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October 22, 2010

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Six Projection

by Eric Seidman

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The day after the Rangers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the ALCS, the Yankees bats finally awoke from their lengthy slumber and relieved their frustration on lefty C.J. Wilson. With the win, the Yankees kept the series going, forcing at least one more game in Arlington. Home-field advantage has been largely irrelevant this postseason, but the Yankees could face one major hurdle should they force a seventh game: Cliff Lee. If Phil Hughes can outduel Colby Lewis, the prize for the Yankees is another matchup with Lee, who is looking more and more like this generation’s Curt Schilling with every playoff start. To get to that juncture, however, the Yankees will need to keep their bats hot. Does PECOTA see this is as a likely possibility? Or does the series end after six games?

Yankees @ Rangers: Rangers lead 3-2
Phil Hughes (NYY) vs. Colby Lewis (TEX)
Projected Runs: Rangers 4.81, Yankees 4.43
Odds: Rangers 54%, Yankees 46%

Being at home, and with a capable pitcher—remember, PECOTA thought very highly of Lewis entering the season—the Rangers are pegged as the likely winners. The difference between the teams and their projected runs scored is likely tied to the home-field advantage, as without that benefit in the stat lines, the teams appear neck and neck in this matchup. Yes, a 54/46 advantage favors the Rangers, but given the level of uncertainty in projecting individual games, it is much closer to a coin flip than such a disparity would normally indicate. Then again, while the Yankees might take solace in being evenly matched sans context, the context exists and is very real.

One question that popped up in the comments section for the Game Five preview was how the odds would differ with Lance Berkman in the lineup as opposed to Mark Teixeira, which brings up a very interesting topic for discussion. While the needle wasn’t affected—basically at all—by swapping Berkman for Teixeira, the lack of a shift is due to Berkman’s true talent level being so high. Remember, prior to this season, the man put up TAvs of .314, .335, .307, .333, and .314 the previous five years. He was hamstrung by injuries this season and posted substandard numbers, but a system like PECOTA sees awesomeness in the past, considers this year to be the outlier, and develops an expected set of results.

For all we know, what we are seeing now could be Berkman’s true level of ability, meaning the system would overestimate his production. We won’t know this for another year or two, unfortunately. But this is a perfect example of how qualitative information enhances what we can quantify.

As far as matchups go, Hughes' ability to retire Vladimir Guerrero will loom large, and the platoon-split babies like Jeff Francoeur and Jorge Cantu will play a big role when all is said and done. On the Yankees side, I really like Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson against Lewis. The Yankees hitters will need to show patience and force Lewis to throw a lot of pitches, as while he is sneakily effective at missing bats, he isn’t a dominant strikeout pitcher like a Tim Lincecum. PECOTA sees the Rangers eeking out a win, and my Seidjection agrees. Rangers win and advance to the World Series.
 

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

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