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Thursday, September 16, 2010
What stood out in Yanks-Rays matchup


Five quick statistical takeaways from watching the Yankees and Rays these last three days.

1. There's little difference between these teams
Within five minutes of this game ending, Stats and Information's Steven Glasser circulated an eye-popping note regarding just how even this matchup has been this season. In their 14 meetings, the Rays and Yankees are separated by two wins (Rays, 8-6) and two runs (Rays, 71-69)

Amazingly, within those matchups, the teams have the same number of hits and the same number of home runs.

Also worth noting: In the 14 games, the Rays have led at some point in 13 of them. They don't make it easy for anyone.

2. Joba Chamberlain looked good
Joba Chamberlain threw 33 pitches over two outings, retiring seven batters, four by strikeout, without doing any damage. It's part of a seven-game stretch in which Chamberlain made one bad pitch (the one Nelson Cruz hit for a game-tying home run) and has a 1.17 ERA.

Other than that one mistake, Chamberlain's breaking balls have been more effective as finish pitches for him (Cruz's homer is the only hit he's allowed on a breaking ball this month). And he's been able to ratchet the fastball up with two strikes. In those seven outings, it's averaged 96.5 miles-per-hour in two-strike counts (up from 95.4 to that point).

3. Austin Kearns did not
The absence of Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner came at a particularly bad time, with Austin Kearns having all sorts of trouble at the plate recently.

Kearns whiffed seven times in the last two games of the series (the first Yankee this season with consecutive games of 3+ whiffs). Since August 20, he's 9-for-55 with a disturbing 24 strikeouts in 55 at-bats.

Get Kearns to two strikes and he's in big-time trouble. He's taken 40 two-strike swings in that span, missing twice as often (20 times) as he's put the ball into play (10 times). With breaking balls, he's been totally fooled (14 swings, eight missed, two put in play).

4. In an ALCS, the Yankees may see James Shields twice
My colleague in Stats and Info, Albert Larcada looked at the Quality Pitching metric he and a couple others devised (check out the link for an explanation) recently and found that James Shields was, on average, giving the Rays less than a 50 percent chance to win, based on his innings pitched/earned runs combinations by start.

But he's kept the Yankees off the board in his last two starts against them, allowing just one run in 13 2/3 innings (in the seven starts in-between, he has a 6.63 ERA).

The biggest issue, not a surprise, has been Shields' changeup, against which the Yankees are hitting .114 with a .318 OPS, according to our Inside Edge data. Only 8.7 percent of the balls they've put in play against it have been classified as "well-hit." The rest of baseball is .226/.555 against it, with 26.1 percent of the balls put in play falling under the "well-hit" umbrella .

Shields has the chance to do something rare when he pitches against the Yankees next week. In five starts this season, he's 2-0 and has yet to lose to them. No pitcher has finished a season with more than five starts and an unbeaten record against the Yankees since Dizzy Trout (father of unpopular former Yankee Steve Trout) for the 1944 Detroit Tigers.

5. The Yankees have a handle on Carl Crawford
File a a couple of these matchups away for October. Phil Hughes has retired Carl Crawford all six times he's faced him this season. Boone Logan has gotten Crawford out in their last five meetings. Kerry Wood has kept Crawford off the bases in all three confrontations between the two in 2010.

The Yankees kept Crawford off the bases in two of the three games in this series, and four times when he's started against them this season overall. The problem is that someone other than Crawford has found a way to beat them (as Dan Johnson did last night). In those four games, the Yankees are 0-4.