Please see Part 1 of our ALDS preview here.
Starting Friday night at 8:37pm at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees and Tigers square off in the American League Division Series for the second time in the last six seasons, and Yankee fans of course unfortunately remember the 2006 series as the one where the bats went ice-cold and the likes of Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman completely shut down what had been the most potent offense in the league. The Tigers rather handily beat the Yankees in four games, and as that was the only previous time the two teams have met in the postseason, Detroit owns a 1-0 series record against the Yankees all-time in October. Additionally, the ’06 Tiger victory also represents the only time the Yankees have ever lost an ALDS when they had home field advantage. I think it’s safe to say the Yankees would love to be able to exact a measure of revenge this time around.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, this year’s Detroit team (.336 wOBA, 109 wRC+, an in-his-prime Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera), is probably better than the pennant-winning 2006 team (.331 wOBA, 97 wRC+) that lost to the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series. The Yankees also haven’t fared all that well at Comerica Park, with a 22-25 all-time record since the stadium opened in 2000, and more recently, 10-12 since the beginning of 2006 — not included losing both games the they played at Detroit in the ’06 ALDS — making the fact that the Yankees have home field advantage in this series a rather significant factor.
Before proceeding, it’s important to bear in mind that overall team statistics are of course the product of every single player who donned a uniform for a given team during the season, not to mention the fact that what the teams did during the regular season doesn’t tell us who has the better offense, pitching, et. al. in a postseason series (h/t SG); as such, in some instances the team numbers will probably be slightly improved once teams pare their rosters back down to who they feel are their best 25 players. That said, I still think a 162-game sample composed primarily of statistics from players whom one would expect to make the postseason roster can at the very least be a helpful barometer when assessing and comparing a team’s relative strengths and weaknesses against each other.
Anyway, on to the numbers:
The Yankees (.346 wOBA, 113 wRC+) and Tigers (.336 wOBA, 109 wRC+) were two of the top four offenses in the American League in 2011. The Yankees do it with patience (best BB% in the league) and power (best ISO in the league); while the Tigers are a bit more swing-tastic (5th-best BB%; 5th-worst K%), and experienced the best luck on balls in play in the American League (.318 BABIP).
While we’ll be doing a more in-depth look at the Tiger offense later, one major advantage for Detroit is that they have arguably the best hitter in all of baseball — and certainly the best hitter out of every player who will play in this series — in Miguel Cabrera, who ended up turning in the 2nd-highest wOBA in all of MLB, with a .436 mark bested only by Jose Bautista‘s .441. Cabrera’s made a living killing the Yankees, and his 1.168 career OPS against the Bombers is his best mark against any team. The Yankees are certainly going to have their work cut out for them trying to contain Cabrera.
Here’s how the team offenses performed in select splits:
Both the Yankees and Tigers fared about the same against righthanded pitching, while both were even better against lefthanded pitching, with the Yankees in particular owning that niche. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Detroit won’t be starting any southpaws in this series, and so what may have been a slight advantage is somewhat neutralized.
As one might expect, the Yankees are a juggernaut at home, posting a .362 wOBA at Yankee Stadium against a .329 road wOBA. However, to the Tigers’ credit the delta between Detroit’s home (.351 wOBA) and road (.322) performance is quite a bit wider than I’d have expected; the team clearly understands how to take advantage of its cavernous home ballpark, a place that for some reason was the hardest park to draw a walk in in the entire American League.
As I illustrated in our just-published 2011 Monthly Wrap-Up, the Yankee offense was MIA in September, and so it’s no surprise that their “Last 14 Days” and “Last 30 Days” numbers are so lackluster. Detroit, on the other hand, has been hitting the tar out of the ball. Whether or not this carries over into a robust October offensive performance remains to be seen.
Moving on to pitching, while we’ll have much more in-depth analyses of the starting pitching match-ups for each game, for now, here’s the view from 10,000 feet:
The Yankee starting rotation actually wound up being the second-best strikeout staff in the league, but otherwise these numbers are all remarkably close. The Bombers’ slightly superior ERA- is due in part to the second-best strand rate in the league (73.1% to Detroit’s 70.0%), despite a worse BABIP (.300) than the Tigers’ staff (.292). Goes to show you the importance of striking hitters out with runners on.
