This is going to be epic. The ALCS should be pretty good, too.
When the decade began, the idea of a Yankees-Angels rivalry seemed laughable. The Yankees were on their way to their fourth world championship in five years and the Angels hadn’t made the postseason since 1986. Then came 2002. Having come two outs from a fifth title in 2001, the Yankees won the AL East for the fifth year in a row and were matched up against a surprising 99-win Wild Card team from Anaheim in the first round. The Yankees were the clear favorites, but after pulling out a come-from-behind win in Game One thanks to an eighth-inning homer by Bernie Williams, they were swept in the next three games by the relentless Angels, who went on to win the franchise’s first pennant and world championship.
A losing season in 2003 seemed to paint the Halos as a fluke, but they came storming back in 2004 and won their division. Since then, the Angels have won the AL West in five of the last six years, went 30-18 against the Yankees from 2004 to 2008, and beat the Yankees in the ALDS again in 2005 in a nerve-wracking series that saw the Yankees blow fifth-inning leads in Games Two and Three and lose Game Five in large part because of an outfield collision between Gary Sheffield and Bubba Crosby that allowed two runs to score.
It was also that series that, to many minds, sealed Alex Rodriguez’s reputation as a post-season choker. Rodriguez hit .133 in the series and, representing the tying run in the ninth inning of Game Five, followed a Derek Jeter leadoff single with a back-breaking double-play. The trick was that the Angels gave Rodriguez nothing to hit, walking him six times and hitting him twice. As with that double play, Alex got himself into trouble by expanding his zone and swinging at the junk he was being offered, but he still posted a .435 on-base percentage on the series. That devilish and effective strategy came from the mind of manager Mike Scioscia, who took over the Angels in 2000 and has presided over what has been by far the franchise’s most successful decade.
The Angels seemed to have the Yankees’ number again this year when they swept them in Anaheim just before the All-Star break to take a 4-2 lead in the season series, but the Yankees, as they did to the entire league, stormed back in the second half to even the series, thus avoiding losing the season set to the Halos for the first time since 2003.
Both teams swept their way to this year’s ALCS, though the Angels did it in more convincing fashion against a superior opponent, the Red Sox, while the Yankees needed a pair of comebacks to beat the lowly Twins. For the Angels, it is their first ALCS appearance since they beat the Yankees to get there in 2005. For the Yankees, it’s their first since they were victims of the Red Sox’s groundbreaking comeback from a 0-3 deficit in games in 2004. Though both teams are postseason staples, making five of the last six, neither has reached the World Series since the Yankees out-lasted the Red Sox in the epic 2003 ALCS.
The blood isn’t nearly as bad in this matchup, but the Yankees find themselves on an unfamiliar side of this one-sided rivalry. It’s the Bombers who always come up short in this pairing. Having finally escaped the perilous best-of-five format of the Division Series, this rivalry will literally reach the next level over the next week. Though the Yankees are clearly the better team by objective measure, I expect the series will be hard-fought and heart-stopping. My official prediction is Yankees in seven, and I expect nothing less.
Derek Jeter (.334/.406/.465, 30 SB @ 86%)
Chone Figgins (.298/.395/.393, 42 SB @ 71%)
When broadcasters and baseball scribes talk about the Angels learning patience from Bobby Abreu, they’re primarily talking about Figgins. Chone’s previous career high was 65 walks, but this year he led the AL (besting even Abreu himself) with 101, posting a career-best .395 on-base percentage as a result. That spike in his walk rate is the only reason he even sniffs Jeter here. Derek has far more power, and Figgins, despite his speed and impressive gross stolen base total, makes too many outs on the bases (he led the majors in times caught stealing this year with 17). Another strike against Figgins is that he went hitless in the ALDS (the only other starter to go hitless in this year’s LDS was Colorado’s Clint Barmes), while Jeter crushed. Figgins did draw a walk, though.
