Matching up the Yankees pitching and Twins hitters, Game 1

Poll: Favorite moment of the second half
Baseball America's Florida State League Top 20 Prospects
CC in Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Twins’ lineup is not one the Yankees should underestimate. The team finished second in the majors in OBP, seventh in SLG, and fifth in wOBA. Yet, as Matt Klaassen of FanGraphs explained on Monday, looking at a team’s overall season stats doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture. A good part of the Twins’ numbers came from Justin Morneau, who was on an MVP-like tear before missing the second half with a concussion. He will not factor into the series. There are other factors, too, such as bench players. Some of them got playing time during the season so that starters could rest. They will not play much of a role in this series.

The best way to look at a team’s offense, then, is to examine the strengths and weaknesses of its components. That will not only give us an idea of what they do as hitters, but will also help us see how they match up against the opposing pitcher. Tonight that will be CC Sabathia against the best the Twins have to offer.

In the bottom of the first Sabathia will face an immediate challenge. Denard Span might have had a poor 2010 season, but he’s still a dangerous guy from the leadoff spot. He actually hits lefties a bit better than righties not only this year, but in his career. This year he has a .347 OBP in 243 PA against fellow lefties, but Sabathia has done a good job of keeping them off base, a .305 OBP to the 220 he’s faced. Span has hit far better at home than he has on the road, which certainly bodes well for the Twins in the series. Sabathia has pitched slightly worse on the road, but the spacious Target Field should help him keep the ball in the park. Sabathia’s ground ball tendencies also play to his favor against the leadoff man; Span has not gotten on base well against that type of pitcher.

While Span is the guy who can swipe a bag if he’s on — he went 26 for 30 this season — Orlando Hudson is the Twin who can do the most damage on the base paths. Hi EQBRR of 2.2 leads the team even though he’s not by any means a prolific base stealer. Thankfully for the Yankees, Hudson got on base this year at a lower rate than he has since 2005. He has hit a bit better at home, a .353 wOBA against a .324 mark on the road, but he hits lefties a bit worse than righties. He also hits ground ball pitchers better than fly ball ones, which could help him against Sabathia. Then again, the fastball and slider have hurt him this year, so perhaps Sabathia can keep him neutralized. He has hit changeups well, though, and Sabathia is apt to throw one to a righty.

Pettitte strikes out Mauer in 09 (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Even if Sabathia can keep Span and Hudson off base, he’ll still have to deal with one of the league’s more dangerous hitters. Joe Mauer’s .373 wOBA is only disappointing when compared to his 2009 MVP season. He produced despite multiple injuries, the latest of which was a knee injury from which he just recovered. What hurts him in Game 1 is his lack of power both against lefties and at home. Just two of his nine home runs this season have come at home, and just one of nine has come off a left-handed pitcher. Still, he has hit .272 with a .342 OBP against lefties, so he can still produce. If the Yankees can keep him moving just one base at a time they’ll be in good shape.

Where the Twins order used to feature Justin Morneau it will now feature Michael Cuddyer. That’s a significant drop-off, especially considering Cuddyer’s poor 2010 season. He immediately stepped up in July, following Morneau’s injury, and produced a .376 wOBA on the month. But since then he’s been much less productive. Yet he has still hit lefties well, a .376 wOBA, and has also produced at Target Field, a .340 wOBA. Both of these, plus his quality numbers against ground ball pitchers, are reasons he’ll likely bat behind Mauer in Game 1, and likely Game 2 as well.

Later in the game, Pettitte saws off Young (Kathy Willens/AP)

That leaves Delmon Young for the fifth spot. Can you believe he’s just 24 years old? The time he spent in Tampa Bay feels like it was eons ago. Instead he’s finally found his stride in Minnesota. He followed up a quality second half of 2009 with a very good 2010 season that included career highs in BA and ISO. As expected he produces better against lefties, a .390 wOBA, but he doesn’t have much of a home/road split. He also hasn’t hit ground ball pitchers that well this year. During the course of his career he has, but something must have changed this season.

In the final four spots Sabathia might have to worry most about a rookie. True, it’s tough to write off Jim Thome, even if he battled back problems in September and he doesn’t hit lefties as well as he does righties. Sabathia will have that advantage over him. Thome also has had trouble against the slider, a pitch that Sabathia will throw to a lefty in any count. He also hits relatively worse against power pitchers and ground ball pitchers, both of which describe Sabathia. Still, Thome has produced quality numbers at Target Field. Considering the alternatives, I’m certain he’ll be in the starting lineup tonight.

