Reposted, as I procrastinated and got this up too late yesterday to really get any notice. Obviously, all stats don’t include yesterday’s craziness.
Suffice it to say that if the Yankees are truly going to make a run at the playoffs this year, they should do it this weekend, when they have an opportunity to even the season series with the Red Sox by throwing their three best pitchers (thankfully, even if the Yanks sweep, the Sox will still be 10.5 games up).
This set opens the second half of the rivals’ 18-game season series, and also essentially opens the second third of each team’s season. That’s as good a reason as any to assess the teams. I’ve chosen the tried-and-true position-by-position approach for the starting lineups and top three starters (I don’t have time to do two more sets of starters, plus bullpens, so deal).
Jorge Posada (.357/.414/.560, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 163 OPS+) — Posada is on pace for a career year, currently leading the league in batting, in the top 10 in both OBP and slugging, and fifth in the AL in OPS+. He can thank a .406 batting average on balls in play, and he’s likely due for a regression, but one must wonder where the Yankees’ struggling offense would be without his production.
Jason Varitek (.277/.373/.454, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 118 OPS+) — Don’t look now, but if Varitek keeps up his early-season pace, he will essentially replicate his 2005 numbers, and the woes of 2006 will be forgotten. The difference, of course is that in 2005, Varitek started out much better than this, but this is still leagues better than last season, and that’s all that was expected — a moderate-to-impressive bounceback from a good hitter hindered by injuries all season long.
Doug Mientkewicz (.217/.286/.375, 4 HR, 15 RBI, 79 OPS+) — Over the years, Mientkewicz has provided a decent if inconsistent bat and an excellent glove at first base. After hitting .300 in 2003, Minky slumped to .238 in 2004, including an awful .215 mark with the Sox. That was the last time he had as many as even 320 at bats. This year, he’s on pace for 360, and not surprisingly the consistent play is killing him at the plate. The Yankees went in knowing he would be a black hole at the bottom of the lineup. He hasn’t diappointed.
Kevin Youkilis (.354/.427/.561, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 159 OPS+) — The season has certainly been a revelation for Youkilis, who is third in batting, fifth in OBP, ninth in slugging, fifth in OPS and runs, second in hits, and the list goes on. Whether he can keep it up is the question (his BABIP is high but not absurdly so, and his ball-hit pecentages aren’t out of line with previous seasons, both of which bode well for him) but this kind of production shouldn’t be surprising based on his numbers last year alone, never mind the injuries and fatigue that plagued him in his first full season. Oh, and he hasn’t made an error since last year. Right now, he’s far and away the best first baseman in the league
Robinson Cano (.264/.298/.394, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 87 OPS+) — What has happened to Robi Cano? Second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2005 thanks to a .297 average and 14 home runs, he skyrocketed to .342 with 15 home runs last year. Now he’s on pace for just six home runs to go with his terrible .264 average and sub-.300 OBP (which was never more than propped up by his high average to begin with). He hasn’t been particularly unlucky (.316 BABIP, roughly the same as in 2005); he’s just been amazingly impatient, striking out nearly 20 percent of the time. It seems a bad sign for a player to become more impatient as his career progresses, not less.
Dustin Pedroia (.308/.394/.433, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 119 OPS+) — After a slow start, Pedroia has achieved the level many expected of him — a solid hitter with terrific patience (16 walks, 8 strikeouts. Yes, eight. On pace for 24) and doubles power. While Cano strikes out once every five at bats, Pedroia Ks once every 14. His rate numbers now essentially mirror what he did with Pawtucket last season (10.2% walk, 6.4% K, 1.78 BB/K, .376 OBP, .426 SLG), and he and Alex Cora off the bench continue to provide baseball’s best offense from the No. 9 spot.
Derek Jeter (.343/.421/.461, 3 HR, 28 RBI, 141 OPS+) — Jeter keeps on rolling, providing the Yankees’ only offensive bright spot with Jorge Posada. Luckily for opponents’ pitchers, they bat far enough apart in the order to allow three outs to be made before facing Posada or coming back around to Jeter. Although cooling off of late (.167 over the last seven games, .265 over the last 14), Jeter’s been remarkably consistent, hitting .344 in April and .342 in May. This contrasts with 2006, when he alternated good-not-great months (.292 in May, .295 in August) with tremendous months (.398 in April, .412 in July, .360 in September).
Julio Lugo (.230/.291/.340, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 67 OPS+) — What to make of Julio Cesar Lugo, who has improved over his putrid 2006 performance in Los Angeles. By 11 points of batting and 13 points of OBP. As a leadoff man, he gets on base hardly at all (the Sox may be No. 1 in OPS from the ninth spot but they’re 29th in the first spot), but when he does, he wreaks havoc (15 steals in 15 attempts; other than Lugo, only David Wright has as many as 10 steals with no times caught). Not only that, but with runners in scoring position, he’s a monster — .314/.339/.471 — and his 30 RBI are tops among leadoff men. Check back in July; the jury remains out on this one.
