The Who,  Jon Garland,  Managers Of The Year,  Best

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Dave Bates

Oh, no! - The Sheehan kiss of death. My Sox are going down in flames. When do pitchers and catchers report?

Oct 01, 2008 07:59 AM
rating: 3
 
IvanXQZ

Sheehan also neglected to mention that the Angels went 8-1 against the Red Sox this year...not that that is predictive of anything, but it's a striking change from both playoffs and regular seasons past.

Oct 01, 2008 10:55 AM
rating: 0
 
ithistle

Six of those games were in the days leading up to the Manny trade, when the team was many accounts distracted, and two were started by Clay Buchholz who is sitting at home. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the head-to-head record.

Oct 01, 2008 11:28 AM
rating: 0
 
rbrianc

Joe good analysis overall.

Scioscia says today in the LA Times Vlad will DH all series and furthering that point, i think your underestimation the Angels defense was the weakest point of the article. So the Angels get GMJ in right, as you suggest. You can opine Youkalis is the better 1B, but might he play 3rd, and Tex is no slouch himself at 1st so there is not much gap if any at first.

At 3B, Figgins had a great season and his fielding stats are under the radar impressive. Like 1B, the Red Sox get the headlines at Catcher and CF, but Mathis and Hunter are very solid, though the running game edge has to go to the Sox admittedly.

'ever-changing' aptly defines the Angels middle infield, but Aybar can be spectacular and the Halos are back to their Opening Day roster. HK continues to improve at 2B, so i think the Angels are more than adequate 'up the middle'.

To sum, I'd call the defense even, and think you underestimate the Angels here.

Oct 01, 2008 11:46 AM
rating: 0
 
ashitaka

This is your standard glass-half-full Angels analysis. "You don't understand, our guys are better than you think! And I will prove it with opinions!" The news is: every team's fan base thinks their players are better then the mainstream's perception. Yours are no different.

Oct 01, 2008 16:47 PM
rating: 0
 
rbrianc

yes opinions, you're right. Let me try again, Two of the last 3 AL Gold Gloves at 1B went to Texiera, Youk won last year and that was likely due to Tex being traded to the NL half way through the season. Yes, GG is subjective too, but it says something.

Figins had 6 errors and a 978 FP. Lowell had a lower FP and 10 errors. Figgins was a disaster last year at 3B but this year, he's been solid and the data is there to back that up.

Hunter has won 7 straight GGs too in CF. I'd be shocked if Ellsbury wins one a GG over Hunter, and Joe stating Boston has the leagues best 1B is certainly subjective now that Tex is back in the AL.

Yeah, Boston may have better overall team defense, but my point is the gap isn't that great, ignores Hunter and Texieria, and downplays Aybar and Figgins in an abbreviated analysis. Plus, as Joe suggests Sciosc is replacing Vlad with GMJ for the series - that has to should too (despite tonight's error)

Oct 01, 2008 21:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Eric M. Van

Facts, a/k/a Fielding Bible Plus / Minus converted to Runs / 150 G.

Youkilis +7, Pedroia + 12, Lowrie +24, Lowell +9, Bay -10, Ellsbury +10, Drew - 5 = +47.

Teixeira +19, Kendrick -4, Aybar +10, Figgins +11, Anderson 0, Hunter -4 (he hasn't been good for years), Matthews -13 = +19.

Lowrie is almost certainly exaggerated by a SSS but, OTOH, the Sox OF numbers are massively hurt by Fenway (Bay and Manny both finished the season at -10; at the time of the trade, IIRC, it was something like -5 Bay, -20 Manny).

30 runs in a season is a pretty large edge.

Oct 01, 2008 23:34 PM
rating: 0
 
dguretz

if beckett makes two starts, yes Sox in 5. but with only one, I just dont see DiceK (the master of walks) winning either of his two games against one the best in the teams in the league (or byrd/wakefield), and taking one from Lester should be possible. If Beckett misses his start, its really over. that is why i think in a 5 game series, its Angels.

Oct 01, 2008 11:44 AM
rating: 0
 
xnumberoneson

I would think that the Angels are an ideal matchup for Dice-K. His high walk rate might not matter so much against a team known for its aggressiveness at the plate. I can see Dice-K inducing a lot of weak outs by getting the Halos to swing at some of his junk.

Oct 01, 2008 23:24 PM
rating: 0
 
OonBoon

Speaking of LOOGYs, here's a random idea for optimal LOOGY usage: get your LOOGY some fielding practice at first base. In a lineup of LRL or LLRL or similar, start the inning with a LOOGY, drop him over to 1B and bring in a ROOGY. After the RHB, bring back the LOOGY and swap in your backup 1B. Ideally you could get your ROOGY some reps at 1B, too, for optimal flexibility. First base is often a black hole defensively, anyhow, and a pitcher won't stiffen up too badly in the span of a batter or two, so where does this plan fail?

Oct 01, 2008 12:30 PM
rating: 1
 
SFC B

What would you do with your regular first baseman?

Also, didn't someone try this with Brooks Keischniek (sp?)

Oct 01, 2008 13:38 PM
rating: 0
 
chavez3

"The drop-off from Beckett to Byrd or Tim Wakefield is significant over a season, but small in any one start."

This is only true if you say Beckett will pitch like he did in the regular season. I'm no fan of 'clutch' statistics, but Beckett is a better pitcher in the playoffs where he seems to use more effort in going for strikeouts as opposed to maybe pitching to more contact in the regular season. The stats bear it out:

Beckett 70 inning postseason career:
1.72 ERA 10.2 K/9 1.7 BB/9 5.0 H/9
as opposed to the regular season where he averages:
3.78 ERA 8.5 K/9 2.8 BB/9 8.2 H/9

That's all opposed to Byrd's pedestrian numbers this year and his postseason stats, which are pretty dreadful (30 IP, 4.80 ERA and averaging less than 5 innings per start).

I'd guess the difference makes for a 10-15% swing in one game, which is significant when comparing two close teams in the statistically erratic sport of baseball.

Oct 01, 2008 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
leez34

I kind of like Aaron's idea, and wonder if anyone has tried it.

Oct 01, 2008 13:20 PM
rating: 0
 
erbolest

I am pretty sure Whitey Herzog would move Todd Worrell to the outfield every once in a while. I am too young to really remember, but he did play in the outfield a few times according to his BR page.

Oct 02, 2008 07:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Linus

I'm pretty sure Jeff Weaver doesn't play for the Angels.

Oct 01, 2008 14:57 PM
rating: 0
 
jeffsol

I think the issue with Aaron's idea is that managers are concerned with the risk of injury putting a pitcher in another position. That said, I do recall an extra innings Mets game in the mid-80's (I think '86) where Davey Johnson had Orosco and McDowell alternating at pitcher depending on the batter, with the other in one OF corner, again depending on the hitter, and the actual OF flipping back and forth as necessary.

Oct 02, 2008 15:06 PM
rating: 0
 
tpfx

test

Feb 03, 2010 20:45 PM
rating: 0
 
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