Collectively, in 2009, the Phillies hit .258/.334/.447.
Conversely, in 2009, the Yankees hit .283/.362/.478.
The Phillies’ statistics are influenced by their pitchers’ at-bats, making these macro numbers relatively useless. Therefore, it seems as though a more detailed and comprehensive comparative analysis of the two teams is needed in order to better understand why and how the Yankees are better—if at all—offensively (I’ll look at defense, too). For practical reasons, I have organized the breakdown by position and will begin, first, by comparing the two infields.
Jorge Posada (SW): Posada had a very strong regular season, hitting .285/.363/.522 with a wOBA of .378, demonstrating that his injury plagued 2008 was merely a wrinkle in what has been an amazingly consistent career (it was an anomaly, if you will). His value in the American League, at his position, isn’t what it once was now that Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez are around, however, he’s still one of the best bats to have behind the dish, a statement evidenced by his 4.0 WAR in 2009. He seemed to have some defensive issues this year, though those were largely the products of media exaggerations and pundit-driven distortions, as his CS% was inline with career norms and his passed balls were nothing new (he had 8, his lowest was 7 back in ’98).
Carlos Ruiz (RH): Ruiz isn’t much with the bat, but he managed to put together his best offensive season to date in 2009, hitting .255/.355/.425 with 9 HR and a wOBA of .337 (4th best in the NL, which isn’t saying much when you’re tied with Yadier Molina). Could he suddenly emerge as a great hitter against the Yankees? Well, anything is possible in a 7-game series and we’ve seen both Nick Punto and Jeff Mathis play well in the postseason. He also hit lefties extremely well this year—.293/.370/.524—which works in his favor since the Yankees envision 5 left-handed starts in their pitching plans (3 from CC, 2 from Pettitte). On the defensive side of things, Ruiz’s fielding and arm are considered assets, although his CS% was only 27% (Posada’s was 28%).
Pitching to Ruiz: Ruiz figures to be a key out for Yankees pitching staff. The lefties could have problems depending on how they pitch to him. Based on pitch type value data, expect a lot of breaking balls to the right-handed Ruiz.
Winner: Posada. His switch-hitting bat is simply too much for Ruiz.
Mark Teixeira (SW): Mark Teixeira is Mark Teixeira. You know that he’s a good offensive player and demonstrated that in 2009, a year in which he led the league in home runs (39) and RBI (122). He hit .292/.383/.565 with a .402 wOBA during the regular season and finally busted out of his postseason funk in the final 2 games of the ALCS (4-for-9 with 4 RBI). Teixeira was also a 5.2 WAR player, which is best for 7th in baseball at his respective position. Why only 7th, you might ask? As upsetting as this is for fans, UZR rates Tex as an average defensive first baseman— -2.7 is considered about average—although his remarkable postseason performance with the glove seemed to disprove that theory altogether. Bottom line, the Yankees have a ridiculously good first baseman, regardless of whether or not UZR is an accurate defensive evaluation in this case (I know many disagree with it, so I’m trying to be diplomatic). Philly, beware.
Ryan Howard (LH): Speaking of abnormally good first basemen, the Phillies have one of their own in the powerful Ryan Howard. Howard hit 45 homers in 2009 and drove in 141 RBI, which was the most in the NL (tied with Prince Fielder). He hit .279/.360/.571 and put together a .393 wOBA. Leave a cookie over the plate and this man will eat it with authority. Despite the cookie reference, what’s particularly interesting about Howard’s season line is his newfound “speed,” a probable product of Howard’s weight loss during the winter. This season, he stole 8 bases—a career high—and was caught only once. His speed score of 4.8 was, believe it or not, the best at his position (yes, better than Pujols). The Yankees will have to watch out for him as he could surprise Jorge Posada with his wheels (he’s not really fast, but he’s not as slow as one would think). In terms of defense, Howard is a no savant, though UZR does rate him better than Teixeira (2.3 versus -2.7) and cite range as best asset.
Pitching to Howard: According to pitch value data, Howard loves the fastball, yet, when compared to previous years, he’s getting beat by it a lot more in 2009. Conversely, his numbers against the slider, a pitch that has routinely beaten him in the past, have improved significantly, meaning that he’s more aware of it in his at-bats (and, perhaps he’s sitting on the pitch, which is the reason his fastball prowess has slowed). The Yankees would be wise to pound him inside and be careful with sliders away. In addition, Howard’s splits against lefties are very poor, as he hit only .207 against them this year (.653 OPS). This should bode well for the Bombers’ starters. Expect to see a lot of Phil Coke and Damaso Marte in the later innings of the Series, as well.
Winner: Teixeira (by a hair). His offensive approach is more nuanced.
Robinson Cano (LH): After some much needed help over the offseason from hitting coach Kevin Long, Cano had the best season of his young career in 2009, rebounding from a miserable ’08 season that featured a paltry .270/.305/.410 triple slash line. This year, he hit .320/.352/.520 with a .370 wOBA, belted a career high 25 homers, and was worth 4.3 WAR (6th best at second). The obvious knock against his offensive value, however, is his overall lack of plate discipline. Cano’s BB% sat at 4.5%, a laughable number—the second worst at his position—when you consider that Jose Molina’s BB% was 9.2% this season. Furthermore, with regards to offensive skills, Cano is simply a terrible baserunner. He has stolen base 5 times this year while being caught 7 times (I think Girardi is partially to blame for the green light). With regards to his defense, Cano is often discussed as a potential Gold Glove candidate. Even so and strong arm withstanding, he’s rated poorly by UZR (-6.1).
