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October 19, 2000

World Series Prospectus

New York Yankees vs. New York Mets

by Joe Sheehan

A series that presents a beguiling question: what, exactly, is the point of the travel days?

Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/Equivalent Average)

(Ed. Note: For players who played for multiple teams, their EqA only reflects their performance with their current team.)

New York

DH Chuck Knoblauch (.283/.366/.385/.257)
SS Derek Jeter (.339/.416/.481/.304)
LF David Justice (.286/.377/.584/.312*)
CF Bernie Williams (.307/.391/.566/.308)
1B Tino Martinez (.258/.328/.422/.248)
C Jorge Posada (.287/.417/.527/.310)
RF Paul O'Neill (.283/.336/.424/.252)
2B Luis Sojo (.286/325/.422/.240*)
3B Scott Brosius (.230/.299/.374/.219)

New York

RF Timoniel Perez (.286/.333/.469/.270)
2B Edgardo Alfonzo .324/.425/.542/.328)
C Mike Piazza (.324/.398/.614/.330)
3B Robin Ventura (.232/.338/.439/.265)
1B Todd Zeile (.268/.356/.467/.280)
LF Benny Agbayani (.289/.391/.480/.297)
CF Jay Payton (.291/.331/.447/.260)
SS Mike Bordick (.281/.341/.443/.239*)

I've listed only an eight-man lineup for the Mets. The best DH option on the Mets' bench is Bubba Trammell, although there is something to be said for mixing a left-handed hitter into the lineup. Darryl Hamilton would be the best choice in that case, and could bat leadoff with Timoniel Perez sliding down to seventh.

In non-DH games, look for Joe Torre to keep Luis Sojo in the lineup, moving Derek Jeter into the leadoff spot and bumping Jorge Posada into the #2 hole.

DH or no DH, the teams have comparable lineups. The Mets posted a better EqA in 2000, .268 to .260, but that includes a lot of Yankee at-bats given away to players who won't be relevant in this series. At this point in the season, the teams have similar offenses with different shapes: the Yankees have four very good offensive players to the Mets' two, while the Mets avoid playing stiffs on the infield and outfield corners.

Of course, that's the overall outlook. In this series, though, the Yankees will face left-handed starters in at least the first two games, and in as many as six of the seven if it goes the distance. Now, the Yankees overall numbers against left-handed pitchers compare nicely to their performance against right-handers:

              BA/ OBP/ SLG
vs. LHP:    .291/.352/.470
vs. RHP:    .272/.355/.442

Those lines don't tell the whole story, though. Glenallen Hill, who hammers lefties, may not get off the bench, given Joe Torre's unwillingness to platoon Paul O'Neill. And while O'Neill hit lefties better this year than he usually does (and had a couple of key singles off left-handers Tuesday night), he's not going to be an asset against Mike Hampton and Al Leiter.

David Justice and Tino Martinez are certainly going to play every day as well. There's no argument against Justice and there's no argument for Martinez, who is among the worst first basemen in baseball. If all three play, the Yankees will have three left-handed hitters in the lineup against this:

                  vs. LHB
                BA/ OBP/ SLG
Mike Hampton  .264/.325/.399
Al Leiter     .119/.191/.237

Now, both of these are samples of less than 200 plate appearances; if you go back to 1999, the splits reverse themselves, with Hampton crucifying lefty batters and Leiter a "backwards" pitcher. Nevertheless, in a series that is probably going to be low-scoring, the Yankees would be well-served to get Hill, who hit a home run every 11 at-bats against left-handers this year, into the lineup.

The Mets have pretty much settled on the lineup they're going to use. Earlier this year, I bemoaned how right-handed they'd become, but it really doesn't seem to have hurt them too much, as they showed in the last two games of the NLCS. Facing Orlando Hernandez in Game 3 will keep them from getting Darryl Hamilton into the lineup as the DH, but Bobby Valentine could elect to use him in right field. Hernandez has a career-long platoon split, and any minor edge could help in what, again, should be a very close series.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA)

New York

DH Glenallen Hill (.293/.336/.600/.336*)
IF Jose Vizcaino (.251/.308/.303/.211*)
IF Clay Bellinger (.207/.288/.370/.222)
C Chris Turner (.236/.320/.303/.206)
PH Luis Polonia (.276/.309/.427/.244*)
DH Jose Canseco (.252/.377/.444/.271*)

New York

OF Bubba Trammell (.265/.345/.457/.263*)
OF Darryl Hamilton (.276/.358/.362/.261)
C Todd Pratt (.275/.378/.463/.290)
PH Lenny Harris (.260/.317/.381/.295*)
UT Joe McEwing (.222/.248/.366/.208*)
PH Matt Franco (.239/.340/.313/.236)

Jose Canseco is included in case Torre comes to his senses and realizes that carrying the core of the 1988 Mets rotation to pitch mopup relief is overkill.

Put as simply as possible, the benches are non-factors in this series. Unlike the myriad maneuverings of the mad Missouri manager we saw last week, this series will have very little double-switching and almost no pinch-hitting that doesn't involve the pitchers.

Joe Torre occasionally hits for Paul O'Neill and Scott Brosius, generally with Glenallen Hill and Jose Vizcaino. Clay Bellinger is a defensive replacement for David Justice. This bench could really use Jose Canseco, if only to hit for pitchers at Shea.

Chris Turner may not even be with the team anymore. As long as Jorge Posada shows up with at least three of his four limbs, no one is going to take the time to find out.

