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Big markets spending big on big names win big, producing a big first round
series that involves lots of big players, several of whom are still awfully
good. Beyond the two good-but-flawed ballclubs, this is the ALDS matchup
that most resembles a Wold Cup matchup, courtesy of each team’s single-name
superstar, A-Rod for the Yankees and the ever-underrated Vladi with the
Angels. But while this might be last-chance sweepstakes, it isn’t Celebrity
Death Match, with each team’s fate riding on that of their best player. Both
teams boast star talent in their lineups, rotations, and bullpens, but
beyond that and their shared reputations for star power, this is a
fascinating mismatch. Although the series between the two Sox teams is
getting top billing as the classic confrontation between old school,
“inside” baseball and “Moneyball” sensibilities, this is
the matchup between baseball’s best base-stealing team and the squad with
the most homeruns. The real difference between these two clubs is between
their two pitching staffs, where the Angels have relied on a balanced crew
of starting pitchers and a deep bullpen, while the Yankees have been coping
with a patchwork staff all season. Which team is best positioned to attack
the other’s weaknesses?

Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA/VORP)

New York Yankees

SS-R Derek Jeter (.309/.389/.450/.303/68.2)
3B-R Alex Rodriguez (.321/.421/.610/.348/101.8)
DH-L Jason Giambi (.271/.440/.535/.347/59.7)
RF-R Gary Sheffield (.291/.379/.512/.313/58.1)
LF-L Hideki Matsui (.305/.367/.496/.301/54.7)
C-B Jorge Posada (.262/.352/.430/.280/33.8)
1B-L Tino Martinez (.241/.328/.439/.278/11.1)
CF-B Bernie Williams (.249/.321/.367/.252/8.6)
2B-L Robinson Cano (.297/.320/.458/.272/28.5)

Los Angeles de Los Angeles of Ana-angeles-heim

3B-B Chone Figgins (.290/.352/.397/.279/36.5)
SS-R Orlando Cabrera (.257/.309/.365/.253/17.3)
LF-L Garret Anderson (.283/.308/.435/.260/17.8)
RF-R Vladimir Guerrero (.317/.394/.565/.334/70.1)
DH/1B-L Casey Kotchman (.278/.352/.484/.291/8.6)
1B-L Darin Erstad (.273/.325/.371/.256/7.7)
C-R Ben Molina (.295/.336/.446/.280/27.3)
CF-L Steve Finley (.222/.271/.374/.234/-3.6)
2B-L Adam Kennedy (.300/.354/.370/.274/21.7)

The Yankees are one of the two best lineups in the game, leading the Red Sox
in Equivalent Average and homeruns while trailing them in runs scored. But
if you’re the sort of offensive snob who prefers maximum bloodletting in
short doses, you should prefer the Yankees’ top-heavy murderer’s row through
the front six. There isn’t much that needs to be said about the seasons
A-Rod or Sheffield have put up, and even if Jeter’s power game dropped a tick, he
started drawing walks again at a significant clip, more than evening up
whatever he might have lost to Father Time. Jason Giambi’s comeback has
gotten all due credit after his 14-homer July, but hitting 13 more in the
two months since isn’t exactly a slump. What doesn’t get brought up so much
are the declines of some of the building blocks of the last decade. Bernie
Williams has lost a lot in every phase of the game, and Posada only managed
to slug .409 against right-handed pitching. So while this is as good as it
gets, it’s also something of a short-sequence offense, in that it’s the
front five that really put the runs on the board and who got this team here.

To give credit where credit is due, Cano capped a nice rookie campaign with
a hot September. It was a good thing for his sake, since it saved him from a
challenge by Red Sox refugee Mark Bellhorn. Cano’s a good example of the
virtue of having a ninth-slot hitter who can get the ball in play with
power; I know it’s all supposed to go out with the wash from a sabermetric
point of view, but there’s something nice about having a hitter who can
punish a mistake there. Cano’s also locked into the lineup, essentially for
defensive purposes; it’s the two spots ahead of him where Joe Torre
might do something creative. But that’s speculative, since Torre
might be no more creative than simply pinch-hitting Ruben Sierra for either
Martinez or Williams, and consider that good enough for guv’ment work.