Jason Kubel is another player who will likely bat higher in the order when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound. He actually battled wrist problems in September, but it appears he is back and healthy, having started every game since the 21st. He hits lefties particularly poorly, a .297 wOBA this year and .299 for his career. The slider has given him fits all year, so Sabathia has weapon with which he can retire Kubel. Jason Repko took most of the starts when Kubel was hurt, but there’s little chance he starts in the series. His right-handedness might help, but he’s actually been dominated by lefties this year and doesn’t have good career numbers against them.

Chances are you haven't seen this Valencia kid (Elaine Thompson/AP)

While he probably won’t win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, Danny Valencia might be the most dangerous first-year player in the AL. In just 322 PA he produced 2.6 WAR. His .351 wOBA ranks sixth among AL third basemen with at least 300 PA, though that does put him third out of the four playoff third basemen. He’s done an especially excellent job against lefties, a .424 wOBA in 111 PA, and he gets on base against ground ball pitchers more often than he does against fly ball pitchers. Valencia hasn’t played against the Yankees yet, and I fear that he might become a thorn in their sides this series.

J.J. Hardy finishes things for the Twins. He was brought in with hopes that he’d return to his 2008 form, but that didn’t happen. Instead he missed plenty of time to injury — nearly 50 days — and was largely ineffective when healthy. His .320 OBP is an improvement over 2009, but his power remains at the same, low level. He continues to play excellent defense, but his bat makes him the No. 9 hitter in this lineup.

In terms of hitters, the Twins don’t have much on the bench. Drew Butera, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, Jason Repko, and Matt Tolbert likely won’t play much of a role in the series beyond pinch running and playing defense. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to use any of them otherwise. Maybe you’d see someone pinch-hit for a lefty if Girardi goes to Logan in the late innings, but I’m not sure that it gives the Twins much of an advantage. Their starting lefties against left-handed pitching inspires more confidence than a backup righty against a lefty.

The Twins’ lineup has some potential issues against Sabathia, but it does appear as though they have a number of advantages. The guys at the top of their lineup haven’t done a great job, but Mauer has gotten on base, if nothing else, against lefties and at home this season. He can set the table for the righties Cuddyer and Young, who seemingly back up well against Sabathia. The quality of hitters drops off after that, though, so the key will be working around those 3-4-5 hitters. That’s probably true in every game, but particularly true here. Sabathia can certainly handle the hitters at the top and at the bottom. With a little careful planning and some luck he can definitely make it through this lineup and look like the ace he has been all season.

Poll: Favorite moment of the second half
Baseball America's Florida State League Top 20 Prospects
  • JohnathanCold

    With a little careful planning and some luck he can definitely make it through this lineup and look like the ace he has been all season.

    Big ballpark and no Morneau will certainly help matters.

  • Chops

    my body is ready

  • Shaun

    Also Mauer, historically,
    doesn’t have much success against CC

  • Ray Fuego

    According to the twins email I guess CC is pitching everyday

    • JohnathanCold

      Seems about right.

      • Ray Fuego


    • CBean

      True Ace!

    • Zack

      Beast Mode

    • Kit

      They have no chance then. None.

    • pat

      I freaking wish.

    • vin

      5 ACES!!!!

  • Rob

    PS In regard to Joe Mauer the below stats are actually his home #’s..against lefties this season he is only hitting .272 with a .342 OBP…he his lefty righty split has been very significant this season, I noticed this the other day which bodes well for our starting rotation.

    “Still, he has hit .314 with a .406 OBP against lefties, so he can still produce.”

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Thanks. Damn me.

      • Rob

        No problem. I looked through their lineup the other day, was just curious about their splits to see how our pitchers matched up, and that struck me (and obviously is a real positive for us to potentially throw 4 lefties this series) when I read that it jumped out..and went to go see the exact #’s. I like how we match up against them, hopefully our starting pitching returns to being a major strength because we are def going to need it if we advance, especially with a ton of uncertainty with a fourth starter in the ALCS/WS should we advance.

  • vin

    “…that does put him third out of the four playoff third basemen.”

    Apples and oranges.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder


  • Doug

    Wouldn’t be shocked to see Alexi Casilla in the lineup tonite. He’s 9-for-13 in his career against CC.

    At 1.538, makes him the only Twin with an OPS over .850 vs. Sabathia.

