A first look at the pitching matchups and a re-look at the Rangers’ offense

When you count out Hamilton, the Rangers have four above average batters in their lineup: Nelson Cruz (.408 wOBA: a legitimate star when he’s healthy), Ian Kinsler (.357 wOBA: he has seemingly sacrificed his prodigious power for OBP in 2010, putting up career highs in BB%, and career lows in SLG%), David Murphy (.358 wOBA), and the resurgent Vladimir Guerrerro (.360 wOBA). They also have the extremely average Michael Young (.335 wOBA). Mitch Moreland is intriguing, with his .357 wOBA…..in 173 major league at bats. Catcher Benjie Molina has only put up a .266 wOBA since being traded…and previous to that he put up a slightly less horrific .283 with the Giants. And Francouer, Borbon and Andrus (their leadoff hitter, no less) are all in the sub-.300 club. Remembering that .330 is league average…this is a pretty top heavy lineup, with a number of offensive black holes.

Compare this to the Yankees. Again, to quote myself:

The Yankees feature 8 starters (including Lance Berkman as DH) at .345 wOBA or higher. The lone batter below the average level? Derek Jeter, in the midst of his worst season, at .320. Their bench is also a strength–are there any bench players you can think of with a .365 wOBA not named Marcus Thames?

And of course, that doesn’t really do it justice. The Yankees have nine position players above .345. They’ve got seven over .355. Their overall wOBA (including lots of at bats from the likes of Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez, Chad Huffman, Greg Golson, Randy Winn {remember him?}, Juan Miranda, Colin Curtis, Chad Moeller, etc) is .347. Again, adjust Texas for their current version of Josh Hamilton, and an optimistic projection is .322.

So the average Yankee is somewhere between Bobby Abreu’s .349, and Curtis Granderson’s .347, while the average Ranger is a tick worse than Scott Podsednik (.323). Need I say much more?

From our friends over at TYU, a likely look at the matchups in the ALCS:

  • Game 1, Friday 10/15: NYY @ TEX: Sabathia v. CJ Wilson
  • Game 2, Saturday, 10/16: NYY @ TEX: Pettitte v. Colby Lewis
  • Game 3, Monday, 10/18: TEX @ NYY: Hughes v. Cliff Lee
  • Game 4, Tuesday, 10/19: TEX @ NYY: Sabathia v. Tommy Hunter
  • Game 5, Wednesday, 10/20: TEX @ NYY: Burnett v. Wilson
  • Game 6, Friday, 10/22: NYY @ TEX: Pettitte v. Lewis
  • Game 7, Saturday, 10/23: NYY @ TEX: Sabathia v. Lee

Now, I personally wonder whether the Rangers would be willing to send Lewis out in Game 6, if they were facing elimination. I know we’ve all had this discussion before, and it’s always turned out that no one is willing to send Lee out on short rest…but still, I’ll believe that when I see it.

So, to start, Cliff Lee is a beast. He’s ridiculous. He’s incredible. We all remember what he did to the Yankees in the World Series. But the Yankees have a gigantic advantage as a result of the Rangers having to go to Game 7 against the Rays. Instead, C.J. Wilson will take the mound in Game 1 — and while his season has been pretty darn good, there’s a lot to worry about as a Rangers fan. First off, his pristine 3.35 ERA hides a good, but not great 4.20 xFIP: He’d given up home runs on more than 10% of his fly balls coming into 2010–this year, that number dropped to 5.3% which likely indicates good luck on fly balls. His BABIP also dropped from roughly .300 to .275, so he got hit lucky as well. But the scariest number by far is 210.1. Before this season, C.J. Wilson had not thrown more than 73 innings in a season (at least not in the majors). He has thrown nearly three times that this season. Will Wilson turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes midnight? We’ll have to wait and see. He’ll be favored versus AJ Burnett in Game Five, if TYU’s schedule predictions turn out correctly, but will be a heavy underdog in Game One versus CC.

Next up, Colby Lewis, who is an extremely odd case. Coming into this season, the righthander had thrown roughly 215 innings for three different teams (Rangers, Tigers and Athletics) over parts of five different season. Over that time, he’d been decidedly crappy, with an ERA over six, and an FIP/xFIP combo over five. Oh, and he was thirty years old and hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2007, having been shipped to Japan in 2008. His two years in Japan, though, were phenomenal, as he put up sub-3.00 ERAs, struck out more than a batter per inning while walking roughly one man per nine innings pitched. So, I’m forced to imagine that Lewis is for real, which is a real strike against Billy Beane, by the way. Because in 2010, he put up an ERA/FIP/xFIP of 3.72/3.55/3.93 in the AL. True, he was both a bit hit and homer lucky–but not significantly so in either case. Just imagine what he’d have done if he was playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Oakland, rather than batter-friendly Arlington!

