The Rangers team that hit .276/.338/.419 this season are not who the Yankees will face tonight. Many of the players who contributed to their 90-win regular season will not be in the lineup — some of them aren’t even with the team any more. What even further changes the situation is Texas’s platoon tendency. As we saw when comparing the Rangers and Twins, the Rangers employ a platoon at catcher and in the outfield, as to keep their hitters facing opposite-handed pitchers. Given each player’s numbers, it appears to be a sound strategy.
In order to break down tonight’s match-ups we’ll look at Sabathia and the Rays pitchers in three ways. First we’ll look at overall numbers, and then we’ll dive into the splits. It’s not going to be precisely predictive — nothing is in the microcosm that is a playoff series. But it will give us a better idea of what to expect than the team’s season numbers will.
The average opponent CC Sabathia faced this season hit .254/.324/.395 and held them to a .239/.301/.355 line. That’s what aces do. But the Rangers will trot out hitters far better than the average ones CC has faced. The nine players who will start for the Rangers hit a collective .290/.350/.454. Yet not even that tells the whole story. There are players whose production weighs more heavily into that aggregate number.
Matt Treanor, for instance, is underrepresented in this sample. He came to the plate just 272 times for the Rangers, so his pathetic .211/.287/.308 line doesn’t bring down the season average as much. Yet he will still be one of nine hitters in the lineup tonight. That does work the other way, though, as Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Mitch Moreland also don’t factor prominently into the equation. Moreland’s struggles against lefties change his numbers, but if we had a large sampling of Cruz and, to a lesser extent, Kinsler, we’d have a different situation.
In the same way, there are some hitters that are overrepresented in the sample. Elvis Andrus, Michael Young, Vlad Guerrero, and Josh Hamilton have far more PA than anyone else on the team, so their numbers count for more when we take the average Rangers’ lineup. Yet, in the same way as Molina, they will bat in just one of the nine spots. Averaged equally the lineup has hit .284/.349/.449, which is not that different at all.
Part of the Rangers’ advantage is that they’ll trot out a righty-heavy lineup. The only exception is Mitch Moreland, who will likely get the start at first given that Jorge Cantu is terrible. Here’s how I’d guess Ron Washington will fill out the lineup card tonight:
1. Elvis Andrus, SS
2. Mike Young, 3B
3. Josh Hamilton, CF
4. Vlad Guerrero, DH
5. Nelson Cruz, LF
6. Ian Kinsler, 2B
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Matt Treanor, C
9. Mitch Moreland, 1B
For splits we’ll look at career numbers, just because we get a lot of noise when looking at single-season splits. We’ll toss out Treanor’s numbers because he has just 20 AB against LHP. The rest of the team has hit .286/.350/.472 against lefties, though again that’s subject to bias. Young and Guerrero have far more AB against lefties than anyone else on the team. Weighing them equally, they’ve hit .273/.339/.436. That’s a bit better than opponents have hit against CC this season, but not greatly so.
Each player in the lineup is prone to streaks and slumps, which is why this data isn’t necessarily predictive. For the purposes of analysis it’s the best we can do, but there are always little things that throw off the equation. The Rangers have a few of them in their lineup.
For instance, we can say that Andrus isn’t much of a stolen base threat because he was successful in just 68 percent of his attempts, which falls below the break-even point. But he won’t be running on an average catcher in the series. He’ll be running against Jorge Posada, so keeping him off base will be an important task. Francoeur has hit lefties extremely well since coming over, so he might continue his hot streak.
On the other end there’s Josh Hamilton. As I detailed on FanGraphs yesterday, Hamilton had a rough time in the ALDS. The Rays pitchers threw him few fastballs, leaving him to flail at off-speed and breaking stuff. If Sabathia continues doing that he might hold Hamilton in check, which changes the entire Rangers offense.
The Rangers offense could certainly pose a problem for Sabathia tonight. They have a core of quality hitters who are supplemented with good platoon options. They do have weaknesses at catcher and first base, but other than that they feature good hitters, either overall or against lefties, throughout the rest of the order. But Sabathia is used to facing tough hitters. If anyone can get the job done, it’s him.