Alex Rodriguez (.292/.386/.641, 19 HR, 45 RBI, 174 OPS+) — After an incredibly hot start, these numbers must seem disappointing. May was a brutal month for Rodriguez, who batted just .235 with five home runs after going .355 with 14 homers in April. One expected him to cool off, but not by 460 points, which is how much lower his slugging percentage was in May than in April. A-Rod’s power kept him above water, however — he maintained a 110 OPS+, so he was still above average offensively for the month. Oddly, he also walked more and struck out less in May. Historically, he’s an extremely consistent hitter, with a career .313 average in both months. His May seems as inexplicably anomalous as his April was, an April in which he was so torrid, he remains second in slugging, third in OPS, third in runs, second in total bases, first in home runs and third in RBI. Not shabby for a walk year. ;-)
Mike Lowell (.330/.386/.573, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 150 OPS+) — Speaking of hot third basemen, Lowell is the Red Sox’ team leader in home runs and RBI, and forget about it with men in scoring position. His OPS of 1.195 is among the league leaders in that split, and he gets on base in such situations at a 45 percent rate. The question, of course, is how long? Last year, his OPS dropped 80 points between the first and second halves. In 2005, it actually went up (how could it not when you’re batting .226 at the All-Star break?), but in 2005, it dropped 89 points. On the other hand, this year, he could lose 80 points on his OPS and still be close to .800.
Hideki Matsui (.282/.364/.472, 5 HR, 25 RBI, 126 OPS+) — Matsui’s demise appears to be greatly exaggerated, as he actually improved his numbers in May, and is hitting .294 over the last two weeks. As it is, his numbers are just slightly below his career averages of .296/.371/.472. His numbers with runners in scoring position are down pretty significantly from his career norms, but these tend to fluctuate as sample sizes lengthen.
Manny Ramirez (.269/.356/.456, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 113 OPS+) — It’s been a long road to normalcy for Ramirez, who was wretched for most of the past two months before awakening recently. If the season ended with his current averages and projections intact, he would tie or set career lows for batting average and slugging, and finish lower in a host of categories than in any season since his rookie year. That .456 slugging percentage would be the first time he ever would finish below .500. That seems unlikely, considering Ramirez’s numbers in May were much closer to what has been routine — .327/.393/.577
Johnny Damon (.264/.362/.371, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 101 OPS+) — Is this the Johnny Damon that Theo Epstein and others saw in the headlights when they let him sign with the Yankees? Perhaps. His batting eye is still good (24 walks, 28 strikeouts), and though he’s 9/9 in stolen base attempts (third behind Lugo and Wright among those who are perfect this year), his legs (as well as his back) seem to be betraying him. His power has disappeared, and the man who could be counted on for 70-90 RBI from the leadoff spot is on pace for 51, which would be his lowest since 2001 (granted, this would partly be a function of the on-base failures below him). Still, Damon’s worst month historically has been April, and he hit near .300 with more power last month.
Coco Crisp (.229/.292/.320, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 62 OPS+) — Consider this: Coco Crisp had a horrible year last season, and still batted 35/25/25 points better than how he’s done so far this year. Although he showed some signs of improving in early May, Crisp has since tumbled to even lower lows — hitting .224 with a .611 OPS in May (.235/.612 in April). Over the last two weeks, he’s been even worse (.217/.656, thanks to his only homer of the season), and over the past calendar year, he’s hitting .249/.306/.359. Is this a lost cause? If it’s not yet, it’s getting mighty close.
Bobby Abreu (.228/.313/.289, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 66 OPS+) — More inexplicable than how Crisp, with two 100+ OPS+ (that looks weird) seasons under his belt, can suddenly collapse into a smoldering heap is how Abreu, who walked in at least 14.5 percent of his plate appearances every season since 1998, can suddenly drop to just a 10.9% rate. Abreu’s still not striking out, but his normally high BABIP has dropped by 70 points, his line-drive percentage is down significantly, while his ground balls and fly balls are up. His HR/FB%, meanwhile, is less than a fourth of what it was last year, which was in turn down significantly from previous years. Perhaps Abreu’s being hit with some bad luck,as evidenced by his BABIP, but that does not explain the downturn in walks and power.
J.D. Drew (.226/.346/.316, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 77 OPS+) — Take away Drew’s 29 walks, and he’d be Bobby Abreu. Drew’s BABIP is low (50 points below his career average), and it’s been abysmal over the past month (.207). He too is hitting fewer line drives and more ground balls and power numbers a third of where they should be. His walk and K rates are right in line with his career, however. We’ve discussed Drew’s struggles before, and sometimes he seems maddeningly close to turning it around. Hard-hit balls continue to find gloves, however, and until that bad luck rights itself, we’ll keep wondering what’s wrong with J.D. Drew.
