Yankees or Red Sox? Identifying Who Has the Advantage, Position By Position

Andrew SeifterContributor IJanuary 19, 2011

Yankees or Red Sox? Identifying Who Has the Advantage, Position By Position

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    Joe Girardi and Terry Francona might disagree about who has the better roster.
    Joe Girardi and Terry Francona might disagree about who has the better roster.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    As we fast approach the start of another baseball season, let's return to a familiar question: Who's better, the Yankees or the Red Sox? 

    The Red Sox made more upgrades to their roster during the offseason, but the Yankees were the better team last year.  So where does that leave us?  Let's take a look, position by position.

Catcher: Russell Martin vs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 16:  Russell Martin #55  of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during warm ups prior to the start of Game Two of the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Dodger Stadium on October 16, 2009 in Los A
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Yankees outbid the Red Sox, among other teams, when they came to terms with Martin on a one year, $4 million contract.  Martin, a two-time All-Star, is coming off of two straight poor seasons, a fractured hip, and offseason knee surgery.  He also recently admitted that “some distractions” in Los Angeles caused him to “not train quite as  … hard” as he used to.  It’s unlikely there will be fewer distractions in the Big Apple.

    Still, Martin has to get at least a slight edge over the Red Sox catching tandem of an unproven Saltalamacchia and a well-past-his-prime Varitek.  GM Theo Epstein may well end up looking like a genius for acquiring the once-promising Saltalamacchia just as he was ready to realize his potential, but until that happens, Saltalamacchia is a major question mark who has struggled to hit big league pitching.  Varitek will get at-bats against lefties and help teach Saltalamacchia how to handle the pitching staff, but he is too old to catch on a regular basis and not much can be expected of him offensively at this point in his career.

    Verdict: Advantage Yankees

First Base: Mark Teixeira vs. Adrian Gonzalez

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    BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 06:  Adrian Gonzalez answers questions during a press conference to announce his signing with the Boston Red Sox on December 6,  2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Both the Yankees and Red Sox can expect big-time offensive production out of their first basemen.  Teixeira, who is a notoriously slow starter (.237 career batting average in April), struggled more than ever in April 2010 (.136 average) and ended up hitting just .256 for the year, but still managed to top 30 HRs and 100 RBIs for the seventh consecutive season.  Expect his average to rebound in 2011 to at least his career mark of .286, which gives him a great chance to knock in 120-plus runs in a potent Yankee lineup.

    I’ve already gone over Gonzalez’s outlook in another Bleacher Report article, but suffice it to say that his move from spacious Petco Park to the bandbox at Fenway makes Gonzalez an even better bet than Teixeira for a .300-40-120 season.

    Teixeira may be a slightly better defender than Gonzalez, but both have won multiple Gold Gloves, so it’s hardly a deciding factor.  Teixeira and Gonzalez may be the two best all-around first baseman in baseball other than Albert Pujols, so there’s little separating them.  But because Gonzalez has put up comparable numbers to Teixeira over the last four years while hitting in a much tougher environment, the move to Fenway earns Gonzalez the edge for 2011.

    Verdict: Advantage Red Sox

Second Base: Robinson Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19:  Robinson Cano #24 of the New York Yankees hits a solo homerun in the second inning against the Texas Rangers look on in Game Four of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 19, 2010 in the Bronx borough o
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    The second base match-up also features two top players, but Cano and Pedroia are tough to compare because they bring different skill sets to the table. 

    Cano has continued to develop as a middle-of-the-order hitter, and is coming off his best season to date.  He doesn’t run much, but he’s proven that he has legit 25-30 HR power and the ability to finish among the league leaders in batting average. He also was much more selective at the plate last year, nearly doubling the amount of walks he took in 2009.

    Pedroia is more of a table-setter who can put up a strong batting average with around 15 HRs and 20 stolen bases.  Pedroia hasn’t hit over .300 in either of the last two years, and his on-base percentage has steadily declined since his first full season.  But he remains a .305 career hitter, and was also on pace to hit a career high 25 HRs last year before a broken foot derailed his season (Pedroia’s foot is expected to be fully healed by spring training).

    Overall, Cano and Pedroia are both among the top five offensive second basemen in the game, and there is little that separates them defensively.  But until Pedroia can prove that he can still reach base as consistently as Cano, Cano deserves the slight edge.

    Verdict: Advantage Yankees

Shortstop: Derek Jeter vs. Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 20:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees reacts after he tagged out Elvis Andrus #1 of the Texas Rangers on a pickoff play at second base in the top of the seventh inninng of Game Five of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yank
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Shortstop is the one infield match-up that is an easy call. 

    Jeter may not be the player he used to be, but he is still one of the better offensive shortstops in baseball.  He hit just .270 last year, but should reach at least .280 in 2011, with a return to a .300-plus average certainly possible.  He should also continue to score runs at a league-leading rate, while adding 10-15 HRs and around 15 stolen bases.

