Lots to think about with Yanks-Rays
September, 15, 2010
By Mark Simon and Katie Sharp | ESPN.com
Chris Williams/Icon SMI
Mark Teixeira's effectiveness against James Shields' changeup may play a big role in the outcome of Wednesday's Yankees-Rays matchup
Previously in this space, our bloggers have suggested reasons to watch a particular ESPN Wednesday Night Baseball game. The reason to watch the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees tonight is obvious --first place in the AL East is on the line.
With that in mind, here are a few statistically-based questions to ponder, while you are watching.
Would the Yankees be better positioned to make a playoff run if they finished in second place?
Even with Tuesday's win, the Yankees are mired in their worst slump of the season, having just endured their first four-game losing streak and their first sweep of three games or more.
The team that’s been responsible for this poor stretch of games –- the Texas Rangers –- is the same team the Yankees would have to face in the divisional round if they win the AL East title. They'd currently get the Twins if they won the wild card.
The Rangers have one advantage that could doom the Yankees in a potential playoff matchup. They can trot out two quality left-handed starters, Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson.
The Yankees have lost their last five games against left-handed starters and their .259 batting average against them is ranked sixth in the AL. Several key Yankees are really struggling vs southpaw starters (see accompanying chart) –- if it wasn’t for Marcus Thames, the overall numbers would be much uglier.
Who will be the Bridge to Mariano in the postseason for the Yankees?
The Yankees bullpen, which entered the All-Star break with a 4.14 ERA that ranked ninth in the league, has a 2.25 ERA that leads all AL bullpens since the break.
It hasn’t been just Mariano Rivera either. Boone Logan, Kerry Wood and David Robertson each have been excellent.
Chamberlain has been called upon to pitch the eighth inning 44 times this season, the most among the relief corps. But as you can see, his numbers in those appearances and in high leverage situations (situations with big win probability swings) are worse than each of the other three likely eighth inning candidates this season.
Will Mark Teixeira ever figure out James Shields?
The most interesting matchup to watch tonight is the James Shields-Mark Teixeira battle, Teixeira is 4-for-28 with 13 strikeouts in his career against Shields.
In 13 plate appearances against Shields this season, Teixeira has seen 59 pitches, nearly half of which (29) have been changeups. Of those, Teixeira has seen 20 strikes, with eight misses on 18 swings.
As a right-handed hitter, Teixeira has crushed changeups this season, but as a lefty, the pitch has been a major weapon in getting him out. His batting average against the pitch has dropped more than 100 points from 2009’s .253. He may get a chance to try to raise it tonight.
Who is the MVR (Most Valuable Ray’er)?
What if, instead of giving the MVP to one player, you gave it to the best pair from the same team. By one system, that would mean giving it to Rays teammates Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria.
Fangraphs.com has charted Wins Above Replacement (WAR) all season and their methodology computes that the Rays are the only team in baseball with two position players with a WAR of at least 6.0.
For those who have trouble deciding which of the two is more valuable, you’re not alone. Crawford nosed ahead of Longoria after Tuesday. He rates third-best in the American League with a 6.4. Longoria is right behind at 6.3. Their 12.7 combined score edges out the 12.1 of Rangers outfielders Josh Hamilton (8.0) and Nelson Cruz (4.1) for the highest-rated duo in baseball.