Jason Giambi (.262/.380/.436, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 122 OPS+) — He won’t be a part of this series, but Giambi’s stats are also surprisingly good, considering the bad press surrounding the Yankee lineup. The problem, as with Rodriguez, is Giambi’s May, in which he’s batted a pitiful .177/.350/.323. As you can see, Giambi can still take a walk, and it’s hard to tell how much his many foot problems affected his ability to swing and/or drive the ball.
David Ortiz (.315/.431/.579, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 165 OPS+) — Odd. If the season ended today, Ortiz would finish with what would be considered a disappointing 27 HR and114 RBI. Yet his OPS+ would be one point higher than last year’s 54-dinger campaign, thanks to his impressive 20 doubles (projecting to 60). Likewise, he’s getting on base at a blistering pace, looking at career highs in walks, average and OBP. The flu and some resulting hamstring tightness appear to have led to his career-with-Sox-high home run drought. He may be ready to explode, as he always hits better in the summer (career OPS of .943/1.056 in June/July).
Mike Mussina (2-3, 5.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 72 ERA+) — Mussina, coming off a surprising 2006 campaign, is having trouble with more than just his hamstrings. His K/9 is down to 4.6 (career 7.2), and his K/BB ratio is down accordingly. His BABIP is not particularly high, yet he’s giving up 10.4 hits per nine (career 8.6). Perhaps this is injury-related, as reports say his velocity is down, and that would be as good an explanation as any for why Mussina is pitching worse than he ever has in his career.
Curt Schilling (5-2, 3.68 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 121 ERA+) — Interesting to note that while Schilling has given up essentially an identical number of baserunners, he’s allowed 2.5 runs fewer per game. For one, he’s striking out 7.6 batters per nine, his lowest in seven years but still quite good. For another, he’s allowed only 3.8 hits/9 despite three poor starts. Schilling’s key this year has been minimizing damage. While he’s walked more batters, he continues to get outs by striking them out four times as often and allowing few hits and even fewer home runs.
Chien Ming Wang (3-4, 4.13 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 103 ERA+) — Is this the regression Sox fans were predicting? Yes and no. While Wang’s ERA is higher than last year, it’s not significantly ahead of the 3.63 he posted. Likewise, his WHIP is actually lower, and — get this — so is his BABIP. So Wang is actually getting better luck on his ground balls than last season. If anything, the reverting luck Wang has faced has been in run support. He’s received a full run less in support this season, and that very well could be the difference between 19 wins and 12-15.
Josh Beckett (8-0, 2.65 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 168 ERA+) — Josh Beckett is turning in the season Red Sox fans hoped for, but I doubt many could say they expected it. His K/9 has returned to its NL levels; his BB/9 is the best it’s ever been, giving him a K/BB ratio better than Schilling’s (4.15). He’s cut down on home runs to an extraordinary extent (one every three games), leading one to believe he’s likely to revert some as the season goes on. Meanwhile, his BABIP is slightly higher than it was last season. His FIP (fielding-independent pitching ERA) is 2.51, meaning that if anything, his ERA is likely to go down. Barring injury, Beckett’s stats seem to support the belief that his last nine starts are anything but a fluke.
Andy Pettitte (3-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 169 ERA+) — Without Andy Pettitte, the Yankees would likely be even further behind the Red Sox. Instead of weathering a rough retransition to the AL East, Pettitte has excelled, but he’s done so in an odd way. His K/9 (4.8) is well below both his career average (6.6) and his 2006 (7.5). His walks remain in line with his career, meaning his K/BB is a dangerously low 1.65. He’s avoided the home run, allowing them at about half the rate he has in the past, and his BABIP has dropped 40 points to league average from last season. It seems, based on the weak strikeout numbers, that some reversion may be in order, but in the AL East, another run to his ERA still puts him among the division’s elite. This signing thus far has saved the Yanks season.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (7-3, 4.83 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 92 ERA+) — Is Matsuzaka this year’s Josh Beckett? All signs point to yes, down to the impressive win totals but unimpressive ERA, a result of terrific starts followed by abominable starts followed by terrific starts in a pattern Sox fans witnessed with Beckett last year. Matsuzaka’s problems of course have been with big innings, and his rate stats bear that out. His strikeout numbers are good, his walk numbers are also good. His FIP is a solid 3.83, and his BABIP trends unlucky (.320). If the Sox get results from Matsuzaka next year akin to what Beckett’s putting up this year, the signing will truly have been worth it. As it stands, the promise is certainly there; the execution remains spotty.