    The Red Sox reportedly could have a spring training battle to determine their starting shortstop.  While Scutaro is the early favorite, his 2009 line of .282-100-12-60-14 seems like a best-case scenario that would still leave him a bit short of Jeter’s expected production.  Red Sox management may be hoping that Lowrie, who Baseball America considered one of the team’s top five prospects a couple years ago, takes the job with a strong spring and runs with it.  But Lowrie is very unlikely to suddenly start performing at Jeter’s level. 

    Verdict: Advantage Yankees

Third Base: Alex Rodriguez vs. Kevin Youkilis

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    SEATTLE - JULY 23: Kevin Youkilis #20 of the Boston Red Sox singles in the fourth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on July 23, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    A couple years ago, this match-up would be a no-brainer in Rodriguez's favor.  While Youkilis is a terrific player, he’s probably never going to hit 54 HRs or drive in 156 like A-Rod did in 2007.  But A-Rod’s probably never going to do that again, either.

    Rodriguez, who will turn 36 years old this season, no longer runs and has seen his batting average steadily decline over the last four years, bottoming out at .270 last year.  He has also finished with less than 80 runs scored in each of the last two years, after scoring at least 100 in each of his previous 13 seasons in the Majors. 

    A-Rod still had 30 HRs and 125 RBIs in 2010, and remains a decent bet to match those numbers this year.  But Youkilis is likely to get 25-30 HRs and 100 RBIs himself, with more runs scored and a much better batting average than A-Rod.  Add in that Youkilis is the better defender, along with the moderate risk of Rodriguez’s skills declining more rapidly, and I’ll take the upset pick here.

    Verdict: Advantage Red Sox

Outfield: Gardner, Granderson and Swisher Vs. Crawford, Ellsbury, and Drew

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    BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 11:  Carl Crawford answers questions during a press conference announcing his signing with the Boston Red Sox on December 11,  2010 at the Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have similar profiles.  Gardner had a breakout season in 2010 with 47 SBs, 97 Runs and a .277 average.  Ellsbury had a nightmare season in which he fractured his ribs on three separate occasions and played in just 18 games.  But in 2009, Ellsbury hit .301, scored 94 Runs, and stole 70 bases.  If Ellsbury stays healthy he has greater upside than Gardner, but the fact that Ellsbury is coming off of an injury-plagued season makes this match-up relatively equal.

    There’s also little difference between Nick Swisher and J.D. Drew.  While Swisher is coming off a career-best .288-91-29-89 line, he’s unlikely to come close to that batting average again (his previous career high was .262). The other numbers he put up last year are attainable, but they probably represent the higher end of what can be expected from him.  Drew is coming off a down-year in the batting average department, but should be able to post a .280-80-20-65 line while missing his customary 25 games due to nagging injuries.

    In the end, the outfield comparison boils down to Curtis Granderson and Carl Crawford. Granderson has continued to hit for power the last couple years, but he’s struggled overall, failing to hit .250 in 2009 or 2010.  His biggest problem is a .215 career average against left-handers. While Crawford will probably hit 5-10 fewer HRs than Granderson, he should match or surpass Granderson in Runs and RBIs, while blowing him away in batting average.  Crawford’s stolen base total could largely depend on whether he ends up hitting leadoff or third for the Red Sox, but even in the third spot he should easily be a bigger threat on the basepaths than Granderson.

    Verdict: Advantage Red Sox

Designated Hitter: Jorge Posada vs. David Ortiz

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    BOSTON - OCTOBER 3: David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox waves to fans after he was replaced by a pinch runner against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park, October 3, 2010, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    With the Yankees’ acquisition of Martin, Posada will get most of his at bats in 2011 from the DH spot.  Posada is coming off his worst season since 1999, with just a .248 average, 18 homers, and 57 runs driven in.  An optimistic take would be that he can rebound to a .270-20-80 line now that he can avoid the wear-and-tear of catching duties, but he could also go the other way and decline even further.  Just ask the Red Sox what happened to Varitek. 

    Ortiz has also clearly declined, but he still seems capable of putting up around 30 HRs and 100 RBIs.  The big question is what his batting average will look like.  If he can hit .270 like he did last year, the Red Sox will be quite content.  But if he hits .238 like he did in 2009, they may not be able to keep him in the lineup everyday.   For now, Ortiz’s power potential gives him the edge over Posada.

    Verdict: Advantage Red Sox

Starting Pitching: C.C. Sabathia and Co. Vs. Jon Lester and Co.

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  John Lackey #40 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch in the first-inning against the New York Yankees on August 7, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Sabathia and Lester are both true staff aces that have proven themselves capable of eating over 200 innings and posting a sub-3.50 ERA, 15-plus Wins and 200 strikeouts.  They both also have consistently had strong WHIPs, walk rates and strikeout rates.

    Phil Hughes and Clay Buchholz are up-and-coming hurlers that won 18 and 17 games, respectively, last year. Buccholz is clearly the more promising of the two heading into 2011, as his 2.33 ERA was nearly two runs lower than Hughes’ mark of 4.19, but their performances will probably not be as different as those numbers suggest.