The Mets have a useful DH platoon in Darryl Hamilton and Bubba Trammell. Matt Franco is a quality pinch-hitter who may or may not make the roster. Since Valentine could, conceivably, hit for his outfielders, Franco would be a good fit on the bench. Todd Pratt won't play much, but he is an excellent backup catcher.

Rotations (Support-Neutral Wins Above Replacment, ERA)

New York

Roger Clemens (3.8, 3.70)
Andy Pettitte (3.0, 4.35)
Orlando Hernandez (3.2, 4.51)
Denny Neagle (3.2, 4.52)

New York

Mike Hampton (4.2, 3.14)
Al Leiter (4.0, 3.20)
Rick Reed (2.5, 4.11)
Glendon Rusch (2.8, 4.01)
Bobby J. Jones (1.0, 5.06)

At this writing, there are a lot of questions about who will get the starts in this series. I expect both teams to use a four-man rotation, but that may change before this hits the Web.

The Yankees' chances hinge on getting the kind of starting pitching they have gotten so far in October. They aren't going to be able to win 8-7 games; they just don't have that kind of offense this year. Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez match up very well with the Mets; Andy Pettitte doesn't, and while the Yankees have won all of his postseason starts, he hasn't pitched all that well in two of them.

Call me crazy--go ahead, I'll wait--but I can see him getting hammered early, and the Yankees having to ask one of the Met legends on the staff to toss game-saving long relief.

I think that would be a great story, and I think it could definitely happen in Game Two.

The Mets, as mentioned, are in a comparable position to their NLCS position. Their best two pitchers match up well with their opponent and are in position to start early and often. I think they need to ditch Bobby Jones--whose entire case is that one-hitter--and start Glendon Rusch in his stead, be that in Game Three or Game Four.

Regardless of whether they really push the lefty thing, the Mets are in good shape in this series because they have two excellent left-handed starters ready to go against the Yankee lineup.

Bullpens (Adjusted Runs Prevented, ERA)

New York

Mariano Rivera (14.0, 2.85)
Jeff Nelson (16.4, 2.45)
Mike Stanton (10.7, 4.10)
Dwight Gooden (3.0, 4.71)
David Cone (-0.5 SNWAR, 6.91)
Randy Choate (-1.2, 4.76)
Jason Grimsley (-6.0, ERA)

New York

Armando Benitez (13.4, 2.61)
John Franco (9.2, 3.40)
Turk Wendell (16.5, 3.59)
Rick White (16.8, 3.52)
Dennis Cook (-3.9, 5.34)
Pat Mahomes (-21.0, 5.46)

More significant strengths for both teams, and as we've seen so far, only about half these guys are going to pitch in anything that resembles an important situation in an inning that doesn't end in "teenth".

The Mets can go deeper into games, as the last few pitchers on their staff have been pretty effective in 2000. The Yankees can't make that same claim, although their last few pitchers may be more popular at Shea than the guys in blue and orange. Both managers use their weapons effectively, and Torre's willingness to go to Mariano Rivera earlier in games is a big help for the Yankees.

Assuming the Mets use Glendon Rusch out of the bullpen, that gives Bobby Valentine three left-handers, and would mean that there's simply no way David Justice, Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez would see a right-hander in the late innings of close games. Conversely, the Yankees will be riding Jeff Nelson against the heavily right-handed Met lineup.

Overall, it's a wash, and not the way the benches are. People clamoring for shorter games won't like it, but these bullpens are well-stocked and will play a big role in this series.

Defense

The Yankee defense isn't as good as its reputation. It consists largely of guys who were very good defensive players earlier in their careers who have slipped by a step or two. Scott Brosius, Paul O'Neill and Luis Sojo all fall into this category. Bernie Williams is an asset in center field and Brosius is still fair at third base; everywhere else, the team is average to below.

While the Mets made more errors and allowed more unearned runs this year, leading to the perception that their team defense has declined, it's really not a whole lot worse this year. Edgardo Alfonzo would be a legitimate Gold Glove winner at second base, while Mike Bordick doesn't cost the Mets runs compared to St. Rey Ordonez. Todd Zeile isn't a good first baseman, while Robin Ventura is still playing hurt.

What I like about this team is the outfield defense. Jay Payton is a good center fielder who doesn't throw well and Timoniel Perez is an improvement over Derek Bell. Benny Agbayani doesn't look like he'd be good defensively, but he moves pretty well once he gets started.

Mike Piazza's reputation as a poor-throwing catcher should be a non-factor in this series. The Yankees don't run much, and the little that they do will be hindered by the left-handed starters the Mets will be using. Mike Hampton and Al Leiter both control the running game fairly well; for a right-hander, Rick Reed is one of the best.

The Call

The interesting thing about this series is that the Mets, by rights, should be the favorites. They had the better regular season, by record and by most other metrics. They have played better in the postseason against better competition than the Yankees faced. They match up better in a short series.

On the other hand, and I made this point going into the LCS, the Yankees are designed to win postseason series. They have good frontline starting pitching, a core of four good hitters and three excellent relievers they can lean on heavily for important outs.

About the only thing I'm absolutely certain of is that this is going to be a low-scoring series. If the teams combine for 35 runs I'd be surprised. I'd also be surprised if this ended in less than six games, but I said that last year as well, and the Yankees swept the Braves.

I think the teams will split the first six games, with a New York team winning Game Seven.

Alright, alright...Mets in seven. And I hope my family will still speak to me.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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