So is Lewis favored against Pettitte? In a vaccuum, I’d take Lewis over Andy. The numbers simply dictate it–as does the recent injury. But we don’t play in a vaccuum, and Pettitte is pretty darn close to Lewis. The difference in lineups outweighs the difference in pitcher here. The Yankees will be favored in Game 2, as well.

Lee versus Hughes. I’d love to hop on the Hughes bandwagon (though that, of course, would require that I first hop off. I’ve been there going on five years), but let’s just be honest. While Hughes could win this game (especially if he’s as dominant as he was against the Twins in Game 3), Lee is the heavy favorite. Even with his mid-season struggles, Lee ended the season with an astounding 2.58 FIP, playing solely in the American League. He struck out roughly 10 batters for every free pass issued, which is Rivera-esque (as a starting pitcher!), and threw eight complete games (the last to clinch the ALDS in Game 5 in Tampa last night). Oh, and he’s apparently very motivated to continue giving the Yankees reasons to throw mega-millions at him this offseason.

Tommy Hunter versus Sabathia is…well, it’s similar to Lee versus Hughes, except Sabathia isn’t quite as awesome as Lee, and Hunter isn’t nearly as good as Hughes. Hunter’s 3.73 ERA hides a 4.99 FIP and a 4.70 xFIP. He’s stranded 80% of his baserunners, and been blessed with a BABIP of  .264, both awfully lucky numbers. Against the Yankees, he’s going to be exposed.

Burnett versus Wilson is interesting. As noted above, I don’t believe in Wilson. But then again, I really don’t believe in Burnett. I’m not going to dig into this one too much. The Yankees and their fans have no idea what to expect from Burnett, and the GM is basically engaging in mind games with him to try and spark something good.  The Rangers are probably favored here, despite the offensive disadvantage.

That brings us to Pettitte vs. Lewis, the rematch. As before, I think Pettitte is favored here, mostly due to strength of lineup, which makes up for his slight disadvantage in pitching ability.

This is the game Yankee fans don’t want to see. Game 7 in Texas (and while I could care less about the fans ability to influence the game by shouting–the advantage of “last licks” should not be understated), with Lee on regular rest and CC Sabathia on short rest for the second time in a row? I’d suggest that the Yankees’ lineup advantage and the Rangers pitching advantage just about even themselves out, and that homefield advantage swings this game in the way of the Rangers.

There’s a lot of randomness in baseball. In every one of these matchups, from CC versus Hunter, to Lee versus Hughes, the underdog could certainly come away with a victory. But right up above you can see my predictions–and they say that the Yankees will win in six. That’s my story, at least for now.

Hopefully I’ll have time in the next few days to sort through the actual matchups on a more granular, pitch type by pitch type level, as well as a discussion of defense, baserunning and the bullpens.

Check back soon.

18 thoughts on “A first look at the pitching matchups and a re-look at the Rangers’ offense

  1. John

    Hey Will. Great analysis as usual. Got a question. In your opinion, how likely is the pitching lineup that TYU has put up? Matthews has mentioned that he thinks Burnett will pitch game 4 and then all the other starters will pitch on regular rest. That means Pettite or Hughes for games 2 and 3 then again for 6 and 7. Not sure how likely that is, but I'd like your take. It seems to me if the matchups change, that could change the complexion of the whole series. Also, do you see any scenarios where the Yankees change their pitching lineup at the last minute, or do you think once they've decided they are sticking with it regardless of the situation?

  2. Will Moller

    John,

    The state of the rotation is going to vary wildly with the possible outcomes. If the Yankees go into game four up 3-0, Burnett is going to start there. If they're up 2-1, you wonder whether the Yankees try to step on Texas' throat, or let em back into it (as they can't be too optimistic with Burnett on the mound).

    I do think that in the playoffs, you try to ride your horses as long as you can, and that means pitching Sabathia three times in the series–or at least setting him up to do so, if necessary. Because you sure don't want to face Lee with anyone else on the mound for the Yankees in game seven.