Johnny Damon (.282/.365/.489, 24 HR, 12 SB @ 100%)
Bobby Abreu (.293/.390/.435, 15 HR, 30 SB @ 79%)
Abreu hit third for the Angels for most of the regular season, but in the LDS, Mike Scioscia moved him into what is really the most appropriate lineup spot for him, the two-hole. Bobby shed some power in 2009, but he got on base more often and stole more bases at a higher percentage this year than he did in either of his two full seasons as a Yankee and did it for a fraction of the price. Damon’s power, meanwhile, was largely a product of the new Yankee Stadium as he hit a more pedestrian .284/.349/.446 on the road. Damon’s perfect record on the bases is impressive, but he gave back a lot of those outs in the field, while Abreu improved over his dismal performance in right field for the Yankees in 2008. Also, in an inversion of the Jeter-Figgins comparison, Abreu crushed in the LDS, while Damon’s only noticeable act was his pointless dive for Brendan Harris’s triple in Game Two.
This is one of just two wins for the Angels, and suggests that the Yankees would be better off bringing back Abreu, who is four months Damon’s junior, and letting Damon walk should they be unable to land Jason Bay or Matt Holliday for left field at an acceptable price this winter. But that’s for another post . . .
Mark Teixeira (.292/.383/.565, 39 HR, 122 RBI)
Kendry Morales (.306/.355/.569, 34 HR, 108 RBI)
I juggled the middle three spots in the lineup to produce the closest comparisons. Putting Teixeira up against his replacement, Kendry Morales, was an obvious choice. Cuban defector Morales hit just .249/.302/.408 with 12 homers in 377 major league at-bats prior to 2009, but crushed in the minors, hitting .335/.374/.518 at triple-A over the last three seasons. He finally brought that production to the Show this year at age 26, but he still falls short of Teixeira, who is just three years older if Morales’s official age is accurate, due to his his deficit in on-base percentage. Also, Scioscia hits Morales fifth, giving him fewer opportunities than Teixeira has in the Yankees three-hole. With numbers this close, that matters.
Alex Rodriguez (.286/.402/.532, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 14 SB @ 88%)
Torii Hunter (.299/.366/.508, 22 HR, 90 RBI, 18 SB @ 82%)
Hunter and Rodriguez match up because both missed roughly a month due to a leg injury. Hunter played in 119 games, making 506 plate appearances; Rodriguez played in 124 getting 535. Coincidentally, both were born in July 1975. Their work on the basepaths is a wash, otherwise Rodriguez wins this one easy, as you’d expect. Also, though Torii had a big homer in Game One, Alex had a far better ALDS, which isn’t terribly predictive, but feels nice to say.
Hideki Matsui (.274/.367/.509, 28 HR, 90 RBI)
Vladimir Guerrero (.295/.334/.460, 15 HR, 50 RBI)
Another apt comparison in terms of age (Vlad is eight months younger, but seems older) and condition (both have been reduced to DH duties by a series of immobilizing injuries). However, full-time DH duty was enough to keep Matsui healthy this year as he racked up 526 plate appearances, while Guerrero still broke down, managing just 407 PA.
Despite his recent decline, Guerrero has still been worth a good ten wins more than the right fielders the Yankees have played in his place since George Steinbrenner opted to sign the 35-year-old Gary Sheffield instead of the 29-year-old Vlad prior to the 2004 season:
|Year||Guerrero VORP||NYY RF VORP||NYY RF|
Despite his poor regular season, Guerrero had a good ALDS, albeit without an extra-base hit. Matsui went just 2-for-9 against the Twins, but had a home run and three walks for a superior OPS. Given that Vlad doesn’t walk much, his vanishing power gives Godzilla the edge over even a healthy Impaler.
Jorge Posada (.285/.363/.522, 22 HR, 81 RBI)
Juan Rivera (.287/.332/.478, 25 HR, 88 RBI)
Getting back to the actual Angels batting order, we have a pair of Yankee farmhands with similar triple-crown stats, though the full slash stats show Posada’s obvious superiority, ditto the fact that Posada put up his counting stats in about 150 fewer plate appearances. That said, Rivera, who seemed like a throw-in when the Yankees dealt Nick Johnson to Montreal for Javy Vazquez, has far exceeded my expectations for him. Coincidentally, both Rivera and Johnson lost most (in Nick’s case, all) of 2007 to a broken leg.