The name of the game here is really seeing which manager makes the larger
mistake with his DH slot. The Yankees seem stuck looking no further than
yesterday, which leaves them pondering a choice between Martinez and Ruben
Sierra (with Giambi moving to first and out of the DH slot), and probably
overlooking Matt Lawton. However, the Yankees have offense coming out of
their ears through the first six slots of the lineup, so fidgeting over what
little a Sierra or a Bernie Williams might contribute makes for small beer
relative to the far more desperate decision Mike Scioscia has to make. There
is no justification for having Kotchman out of the lineup against any
opposing right-handed starter, but the Angels are even more stuck on their
memory of Erstad’s occassional usefulness than the Yankees are about their
veterans. Scioscia instead needs to focus on their desperate need for runs,
and address that by getting aggressive with his lineup card, not his in-game
management. If Anderson’s bad back forces him to DH, the fallback decision
cannot be to bench Kotchman, not when they may well be stuck with whatever
is left of Finley’s defensive reputation getting three or four plate
appearances per night.

Beyond making sure he leans heavily on Kotchman, Scioscia needs to recognize
that he can help himself in other, little ways. For starters, he can skip
over the current fashion of alternating left-handed and right-handed bats:
the Yankees don’t have a left-handed reliever they can hurt you with if you
stack your lefties. It would make sense to get Kennedy at the top of the
order, and Erstad (if he must play) and Cabrera at the bottom, ahead of only
Finley. Stacking their bats almost in order of their relative quality makes
some sense, if only to keep the Cabreras and Erstads from costing you runs.
At least the Angels can say that Bengie Molina is one of their best hitters
without generating any derisive laughter, and his setting career highs in
batting average, OBP and SLG hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves
because of the three weeks he missed at the start of the season with a
strained quadricep.

A big difference between the lineups is in their basepath behavior. Fronted
by Figgins in the leadoff slot, the Angels led the majors in stolen bases
(159, 22 more than the more highly touted Go-Go White Sox) while
nabbing them at a nifty 74% clip, good for the ninth-best success rate for a
team. The Yankees haven’t been all that passive on the bases this year, even
with Tony Womack riding pine: Jeter and A-Rod have combined for 35 steals in
46 attempts, but they’re the only baserunners Torre takes risks with, and
the Angels do an exceptional job controlling the running game. So if there’s
going to be a basepath commando in the series, odds are, it’s going to be an
Angel. If Figgins plays as well against the Yankees now as he did during the
season (.487/.535/.590), the Angels will be able to create opportunities for
themselves and get into that middle relief staff the Yankees almost wish
wasn’t there at all.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA/VORP)

Yankees

DH-B Ruben Sierra (.229/.265/.371/.231/-2.2)
UT-B Tony Womack (.249/.276/.280/.217/-8.2 at LF)
2B/3B-B Mark Bellhorn (.210/.324/.357/.251/3.3 at 2B)
OF-L Matt Lawton (.255/.356/.397/.268/19.2)
OF-L Bubba Crosby (.276/.304/.327/.232/-0.6)
C-R John Flaherty (.165/.202/.252/.154/-9.4)

Angels

3B-R Robb Quinlan (.231/.273/.403/.241/-0.9)
INF-B Maicer Izturis (.246/.306/.346/.246/1.8 at 3B)
OF-R Juan Rivera (.271/.316/.454/.261/8.9)
OF-B Jeff DaVanon (.231/.347/.311/.253/0.6 at DH)
C-R Jose Molina (.228/.286/.348/.235/0.4)

Crosby’s a maybe, depending entirely on how skittish Joe Torre feels about
Bernie Williams trying to cover center field in a close game, the outcome of
which might end any talk of tomorrow. I think it would make more sense to
keep him than Womack, but this is basically pointless to worry about: Womack
might pinch-run, and Crosby might do some defensive replacement work, but
the real travesty will be when Torre manages to forget that he has Matt
Lawton around. Don’t laugh, he did exactly that with Kenny
Lofton
last October, and it ended up hurting the Yankees. Mark
Bellhorn might come in if Torre took leave of his senses and brought in
Sierra for Cano, but otherwise figures to spend the next week watching some
baseball, alongside Lawton.

