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Color by Numbers: Beware of Yankee Killers

Miguel Cabrera has been a one-man wrecking crew against the Yankees this season. In 39 plate appearances, the third baseman has cranked out 5 home runs and 11 RBI to go along with a scary slash line of .314/.385/.857. Among players with at least 20 times to the plate against the Yankees, Cabrera’s OPS ranks fourth this season, which has led some to suggest Joe Girardi should put up four fingers every time he comes to bat. Unfortunately, following him in the lineup is Prince Fielder, whose OPS against the Bronx Bombers isn’t that far behind. For Yankees’ pitchers, at least, the season series against the Tigers can’t end soon enough.

Top-10 OPS vs. Yankees, 2012

Note: Based on minimum of 20 plate appearances.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

After the Yankees were shutdown by Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander within three days, many lamented the team’s perceived inability to hit great pitchers. However, based solely on observation, it seems as if great hitters have caused a much greater problem. It’s difficult to test such a hypothesis because of the subjective criteria involved, but we can give it a try anyway.

Top-10 Hitters in the American League (2010-Present) vs. Yankees in 2012

Note: Top hitters based on OPS since 2010 and a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances. Robin Cano excluded.
tOPS+ is OPS of this split relative to the player’s overall OPS, with variance from OBP and SLG determined separately and added together.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Using OPS+ over the past two-plus seasons as a gauge, the Yankees record against the 10 best hitters in the American League is presented above. Not surprisingly, Cabrera ranks as the best hitter in the game, so the Yankees have not been his only victim. However, Cabrera has posted an OPS versus New York that is 46% higher than his season rate, which is in line with the premium he has enjoyed over the Yankees for his entire career.

As great as Cabrera has been against the Yankees, his performance is pedestrian compared to David Ortiz, who is batting an astounding .619 against the pinstripes. In much smaller samples, Evan Longoria and Jose Bautista have exceeded their typical production by an even greater percentage than Ortiz, but based on the number of at bats, Big Papi has been hands down the most deadly offensive weapon used against the Yankees this season.

Although most of the top-10 hitters have managed to exceed their already high baseline against the Yankees, Josh Hamilton, Billy Butler, and Mike Napoli have all been below par. Keep in mind, however, that the samples for Hamilton and Napoli are very small, so the Yankees shouldn’t enter next week’s four game showdown against Texas with a false sense of security.

Top-10 OPS vs. Yankees, 1988-Present

Note: Based on minimum of 200 plate appearances.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Fans who are one generation older probably immediately think of Edgar Martinez when it comes to ranking top Yankee killers from the recent past. However, the Mariners’ DH only ranks ninth in OPS against the pinstripes, and his .965 rate versus the Yankees is only marginally better than his career output. Instead, one of his former teammates owns the distinction of being the most prolific tormentor of the Yankees over the past 25 years. You may have a heard of him…his name is Alex Rodriguez. In 372 plate appearances versus New York, Arod’s 1.037 OPS ranks just ahead of Manny Ramirez (who had more than twice as many chances). Maybe that’s why some Yankee fans still refuse to accept him?

Confirming our earlier suspicion, the Yankees do seem to have trouble with great hitters. Of the 10 hitters with the highest OPS against them since 1988, nine were All Stars and at least six have borderline or better Hall of Fame credentials. Then, there is Geronimo Berroa. The journeyman outfielder was a solid player for 11 seasons, but his career OPS of .798 belied the monster he was against the Yankees. In 244 plate appearances, Berroa’s line of .328/.430/.598 added up to an OPS that was 56% better than his career rate. In particular, Berroa enjoyed facing Andy Pettitte, against whom he compiled an OPS of 1.317 in 29 plate appearances. Perhaps the most resounding evidence of his Yankee domination, however, is his .896 OPS against the immortal Mariano Rivera (the 17th highest rate by any player with at least 14 PAs against the great closer).

By the end of the next season, Miguel Cabrera should have enough plate appearances to take his place among the top Yankee killers of recent vintage as presented in the chart above. Of course, if the Yankees can finally find a way to get him out, maybe his OPS won’t be high enough to qualify? That’s probably wishful thinking, but for one more game this afternoon, is it too much to ask for an 0-4?

Categories:  1: Featured  Yankees

Tags:  color by numbers  william juliano

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One comment

1 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 10, 2012 7:25 am

I was at a game once when Alex Rodriguez hit two homers against the Yanks--this was when he was with the Rangers--but didn't know his numbers were this good. And G. Berroa? That I certainly did not know.

Good stuff, as usual, William.

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