Robinson Cano (.320/.352/.520, 25 HR, 85 RBI)
Maicer Izturis (vs. RHP .290/.344/.428; 13 SB @ 72%)/Howie Kendrick (vs. LHP .313/.331/.500; 11 SB @ 73%)
None of these seventh-place hitters hit a lick in the LDS, but prior to that, Cano out-hit even the combined splits of the Angels’ second-base platoon. That said, Hendrick, demoted in mid-June while hitting .231/.281/.355, thereby opening the door for Izturis to take over the bulk of the keystone duties, hit .351/.387/.532 after returning. With the Yankees giving a potential five starts to lefties CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, Kendrick will get the majority of the at-bats at the position in this series. Kendrick is 8-for-12 career against Sabathia, a small sample, but a convincing one, which tilts this spot back toward the Angels. Still, Kendrick can’t match Cano’s power, is even less likely to draw a walk, and Cano beats Izturis easy.
Note: Izturis was better against lefties in ’09, but that was a small-sample fluke that ran counter to his career history.
Nick Swisher (.249/.371/.498, 29 HR, 82 RBI)
Jeff Mathis (.211/.288/.308)/Mike Napoli (.272/.350/.492, 20 HR, 56 RBI)
It’s not surprising that, having been one, Mike Scioscia has a weakness for defense-first catchers, but his habit of starting Mathis over Napoli defies explanation. It’s nearly equivalent to starting Jose Molina over Jorge Posada. There’s very little in their defensive stats to back up Scioscia’s preference. Mathis isn’t markedly better at throwing out runners. Napoli has hit .273/.359/.527 with 40 homers and 105 RBIs in 609 at-bats over the past two seasons, but he only plays half the time because . . . why? Edge: Swisher.
Melky Cabrera (.274/.336/.416, 10 SB @ 83%)
Erick Aybar (.312/.353/.423, 14 SB @ 67%)
The difference between the Twins and Angels is stark at the bottom of the order. The Twins ran out a bunch of over-extended bench players and minor leaguers. The Angels have real-life hitters down here (at least when Napoli starts). Aybar gives up too many outs on the bases and his slash stats are buoyed by his batting average, but Melky’s foundation feels no more firm, giving the Angels the edge here.
Save for Jose Molina’s lone at-bat as a starter in Game Two, no Yankee other than the typical starting nine came to the plate for the Bombers in the ALDS against the Twins. Of course, that was a three-game sweep, and the ALCS is likely to last at least twice as many games. Nonetheless, the Yankees have made one change to their playoff roster, dropping Eric Hinske to add pinch-runner Freddy Guzman. That effectively leaves them with a speed and defense bench devoid of a legitimate pinch-hitting option. So Brett Gardner or Guzman could pinch-run for, say, Jorge Posada or Hideki Matsui, but if that spot in the order should come around again, Jerry Hairston Jr. would be the most attractive pinch-hitting option. That seems like bad planning. Guzman is redundant with Gardner not getting starts, but with Melky Cabrera having struggled in the Division Series (2-for-12 with 5 Ks), Girardi has implied that Gardner just might draw some starts in center in this series, as well he should. Thus Guzman takes Gardner’s place on the bench and Melky takes Hinske’s for those games.
The Angels’ bench is actually similarly constructed. Both teams are carrying three catchers, one who can rake, one who is likely to draw undeserving starts, and a rookie to back up the position should pinch-running be required. Both have a speedy white outfielder (the Angels’ is Reggie Willits, who is actually a closer match to Guzman than Gardner). Both have an athletic, but generally punchless Junior (L.A.’s is Gary Matthews). The Angels will have good bats on the bench when Jeff Mathis and Maicer Izturis are starting, but they’ll pay for it in the starting lineup. The Halos have an extra man in corner infielder Robb Quinlan, who’s rendered largely irrelevant by the fact that the starting corner infielders are productive switch-hitters, as well as by his own futility this season. Call it a draw.