The Angels bench has better all-around depth, but the primary value of their
reserve outfielders, Rivera and DaVanon, is as alternatives to Erstad, or
replacements if Anderson can’t play. The guy who offers some significant
value as a spot-starter and pinch-hitter against left-handed pitching is
Quinlan. After beating southpaws to the tune of .289/.318/.542, it seems
overkill to bring him in against the Yankees’ lefty relief “help,”
but he should also start against Randy Johnson in Game Three, with Figgins
moving over into center, and Finley to a well-deserved spot on the bench.
Third catcher Josh Paul might somehow squeeze in at the
last spot on the Angels’ bench, but it would be a waste of a roster spot
better spent on a reliever who might get his moment of glory finishing up a
blowout, and sparing one of the better relievers some extra work going into
the next game or series.

Rotations (IP, ERA, SNLVAR)

Yankees

RHP Mike Mussina (179.2, 4.41, 3.4)
RHP Shawn Chacon (151.2, 3.44, 4.2)
LHP Randy Johnson (225.2, 3.79, 5.6)
RHP Aaron Small (76.0, 3.20, 1.7)

Angels

RHP Bartolo Colon (222.2, 3.48, 6.6)
LHP Jarrod Washburn (177.1, 3.20, 5.6)
RHP John Lackey (209.0, 3.44, 5.5)
RHP Paul Byrd (204.1, 3.74, 4.1)

The Yankees are at a disadvantage as far as pitching, but they’ve known that
was the case relative to all of the other contenders since June or July.
While Torre could try to push Johnson up to pitching on three days’ rest to
start Games Two and Five, and Mussina to make a Game Four start, even that
would still leave them outclassed in trying to contend with the Angels’
starting pitching. They’ll most likely roll the dice with journeyman Aaron
Small in Game Four, hoping that his 10-0 record isn’t merely a historical
anecdote to make Tom Filer fans take note. But even beyond
the risk that Small represents, the Yankees just don’t match up well in
terms of performance, and marquee value doesn’t get it done. Mussina has one
quality start in more than six weeks, but the Yankees are hoping that the
aging ace resembles the guy who gave them two quality starts in three
against the Angels this season. That, plus Randy Johnson similarly
remembering his former glory, and Shawn Chacon’s never-ending carpet ride,
and everything will be great, right? Although I can see Johnson torching the
Angels in his start, I’m just not sold on the proposition that Chacon will
be able to rely on his defense to keep him out of trouble against a team
that likes putting the ball in play, and add in his tendency to be a bit
wild, and I guess I see him going choosing this particularly unfortunate
moment to go pumpkin on us.

In contrast, the Angels have their rotation lined up the way they want it.
That might deserve some second-guessing if you dig into Colon’s failures
against the Yankees (15 runs allowed in 11.2 IP this year), or consider that
Lackey and Washburn were both stronger in the second half:


Pitcher   IP  HR  R/9  K/9  WHIP
Lackey   98.0  5  2.9  8.4  1.2
Washburn 66.0  7  3.5  4.9  1.1
Colon    99.0 15  3.7  6.2  1.2

However, that’s still pretty good stuff across the board. Beyond Colon, the
three starters they’ll use (and even fifth starter Ervin Santana) all
performed well against the Yankees this year, and given that both stadia are
pretty good parks to pitch in, I don’t see anything unusual beyond the Colon
factor. If Scioscia doesn’t get carried away with notions of owing Colon a
leash long enough to hang himself with because of his 21 wins during the
regular season, this is one of the few rotations from which you could
reasonably expect a quality start more often than not against the Yankees.