    • John

      So in your opinion you would trust CC on his second consecutive short rest start in a Game 7 vs. Pettitte on full rest? Assuming Pettitte is at the top of his game (big assumption coming off injury I know, but he looked awesome in Game 2 of the LDS), I'm not sure I agree with you there. CC has pitched well on short rest in the past, but what about in consecutive starts on short rest? I wonder if anybody has stats on that although it would be probably a small sample size.

      • Will Moller

        John,

        I love Andy Pettitte. Really, he's one of my favorite players–and he's one of the guys I'll tell my kids about when they're growing up. But let's be really clear–not only is Andy getting up there in age (8 years older than CC), and he's coming off an injury. At the beginning of the year, I had mentally slotted Pettitte into the 4th spot in the rotation, based on the data available. In the end, 129 innings pitched, however lovely they've been, can't overturn everything else in CC's favor here. And while he was great in the ALDS, one game pitched against a Minnesota lineup that had very few answers against lefthanded pitching, *really* can't be the piece of data that changes my mind.

        But I can see why some might disagree with me.

        • John

          I see what you mean Will. I'm just glad I'm not Joe Girardi and have to make these tough decisions. I can just sit back with you and the rest of the Yankee fans and watch to see what transpires. Gonna be a really fun series. Personally, I hope we never get to a game 7 and the Yanks can take it in 5. But that might be wishful thinking with this Texas team. You figure to take it in five from your analyses we either a) have to have AJ come up big in game 5 or b) beat Cliff Lee at least once. I wonder which is the more likely scenario?

  3. Dan

    Getting defensive already! The Yanks bring out the swagger in our hitters, give me the underdog!

    Go Rangers!

    PS – Please don't take Cliff Lee.

  4. Chelsea

    I'm liking that TYU lineup … hoping it plays out that way. Despite Lee, I really think we can take this series. My only worry is that we'll tire out CC if this series goes to 7 games and we end up with a WS bid. Will, what are your thoughts on this? I know we need to take this one step at a time, but of course the Yankees have to keep this in mind, right?

    PS: if we end up starting AJ, we better be in a good position. i can't deal with more anxiety caused by that man.

  5. Will Moller

    Chelsea:

    If you think about it, the Yankees only have to pitch CC 3 times (and tire him out) if it really matters–which is when you'd want to do it anyhow. If it comes down to game 7, you can't hold back weapons to be better prepared for the next series–which you might not even get to play.

  6. Adam

    The first bit about the Rangers offense is completely misleading. The Rangers had Cruz and Kinsler on the DL for a large portion of the season.

  7. Will Moller

    Adam–

    I sure made a point of highlighting Cruz and Kinsler as highlights of the Rangers' offense–but very well. Each of Cruz and Kinsler lost roughly 1/3 of the season. Slot in their career performance for that time (as I adjusted with Hamilton), and you tick the Rangers wOBA as a team up to .325.

    That compares with the Yankees .347. I'd say the point still holds.

    • Sabrina

      Not feeling great with Burnett in the rotation. Heard on local radio station that he threw a simulated game against the Yanks and hit two batsmen. And no they weren't joking! Isn't it a shame that he hit his teammates! Game 4 will be a give away if Burnett truly does pitch!

  8. Jerry

    Wow. I have never seen such biased analysis. You really think that the Yankees are going to win the series. Yankees offense is not better than the Rangers. Your aging pitching (Pettite) is going to implode. Rangers are great hitters (especially against fastball pitchers) and they now have your closers number!!!

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      If you've never seen such biased analysis, Jerry, then I suggest you get out more.

      To impress us with your impartiality in the face of our bias, please try making arguments backed by actual analysis. Or, just SAY that you're speaking from the heart.

    • Nothing a like sound, detailed unbiased analysis to refute sound, detailed unbiased analyses Jerry. Kudos for making such an eloquent contribution.

    • Taylor

      His entire argument was based on numbers, sabermetric numbers. How can numbers be biased?

    • I'm afraid to ask, but it what unbiased way do you come to the conclusion that the Rangers have a better offense than the Yankees?

      • Taylor

        Clearly the Rangers have Mo's number now too, after one bad inning.

        Just like the A's and Marco Scutaro have his number.

        Or even Jason Kubel and the Twins. He hit a Grand Slam against Mo, so clearly the Twins own Rivera.
        ….Wait a minute.

  9. titermogas

    orgasmic..

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