    As I’ve written previously, Josh Beckett and John Lackey hold the key to the Red Sox season in 2011.  Both are coming off down years, particularly Beckett, and both are question marks heading into this season.  However, it’s very likely that at least one of the two – and quite possibly both -- outperform the Yankees’ A.J. Burnett, who also struggled mightily in 2010.  Burnett may rebound somewhat in 2011, but he puts too many men on base to have much chance of finishing with an ERA below 4. 

    The final two spots of the Yankees’ rotation also look shaky, as Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre are not elite prospects or proven commodities.  It's certainly possible the Yankees will convince Andy Pettitte to return for one more year (or half-year), but it's looking less likely by the day.  The wildly inconsistent Daisuke Matsuzaka is currently set to start the season as the Red Sox fifth starter, but Tim Wakefield could take over if Matsuzaka struggles.  

    While both the Yankees and Red Sox have proven aces at the top of the rotation and significant uncertainty at the bottom, the Red Sox better options in the middle of the rotation give them the edge.

    Verdict: Advantage Red Sox

Bullpen: Mariano Rivera and Co. vs. Jonathan Papelbon and Co.

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    ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers in Game Six of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 22, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers won
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    The Yankees and Red Sox have two of the best bullpens in baseball, and it all starts with Rivera and Papelbon, two of the best closers in the game.  Rivera is now 41 years old, but he’s yet to show any signs of falling off (or even registering an ERA above 2).  Papelbon is coming off a sub par year, but should rebound, particularly in a contract year.

    Both teams also have excellent set-up men. The Yankees recently signed Rafael Soriano, who dominated in the ninth inning for the Rays and should dominate in the eighth while in Pinstripes, provided he stays healthy.  The Red Sox eighth inning man should be Daniel Bard, who broke through in 2010 with a 1.93 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning.

    Other intriguing late-inning options for the Yankees include David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain, two young arms that have nasty stuff but have yet to completely dominate.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox added a couple solid veterans to join their late-inning mix: Dan Wheeler, one of several relievers that set up Soriano in Tampa Bay, and Bobby Jenks, who could rebound from a less-than-stellar 2010 season now that he’s out of the pressure cooker of the ninth inning.  Both teams also have promising southpaws coming off mediocre years: the Yanks’ Damaso Marte and the Sox’ Hideki Okajima. 

    The Red Sox may be a bit stronger in the seventh inning, but the Yankees’ combination of Rivera and Soriano – two of the best closers in baseball last year – gives them an advantage in the eight and ninth, even though Papelbon and Bard should be very effective. The last two innings are when ballgames are often won and lost, so the Yankees get the slight edge overall. 

    Verdict: Advantage Yankees


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    BOSTON - APRIL 16:  Jason Varitek #33 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after his solo home run in the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 16, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Following the departure of Lance Berkman and Nick Johnson, the Yankees don’t have many bats to speak of on their bench, but they are reportedly closing in on a deal for Andruw Jones.  It also remains to be seen whether top catcher prospect Jesus Montero makes the opening day roster.  The Yankees’ other bench options include the likes of Colin Curtis, Kevin Russo, Ramiro Pena, Eduardo Nunez, and Francisco Cervelli. 

    The Red Sox reserves include some more familiar names.  In addition to Varitek and Lowrie, the Red Sox have veteran outfielder Mike Cameron, as well as young outfielders Darnell McDonald and Ryan Kalish.  Lars Anderson probably won’t be on the opening day roster.

    If the Yankees sign Jones, he should approximate Cameron’s value.  But while Montero is the best hitting prospect on either team, the Red Sox young hitters are more likely to contribute to start the 2011 season. 

    Verdict: Advantage Red Sox


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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 19:  Mark Teixeira #25 of the New York Yankees reacts against the Texas Rangers in Game Four of the ALCS during the 2010 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 19, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Get
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Both the Yankees and Red Sox are strong defensively on the right side of the infield.  Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez have each won multiple Gold Gloves, and Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia have each won one in the last three years.  A panel of baseball experts deemed Teixeira and Gonzalez the fourth and fifth best defensive first basemen in 2010, respectively, and Cano and Pedroia the sixth and seventh best defensive second basemen, respectively.

    Neither team has major defensive assets at shortstop or third base.  Jeter has won back-to-back Gold Gloves, but defensive metrics clearly showed that Jeter was actually a defensive liabilityAnd while Kevin Youkilis is widely considered one of the better defensive first basemen, the defensive standards are higher at the hot corner.

    Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner are both excellent defensive outfielders, and Curtis Granderson and J.D. Drew are both very solid.  Russell Martin and Jason Varitek have both won Gold Gloves behind the plate, but at this point Martin is clearly the more durable – and better -- defender.

    Verdict: Advantage Yankees

Final Score

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 26:  Jonathan Papelbon #58 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium on July 26, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    If you're keeping score, the Red Sox hold on to win this head-to-head positional battle 6-5.  It's that close. 

    One injury, one prospect emerging, one veteran rebounding or falling apart; it won't take much to swing the balance of power in baseball's fiercest rivalry.  But for now, the Red Sox have the slightest of edges. 

    Let the countdown to spring training begin.