New York’s two franchises had remarkably different 2009 seasons. The Yankees, with their shiny new free agent additions in Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett, ran away with the American League East and came away with their 27th World Series championship, beating the Phillies in six games.
For Mets fans, the 2009 season was a nightmare, as Mets players, including eight former All-Stars, spent more than 1,480 days on the disabled list as the team limped to a 72-90 record. To literally add insult to injury, they watched as their hated rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies, completed the best three-year stretch in their franchise’s 127-year history by reaching the World Series for the second straight season.
Mets fans, at least the ones who were still willing to watch, had to choose between which rival team they wanted to win—or lose—the World Series. The division rival who had given you fits the past three seasons, or the cross-town rival whose fans would never let you hear the end of it.
In the end, it was the Yankees who came away with the title, ending their nine-year “drought” of October failure.
So now in 2010, the World Champion Yankees come to Queens for their second visit ever to the beautiful Citi Field for a three-game series with the Mets.
The Yankees are pretty banged up at the moment, especially in their outfield. Starting center fielder Curtis Granderson is on the disabled list with a groin injury, and Nick Swisher and Marcus Thames are day-to-day and may not play during the three-game series.
Jorge Posada was also recently placed on the disabled list with a fractured foot, joining designated hitter Nick Johnson and reliever Alfredo Aceves.
The Mets went into the season without Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy, but have gotten surprising contributions from their replacements, Angel Pagan and Ike Davis, respectively. The Mets’ problems however, run far deeper than that.
The Yankees head across town after being swept in the Bronx by the best team in the majors, the former AL East whipping-boys-turned-juggernauts from Tampa Bay. The Mets have lost 60 percent of their starting rotation in the past five days, and have lost nine of their past 12 games, although they are coming off of a 10-7 win in Washington.
As unfair as it may be for Mets fans, let’s break down the two teams to gauge what to expect from this National League version of the 2010 Subway Series…
The Yankees will trot out a young catcher in fan favorite Francisco Cervelli, who will likely be getting the bulk of the playing time for the next three to four weeks with Jorge Posada sidelined. It’s a shame, because Posada was off to a blistering .326/.406/.618 start. However, Cervelli has been no slouch either, with a .373/.442/.493 start in 81 plate appearances.
Meanwhile for the Mets, Rod Barajas has turned out to be one of the best free agent bargains of the 2010 season. The veteran backstop signed a one-year, $1 million deal in February and has been more than the Mets could’ve ever asked for. Known for his defense and his ability to handle a pitching staff, Barajas is off to a .276/.306/.586 start and hit his 10th home run of the season on Thursday night.
Now, it would be easy to look at the numbers and give the edge to the Yankees. However, looking at a great stat called Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) tells another story. Cervelli has a robust .417 BABIP, while the league average generally fluctuates around .300. In layman’s terms, this means that Cervelli has been unusually lucky on balls in play, and clearly he won’t hit .373 the rest of the season.
On the other hand, Barajas has been extraordinarily unlucky, with a BABIP of only .239. Barajas isn’t much of an AVG or OBP guy, but his slugging has been a revelation for the Mets, who knew he had some pop, but really brought him in to mentor the pitching staff.
Maybe I’m biased as a Mets fan. Maybe I just want to give the tiebreaker to the Mets because they’re not likely to win many of these position battles. Any way you slice it, you may or may not agree, but I have to give the edge at catcher to the Mets.
The difference between Mark Teixeira and Ike Davis is roughly 1,000 career games, 4,700 plate appearances, three silver sluggers, three gold gloves, two All-Star appearances, and a World Series ring.
Davis is starting to heat up after a 3-for-5 day in Washington that included two balls that just missed being home runs, one to left field and one to right. He’s a Rookie of the Year candidate, and hopefully will be a Mets mainstay for the next decade. His father Ron Davis actually pitched for the Yankees back in the day.
However, this one is a no-brainer. Teixeira wins by a mile because of his experience and his body of work. The Yankees infield is stacked with four All-Star infielders and although Davis may one day hold his own against the likes of Mark Teixeira, in 2010 he’s not quite there yet.
But he sure can navigate his way around those dugout railings.
Ah, Luis Castillo. Yankee fans love him more than Mets fans do, thanks to his walk-off dropped pop up that cost the Mets a win at Yankee Stadium last year. Mets fans generally aren’t too fond of him, with some people referring to him as Slappy McSingleton for his lack of power.
