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July 6, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

The Lineups
Two-Part "BIG POST ERROR" Edition!
Part One

Yesterday, I wrote that Steven Goldman analyzed the Yankees/Red Sox lineups by position rather than order, as I would prefer. Here’s that breakdown, using the Yankees’ healthy lineup, which they’ll have in two weeks, tops:
Leonardo: So, are you ready to meet the boys?
Dante: Is that my team?
Leonardo: Uh, no. Those are the bullies that beat up your team every day. Here’s your team.
Dante: Oh, my God. The kid in the helmet.
Leonardo: Yes. And look at him.
Leadoff Hitter:
Red Sox:
Johnny Damon (.251/.321/.392, 16/18 SB)
Yankees: Alfonso Soriano (.296/.351/.519, 25/29 SB)

I don’t get it. Where did the assumption come from that it’s important to have a base stealer at the top of the lineup? The ability to steal a lot of bases with a high rate of success, like Soriano and Damon do, is of course an asset to an offense, because it’s easier to score from second than from first. But it is not a primary asset for any player, and it’s value is probably less at the top of the lineup--where the batters to follow are more likely to hit for extra bases, making it fairly irrelevant what base you’re standing on--than it would be near the bottom.

The most important thing for a leadoff hitter to do is to get on base, so your best hitters have more opportunities to drive in runs. With Jason Giambi and Manny Ramirez, it’s the number of RBI opportunities that matter, not the quality. Alfonso Soriano and Johnny Damon are not good at getting on base. Soriano’s OBP is about league average right now, but most of that is from his torrid April. Since then it’s hovered around .300.

The other argument I’ve heard about having a speedy leadoff hitter is that you don’t want to “clog up the base paths”. I’m sure that a slow leadoff hitter costs his team a few bases over the cost of a season, but even adding in stolen bases, it cannot possibly come close to making up for the extra outs produced in front of your best hitters.

So, neither the Red Sox or the Yankees are using the leadoff spot properly. Damon, in fact, is the worst hitter on the Red Sox, which makes it even more ridiculous that he gets the most PAs on that great hitting team. Hacktastic ways and all, Soriano is a much better offensive player than Damon, and so the Yankees get the huge advantage here.

#2 Hitter:
Red Sox:
Todd Walker (.299/.348/.438)
Yankees: Derek Jeter (.288/.351/.423)

I could say that Derek Jeter is still suffering the lingering effects of his Opening Day shoulder injury, which he is, and that you should discount his numbers for this season. But that would be disingenuous, since we’re evaluating the lineups for this season, and not next.

What the number do tell us about this year is that Jeter had a Zeilesque June; although, to be fair, Zeile was still far worse than Jeter in June (.566 OPS to Jeter’s .697). That dragged his numbers down considerably.

But Todd Walker’s April was almost as bad as Jeter’s June. The thing with Walker, though, is that his hot May and June has brought his season’s numbers up to his career levels, so it’s fair to say that this is what we can expect from him. Jeter is probably going to be better than his number have been so far this year, but then again, that shoulder might be bothering him a lot more than he’ll ever let on, so I’ll call this position a draw until (if) Jeter goes on a tear of his own.

#3 Hitter:
Red Sox:
Nomah (.333/.372/.572)
Yankees: Jason Giambi (.266/.419/.540)

A lot of people look at Nomar Garciaparra, who has walked fewer times than Soriano this season, as proof that you can be a consistently great hitter without walking. The difference, of course, is that Nomar has struck out only 28 times, while Soriano’s already at 70. Nomar doesn’t let many balls go by, but he doesn’t swing at balls out of the strike zone, either.

From the overall numbers, this looks like a dead heat, but then you have to remember that Giambi struggled through April and early May with an eye infection, and has simply exploded since then. He’ll cool off, but at season’s end, he’s likely to have a higher OPS, and a considerably higher OBP than Nomar, making the advantage bigger. As an all-around player, Nomar’s much more valuable than the first baseman Giambi, but as a pure offensive player, this matchup is advantage Yankees.

Cleanup Hitter:
Red Sox:
Manny Ramirez (.326/.420/.582)
Yankees: Bernie Williams (.286/.397/.457)

Bernie got off to a fantastic start, then ran into a wall, hurt his knee, got surgery, and won’t be back until this week at the earliest. It’s been a big hole in the Yankees lineup not having Bernie around, and his return will make the Yankees a much better team, especially if Torre moves him to left field.

But this is Manny Ramirez, and the matchup is no contest. Ramirez is as good a hitter as Giambi and a legitimate MVP candidate. Huge advantage Red Sox.

#5 Hitter:
Red Sox:
David Ortiz (.305/.390/.563)
Yankees: Hideki Matsui (.309/.371/.462)

On paper, this is a mismatch, but anyone who has watched Matsui day in and day out this season knows that his hot month was not pure luck. No, he probably won’t have an 1.150 OPS the rest of the way, but a definite change in his mechanics occurred the very day he started pounding the ball. Combine that with the fact that David Ortiz is performing better than he ever has and the fact that I’m very myopic and biased, and I’ll call this one a draw.