Who fared better in September, the Tigers or the Yankees?

You know what's even scarier? Dude had a .537 wOBA in September!

Earlier this season, I ran a post explaining that the playoff teams that go the farthest in October are the ones that do the best in the second half of the season, not the ones with the best records. From the 2010 Giants to the 2007 Rockies, teams that succeeded down the stretch carried that success into the postseason. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at how the Yankees and the Tigers both fared in September. If recent history is any indicator, the team that played better in the last month of  the season may have  an advantage in the ALDS.

This is one of a series of recent posts that we’ve run that tie together nicely. For more comparisons of this kind, take a look at Larry’s September wrap up, and his ALDS preview.

The Yankees ran a lot of AAA players onto the field in September, so this post doesn’t examine team level data. Instead, it looks at the performances of individual players, and compares them to their counterparts on the Tigers. All data are from Joe Morgan and Mike Lupica. Just kidding they come from Fangraphs.

Hitters first:








At the time of this writing the Tigers have not announced their ALDS roster, and I’m not familiar enough with the team to know it for sure, so I’ve done my best guess it.

That’s not a pretty chart for Yankee fans. As Larry mentioned in his September wrap up, even though the Yankees kept on winning in September, they did it without their juggernaut offense. At the team level some of that could be blamed on the likes of Austin Romine, Chris Dickerson and the other AAA players who took so many swings in September, but those are individual player performances, and they’re not good. Robinson Cano was the best Yankee regular in September, and even he had a month that was below his season levels. Jesus Montero was far and away the best hitter on the team, but Joe Girardi has announced that Jorge Posada will be the DH in the ALDS. In short, the Yankee offense doesn’t enter this series from a position of strength.

The Tigers, meanwhile, appear to have raked in September. For any of you who weren’t afraid of Miguel Cabrera before, I hope you are now. He exploded in September. No Yankee even compares. He’s not the only one either. Practically the Tigers’ entire lineup was hot in September in a way the Yankees never were. The Bombers’ pitchers may have their work cut out for them.

Speaking of the pitchers:







As painful as it is for me to write this, I have to admit that if we’re looking purely at the trends set in September, then the Tigers were the better team than the Yankees both in terms of hitting and pitching. While the Tigers hitters blew the Yankees out of the water in September, their pitchers were solid in the month as well, and slightly edge out the Yankee arms. Both teams have good pitching, but the Tigers didn’t have anyone struggle in the month of September the way Freddy Garcia or Boone Logan did (small samples, and all that).

While I believe in momentum as an indicator of postseason success, I still feel the Yankees are the favorite in this series, even though it may take five games. The Yankees may not have played their best baseball in September, but they were largely unchallenged on their way to the best record in the American League. The team enters this series well rested, with home field advantage, and considerable playoff experience. I’m not ready to bet against that.

3 thoughts on “Who fared better in September, the Tigers or the Yankees?

  1. Interesting take, Mike. William did a broader study a few weeks ago and found that there doesn’t appear to be much of a correlation between “hot” September play and October success, and I’m inclined to agree with his conclusion. The Tigers may have looked great in September, but the primary reason the Yankees didn’t by comparison is due to the volume of non-playoff players that you cited that received playing time as well as the fact that the team really didn’t have anything to play for during the last week of the season.

    Granted, the Yankees finished pretty horrifically last September, and while they were able to lay waste to the Twins, they looked like walking corpses against the Rangers. Was that due to poor September play? I still don’t think we have a definitive answer to that. Will the Yanks’ mediocre offense this past September carry over to the ALDS? Guess we’ll find out tonight.

  2. I’m a bit curious to see myself.

    Granted, there is a flaw in my methodology, but it was one I willingly took on. When I analyzed how second half performance influenced October success, I looked at team level performance over the entire second half.

    When I did this analysis I willingly looked only at September performance because I was curious to see if it was a better indicator. The flaw there, and I recognized this as I wrote the post, is that my justification for examining September data was based on a larger period of time.

    It is entirely possible that while the entire second half remains indicative of postseason success, that September is an odd month, and not a good indicator. I wouldn’t rule that out. Teams make heavy adjustments in the second half that may be more likely to show up in July and August when the games count more.

    We’re about to find out, aren’t we. Let’s hope William is right.

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