2011 MLB Playoffs: What a Little Rain Means to the Tigers-Yankees Series

Charles BennettSenior Analyst ISeptember 30, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30:  CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees gets set to pitch in the rain against the Detroit Tigers during Game One of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on September 30, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers have largely been discounted as being able to be successful in the 2011 MLB playoffs, as many people have penciled in an ALDS loss to perennial favorites, the New York Yankees.

The Tigers struck first in the ALDS lid-lifter, only to have the Yankees answer and the game get called after an inning-and-a-half. Some could see this as a blessing to Detroit, as Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander was clearly not as on his game in comparison to CC Sabathia. But I’m here to argue that rain benefits the Yankees.


Strengths and Weaknesses in Hitting

People are always talking about the Yankees’ offense.

They seem to forget that Detroit has some offensive prowess of their own. This offensive attack is lead by batting champ Miguel Cabrera and DH Victor Martinez, both of whom hit well north of .300 and drove in 100 runs.

Though the Yankees scored 80 more runs over the course of the season, Detroit outhit them in terms of average, .277 to .263. On-base percentage is a virtual tie—.343 for the Yanks against .340 for the Tigers. When you consider the balanced-offense stat of OPS, the Yankees have an edge, but only .788 to .773.

You also have to consider that a large portion of the Yankees’ offensive production is due to the fact that Yankee Stadium is very much a hitter’s park. The Yankees had 471 runs at home with an .825 OPS, against only 396 runs and a .751 OPS on the road. Seeing as the Tigers will be playing as many ALDS games there as the Yankees (who only had 20 more road runs than the Tigers), the hitting advantage for New York is small at best.

And of course, any advantage New York has is counterbalanced by Detroit’s red-hot arms.

The Yankees can’t really count relief as an advantage, as Alberto Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde (who hasn’t blown a save all year) can go toe-to-toe with Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera. And, in an intriguing anomaly, New York has no left-handed relievers.


Does Rain Help Yankees?

Yes, it does, in short.

The New York Yankees aren’t particularly reliant on getting solid arms as many and as good starts as possible…their No. 2 starter is Ivan Nova, who began the season in the minors.

By contrast, if Verlander has to finish tomorrow, that would probably rule him out for a Game 4 start and throw the other starters’ timetable out of kilter. True, it would also likely nix CC Sabathia, but Verlander means considerably more to the Tigers than Sabathia does to the Yankees.

If he doesn't, Detroit has lost their best option, with obvious consequences.

Another thing to consider is how each team is positioned for middle relief. It seems a plausible situation that teams could go to middle relief early in order to preserve their aces for later in the season.

Looking at rosters, of the eleven pitchers for each team, Detroit has six players who start or appear in middle relief (Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Brad Penny and Phil Coke), against only five for the Yankees (Sabathia, Nova, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes). The other six Yankee pitchers all averaged roughly an inning each in each of their appearances.

However, of Detroit’s six long men, only Verlander and Fister have sub-4.00 ERA.

The decision to leave the up-and-down Bartolo Colon off the roster, combined with the injury to Joba Chamberlain, who could have functioned as a long reliever, loom large for the Yankees.

Even though Detroit may have the edge in middle relievers, that is counterbalanced by the limited availability of the man they need to secure victories for them.

Bottom line…Detroit had the edge before the rain came down, but the momentum may have shifted.