Bullpens (IP, ERA, WXRL)

Yankees

RHP Mariano Rivera (78.1, 1.38, 5.2)
RHP Tom Gordon (80.2, 2.57, 3.3)
RHP Tanyon Sturtze (78.0, 4.73, 0.7)
—–
RHP Chien-Ming Wang (116.1, 4.02, 2.1 SNVAR)
RHP Felix Rodriguez (32.1, 5.01, 0.0)
RHP Scott Proctor (44.2, 6.04, -0.4)
LHP Al Leiter (142.1, 6.13, -0.3)
LHP Alan Embree (52.0, 7.62, -1.5)

Angels

RHP Francisco Rodriguez (67.1, 2.67, 5.6)
RHP Scot Shields (91.2, 2.75, 4.5)
RHP Kelvim Escobar (59.2, 3.02, 1.5)
RHP Brendan Donnelly (65.1, 3.72, 1.4)
LHP Jason Christiansen (45.2, 5.12, 0.2)
RHP Ervin Santana (133.2, 4.65, 2.9 SNVAR)
RHP Esteban Yan (66.2, 4.59, 0.6)
or RHP Kevin Gregg (64.1, 5.04, 0.0)

Torre simply cannot afford to let any game’s outcome rely on anyone besides
Rivera and Gordon after the sixth inning. Yankees fans will have to hope
that he realizes that there’s no point in reserving Rivera for save
situations in road games, and instead thinks in terms of turning to Gordon
in the seventh and Rivera during the eighth if he’s got a narrow lead. Even
then, it’s a bit troubling that Gordon has been smacked around by the
Angels, blowing two saves in six appearances against them this year, and
that’s without noting that he’s gotten more hittable and less overpowering
down the stretch.

Although not as profligate as Mike Scioscia with the IBB, Joe Torre might
try to defang Vlad with a few free passes, covering for his lack of a
reliable middle reliever. As is, from that grab bag of the final five, Torre
doesn’t have a lot to pick from. Sure, F-Rod was famous once upon a time,
and Leiter and Embree have rings. So what? Leiter and Embree may both grace
the roster for the situational relief duties that Torre seems to feel they
can fulfill, but Embree lets lefties slug .530, while Leiter gets flattened
by your average righthanded hitter at a .295/.429/.451 clip. When picking
your poison, these are choices between bedlam and chaos.

The Angels pen was already pretty solid, but now it’s being reinforced by
Kelvim Escobar’s return to health. Lest we forget, however he cranky he may
have been having to try to save games in outings longer than an inning, he’s
looked sound down the stretch, and gives the Angels a key third man in the
pen to back K-Rod and the rubber-armed Shields. K-Rod won’t get to reprise
his 2002 role as the ringer who rang up the Bronx Bombers, but Shields has
been just as hard on the Yankees, and combined with Escobar, the Angels have
the talent to shut down even an offense as dangerous as the Yankees over the
last three or four innings of a game. That strength in turn frees up
Donnelly and token situational lefty Christiansen for earlier work within
games, although Donnelly hasn’t been quite as effective since being caught
cheating by Frank Robinson back in June. There is danger to getting too
excited about Christiansen, since he’s not the sort of specialist who can
overpower Giambi, and attempts to use lefties to beat Godzilla with men on
have left the LOOGYs generally flattened with a Tokyo-like regularity.
Against soutpaws, Matsui’s hit .354 and slugged .579 while leading the team
in PAs against them. If Christiansen’s use is limited to erasing Tino
Martinez and drawing out Torre’s feeble counter in Sierra, that’s enough.

Defense

Taking a quick gander at the Defensive Efficiency Ratings report, it seems clear that while the Yankees may not be the worst defensive team in the league, they’re also
clearly not among the best, while the Angels seem reliably mediocre. With
DER, it’s worth keeping in mind that, like yet another tepid episode of
Will and Grace, however broadly suggestive it may be, it doesn’t
really get much more descriptive than the hint it gives us. In terms of
specific strengths and weaknesses, both teams have their virtues and their
problems on the diamond. The Angels boast a pretty good infield defense when
Figgins is at third base; his struggles at the hot corner last season appear
to be a thing of the past. When Scioscia really has to get Finley’s bat out
of the lineup and put Figgy in center, the Angels are well-served by him
there as well, although it does involve giving up some defense at third with
Quinlan there. Preliminary
defensive stats
for Finley indicate he may not have much defensive value
either these days, but putting Kotchman
at first
costs them nothing in the field relative to
Erstad
. Vlad Guerrero and Juan Rivera both have the arms in an outfield
corner to freeze Yankee baserunners, not that the Yankees can boast of many
burners.

