There are some intriguing possibilities to consider as we head towards the 2011 MLB postseason. If the season ended today, as they say, we would have upstarts like the Diamondbacks in the mix, teams coming into their own, such as the Brewers, and we would of course have a number of the usual suspects represented as well, specifically the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Braves, Rangers and Tigers.
Of all the possible matchups for the World Series, we've chosen to dissect the matchup that many would like to see revisited, specifically the Yankees vs. Phillies. There is of course the 2009 World Series that the Phillies would like to avenge and, with all of the drama surrounding the free-agent signing of Cliff Lee during the 2010 offseason, there is now another level of tension involved.
We've broken the teams down by position and also compared the respective bullpens, starting staffs and likely bench players. The differences are stark in terms of the advantages each team possesses, and consequently the matchup would make for a clash of styles as much as substance.
Regular season statistics are difficult to quantify in such a a matchup, of course, simply because the teams play in different leagues with different rules. As statistics are all we have though, they will be the foundation of each comparison if not the only consideration taken into account.
Yankees' Catcher Russell Martin
It can be argued that Carlos Ruiz and Russell Martin are a wash defensively, with each player demonstrating the ability to guide a veteran staff and manage a game at a high level of competence. And while Ruiz sports a better batting average than Martin, .281 to .239, the ability of Martin to drive in runs and hit for power (61/32, 17/5 in favor of Martin) from the back of the Yankees' order sets him apart from the Philly backstop.
Yankees' First Baseman Mark Teixeira
Despite Teixeira's significant advantage defensively, had this comparison been made several years ago the advantage would have gone to Philadelphia. Howard was simply that good of an offensive threat from 2006 through 2009, averaging 49 or so HRs and roughly 144 RBI. Teixeira was also more potent during that time than he is now but still did not approach the production that Howard put up.
With that said, both of these players have come back to the pack the past two seasons offensively. They're each putting up good numbers for middle of the order hitters but are somewhat less than his former self. With Howard at .254/31/107/.346 OBP and Teixeira at .249/36/101/.345 OBP, there is no discernible difference between the two. As a result, Teixeira's Gold Glove resume and his ability to hit from both sides of the plate gives the Yankees the edge in this matchup.
From 2005 through 2009, Chase Utley was on pace to be enshrined in Cooperstown. His .301/29/101/.388 OBP line provided the glue for the remainder of the lineup and allowed others to shine in his shadow. That was then, this is now.
Robinson Cano has, in the last, two years, leapfrogged not just Chase Utley but all second basemen in the game. He's established himself as the preeminent player at the position, and it can be argued as well that he has leapfrogged most players in all of baseball in terms of production, skill and consistency.
With his current 2011 numbers projected through the end of this year, Cano will have produced a line of .313/29/116/.366 OBP since the beginning of 2010. Add in his Gold Glove for the 2010 season and it's clear that Cano is the full package.
This is not to suggest, by any means, that Chase Utley is now a liability to Philadelphia, though due to injuries this year it is difficult to know exactly what to expect from him in terms of postseason production. It is likely, though, that Utley will be a force for Philadelphia throughout the postseason as he's been at times in the past. Cano, however, has simply separated himself over the course of the past two seasons, so much so that he is now the best position player on either roster.
Yankees' Third Baseman Alex Rodriguez
Defensively, Philadelphia has to feel good about the skills that Placido Polanco brings to the table. He is a sometimes spectacular defender capable of of changing a game with his sure hands and range. Alex Rodriguez, due to injuries to his hip and more recently to his knee, is not the defender he once was at third base, much less while he was a Gold Glove shortstop.
For this defensive gap to be meaningful in a short series, however, Polanco would have to reinvent himself as a hitter and Rodriguez would have to disappear offensively altogether. Despite an injury-filled season, Rodriguez is still a middle of the order threat, and he makes Teixeira in front of him and Cano behind him better just by being there.
Rodriguez lengthens the Yankee lineup considerably, and with the National League holding home-field advantage, removing the DH from the equation, a deeper lineup will be a necessity for the Yankees to compete.
Phillies' SS Jimmy Rollins
This may come as a shock to most, but Derek Jeter is once again an offensive force. Since his return from the disabled list in early July, Jeter has reestablished his presence and value in the Yankees' lineup by hitting in the .320 range, getting on base, driving in runs and scoring runs.
