Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Game 163: Find Out

It's not a Yankees game, but I thought I'd put together a preview for the match up between the Twins and Tigers taking place at 5:00. Yes, folks, 5:00. A lot of you will probably be stuck at work for the first few innings and it's not going to carry the night like a typical 7:00 game would, but it should be entertaining nonetheless.

The Tigers have completely backed themselves into this position after taking 2 out of 4 head to head games against the Twins which most everyone assumed would be enough to secure the AL Central. It was not, however, as the lost two out of their last three to the White Sox and the Twins swept from the Royals. Denard Span doesn't want to say the Tigers choked, but well, he kind of did.

The Tigers take the field under the dark cloud of Miguel Cabrera's domestic incident that some are saying should lead to his suspension for the rest of the season. Other, more rational people are saying that the Tigers already knew about this incident on Saturday and let him play anyway, and if they bench him now, it will only be for PR purposes. As a Yankee fan, I hope they let him play in tonight's game, have him contribute to a Tigers' win, and then suspend him for the postseason. Am I right?

Tonight may also be the last game at the Metrodome unless the Twins, their homer hankies and the baggy have anything to say about that. Joe Posnanski compares the building roundly-despised disgrace to baseball to a movie villain who just won't die. Curtis Granderson had already bid it adieu last month. I had hoped the Yankees would never have to play there again but now there a relative coin flip will determine if that is the case. Rob Neyer thinks it might be better than that. David Pinto seconds that motion, as does the betting line, Baseball Prospectus and Cool Standings so what do I know?

The bottom line for our purposes, which FanGraphs reaffirmed and we Yankee bloggers have been saying for a while now is that either way, game #163 is good news for the Bombers. Whoever wins is going to have a plane sitting on the runway, ready to sweep them off to New York where the Yanks will be waiting, after working through a leisurely day of meetings and workouts.

The second ever inductee of the Fack Youk Hall of Fame, Rick Porcello starts for the Tigers tonight. While Neyer points out that he has only struck out 10 batters over his last 33 innings (and 3 over his last 17 1/3), Porcello has a 3.00 ERA over his last 7 starts. He held the Twins to one run over 6 1/3 innings exactly one week ago, but that could work against him since the hitters have seen him recently.

Scott Baker will take the Twins playoff lives into his hands this evening. Baker faced the Tigers last Thursday and held them to 1 unearned run over 5 innings but needed 106 pitches to make it through those 15 outs. He'd been unimpressive in his 4 starts before that though, giving up 14 runs in 23 innings (5.48 ERA).

Tonight should be fun to watch. The Yankees get the chance to play emperor and spectate while these two teams fight 'til the death, awaiting the winner. Whichever way it goes, it will be good to finally find out who the Yanks' first round opponent will be.

[Minnesota is basically Canada, so it's time for everyone's (well, my) favorite Canadian rapper, Classified...]

(You gonna find out)
Sooner or later,
(You gonna find out)
Are you ready for this?
(You gonna find out)
Tell 'em who it is...

Molina To Catch Burnett In ALDS

Via LoHud, according to Posada, that's what the plan is. Head on over there for audio with Posada, the relevant questioning starts around the 3:50 mark. He doesn't sound too happy, but he doesn't sound too surprised, either.

The Case Of Melky v. Gardner

Aside from debating the merits of Jose Molina catching a playoff game over Jorge Posada, which has already been done pretty extensively, there is really only one other marginal decision that Joe Girardi has to make in terms of configuring his starting line-up. Center field is that one area of debate, where both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner have a case to start.

They've both had up and down years and each has skills that the other doesn't. Melky hit 13 home runs this year while Gardner still stole 26 bases despite being on base just over 100 times. His speed also makes Gardner far less likely to ground into double plays. Melky has about twice as many plate apperances but has bounced into five times more twin killings.

Gardner offers much better defense, but Melky is still above average in center. For what it's worth, Melky has shown a penchant for big hits this year even though Gardner has better "clutch" stats. The Melk Man had a decidedly better September/October although that isn't very important either.

If either are left out of the line up and substituted for each other late in the game, Melky can provide the power as a pinch hitter while Gardner can add some speed (and better range in center) as a pinch runner or defensive replacement.

Being a switch-hitter, Melky offers better production against lefties although Gardner's tiny split of 55 PAs with a .356 BABIP doesn't bear that out quite yet. What you might not have expected is that Cabrera also has a better OPS than Brett the Jet against righties (.747 to .708). However, he's better in terms of average and power but is comparable in OBP, which is easily the most important of the three categories, especially over a limited sample.