Castillo, to his credit, did hit .302 with a .387 on-base percentage last year. His slugging was only .346 in 2009, but his career SLG is only .353. Not exactly Chase Utley in the power department.
Robinson Cano, on the other hand, got off to a blistering start to begin his season, and although he’s cooled down a bit, he’s still hitting .340/.393/.596 in 2010.
Neither of these guys are very good fielders, as both had negative UZR in the past two seasons. So if the defense is a push, then the offense says it all. Although the Yankee fans will always think of Castillo as a covert undercover agent for his dramatic miscue in 2009, it’s pretty obvious he’s not going to win this battle.
There was a time, in 2007 and 2008, where Jose Reyes looked like he had become the best shortstop in New York. Overshadowed by the collapses of those Mets teams was Reyes putting up career bests WAR of 5.5 and 6.0 respectively. In those same seasons, Jeter’s WAR had fallen to a career low 3.5 and 3.7, respectively.
Then, 2009 happened.
As Reyes goes, the Mets go. That was pretty much the truth when Reyes was healthy. Reyes played at least 153 games each season from 2005-2008, with 2006 being the only year he played in less than 159 games. But a leg injury in 2009 cost him all but 36 games, and Reyes still hasn’t quite found his rhythm yet, hitting a career low .210/.256/.280 to start 2010, albeit with a .243 BABIP.
Jeter’s 2009 season may have been his best season in the big leagues, believe it or not. Since the inception of UZR in 2002, Jeter had posted a negative value in every single season of his career until 2009. Widely considered the worst defensive shortstop in the American League for years, he silenced his critics last year with a 6.4 UZR, the first and only season he’s ever been a defensive asset according to the stat.
Jeter’s not off to the best of starts in 2010, but he hasn’t been slumping as bad as Reyes has. As close as this comparison would have been a few years ago, Reyes’s injury and his slow start recovering from it gives the edge to the cagey veteran.
Rumors of David Wright’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Just glancing at A-Rod’s 2010 stats and David Wright’s 2010 stats, they look eerily similar.
But Mets fans have noticed, time and time again, that Wright has been striking out at an uncanny pace, having already had a streak of 13 straight games with a strikeout and a 15-game streak with a strikeout that ended on Thursday.
Despite the K’s, Wright is having a pretty good season. His average is lower than usual at .262, but Wright has never hit under .300 in a full season, not even last year when his subpar power numbers (career low 10 home runs) didn’t stop him from hitting .307.
The problem with Wright seems to be that without Carlos Beltran in the lineup, and Jason Bay not slugging like he’s expected to, Wright seems to be pressing and trying to do too much, trying to hit the proverbial five-run home run instead of just being David Wright. Nevertheless, Wright has a .382 OBP and a .504 SLG, just slightly lower than his career averages.
A-Rod’s triple slash line stands at .295/.379./503, and despite the Wiffleball park in the Bronx, has actually been out-homered by Wright so far this year.
This is the closest comparison of any of the infield positions, but I’m going to give Wright the nod because of the players in the lineups around these two guys. A-Rod has All-Stars on every side of him, while Wright has been the glue that has kept the Mets afloat, at least as afloat as a 20-22 team can be.
I'm not going to separate the outfielders into three positions, considering the revolving door in the outfield for the Yankees. Brett Gardner and Angel Pagan have been tremendous for their respective teams, each filling in for an injured All-Star in center field.
Pagan turned a triple play and hit an inside-the-park home run on Wednesday, becoming the first player to do so in 55 years. Gardner made a great catch in center field that same day that the Rays' Ben Zobrist was able to score from second on after tagging up. I haven't seen that in...ever.
But considering the health of the Mets outfield, (sans Carlos Beltran) they get the advantage over the likes of Randy Winn, (who may have bigger problems than his .547 OPS) Nick Swisher, and whoever the Yankees get off the street to play a corner outfield spot this weekend.
Getting Swisher back is a welcome sight for Yankee fans, especially after watching the outfield play of Marcus Thames and Randy Winn over the last homestand, but he's still dealing with a biceps injury and wouldn't compare to Jason Bay regardless. Winn actually makes Jeff Francoeur look like a halfway decent bat.
