Thursday, March 31, 2005

Red Sox/Yankee position players

I have a book on my shelf which was written by Tom Boswell. I'm not sure that I've ever made it all the way through, though I do know that there's an interesting section right up front about the passion of the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry. In any event, it has been on my shelf for 20 years for one reason. The title. Why Time Begins On Opening Day. It's been a long, hard winter in New England, and the world has gone from brown to white to gray and back to brown. I'm ready to live in a green world once more.

But Sunday night, about 78 hours from now, time begins anew.

Yesterday, I took a look at the starting pitching rotations of the teams that many people, myself included, think are the best two teams in the AL, if not in all of baseball. Today I want to take a look at the position players.

First up, a quick-and-dirty comparison, position by position, using OPS+ (or approximately OPS+ - the quick and dirty isn't exactly right, but it's very close - close enough for what I'm doing.) The following tables show the 1-year and 3-year OPS+ values for the two team's regulars and benches.

2004 performance - 2005 Red Sox and Yankees
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees


CVaritek, Jason33463120Posada, Jorge33449135

1BMillar, Kevin33508116Martinez, Tino37458119

2BBellhorn, Mark30523106Womack, Tony3555398

3BMueller, Bill34399105Rodriguez, Alex29601135

SSRenteria, Edgar2958696Jeter, Derek31643115

LFRamirez, Manny33568150Matsui, Hideki31584142

CFDamon, Johnny31621116Williams, Bernie36561111

RFNixon, Trot31149122Sheffield, Gary36573146

DHOrtiz, David29582143Giambi, Jason3426492



BenchMcCarty, David3515185Crosby, Bubba285327

Mirabelli, Doug34160123Flaherty, John3712794

Payton, Jay3245892Sanchez, Rey3728562

Vazquez, Ramon2811569Sierra, Ruben3930797

Youkilis, Kevin2620898


3-year performance - 2005 Red Sox and Yankees
Boston Red SoxNew York Yankees


CVaritek, Jason331381111Posada, Jorge331441136

1BMillar, Kevin331490121Martinez, Tino371445117

2BBellhorn, Mark301217113Womack, Tony35149278

3BMueller, Bill341289118Rodriguez, Alex291832143

SSRenteria, Edgar291717120Jeter, Derek311769119

LFRamirez, Manny331573165Matsui, Hideki311207127

CFDamon, Johnny311852108Williams, Bernie361618124

RFNixon, Trot311122129Sheffield, Gary361641158

DHOrtiz, David291442138Giambi, Jason341359151



BenchMcCarty, David3527079Crosby, Bubba286511

Mirabelli, Doug34474103Flaherty, John3751386

Payton, Jay321503110Sanchez, Rey3798665

Vazquez, Ramon2896094Sierra, Ruben39103399

Youkilis, Kevin2620899


There are a couple of things that show up here.

One is that these are two outstanding offensive teams. They were first and second in runs scored last year, and they were first and second in OPS+. (The Yankees OPS+ lead did not translate into a lead in runs scored due to the difference in ballparks. The Red Sox scored about 6% higher runs/game than the Yankees, but Fenway was a about a 9% better run-scoring environment. The Yankee offense was slightly more productive last year than Boston's, even though the Red Sox outscored them by 52 runs.) There's no reason not to expect that to happen again. Which is not to say that it will, and there are certainly reasons to be concerned about the potential for an offensive decline, but I expect them to be the best offensive teams in the AL in 2005.

For what it's worth the Baseball Prospectus PECOTA forecast system projects them to lead the league, Boston scoring 946 runs and New York 877. That's in line with my expectations.

Another thing is that the Yankee bench is really, really...uh, how to put it...well, it's not good. As I was looking at it, I was trying to figure out who was missing, but that appears to be it, according to all of the rosters that I was able to find. There's absolutely no offense on the bench, not much speed or defense or anything else. Ugh.

And neither of these teams is young. But the Yankees have got four starters that are 35+ to the Red Sox 0. When looking for potential reasons for problems, that jumps out at you.

Question marks/issues:

  • First base - Both of these teams are iffy at first base. Millar had an excellent second-half of the 2004 season, when it looked like he was done as a Major League hitter. Tino Martinez was never great, and still isn't.

  • Bernie Williams used to be a great player. He isn't any more. One of the shocks of the off-season is that the Yankees, with their payroll, are going into 2005 with a 36-year old center fielder who can't throw, has no range, has been in a significant offensive decline, and has no plausible back-up. How much better would the Yankee bench look if Jay Payton were sitting in their dugout instead of Boston's?

  • Both Varitek and Posada are reaching a stage when decline has got to be expected. With Doug Mirabelli, the Red Sox are certainly better poised to rest their catcher. Whether they will or not is, of course, another story.

  • Has Jason Giambi got anything left? That will have a huge impact on the Yankee season. If he repeats last year, they'll struggle to approach 875 runs. If he can somehow bounce back to 2003 performance, they're a good bet to exceed it.

  • Can either right-fielder make it through the season healthy? Nixon was limited by back and leg injuries last year but seems to be healthy now. Sheffield has a chronic bad shoulder and is 36 years old.

  • Tony Womack had what looks like a tremendous fluke season in 2004. Is there any chance that he can repeat it? I say no. His OBP will be closer to .320 than .350.

  • How's the defense? Certainly, Martinez can still play first while Millar's probably below average. Bellhorn/Womack is probably a wash. Renteria's better than Jeter, his Gold Glove last year notwithstanding. Mueller and Rodriguez appear to be pretty close. Matsui's better than Ramirez, and Sheffield's probably a little better than Nixon. But the advantage for the Yankees at the two corner positions is dwarfed by the Sox advantage in CF. On the whole, neither of these is a great defensive team, with probably a slight advantage to Boston, with the Red Sox stronger up the middle.

  • The Red Sox do not appear to have a serious black hole in their lineup. They are basically league average or better everywhere. The Yankees have Womack.

  • Is there a "hangover" effect on the Red Sox? Do they struggle to maintain their focus after that incredible 8-game stretch in October?

  • On the other hand, is there a "hangover" effect on the Yankees? How do they deal with the fact that most people now consider them to have pulled off the biggest "choke" in baseball history?

  • Bottom line - two extremely talented but aging teams, with the Yankees a fair amount further down the aging curve. They are not only more likely to have injury issues due to the age of their roster, the weakness of their bench makes them less capable of covering for those issues. Neither team is a great defensive team, but they should each score a lot of runs. My expectation is that the Red Sox actually have a better offensive team this year, and outscore New York by 60-80 runs over the course of the season.



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