If there’s one thing the baseball world can do without right now, it’s another article expounding on the Yankees offense. It’s really good. Everyone knows it, and it’s their biggest advantage heading into the postseason. But, as the old saying goes, you’re only as good as your weakest link. Over the course of a 162-game season teams can cover up their weaknesses. If a poor hitter kills a rally one game, the team can make it up at some point days, weeks, or months later. That’s not the story in the playoffs. One killed rally can ruin a season.
Sports PhD recently ran a bit on the worst hitters on each playoff team. For the Yanks, that honor goes to Melky Cabrera and his .752 OPS. Of the players examined in the post, this is the highest OPS, meaning the Yankees have the strongest weakest link — at least according to this standard of analysis. There are a few flaws, not least of which is the use of OPS, something I’m trying to move away from. There are far better metrics, such as wOBA. The other issue is that some of the listed players didn’t exactly get regular playing time.
Here’s the Sports PhD list. In addition to OPS, I’ve added wOBA figures for each player. Also, I added the Twins (the Twins and Tigers were left off the list).
Melky looks even better in this comparison, smoking the next closest wOBA by a long shot. Just looking at this data, it’s easy to surmise that of all the teams’ weakest links, the Yankees is the least concerning.
As mentioned above, there is an issue with the playing time involved for some players. For instance, 10 Angels had more plate appearances than Gary Matthews, so to describe him as the weakest regular is a bit inaccurate. Of the nine Angels likely to start on Thursday, Erik Aybar is the weakest link with a .776 OPS and a .339 wOBA, so he’s right around Melky’s level. Then again, Scioscia could go and start Jeff Mathis with his .596 OPS and .267 wOBA and make him the weakest link.
Then there’s Jason Varitek, who will probably get Jose Molina playing time in the playoffs. That is, catching Josh Beckett and little else. On days when Martinez catches, Alex Gonzalez will be the weakest link and he’s quite weaker than Varitek, sporting a .635 OPS on the season and a .275 wOBA.
Where this gets real interesting — and yes, now I’m going to expound on the Yankees offense — is when looking at the second weakest link. To spare some time, I’ll go with just the AL teams, using wOBA as the low-water mark.
The Yankees have an even greater advantage when it comes to second worst hitter. The players will start to even out as we get further towards the top (though I believe the Yanks would come out on top one through nine), but at the bottom, the Yankees have an advantage.
Like most analysis, this one is not perfect. Some of the above-listed, poor-hitting players bring have other strengths. Pedro Feliz, for example, is an excellent defender at third, as is Barmes at second. Colby Rasmus has the highest UZR/150 of any NL center fielder. So it’s not as if these players are complete drags on the team. It’s just that when they come up, they make outs at a higher frequency than their peers. The Yankees’ advantage is that their worst player is better than those of other teams.
There’s no shame in being the ninth best hitter in this Yankees lineup — they had eight players with an OPS+ of 120 or higher. Yet even as the worst hitter in the Yanks lineup, Melky Cabrera is still better than the worst hitter in any other lineup — and if Mathis starts for the Angels, Melky’s superiority is only strengthened. Then again, in Game 2 that advantage is squandered, as Jose Molina is in Mathis territory. So much for that.