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February 6, 2006

Yankees vs. Red Sox - Positional Comparison
by SG

Chofo asked me to do a positional comparison of the Red Sox and Yankees. While I try to ignore the Red Sox as much as possible, and the last thing I want to do is attract Red Sox fans here, I'm suffering from blogger's block anyway, so here it is.

I wondered what would be a good way to compare the two teams. I wanted to try and choose a combination of stats that includes offense, defense, and baserunning, to give a more complete picture of how the two teams' positional players shake out. While I could have used Baseball Prospectus's WARP (Wins above replacement player) stat, I have a few problems with it. First of all, I'm not enamored with B Pro's defensive statistics. Secondly, I think that the fact that they set a replacement level player as both a replacement level hitter and a replacement level fielder is unrealistic. If a player can neither hit passably or field passably, they don't have any chance of being on a major league team for any amount of time. Lastly, I wanted to look forward to what may happen in 2006, not past history.

The idea of a wins above replacement stat is still intriguing to me, and thankfully Kyle, from the new blog OBP for you has sent me a spreadsheet with his own calculated WARP. He expounds on his system here, for those who are interested. I'm a big fan of linear weights as a method of player evaluation as I think it is the most thorough way to analyze a player's contributions to offense, and it incorporates more data than any other system (GIDP, HBP, SB, CS, etc.,).

Ergo, I took Kyle's spreadsheet and used the infamous ZiPS projections from Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory to calculate rough projected WARP for 2006. The biggest flaw here is that I have no concept of how to project defense, so I'm using last year's defensive numbers (as calculated by Kyle using Zone Rating) as a proxy. Since Crisp is moving to CF I will adjust his numbers accordingly (move him from well above average in LF to average in CF). Also, since ZiPS does not predict playing time, I'm adjusting the PT allocation by my own guesses. Anyway, here's the 2006 Yankees vs. the 2006 Red Sox position players, by this convoluted, projected WARP.

Jorge Posada (Projected 2006 WARP: 3.3 )
Jason Varitek (Projected 2006 WARP: 3.7 )

Not much to say here except that they're the same age, and every year except last year Posada has been the better player. While I think Posada has a chance to bounce back a bit next year, I'll begrudgingly give the advantage to the Red Sox.

Advantage: Red Sox, by .4 wins

First Base
Jason Giambi (Projected 2006 WARP: 5.4) and Andy Phillips (Projected 2006 WARP: 3.0)
Kevin Youkilis (Projected 2006 WARP: 3.0) and J.T. Snow (Projected 2006 WARP: 1.4)

Bad defense and a bad 2004 have Giambi's projected WARP at 5.4. Given his age and past history, I wouldn't adjust this upwards at all. Snow and Youkilis's WARP total is misleading as it assumes 224 games. I won't talk about Phillips here, assuming he will DH more often than playing 1B. However, I think he will be a good defensive 1B based on what little I saw of him there and the fact that he moved there from more challenging positions (2B and 3B).

I'd give Youkilis his WARP of 3.0 assuming he'll get his 109 games in as per ZiPS. For Snow, I'll cut his 1.4 WARP in half, assuming he isn't getting more than 60 of the 115 games he's projected for (if the Red Sox are smart) and will probably see most of his action as a defensive replacement. So Sox total WARP at 1B is 3.7.

Advantage: Yankees, by 1.7 wins

Second Base
Robinson Cano (Projected 2006 WARP: 2.6 )
Mark Loretta (Projected 2006 WARP: 4.3 )

Cano's a young player who impressed Yankee fans last year. He's still got a ways to go to catch Mark Loretta. This is one instance where it's possible, as Cano is at an age where continued growth is reasonable. However, while I am very hopeful about Cano's future, I think he's got some growing to do. It could come this year, but it will more probably take a few years.

Loretta had a down year last year, but he was hurt, and very good in 2003 and 2004. He'll be 34 this season, which is a bit older for a 2B, but I think it's pretty likely that he will be more valuable than Cano this year, if he stays healthy. I'd be surprised to see the gap between the two this big though. I think Cano's going to hit for more power than ZiPS projects.

Advantage: Red Sox, by 1.7 wins

Third Base
Alex "MVP" Rodriguez (Projected 2006 WARP: 8.4)
Mike Lowell (Projected 2006 WARP: 4.6 )

All hail the reigning MVP. A disappointing defensive season costs Rodriguez about a win of value. I'd expect some offensive regression next year, but hope for defensive improvement to make up for some of it.

