Since this is a fledgling blog, I am reserving the right to write about the Yankees and Red Sox ad nauseum until we get enough readers to complain about it. Therefore, I shall abuse this intoxicating power and write a full, impassioned, and (hopefully) objective comparison between the two AL East rivals. Off we go:
FIRST BASE: Kevin Youkilis vs. Doug Mientkiewicz/Josh Phelps
Wow. These teams have $300 million in payroll between them, and these are their 1Bs. In fairness, Boston has the edge here. Youkilis may be ugly as sin, but he posted a 108 OPS+ last year, bolstered heavily by his .381 OBP.
As for the Yankees, well, I don’t know what the hell is going on here. Mientkiewicz stands to be the lefty half of the platoon, with Phelps on the right side. Anyway, Mientkiewicz is not a very good baseball player. Neither is Phelps. I would analyze this more, but I want to keep concessions to the Red Sox as brief as possible. EDGE: Red Sox
SECOND BASE: Dustin Pedroia vs. Robinson Cano
Pedroia’s major league debut in 2006 was not good, especially considering his minor league numbers. In the majors, he sucked (that’s a technical term, for you amateurs out there). He’s almost certainly not as bad as he looked, although I’m not sure he’s their second baseman of the future. He seems more suited to a utility player on a good team, and a starter on an average/bad one.
Cano has monstrous potential. He’s always had good line drive and gap power, but last year he showed marked improvement in his walks. His OBP climbed to .365 – which is positively Ruthian compared to his rookie year – and his OPS reached .890 (132 OPS+). The only questions is whether or not he’ll develop much more power, and I think he will. EDGE: Yankees
THIRD BASE: Mike Lowell vs. Satan
Lowell is a decent third baseman. You can do better, and you can do worse. His 106 OPS+ last year was good, but it was a tale of two halves. He had an OPS of .875 before the All-Star break, and .739 after. Yikes. There is precedent for this, however, in both 2003 and 2004 when his OPS dropped by about .200 each time. He’s pretty clearly in decline.
Satan is, of course, Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod. The man who initiated the Holocaust, spread the Black Death throughout medieval Europe, and started the Atlantic slave trade in the 16th century. It turns out, contrary to what you’ve probably heard, that A-Rod is really freaking good at baseball. His 140 OPS+ last year was poor by his standards, but he wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone made him out to be. He’ll improve in 2007, making him leaps and bounds better than Lowell. EDGE: Yankees
SHORTSTOP: Julio Lugo vs. Derek Jeter
Lugo was one of the Red Sox’ big signings this offseason. For some reason, the acquisition of his 94 OPS+ is a big deal. He has had exactly one full season in which he was above average (2005). He’s definitely an upgrade from Alex Gonzalez, but Alex Gonzalez is a horrendous baseball player.
Jeter (or Joe Mauer) probably should have been the MVP of the 2006 season, but voters decided that a power-hitting first baseman (of which there are many) is more valuable than a shortstop with a 138 OPS+ and a 9.9 WARP1 on a division-winning team (of which there are few). Whatever. EDGE: Yankees
CATCHER: Jason Varitek vs. Jorge Posada
Varitek – who henceforth shall be known as Vagitek for (a) his unwillingness to learn how to catch a knuckleball and (b) not taking off his catcher’s equipment when fighting A-Rod – is a bit of a mystery. He’s had several good years this millenium, but injury problems held him to a 85 OPS+ and a 3.0 WARP1. Vagitek is also 35, which is a rough age for any catcher, especially one coming off an injury.
Posada ain’t no spring chicken either, but he posted a 127 OPS+ and a 7.5 WARP1. I’m worried about his body suddenly breaking down, mostly because Torre is merciless on catchers and their workloads. Even if Posada regresses and Vagitek improves… EDGE: Yankees
OUTFIELD: Manny Ramirez/Coco Crisp/JD Drew vs. Hideki Matsui/Johnny Damon/Bobby Abreu
I’m going to try and keep this part short. Manny is an absolute monster, and he is a fair amount better than Hideki Matsui (who is good himself). I concede LF to the Red Sox. CF is a bit different. Crisp played in 105 games last year, and was a disappointment (80 OPS+, 2.5 WARP1). He was above average in 2004 and 2005 though. He’ll probably land somewhere in the middle, and turn in an average-ish performance. Damon has consistently performed at an above-average level for several years now. He’s durable, fast, patient and has some pop. His stability gives him the edge. RF is the big question. Drew is an offensive machine. He’s also liable to break his foot lacing up his cleats. When healthy, Drew puts up OPS+s in the 130-160 range, which is amazing. The problem is, he does it for about 1/2 to 2/3rds of the season. Abreu’s career OPS+ is 137, which is quite good. He’s also never played in fewer than 151 games in a season. This is a really tough matchup, but I’m calling RF even. As far as the outfields in general are concerned, I’m leaning slightly towards the Yankees because there are far fewer questions about them. Manny will be fine, but who knows what the Red Sox will get from Crisp and Drew. EDGE: Yankees
That’s it for now. I’ll probably address the pitching when either (a) some analyst starts anointing the Red Sox’ staff the best in baseball again or (b) the teams’ respective rotations become a bit clearer.