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ALDS Preview - New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 4, 2007

Records - Yankees 94-68, Indians 96-66
Runs Scored
- Yankees 968 (1st), Indians 811 (6th)
Runs Allowed - Yankees 777 (7th), Indians 704 (3rd)

The New York Yankees have been playing some of the best baseball in the majors over the past four months, while the Cleveland Indians have been fairly consistent all season long.  Here is how the two teams match up in this best-of-five series.

Catcher

Jorge Posada is the only catcher in baseball who had a better offensive season than Victor Martinez.  The Indians' catcher, however, has had a resurgent year on defense.  Victor shockingly threw out 32% of baserunners against him after nailing just 18% last year.  Posada has thrown out 24% after a fluke 37% last season.  Comparing the catchers over the past two or three seasons, their offensive and defensive numbers begin to look similar.  Posada obviously has the edge in postseason experience, while Martinez has less wear and tear on his young body.

Kelly Shoppach is good enough to start for most teams, and Jose Molina is no liability as a backup. 

Edge: Even

Infielders

Ryan Garko isn't a great hitting first baseman yet, but he's at least as good as Shelley Duncan, who batted .200 in September, and worlds better than Doug Mientkiewicz, who has actually had a good offensive season for him. 

Remember when I wrote that the Barfield/Kouzmanoff trade would benefit both teams?  It now looks as though the Indians got fleeced.  The Son of Jesse has looked just awful on both sides of the ball, including finishing last in the AL in Revised Zone Rating by a wide margin.  Remember when I wrote numerous derogatory things about Robinson Cano?  Well, he's now proven that he is at least a solid hitter, and though still an inconsistent fielder, he does appear to be improving.

Jhonny Peralta and Derek Jeter are the two worst AL shortstops in RZR, though Jhonny has recorded nearly twice as many Outs out of Zone as the statuesque Jeter.  Regardless, Peralta's post All-Star break OPS of .718 more than negates any defensive superiority over Jeter, who is now among the best hitting shortstops of all time.

Finally, in a really close call, Alex Rodriguez nudges out Casey Blake at third base.  I had to think about that one for a bit.  

Edge: Yankees

Outfielders

Grady Sizemore had a down year compared to 2006, but he still probably tied Ichiro Suzuki for title of 2007's Best Leadoff Hitter. 

The remainder of the Cleveland outfield is just a pastiche of serviceable parts, however, including Kenny "Zeile" Lofton, Franklin "Kingman" Gutierrez, Trot "Bartman" Nixon, and Jason "I'm not Interesting Enough to Warrant a Nickname" Michaels.

Bobby Abreu had a great four months after being one of the league's biggest disappointments in his first two, while Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera were disappointments for most of the year.  Hideki Matsui makes this outfield a lot stronger when he is not playing DH.

Edge: Even

Designated Hitter/Bench

Even after an extreme down year for Travis Hafner, you would rather have him at the plate than Jason Giambo for sure. Hideki Matsui gets the DH start in Game 1, which matches up well with Hafner, but leaves the Yankees wanting in the outfield.

If the Indians have faith in rookie Asdrubal Cabrera over Barfield as they did throughout September, he would give the Indians a big boost in their starting infield.  That white pearl necklace he wears may even distract a couple of Yankees.  Other than Josh and Asdrubal, the Indians don't really have a backup infielder. 

The Yankees bench has been decent all season long, and is vastly improved by the absence of injured Andy Phillips.  They've got to be kicking themselves for releasing Josh Phelps, though.  If a player's last name is Phelps, you can bet that the Yankees will make a poor decision with him.  

Edge: Even

Starting Pitchers

Apparently, neither Eric Wedge nor Joe Torre reads our site.  Each manager has extreme ground ball pitchers slated to start road games, with Chien-Ming Wang slated to pitch Games 1 and 5 in Cleveland, and Jake Westbrook expected to start Game 3 in New York.  Everyone reading this article should know that ground ball pitchers almost universally perform better at home, with these two being no exception.  Wang has home/road splits of 2.75/4.91 this year, while Westbrook is at 3.94/4.78.

Now I know there's at least one silly Yankees fan out there thinking, "Sure, Wang has a bad road ERA, but he's 9-3 away from Yankee Stadium this year, so there's nothing to worry about."  The trouble is that Wang was not facing an offense as good as Cleveland's nor an opposing pitcher as dominant as C.C. Sabathia for the vast majority of those games.

Because of the way the pitchers line up, the only pitching matchup that favors the Yankees is that Game 3 contest between Westbrook and Roger Clemens, and even that is iffy, given the Rocket's iffy hamstring.  Fausto Carmona had an ERA almost a full run lower than fellow Game 2 starter Andy Pettitte did, and Mike Mussina is doing his best Tom Glavine 2003 impersonation this year.  He matches up against control freak Paul Byrd in Game 4.

Edge: Indians

Bullpen

Cleveland had the fourth best AL bullpen ERA at 3.73 despite Joe Borowski's foundation of the 45/5 club.  Rafaels Betancourt and Perez form easily the best righty/lefty setup tandem in baseball, while Aaron Fultz and Jensen Lewis also carried sub-3.00 earned run averages into postseason play.

The Yankees finished 10th in the AL with a 4.35 bullpen ERA, and that does not even factor in the absence of Scott Proctor and Mike Myers, two of their best relievers in the first half.  Yes, Joba Chamberlain is phenomenal, and Mariano Rivera has been back to his usual self since the end of April (2.26 ERA, 29/31 in save opportunities), but none of the Yankees' starters are likely to work seven innings in any of these games.  Does Mo still have it in him to go two in the playoffs?  Will Joba Marmolize in the Division Series? 

Edge: Indians

Final Word

At least the Yankees won't have to worry about policing Doug Mientkiewicz to make sure that he doesn't run off with a keepsake baseball.

Prediction: Indians in four  




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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