Rollins, almost equally shocking, is not the offensive force he once was and is, for the most part, a shadow of the MVP form he was in in 2007 when he he belted 30 HRs, drove in 94, and averaged a .296 BA with an OBP of .344.
With Jeter's current line at .297/5/54/.354 OBP, and with Rollins at .268/14/58/.342 OBP, it can be argued that the player's respective contributions to their team's offense, while different, is roughly equivalent.
As such, it comes down to defense and intangibles. At 32, Rollins still has the range to defend effectively and it's an advantage he has over Jeter. The Yankees' Captain, though, is arguably in the Top 10 postseason performers of all time. This is a tight comparison, too tight to call really, and so we're going with even.
Yankees' Leftfielder Brett Gardner
In truth, it could be said that the Yankees have the edge over Philadelphia's Raul Ibanez regardless of whether it's Brett Gardner or Andruw Jones in left field. Due to Philadelphia's ability to throw two top-tier lefties, the Yankees would more than likely employ a platoon approach should the teams meet up. It's how Yankees' manager Joe Girardi has approached things thus far and it's worked well.
Andruw Jones is crushing lefty pitching, especially over the past month-plus, and his defense in left is at least as solid as what Ibanez provides. Jones has shown pop with 11 HRs in just 184 ABs, and he's also produced 29 RBI to go with those HR's. Projected over a full season, those numbers equate to over 30 HRs and in the range of 90-100 RBI. Not bad considering the Yankees would have settled for much less.
Gardner, on the other hand, is not a power threat, however the things he can do with his bat, glove and legs have the potential to change games. As a defender he is unmatched in the American League at his position, and with his uncanny ability to work the count he is developing into the prototypical leadoff hitter. He is a bit too streaky at the plate, and for someone with as good an eye as he has, he strikes out far too much. But the positives he brings considerably outweigh the negatives.
At 39, Ibanez is still providing good power/RBI numbers. His overall line, .242/17/67/.288 OBP does not stack up to previous years in some regards, but he is on pace for 80-plus RBI and 20-plus HRs nonetheless. It's the OBP that is the most worrisome if you're a Phillies fan, and at roughly 70 points below both Gardner and Jones in this category you'd have to hope Ibanez gets uber-hot with the stick to overcome an alarming inability to get on base.
Yankees' Centerfielder Curtis Granderson
Heading into the season, New York was expecting Curtis Granderson to be a producer from the back of the order. If it turned out that the Granderson of August through October of 2010 showed up then all the better. Consider the latter possibility accomplished, and in a big way.
By now it's no secret that Granderson is in the top four or five names mentioned whenever the American League MVP discussion comes up. His .269/38/109/.373 line is impressive in its own right, of course, but when you throw in his 126 runs scored and base-stealing capabilities you begin to understand just how valuable he is to his team.
Shane Victorino, while in the midst of perhaps his best offensive season, does not match up with Granderson in terms of his ability to alter the outcome of games consistently. He is on track to either equal or surpass his career-bests in both HRs and RBI despite missing time to injury, so, again, he is definitely a force in the lineup for Philly.
Defensively, Victorino does have the advantage over Granderson, and he's also a huge piece of the identity that the Phillies project. Even with these considerations in mind though, the edge must go to Granderson and the Yankees. No matter what Victorino brings to the table, he is not having anything close to an MVP-type year. Nor, it must be said, is he the type of player capable of producing one.
Phillies' Rightfielder Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence, along with Doug Fister of Detroit, has to be in the discussion for best trade deadline acquisition of the 2011 season. Not only does he come equipped with high-ceiling abilities but he filled a number of precise needs that the Phillies had, specifically a right-handed hitter who could play right field and protect Ryan Howard in the order. Mission accomplished on all fronts.
Pence's overall numbers between Houston and Philadelphia, .310/18/82/.366 OBP, are very solid, especially considering that he had nowhere to hide while in Houston. His OBP with the Phillies though, is off the charts good at .393, meaning he has truly given more depth and scope to the lineup as a whole.
