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September 15, 2004

by Larry Mahnken

Reader Chris A. emailed me yesterday:
The Angels won the World Series in 2002 with a rotation that was almost certainly worse than the one the Yankees are throwing out there right now.

Statistically, the Yankees' rotation is far worse. If you can see past the bright lights and big names, the Yankees' starters are nowhere near as good.
In a matchup between the Yankees' likely postseason rotation (without Brown) and the Angels' rotation, comparing their ERA's, Anaheim seems to have a clear edge:
2004 Yankees  ERA    2002 Angels  ERA

Mussina 4.76 Washburn 3.15
Hernandez 2.49 Appier 3.92
Vazquez 4.94 Ortiz 3.77
Lieber 4.46 Lackey 3.66
Now ERA's a fine stat, but there are other factors involved in how these pitchers posted these numbers. Anaheim's starters had a .275 Batting Average against on Balls in Play, the Yankees' starters have a .302 BABIP. While BABIP against is partially under the pitchers' controls, there's other reasons. Anaheim had a better defense than the Yankees do, but luck also plays a large role in BABIP. If you compare by DIPS, it becomes clear that the Yankees' rotation is not only better, but much better:
2004 Yankees DIPS    2002 Angels DIPS

Mussina 3.96 Washburn 4.09
Hernandez 3.67 Appier 4.57
Vazquez 4.77 Ortiz 5.22
Lieber 3.91 Lackey 4.24
Only one starter, Vazquez, has been inferior to any of Anaheim's starters, and is still superior to Ortiz. His career 3.90 dERA indicates that there's more there than he's shown this year, but there's not much time for him to get straightened out. Regardless, the Yankees' starters have a cumulative 4.16 dERA compared to Anaheim's 4.57 in 2002.

In the postseason, Anaheim's rotation fell apart, posting a 5.38 ERA and a 5.38 dERA -- their defense didn't help there. And yet they still won the World Series, albeit in seven games. How'd they manage that?

Productive outs, of course. Their diverse offense moved runners along and... I'm kidding. They won by pounding the hell out of the ball, and shutting down their opponents when they got the lead. They had a ridiculous .879 OPS in the postseason, and Francisco Rodriguez was the Angels' Mariano Rivera, posting a 1.93 ERA and winning five games.

The Yankees could post an .879 OPS, though that's unlikely, and their bullpen may in fact be better than the 2002 Angels, with Gordon and Rivera being as good or better than Rodriguez and Percival, and Quantrill and Karsay can match the results of the rest of the pen. But even if they don't quite measure up to that, the rotation will probably do better than Anaheim's did, I think they'll do better than 5.38.

* * *

Mike Mussina went a long way towards solidifying the postseason rotation today by pitching 8 shutout innings, dropping his ERA by 0.27 and his DIPS by 0.18. Yeah, it was against a generally weak Royals lineup (that beat the crap out of them a day earlier, but is still generally weak), but it was complete dominance. He struck out 11, walked only one, and worked out of the only jam he faced without any difficulty. That's the third straight great start for Mussina, and it would have been four had he been pulled a few batters earlier against Toronto. If he and El Duque pitch like this in October, there's the two dominant starters that can carry you all the way to the World Series.

The Yanks won, the Red Sox lost, and I am now a fan of Jim Duquette -- at least until Scott Kazmir pitches against the Yankees next. It was Duquette who traded Kazmir to the D-Rays for Victor Zambrano, and it was Kazmir who shut down the Red Sox last night. That extends the lead to four, and makes it that much tougher for Boston to come back. If the Yankees can win tomorrow afternoon, they'll guarantee themselves at least a 3½ game lead going into the weekend series, and Boston will pretty much have to win the series to stay alive in the division. If Boston loses one of the next two and the Yankees win tomorrow, well, then they'll pretty much have to sweep.

Jason Giambi came back yesterday, hit a ball to the warning track in his first at-bat and drew a walk in the ninth. From how he says he feels, I don't think it's unreasonable to see him being a factor in October, once he gets his timing down. If he is an impact player, that changes the postseason equation, big-time.