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May 1, 2006

Series Preview: Yankees at Red Sox, May 1 & 2
by SG

Heading into the first two games of 19 between the Yankees and Red Sox, the two teams are tied for first place in the AL East. How they've gotten there presents an interesting contrast so far, as despite being tied in the standings, the Yankees have been the far better team.

Part of the disparity has been the schedule, as the Red Sox have played 15 of their 25 games on the road. They've also played 7 road games at Texas and Cleveland, neither of which is an easy place to play. The Yankees have played 12 of their 23 games at home so far, including a big sweep against the Royals that helped them pump up their stats. Still, the underlying performance of the two teams have been pretty disparate so far.

The Yankees as a team are hitting .299/.395/.495. This translates to a team OPS+ of 134, which is by far the best in baseball. They have scored 144 runs(an average of about 6.3 per game), but by base runs they should have scored 146. In other words, their run total has not been fluky based on their performance so far. They see 160 pitches a game on average, which means lots of hacks against middle relievers. As a team, the Yankees have a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against of .289, which ranks fifth in the American League. Their defense by zone rating so far has saved about 2.6 runs above the average defense. On the pitching side, they have an ERA of 3.65, which ranks second in the AL, and translates to an ERA+ of 132, which also ranks second. Opponents have an OBP of just .308 against them, and are slugging just .360. They have allowed a total of 91 runs, which is the second lowest total in the AL.

The Red Sox as a team are hitting .256/.353/.416, which translates to a team OPS+ of 99. They have scored 117 runs, about 4.7 per game, which is the lowest average in the AL East. Base runs says the Red Sox should have scored 123 so far. Poor hitting with runners in scoring position has depressed their actual offensive performance somewhat. They see 159 pitches a game on average, so they are still having good long at bats. As a team, they have a BABIP against of .298, which ranks sixth in the AL. Their defense has been really bad so far by zone rating, allowing 10 runs more than average, with Manny Ramirez the chief culprit (-4). Red Sox opponents have an OBP of .325 and a SLG of .442, and their team ERA of 4.67 translates to an ERA+ of 106, which ranks sixth in the AL.

What does this all mean? First of all, it's important to realize that the Red Sox are not at full strength with Coco Crisp out of the lineup. They are also getting sub-par play from some positions at which they have potential upgrades, notably short stop and second base. Hee Seop Choi will also be available, although he would be displacing either Kevin Youkilis or Mike Lowell if he were to play, both of whom are hitting well so far. It's also necessary to remember that players will tend to move towards their natural talent/ability level as the season goes longer, so how players are playing now is not necessarily how they can be expected to perform going forward.

Here's a quick lineup comparison of the two teams so far based on who is likely going to be available or playing.

Stats: (AVG/OBP/SLG, OPS+, RAA(offensive runs above average at position), FRAA (fielding runs above average at position)

CF Damon (.312/.400/.505, 135, 6.3, 0.8)
SS Jeter (.398/.505/.648, 199, 15.9, -4.1)
DH Giambi (.344/.554/.852, 261, 16.2, -1.1)
3B Rodriguez (.267/.391/.477, 126, 0.6, 1.0)
LF Matsui (.258/.340/.427, 99, 0.1, -1.2)
C Posada (.288/.395/.452, 121, 2.1, 1.0)
RF Bernie (.217/.262/.283, 43, -6.0, 0.9)
2B Cano (.317/.342/.443, 1.9, 104, 2.3)
1B Phillips (.154/.214/.269, 26, -0.6)

1B Youkilis (.299/.406/.414, 111, 1.1, -1.0)
2B Loretta (.218/.282/.297, 48, -4.4, 0.7)
DH Ortiz (.278/.391/.639, 135, 5.2, Hahaha)
LF Ramirez (.276/.417/.448, 121, 4.7, -3.9)
RF Nixon (.312/.419/.508, 122, 3.2, -2.0)
C Varitek (.250/.345/.375, 84, -3.3, 0.4)
3B Lowell (.318/.371/.511, 122, 1.8, 0.2)
CF Pena (.277/.340/.553, 122, 1.0, -1.6)
Mohr (.167/.219/.400, 53, -1.5, 0.7)
SS Alex Gonzalez (.186/.275/.243, 34, -5.4, 2.7)

For all the hype David Ortiz gets, Jason Giambi has been the far, far, far better player this season.

The pitching matchups for the series appear to favor Boston pretty heavily, with Tim Wakefield facing Chien-Ming Wang in the first game and Shawn Chacon facing Josh Beckett in the second game. The Yankees are bringing back former Yankee Joe Ausanio to throw some knuckleballs during batting practice. We'll see if that helps tonight.

I wouldn't read too much into the results of these two games. No Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, or Mike Mussina for the Yankees, and no Crisp for the Red Sox. That doesn't mean I don't want a sweep.