Add in a steep rise in his slugging percentage between the two teams, up from .471 with Houston to a very healthy .540 while with Philadelphia, and you can see why pitching around Howard isn't necessarily a good strategy.
Pence's performance notwithstanding, it's tough to ignore what Nick Swisher brings to the Yankees' lineup. His .266/22/80/.380 OBP line is not just respectable but actually slots in perfectly for what the Yankees need behind Robinson Cano in the fifth spot. Swisher also does a solid job defensively, though not on the scale that Pence provides.
The edge goes to Pence and the Phillies on this one, though the margin is not nearly as substantial as the casual observer would expect.
Mariano Rivera Enters for the Save
This is a tight one, as both teams can boast of power arms and outstanding performances from a number of relievers. The Phillies have battled injuries all year to key performers, however due to the emergence of Ryan Madson in the closer role and Brad Lidge settling in as a setup man they've found a nice groove.
Antonio Bastardo, he of the 19 hits allowed and 66 K's over 53.1 innings, is as close to unhittable as a pitcher can get. With both Madson and Lidge coming up on free agency Bastardo could very well find himself in the closer role next year.
David Herndon is another reliable asset out of the pen, and perhaps most importantly of all, this is a rested pen due to the fact that the Philly starting staff logs so many innings. This could ultimately play a huge factor in the postseason, of course, although the question facing Phillies' manager Charlie Manuel will be whether to rest his starters going the stretch by employing the bullpen more. Expanded rosters will play a role in this decision, but does Manuel risk losing games in the pursuit of resting his staff?
With all things considered, despite the solid, often outstanding work put out by the Philly bullpen, the Yankees relief corps is in fact better. First and foremost, they have the best bullpen ERA in the American League at 3.01 going into Wednesday's action, which in and of itself is quite an achievement but more so considering they play in arguably the toughest division in baseball.
Philly's bullpen ERA stood at 3.46 heading into action on 9/07, and considering that the American League is a tougher league for pitchers the difference is considerable.
Above all, though, there is Mariano Rivera. While he has struggled at times this year with location, of all things, he is still the guy with the best postseason pedigree for any pitcher in the history of the game. If the Yankees can identify another reliable lefty out of the pen over the next month the edge over Philadelphia in this category will only grow.
The Phillies do have some nice pieces coming off the bench, specifically Dominic Brown and John Mayberry Jr., but in terms of experience, talent, and potential impact the Yankees have a clear edge in this comparison.
The Yankees actually have their pick of well-seasoned playoff performers to choose from. More than likely they'll have to go with Francisco Cervelli as the backup catcher to Russell Martin, simply because at this point they don't have a reliable alternative. Jesus Montero, the rookie that has recently emerged as a postseason roster possibility, is simply too raw, and possibly not capable enough to be trusted with catching responsibilities.
The Yankees also have Eric Chavez and Jorge Posada to choose from, and young utility infielder Eduardo Nunez would provide both speed and pop off the bench. Anyway you slice it, the Phillies don't have those kind of assets to choose from, and if you consider Andruw Jones a bench player due to his platoon status, the margin of difference grows.
There is no greater equalizer in all of baseball than solid pitching. World class quality pitching, well, that's another story. Of all the comparisons between these two teams, there is no greater advantage enjoyed by either team than that enjoyed by the Phillies' starting staff over the Yankees' starting staff.
The gap between what each starting staff can provide is so wide that a statistical breakdown isn't really all that necessary. It should be noted, however, that the teams play in decidedly different leagues and divisions, giving the Philly staff an opportunity to shine even brighter than they would had they been forced to face the Red Sox and Yankees 18 times a piece.
Putting aside the inferior lineups faced by the Phillies starters, and the consequent impact on their collective statistics that result, the expectations for the four primary Philly hurlers far outstrip those for the Yankees' starting staff. Behind C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees are essentially one huge question mark, for varying reasons, while the Phillies can boast at least two, and perhaps three, No.1-type pitchers.
Also adding to the mix is the fact that both Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have a history of mastering the Yankees' lineup. While the Yankees are a very deep offensive team, one that typically can adjust to pitchers the more they're exposed to them, Lee and Halladay have proven virtually bulletproof when facing the Yankees. In a short series this might ultimately prove too much for the Yankees to overcome.