Though Joe Girardi hasn’t made an official announcement, the Yankees are expected to take advantage of the off-day between Games Four and Five and go with a three-man rotation, barring the very unlikely event that they find themselves up 3-0 heading into Game Four. Such a rotation would find CC Sabathia starting on short rest in Game Four, but would still allow every other game to be started by a pitcher on full rest, including Sabathia in a potential Game Seven. Having Sabathia pitch three times in the series, including in Game Seven, is absolutely the right thing to do, but the plan could be washed out by the rain in the forecast for this weekend. For that reason, the matchups beyond Game Three will likely remain a mystery until this series moves to the West Coast.
LHP CC Sabathia (3.37 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 2.94 K/BB, 34 GS, 21 QS)
RHP John Lackey (3.83 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.96 K/BB, 27 GS, 16 QS)
Sabathia is the best pitcher on either team, but the Angels beat him both times they faced him this year, both times scoring five runs in 6 2/3 innings. However, both games came prior to the All-Star break, and Sabathia found another gear in August, going 8-0 with a 1.62 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 4.21 K/BB in the ten-starts prior to his regular-season closing stinker. CC proved that final start a fluke in Game One against the admittedly weaker-hitting Twins, sloughing off his recent postseason struggles in the process. John Lackey beat CC on July 12, but that was then. Of greater concern was Lackey’s strong performance against the Red Sox in Game One of the ALDS. Edge: Yankees, in part because this one could go down to the bullpens.
RHP A.J. Burnett (4.04 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 2.01 K/BB, 33 GS, 21 QS)
LHP Joe Saunders (4.60 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 1.58 K/BB, 31 GS, 13 QS)
Saunders draws the Game Two start to keep Jered Weaver at home, where his ERA was nearly two runs better. Scott Kazmir got beat up on the road in the ALDS, so Saunders. The catch is that Saunders’ road ERA was a run worse than his home mark and, as the fourth-starter in the Halos LDS sweep, hasn’t pitched since the regular season. Saunders did finish the season strong (7-0, 2.55 ERA in eight starts), but if that was so impressive, why didn’t Saunders draw an earlier start against the Bosox? Saunders started against the Yankees twice this season, both times in Anaheim, the first bad, the second, part of that season-ending run, good. Burnett was typical A.J. in two starts against the Angels on the season, going seven but allowing four runs in California in April, and striking out 11, but failing to complete six innings in the Bronx in September. This game could go in any direction, but Burnett’s the superior starter.
LHP Andy Pettitte (4.16 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 1.95 K/BB, 32 GS, 17 QS)
RHP Jered Weaver (3.75 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.54 K/BB, 33 GS, 20 QS)
As I alluded to above, Weaver’s ERA at home this season was 2.90 compared to a 4.78 road mark, and he dominated the Red Sox at home in the LDS (7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K). Andy Pettitte was better on the road, but not that much better (3.71 to 4.59). Weaver gets the edge here, but if the series goes long, his second start (be it Game 6 on full rest or Game 7 in rotation) will come in the Bronx. Ditto Pettitte, though Andy seemed to conquer the new stadium in the season’s final two months.
RHP Chad Gaudin (4.76 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 1.79 K/BB, 25 GS, 11 QS)
LHP Scott Kazmir (4.89 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 1.95 K/BB, 26 GS, 14 QS)
Sabathia will start against Kazmir in Game Four, but I wanted to show how well Gaudin actually matches up here based on the full regular season. Of course, Kazmir straightened himself out over his final nine starts (a common theme here), going 4-2 with a 2.25 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and a 2.94 K/BB over his last eight starts. In fact, Kamzir’s Game Three start in Boston in the ALDS was his worst outing since August 9, which apparently was enough to convince Scioscia to start Saunders over Kaz in Game Two. Kazmir’s performance in Game Four will likely determine whether he, on normal rest, or Weaver on an extra day, starts a potential Game Seven, the choice being between a second start for Saunders, in Game Six, or Kazmir in Game Seven.
Mariano Rivera (1.76 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 6.00 K/BB, 44 SV, 2 BS, 6.032 WXRL)
Brian Fuentes (3.93 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 1.92 K/BB, 48 SV, 7 BS, 2.434 WXRL)
Fuentes has the edge in saves, but he converted just 87 percent of his opportunities (among his blown saves was one against the Yankees on May 1 in which he faced four batters and failed to get an out) and was a mere 39th in WXRL. Rivera, who converted 96 percent and led the majors in WXRL. To make matters worse, Scioscia has developed a habit of starting the ninth inning with a different pitcher, using Fuentes almost as a ninth-inning LOOGY, while Rivera will often enter in the eighth, particularly in the postseason. This isn’t even close.