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      I’d be shocked. Casilla is terrible. 13 PA against Sabathia means nothing.

      • Doug

        Yes, it’s a small sample size, but it’s not a super small sample size.

        And as far Casilla being terrible, his wOBA is higher than both Hudson and Hardy (the guys he’d potentially be replacing).

        I’m not saying I’d do it if I were Gardenhire, as you probably go with the guys who brought you here, but don’t think it’s that an outlandish an idea.

        • Zack

          “but it’s not a super small sample size”

          Yes it is. It’s 13 PA, which is 4 games, stretched over how many seasons?

        • JGS

          That logic is what led to Enrique Wilson starting playoff games because he went 11-25 off Pedro. It was dumb then, and it still is.

          • Doug

            Different situation as he’d be replacing guys who aren’t much better than he is to begin with

            • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              …he’d be replacing guys who aren’t much better than he is to begin with.

              Casilla, career: .249/.306/.327 (71+)
              Hardy, career: .263/.323/.423 (95+)
              Hudson, career: .280/.346/.424 (99+)

              No, he wouldn’t.

      • Rob

        I’m def not one to consider head to head stats with a small sample size..but that’s pretty incredible IMO..I think 9-13 against a dominate pitcher like CC should def be taken into strong consideration (esp if the guy he’d be replacing isn’t a star player). I don’t know much about Casilla (his defense etc), but those numbers actually are pretty surprising to me and so dominating (like 700 avg) not sure you take Hudson or Hardy out of the lineup though if their defense is far better (bc it is very good).

        • Thomas

          Just to give the UZR numbers over the last 3 years:
          Casilla at 2B -7.6 UZR (about 1550 innings)
          Casilla at SS +4.0 UZR (about 200 innings)
          Hudson at 2B -2.4 UZR
          Hardy at SS 13.3 UZR

  • larryf

    Twins do get lots of doubles and triples at home. Hope our outfield defense rises to the occasion.

    • Ross in Jersey

      You’d be hard pressed to find a better defensive outfield than Gardner/Granderson/Swisher. Tampa is close but I’d give Grandy the edge over BJ Upton.

      • Doug

        well, hopefully gardner is playing and not kearns against the lefty

        • Steve H

          I hope so too, but Kearns is a very good fielder in his own right. Not Gardner level, but still very strong.

          • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven’t register /too lazy

            Kearns really hasn’t posted excellent UZR numbers since 2008. But eyeballing it and stats , he has been mediocre in LF IMO. I think age and injury has caught up with him defensively.

      • larryf

        Swisher is not a great defender as evidenced by being taken out for defense in the late innings. He doesn’t run that well and he doesn’t throw that well. Kearns has a better arm (than Swish) but I will be super-bummed to see him start over Gardy.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Swisher is not a great defender as evidenced by being taken out for defense in the late innings.

          That’s only evidence of the fact that Girardi thinks he’s not as good defensively as the LIDR alternatives that he has, which are excellent, btw. Greg Golson this year (and Brett Gardner last year) are defensive upgrades to even the most of the best defensive everyday players.

          Furthermore, what Girardi’s opinion of Swisher’s defensive ability is and what Swisher’s actual defensive abilities are are not necessarily the same thing. I agree with a great many of Girardi’s decisions but others leave me puzzled; Girardi lifting Swisher for an LIDR while leaving Damon in is chief amongst those head-scratchers.

        • Zack

          They replace him with Golson not Thames.

          And I think Ross was saying the combination of the 3 players is the best defensive OF; because no team has a ++ defender in RF.

    • pat

      Their OF defense leaves a lot to be desired. Young has a -9.1 UZR and Kubel has a -11.4. Span is pretty good in CF, (5.7) but he’s playing with a bad foot.

      • Accent Shallow

        Yeah. I’m licking my chops about facing that OF D in a big park. Of course, something had to work for them to make the playoffs . . .

  • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven’t register /too lazy

    No midges ! The narratives has long been spent by now , it’s time for the boys to put up and shut up tonight ! Go Yankees!

    • pat

      The midges were in Cleveland….

      • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven’t register /too lazy

        they exist in MN ! The land of 10000 lakes !

        • nsalem

          and they say their lakes are superior

      • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven’t register /too lazy

        Midges = No 1 threat to CC in this series!

  • Jesus-The Saviour-Montero

    I’m going to be one nervous fella if the Yanks lose game 1