Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Stats & Info ALDS Preview: Yankees-Twins
By Justin Havens
Al Bello/Getty Images
The Yankees have been a significantly better team with Brett Gardner in the lineup in 2010 than without him.
A capsule stat-based preview of the Yankees-Twins ALDS matchup.
Top things to know
When the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees get together for the 2010 ALDS, it will pit familiar postseason foes against each other. Unfortunately for the Twins, the recent history has been heavily in favor of the Yankees.
The last three times these squads met in the postseason, the Yankees have won: 3-0 in 2009; 3-1 in 2004; and 3-1 in 2003. In fact, since taking Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS, the Twins have lost nine straight postseason games overall. In those nine postseason games, the Twins have been outscored 52-28.
Both teams are dealing with critical issues entering the postseason, too. The Yankees starting pitching aside from Sabathia has been a mess over the last month. Phil Hughes (2-2, 4.67 ERA), A.J. Burnett (1-3, 5.60), Andy Pettitte (0-1, 6.75) and Javier Vazquez (0-1, 8.84) all struggled from the start of September to the end of the regular season. With reports that Burnett will not be part of the rotation, the focus turns to Pettitte –- who made just three starts after his return from injury -- and Hughes, who looked like a much different pitcher in the second half after going 10-1 through his first 13 starts.
On the flip side, the Twins will not have Justin Morneau for the duration of the postseason. Morneau was in the thick of the AL MVP hunt prior to going down on July 7 with a concussion. Morneau was so productive during his 81 games that he actually led the team in Wins Above Replacement, at 5.6 WAR, despite missing half the season.
The Twins pitching staff and the Yankees lineup will be a clash of styles. While this is perhaps not surprising, the Yankees were once again one of the most patient teams in baseball, ranking first in on-base percentage (.350), second in walk rate (10.4 pct) and fourth in pitches-per-plate appearance (3.91). The team is filled with players who will work the count and take walks, enabling them to put together one of the highest-scoring offenses in baseball year-in, year-out.
However, on the flip side, the Twins pitching staff pounds the strike zone and does not issue walks. The team posted the lowest walk rate in baseball in 2010 (2.37) and threw the highest number of pitches in the zone (48.8 percent). Likewise, the team ranked second in baseball in fewest pitches thrown per batter faced (3.70).
The battle between the Twins stingy pitching staff and the Yankees patient lineup will determine the series.
Most interesting matchups
The focus will undoubtedly be on the best hitter for the Twins, Joe Mauer, and the best starter for the Yankees, CC Sabathia. With the Yankees rotation having more questions than answers entering the postseason, Sabathia will once again be relied upon heavily to not only win his starts, but to soak up innings. Without Morneau, Mauer’s offensive production will continue to be vital.
The fact this is a lefty-lefty matchup adds intrigue. Mauer was substantially worse against left-handed pitchers this season, to the tune of a 93-point drop in batting average (.365 to .272), a 100-point drop in on-base percentage (.442 to .342) and a 167-point drop in slugging percentage (.536 to .369). Meanwhile, Sabathia was equally dominant against lefties and righties (.678 to .649 OPS), but the noteworthy point is that of the 20 home runs that Sabathia allowed during the regular season, only four came against left-handed batters.
Over their careers, Mauer has posted a meager .217/.280/.261 line against Sabathia, with five hits (one extra base hit) and nine strikeouts in 23 at-bats.
While Robinson Cano is a legitimate MVP candidate in the American League thanks to strong defense and elite offensive production at an up-the-middle position, Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ unsung hero. Gardner embodies what makes the Yankees so difficult to pitch to, according to Baseball Prospectus. Gardner’s 4.61 pitches-per-plate-appearance mark for 2010 is the highest mark in the database going back to 1988. Whose record did he surpass? Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson’s 4.54 mark in 1994.
Gardner also ranked second on the Yankees offense in Wins Above Replacement at 5.4 -– ahead of such stars as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter – and fourth on the team in Win Probability Added.
Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats and Info did statistical analysis of the last 10 postseasons, looking for the factors that most separate winning and losing teams. He found three -- power hitting, front-end starting pitching, and the ability to turn batted balls into outs. Using his findings, he was able to make a projection. He gives the Yankees a 53.5 percent chance to win the series.