Behind Rivera the Yankees’ bullpen is clearly superior to the Angels’, only in part because the Yankee bullpen was the best in baseball (per WXRL) during the regular season. However, Phil Hughes wasn’t terribly sharp in the Division Series against the Twins, and Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Damaso Marte have only recently been restored to the pen. Thus, Joe Girardi’s willingness and effectiveness in juggling rolls according to performance will be key to the Yankee bullpen’s success for the remainder of the postseason. As for Scioscia, he’ll take what he can get and hope his starters pitch efficiently and go deep into games.
The Yankees beat the Angels soundly in terms of both defensive efficiency and caught-stealing percentage and the two teams made almost exactly the same number of errors. The Yankees’ defense is the most underrated aspect of what is truly a championship-caliber team.
The Angels stole 37 more bases than the Yankees during the regular season, but were caught 35 more times. That makes the Yankees the better basestealing team having swiped at an 80 percent success rate as a team to the Angels’ 70 percent. As I just mentioned, the Yankees were also better at throwing out runners, with Jorge Posada and Jose Molina both catching 28 percent of attempting opponents. So don’t believe they hype about the Angels’ running game. All the running they do might actually benefit the Yankees as they’ll run into some extra outs.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2009 Record: 97-65 (.599)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 92-70 (.568)
Manager: Mike Scioscia
General Manager: Tony Reagins
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Angel Stadium (103/102)
1B – Kendry Morales (S)
2B – Maicer Izturis (S)/Howie Kendrick (R)
SS – Erick Aybar (S)
3B – Chone Figgins (S)
C – Jeff Mathis/Mike Napoli (R)
RF – Bobby Abreu (L)
CF – Torii Hunter (R)
LF – Juan Rivera (R)
DH – Vlad Guerrero (R)
R – Howie Kendrick (2B)/S – Maicer Izturis (IF)
S – Gary Matthews Jr. (OF)
S – Reggie Willits (OF)
R – Robb Quinlan (1B/3B)
R – Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis (C)
R – Bobby Wilson (C)
R – John Lackey
R – Jered Weaver
L – Scott Kazmir
L – Joe Saunders
L -Brian Fuentes
R – Kevin Jepsen
L – Darren Oliver
R – Jason Bulger
R – Ervin Santana
R – Matt Palmer
RHP – Scot Shields (knee surgery)
RHP – Kelvim Escobar (shoulder tenderness)
RHP – Dustin Moseley (forearm surgery – nerve condition)
S – Chone Figgins (3B)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Torii Hunter (CF)
R – Vlad Guerrero (DH)
S – Kendry Morales (1B)
R – Juan Rivera (LF)
S – Maicer Izturis/R – Howie Kendrick (2B)
R – Jeff Mathis/Mike Napoli (C)
S – Erick Aybar (SS)
* * *
New York Yankees
2009 Record: 103-59 (.636)
2009 Pythagorean Record: 95-67 (.586)
Manager: Joe Girardi
General Manager: Brian Cashman
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Yankee Stadium 2.0 (103/103)
1B – Mark Teixeira (S)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Nick Swisher (S)
CF – Melky Cabrera (S)
LF – Johnny Damon (L)
DH – Hideki Matsui (L)
L – Brett Gardner (CF)
S – Jerry Hairston Jr. (UT)
S – Freddy Guzman (OF)
R – Jose Molina (C)
R – Francisco Cervelli (C)
L – CC Sabathia
R – A.J. Burnett
L – Andy Pettitte
R – Mariano Rivera
R – Phil Hughes
L – Phil Coke
R – Joba Chamberlain
R – Alfredo Aceves
L – Damaso Marte
R – David Robertson
R – Chad Gaudin
RHP – Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder surgery)
OF – Xavier Nady (Tommy John surgery)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Johnny Damon (LF)
S – Mark Teixeira (1B)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
S – Nick Swisher (RF)
L – Melky Cabrera (CF)