In contrast, the Yankees have issues afield which can be exploited. Outfield
defense is basically little more than a necessary evil, and the best that
can be said for the infield is that it’s probably adequate with Cano at
second. It does seem that Jeter’s had an exceptional season at shortstop, by
his standard or ours, but I guess I’m cautious after watching a few too many
badly-played games in October from him afield. Tino Martinez has been almost
as ineffective as Giambi at first base, pretty much mooting the question of
whether or not they get a worthwhile defensive boost by having El Tino out
there. Another source of trouble will be Jorge Posada’s limitations as far
as deterring the running game against an Angels team that will run. Some of
the Yankees relievers are particularly bad at holding baserunners, which may
cause no end of trouble.

Generally speaking, it may seem as if we underplay the virtues of getting
the ball in play, but the Angels are among the league’s best teams when it
comes to getting hits out of their plate appearances:


YEAR  TEAM  PA    H   Hit Percentage Rank
2005  ANA  6185  1519   .246         4th
2005  NYA  6406  1552   .242         8th
2005   AL 86967 20932   .241          --

Now, admittedly, that’s a freak-show stat, but the Angels pride themselves
on doing things a bit differently, and they’re aggressive about getting the
ball in play. They’re also generally more successful at it than most. (If
you’re curious, Boston ranked third in this particular stat, which does
reflect well on them; however, before we get too excited about this, the
league leaders were Tampa Bay and Detroit.) Although it may not be the
weapon of choice, when it comes to hitting, it does reflect that there’s
more than one way to skin a cat. The intersection of the Angels’ willingness
and ability to get the ball in play safely and the Yankees subpar defense
bodes for a replay of Anaheim’s… er, the Angels’ victory in the
ALDS matchup between these two teams in 2002.

Managers

Generally speaking, these are two very different kinds of manager. Where Joe
Torre loves to leave his lineup set, his tactics simple, and his final
half-dozen players anonymous, Mike Scioscia has used his entire roster,
generally to good effect, and enjoys putting pressure on opposing defenses
with one-run gambits in general and the running game especially. Scioscia
particularly loves the intentional walk, leading the AL in issuing 51 free
passes, but Joe Torre’s not far behind with his 41, good for fourth. Given
that Torre doesn’t have a lefty reliever worth using, while Scioscia has the
slender benefits that Jason Christiansen has to offer, I wouldn’t be
surprised if it was the Angels who actually end up getting burned by an IBB
against a team which frankly generates more than enough baserunners already.
In contrast, if Scioscia isn’t starting Kotchman, the intentional pass might
be Torre’s best way to avoid losing a game in the seventh or eighth innings
to Vlad Guerrero.

What Torre has in the way of specific tactical weapons is pretty limited.
He’ll pinch-hit Sierra, to generally poor effect. He does have Womack to use
as a pinch-runner for Martinez or Giambi should he absolutely have to have
an insurance run. It would make for a nice twist on last season’s
Dave Roberts moment, but Torre might understandably wish to
forget a winter of having to hear all about Roberts, let alone his team’s
decision to sign Womack. Hopefully, Torre won’t let Jeter bunt the Yankees
out of the series, and can instead be judged by how well he handles (or
avoids most of) his bullpen.

Prediction

I don’t see a re-enactment of last year’s ALCS, or even the 2002 ALDS
between the two teams, where K-Rod was the hero of the hour. The Yankees
don’t have the rotation to reliably get them through the first seven
innings, while the Angels’ starting pitching should be good at keeping games
tight. The Yankees don’t have the pen or the bench to give them any
additional benefits in a tight game, while the Angels do. Torre’s tactical
laziness in recent postseasons contrasts unfavorably with Scioscia’s
willingness to use his bench to compensate for a weak lineup. I’m sure the
series will involve lots of hat-gnawing in the Apple and “hero of the
day” Rally Monkey heroics across the entire Angels roster. Basically, I
see a lot of the key moments coming in the seventh inning on a nightly
basis, and on that basis, I’m picking the Angels of Los Angeles of
Anaheim in five
, with the Yankees scoring at least one last home blowout
in either Game Three or Four before losing the final matchup.

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