Lowell had a horrible year last year, but he's been a good player in the past and has a chance for a bounce back season moving to a bandbox. For some reason few are giving him much chance of bouncing back, but he's only 32. I think it's pretty reasonable that he hits around his 2002 level (.276/.346/.471).

Still a big edge for the Yanks.

Advantage: Yankees, by 3.8 wins

Derek Jeter (Projected 2006 WARP: 5.6)
Alex Gonzalez (Projected 2006 WARP: 2.8)

Jeter's better. Ignore the dolts at Fenway who tell you otherwise. He's a better hitter and a better base runner. He gives back some ground defensively to Sea Bass, who is a good defender but a pretty bad hitter. ZiPS is on crack with its .275/.326/.451 prediction, as he's bringing a career line of .245/.291/.391. I know he's going to a hitters' park from a pitchers' park, but he's a .695 OPS hitter on the road, compared to .669 at home.

Basically, if Gonzalez hits for a .777 OPS next year, the Sox will have gotten a steal.

Advantage: Yankees, 2.8 wins

Left Field
Hideki Matsui (Projected 2006 WARP: 4.9)
Manny Ramirez (Projected 2006 WARP: 8.1)

Matsui's not in Manny's league right now, although he's a good enough player. I was hoping that the 2004 Matsui was the real Matsui. That version was worth about 7.3 wins.

Ramirez's throwing arm last year helped alleviate some of the damage his poor fielding wrought. I'd guess he'll hit a little worse this year, but not appreciably enough to change this.

Advantage: Red Sox, by 3.2 wins

Center Field
Johnny Damon (Projected 2006 WARP: 3.2)
Coco Crisp (Projected 2006 WARP: 5.2)

One guy cost $52 million. One cost Edgar Renteria and $12 million.

Damon's a big upgrade in CF over what the Yankees had last year, probably over 5 wins. He projects to have the 7th lowest OBP of any of the starting lineup, but will bat leadoff.

Crisp already projects better than Damon, but who knows if he can handle a full gig in CF? He was a stellar defender in LF, but pretty bad in CF from both defensive metrics and from scouting reports.

Neither one of these guys can dent bread with their throwing arms.

Advantage: Red Sox, by 1.9 wins

Right Field
Gary Sheffield (Projected 2006 WARP: 5.8)
Trot Nixon (Projected 2006 WARP: 4.4)

Advantage: Yankees, by 1.4 wins

Sheffield's still a dangerous hitter. ZiPS projects him to fall off a lot more than I do, and I think his projection is low. I won't mess with it though since there's a decent chance of either a decline or some missed injury time.

Nixon stinks against lefties, but since his projection has him playing 113 games I won't adjust it, assuming the remaining games will be filled by someone awful like Gabe Kapler.

Designated Hitter
Bernie Williams (Projected 2006 WARP: 1.8) and Andy Phillips (Projected 2006 WARP: 3.0 )
David "2nd Place" Ortiz (Projected 2006 WARP: 9.2)

ZiPS says Phillips will play 115 games or so. That sounds reasonable assuming no other bats are picked up, splitting time at DH and first base. I would assume Giambi plays DH when Phillips is at 1B, which leaves Bernie with 40 games or so. While my heart hopes Bernie has a last hurrah in pinstripes before riding off into the sunset, my head says to expect very little from him. Hopefully if he is not up to the job, he doesn't keep getting undeserved playing time based on his past performance.

None of the massaging of numbers matters. This is a huge edge for Boston. Ortiz is a monster at the plate, and singlehandedly seems to prove that there is such a thing as clutch hitters.

Advantage: Red Sox, by 5.7 wins

The grand total shows the Red Sox's position players being 3.2 wins better than the Yankees. I now expect 100 comments about how stupid this is.

There's a long list of reasons that these may be way off, so don't go nuts about them. First of all, these are the same ZiPS projections that gave us those well-received Diamond Mind results, so of course they will show the Red Sox being better. Also, I think projecting defense is important. If Rodriguez improves from the -11 runs he played at last year to the + 10 runs he played at in 2004, that's two wins by itself. If Matsui hits closer to the 2004 version, that's 2 more wins. If Cano hits a little better and Loretta doesn't rebound, there's another win or two.

And remember, this doesn't include pitching, or the benches. This is just a comparison of the starting seven position players and DH.

Anyway, those are the numbers based on ZiPS. I may or may not do more of these with different projections depending on how they are received.

Thanks to Kyle at OBP for you and Dan Szymborski at Baseball Think Factory for the data and formulas used in this entry.