Each of the three starters the Twins is likely to use in the ALDS is right handed: Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, and Scott Baker. Ditto for the Tigers with Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello.

How should Girardi fill the CF slot, and presumably 9 hole in the line up in the games where Jose Molina isn't catching? Gardner brings two assets (speed and defense) to the table which would seem to be valuable in playoff games, but Melky has been a better hitter over the course of the season and has proved it over more at bats.

Considering all of the pitchers the Yankees are facing are right handers, should one guy start every game until further notice? If you figure that one is better than the other, is there a reason to divide the starts? Have they both earned the right to play in the postseason? Should that matter?

[Update 12:50: Greg from Pending Pinstripes has explored this topic in-depth and feels that Gardner is the clear answer. Here are three of his posts... Missing Brett Gardner, Brett Gardner's Off the DL, Should Melky Still Be Starting?, and Melky Cabrera Is Not As Clutch As You Might Think. There's good stuff in all of those entries and it's a slow day for baseball news on the internets, so check them out. If you weren't already leaning towards Gardner, that might be enough to push you over the fence.]

2008 vs. 2009: It's a WAR

Last night, the always brilliant Beyond the Boxscore, in light of the announcement of the Comeback Player of the Year award, took a look at who (among the top 10 vote-getters) had the biggest swings in Wins Above Replacement. I'll refrain from saying "who deserved the award" because I think Comeback Player of the Year is one that should be somewhat subjective and context-heavy because players can "comeback" from a variety of things and that should probably be taken into consideration. That and no one really cares that much about who gets the award anyway.

Chris Carpenter won in the National League and looking at WAR backed that up along with the top four finishes in the voting.

However, the numbers did not match the voting in the American League. Aaron Hill was given the award, but he was actually had the 4th biggest comeback in WAR behind Juan Rivera, Victor Martinez and our own Jorge Posada who had the largest. However, Jorge finished 4th in the voting behind Martinez and Michael Cuddyer probably because he missed time to injury and was relatively productive in his time with the club.

It seems like this year, there have been a ton of Yankees who have improved on last year's campaign, not to mention the three marquee free agents and Nick Swisher who weren't on the team last year. Below, you can find two charts displaying the differences in WAR from 2008 to 2009. BtB measures the dip between the last good year they had and 2009 but I'm only looking at the last two years. (All data via FanGraphs)

First, the position players:

Some interesting stuff here...
  • Pretty cosmic shift in run production there, 15.6 wins. The Yanks won 89 games last year and 103 this year. You do the math.

  • I didn't use the more complicated method that BtB did, but those measurements show that Posada wasn't even the most improved player on the Yankees in relation to last year.

  • Jeter made some major strides defensively but his OPS also ended up exactly 100 points higher than in 2008.

  • Obviously, Teixeira represents a vast improvement over the 'stache, taking absolutely no one by surprise.

  • Even with the great year Bobby Abreu is having out in L.A., he's only been worth 2.7 WAR. Still a great pick-up by the Angels for the money ($5M) but the Yanks have been better off with Swish, even though his defense isn't exactly sparkling either.

  • Who would have guessed that Johnny Damon was more valuable in 2008? Hands, please. He's been better with the bat but his fielding has declined by almost 10 runs.

  • If you extrapolate A-Rod's production to a full season he comes awfully close to replicating his 2008 value.

And the pitchers:
  • How about the fact that this slice of the 2008 staff was actually worth more in 2008 than in 2009? Not a complete measurement but it's obvious which side of the ball had the most impact in taking the team from third in the AL East to first in all of baseball.

  • I chose Sabathia to replace Mussina since they were the best pitcher in each year. I paired Burnett with Darrel Rasner, Sidney Ponson and Carl Pavano since those combined had about the same number of innings and they would have needed to find similar scrubs to fill in had Burnett not been acquired.

  • Phil Hughes proves that point that if you can be a great reliever, you're more valuable than a bad starter, but I think we already knew that.

  • Before looking, I thought Andy Pettitte would have been more valuable this year than last, but apparently not. I'm honestly not sure what's causing the variance there.

  • Mo saved 39 games last year and blew only 1, while this year he converted 44 and blew 2. His W/L record last year was 6-5 and this year it was 3-3. Wins and saves are bad stats but we are talking about Wins Above Replacement here.

  • Joba derived a good amount of value pitching out of the bullpen last year, which accounts for a lot of the difference.
  • Our poor Wang got beaten pretty severely this year. He alone makes up for the difference between '08 and '09.