Chase Utley (LH): Chase Utley is basically a more mobile version of Mark Teixeira, but at second base and perhaps better offensively. This year, Utley hit .282/.397/.508 with 31 home runs and 93 RBI while being valued at 7.7 WAR (best in the NL at his position, second best in baseball). His offense at the position is simply stunning, as he provided another stellar season, despite undergoing major hip surgery last November. Utley also has good speed, an attribute exhibited in his above average speed score (6.5) and his 23 stolen bases (he was never caught). His defense is excellent—12.0 UZR—though the hip surgery seemed to impede upon his overall range in 2009. If it weren’t for the emerging Ben Zobrist, Chase Utley would be the best second baseman in the game (and if he played anywhere else on the diamond, he might be the best player there, as well).
Pitching to Utley: Utley is a great hitter, therefore, it’s difficult for any pitcher to attack him effectively. Even against lefties, Utley’s career line is .282/.388/.492, which is why the Yankees will have to formulate a successful pitching plan in order to limit his offense. According to this scouting report over at SI.com, Utley’s power is predominantly in the lower part of the strike zone, meaning that one must be careful in that area (location is key). The use of breaking balls—sliders, changeups, curveballs—over the outer portion of the plate is probably ideal after getting ahead with the fastball.
Winner: Utley. Whether we’re discussing offense or defense, Cano just isn’t in his league (not many are).
Derek Jeter (RH): Jeter finished the regular season with a sparkling .334/.406/.465 line and a wOBA of .390, the third highest in the game at his respective position. He belted 18 homers—the most he’s had since 2005—while scoring 107 runs and plating 66 of his own. He stole 30 bases and was worth 7.4 WAR (the highest value in the league at shortstop). No other shortstop was as good as he was, overall, in 2009. Plus, although Jeter has often been on the wrong side of UZR in years past, after altering his offseason training regimen and with some positioning help from the Yankees coaching staff, Jeter’s defense has been markedly better this season. His 6.4 UZR is the best on record (at least, according to FanGraphs), as Captain Intangibles shows no signs of slowing.
Jimmy Rollins (SW): No one is quite sure what has happened to Jimmy Rollins after clubbing 30 home runs as a shortstop and winning an MVP Award, just 2 years ago. This season, J-Roll bat an abysmal .250/.296/.423 with a .316 wOBA (13th in the league). Though he managed to smack 21 home runs, drive in 77 RBI, and steal 31 bases, the lack of plate discipline and overall offensive production has been a problem for the Phillies all year (he’s supposed to be a team catalyst, not an out). His .253 BABIP, when compared to his .295 career norm, suggests the season is an outlier and the product of bad luck. I actually think that Rollins is injured, as it would explain the 2.4 WAR—his lowest since 2002—but I guess we won’t know until after the World Series is over. What he lacks in offense, Rollins doesn’t exactly make up for it with his glove. He’s basically an average fielder. His 3.1 UZR is primarily based upon his ability to limit error runs rather than make ranging plays to his left or his right.
Pitching to Rollins: According to pitch type values, everything seems to be working against J-Roll in 2009. If the Yankees locate their pitches properly, then they’ll get him out. Furthermore, in his career, Rollins has hit lefties well, however, in 2009, he’s been better versus right-handed pitching—.230/.266/.424 as opposed to .257/.306/.422—so perhaps that will work in the Yankees’ favor as they send CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte to the mound.
Winner: Jeter. No contest. Better hitter, better fielder (at least this year), more reliable.
Alex Rodriguez (RH): This is bound to be a quick comparison. In 2009, Alex Rodriguez hit .286/.402/.532 with a .405 wOBA, which was second only to the bearded Kevin Youkilis (wOBA of .413). Even after missing 5 weeks of the season due to major hip surgery, A-Rod belted 30 homers and collected 100 RBI, while still managing to swipe 14 bases. He’s a Hall of Famer and performed like one. Hip surgery certainly didn’t limit him offensively, but it did bother him for much of the year with regards to his defense. A-Rod’s -7.4 UZR was the third worst in the game at his position. He usually wields an iron glove, though he’s never quite this poor, so it seems reasonable to connect the defensive issues to his surgically repaired hip. Even with the poor fielding, Alex was worth 4.6 WAR, good for 6th best in baseball (at third).
Pedro Feliz (RH): To his credit, Pedro Feliz is consistently mediocre with a bat. He ultimately hit .266/.308/.386 this season with a .302 wOBA. He doesn’t hit for power (12 homers), he’s not fast (0 stolen bases), and, as he ages Feliz’s once remarkable range has faded considerably (3.1 UZR/150 in 2009 versus a 22.3 UZR/150 in 2007). At 1.2 WAR (third lowest at his position), he’s basically an easy out for the Yankees and they should treat him as such in the Series.
Pitching to Feliz: Feliz can hit fastballs if they’re spoon fed to him. He can’t hit breaking balls and swings at nearly 30% of the pitches he sees outside of the strike zone (4th highest percentage at his position). His career line against left-handed pitching doesn’t indicate anything of tremendous use, as he hits .259/.307/.438 against them. Therefore, regardless of who’s on the mound, Yankee pitching should be able to keep him off the bases.
Winner: Tough one, but I’m going with A-Rod…
Outside of second base—and it’s not like Robinson Cano is a bad second baseman—the Yankees have a better infield. The Phillies have a powerful infield lineup, one which possesses more speed, but Carlos Ruiz and Pedro Feliz are significant weaknesses and really don’t seem to contribute much with their gloves to make up for their offensive deficiencies (though I admit I haven’t looked into Ruiz’s game-calling). The Yankees have got them beat, at least in this particular portion of the baseball field. Also, the Philly infield has a number offensive holes for the Yankee pitching staff—led by CC Sabathia—to exploit. The only player without an explicit weakness is probably Chase Utley.
In a few hours, I’ll compare outfields and DH options.
I’ll also have a pitching spreadsheet up then, as well.
Photos by Yahoo! Sports
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