Here are the bullpens:
The Yankee bullpen was arguably the best in all of baseball this season, and turned in the lowest ERA in the American League by nearly half a run. I already spent some time reviewing the bullpens of the prospective AL playoff teams, and so I don’t want to rehash everything here, but it’s worth noting that for as dominating a trip as Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera have been and will continue to be, the Tigers can answer right back with Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque and Jose Valverde. Here’s something you may not know about Valverde: he was actually perfect in save opportunities this season, converting all 49 chances. If anyone were ever due for a blown save, it would seem to be Mr. Cluck-and-Strut himself.
Here are some select pitching splits:
The Yankee pitching staff on the whole fared slightly better against righties than lefties — not a huge surprise given that the team only has one lefty in the rotation along with the most enticing right field seats in the game — but didn’t really display any significant home/road split (registering dual 100 tOPS+es). On the flip side, Detroit handled lefties a bit better than righties, which is a bit unexpected considering their all-righty rotation.
Here are some assorted team baserunning stats:
The Yankees are a bit more of an aggressive baserunning team than the Tigers, with a higher stolen base conversion rate and slightly better Extra Base Taken%. While neither discrepancy is huge, baserunning could end up having an impact on the series, with Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson representing arguably the two best baserunners in the American League.
Here are a select group of the team’s PH/HR/Situational Hitting numbers:
Again, a lot of these numbers are very close. The only discernible different is the number of home runs the Yankees hit, but it’s not as if the Bombers will be able to count on the longball in a short playoff series against some of the best pitching the league has to offer.
And here is a smattering of defensive and baserunning numbers from Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs:
Seeing as how we still don’t have an all-encompassing metric with which to accurately assess fielding, I generally refrain from including it in my analyses, but I wanted to at least present something. According to BP’s metrics, Detroit appears to be a slightly better defensive team, while Fangraphs’ UZR and UZR/150 favor the Yankees. Anecdotally the Yankees seemed like a strong defensive team to me this season — and the outfield in particular has been rather beastly — although the pitching staff did record the fifth-highest BABIP in the league, and I don’t know whether that falls on the fielders or the pitchers, for posting the highest LD% in the American League. My guess is the latter.
These are two extremely evenly matched teams on offense. The Tigers boast at least six everyday players (depending on match-ups) that have a wRC+ greater than 100, with Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Victor Martinez in particular representing the heart of the order. The Detroit lineup does let up a bit as it gets to the bottom third, but I certainly wouldn’t sleep on anybody, as it tends to be the players we least expect to do the most damage (see Mathis, Jeff).
However, the Yankee lineup boasts an entire starting nine of ≥100 wRC+ hitters. With Curtis Granderson coming off an MVP-caliber season, Robinson Cano installed in the third spot and Mark Teixeira moving down to the five hole, a hopefully not-too-banged-up Alex Rodriguez, as well as the addition of Jesus Montero at DH after receiving minimal production out of the DH slot for much of the year, not to mention perhaps the deepest bench the team has ever had with reserves like Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez and Jorge Posada lying in wait, the Yankees certainly won’t make it easy for the Tigers’ pitchers.
Additionally, both pitching staffs turned in fine years, though I’d probably give a slight edge overall to the Yankees given the quality of opponents faced — while I don’t have access to the full Baseball Prospectus database, I have to imagine the Bombers on the whole faced a higher quality of opponent what with residing in the gauntlet that is the AL East, compared to the Tigers who got to beat up on a relatively weaker AL Central. Still, that pretty much all gets thrown out the window now that everyone has a clean slate.
The Yankees are probably a slightly better baserunning and defensive team, but again, the differences appear to be negligible enough to the point of probably being relative nonfactors. As of now, I do think the Yankees are better than the Tigers on paper, but there’s still more previewing to be done, and you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for our predictions.
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