With apologies to Oliver Perez and John Maine, I'm only going to take into consideration the three scheduled starters in this series, as that's really the only thing that's relevant to the situation.
On Friday, rookie lefthander Hisanori Takahashi will make his first major league start for the Mets against Javier Vazquez, who is making his first start in nine days and only his second since May 1. The reason for that is, well, Vazquez has been terrible to start the 2010 season, with an 8.01 ERA and an absurd 1.78 WHIP.
Takahashi has been a brilliant find for the Mets, albeit exclusively as a long reliever thus far in his major league career. His 11.42 K/9 is particularly impressive, considering his fastball generally tops out at 88 or 89 mph, but his ability to throw strikes and keep hitters off-balance by changing speeds makes up for what he lacks in velocity.
Vazquez was one of the best pitchers in the National League last year with the Braves, but he's had a rough start in his second stint with the Yankees. His first go-around didn't end well, and he was banished to the bullpen earlier this month, hence why he's only made two starts in May. It would've been apt if he had pitched against Oliver Perez, just for kicks, as that's who he's resembled thus far this season.
The Saturday matchup is going to be a pretty good clash between two young pitchers who are coming into their own this year, in Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey. Hughes is coming off his first poor start of the season, a game against the Red Sox where he coughed up a five run lead and only lasted five innings.
Pelfrey has emerged into the number two behind Johan Santana the Mets have sorely lacked. He's having a career year across the board, including a 3.02 ERA that's helped out by a career-high 6.04 K/9. It could be due to Pelfrey's evolving pitching repertoire, as he's throwing his fastball a career-low 67.8-percent of the time, and he's added a splitter this year that's gotten him some more swings and misses.
Hughes has been equally as impressive for the Yankees, with a 5-0 record and a 2.25 ERA that was much lower before his rough outing last Monday.
Sunday's matchup is must-see baseball for any fan, as the aces will meet up for Sunday night baseball on ESPN. CC Sabathia takes on Johan Santana. Santana will likely be looking for revenge, as he was torched by the Yankees for nine runs in three innings at Yankee Stadium last year.
Santana has been stellar this year, giving up two runs or less in six of his nine starts. He's coming off a brilliant outing in Atlanta in which he retired the last 13 batters he faced but ultimately walked away with a no-decision. Although his fastball velocity is a tad down this year, his line drive percentage is a career low 15.8-percent, a testament to his ability to change speeds and keep hitters guessing.
Sabathia will have a chance to feast against a National League lineup, and I know he loves to hit the ball himself. There may not be a lot of runs to go around in this game, which is sure to be a great game and an awesome way to end the first Subway Series of the season.
This three-game matchup is as equal as could be, quite frankly, and I want to give the edge to the Mets, I really do. But considering Sabathia's success last year against the Mets and Santana's lack thereof, (and the fact that I broke the ties in the Mets favor at catcher and third base) I'll give the Yanks the nod, barely.
This is probably the one spot where the Mets have a clear advantage. No one is going to argue against Mariano Rivera being the better closer this year, or any year, but it’s the rest of the bullpen that gives the Mets the edge. The Mets are third in the majors in bullpen ERA at 2.94, second in the NL. The Yankees, on the other hand, are 23rd in the majors at 4.47.
The Mets are fourth in the majors in bullpen batting average against, at .224. The Yanks are middle-of-the-road at .254, good for 16th overall. The Yankees do have a big advantage with walks, as they’ve allowed only 39 from their bullpen compared to the Mets and their NL-leading 78 free passes.
But what keeps the Mets ‘pen ERA down despite the walks is their 138 strikeouts, second in the bigs, compared to the Yankees 77 strikeouts, which is just one more than the Phillies and Indians who are tied for dead last with 76. Maybe those numbers can be taken with a grain of salt though, as the Phillies are last in bullpen innings pitched (95.1) and the Yankees are right behind them at 100.2 IP.
The Mets, at 144.0, have had more chances to tally up the walks and the strikeouts, and I’m not so sure that any of these numbers reflect Thursday’s action yet, which saw the Mets get 9.0 IP, 6 BB and 7 K from their pen. (5.0 of those innings, as well as six of those strikeouts came from Cuban rookie Raul Valdes.) Nevertheless, the ERA and BAA aren’t affected by IP, so we can put this one in the books.
(For more Mets, Jets and Nets analysis, visit my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog)