ALC Preview Chat

Rangers hitters against CC Sabathia

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.

Overall

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.

Vs. LHP

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.

Miscellany

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.

The Ties That Bind Us

(AP Photo/Linda Kaye)

In the age of free agency and mass player movement, every regular season series feels a reunion with ex-Yankees and former teammates. Every so often an ex-Yank will do something to beat his old team and we’ll shake our fist, but for the most part that player’s service to the Yankee cause is much appreciated. When Hideki Matsui took Chan Ho Park deep in June, the South Bronx erupted in cheers for a Los Angeles Angel for the first time in history. Same deal with David Wells when he returned as a Padre in 2004. Tino Martinez with the Cardinals, El Duque with the White Sox, Johnny Damon with the Tigers … the list goes on and on.

The Yankees are the most well known free agent spenders, but the Rangers topped everyone in December 2000 when they inked former Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a then-record ten year, $252M contract. Three All Star appearances, one MVP award, and three seasons of financial disarray later, they were looking for a trade partner to take the game’s best player off their hands … along with the $180M or so left on his contract. After a potential deal with the Red Sox feel through, the Yankees stepped in acquired Alex for All Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano and prospect Joaquin Arias. New York also received close to $46M from the Rangers through 2007 to offset A-Rod‘s salary.

One year before the trade, the Rangers broke in a young minor league third baseman named Mark Teixeira. The fifth overall pick of the 2001 draft eventually shifted over to first in deference to top prospect Hank Blalock, and once Alex was moved Teixeira took over as the face of the franchise. He hit 38 homers with a .281/.370/.560 batting line as a sophomore, then topped that with a 43 homer, .301/.379/.575 season in 2005. The Rangers had their new superstar, but like A-Rod money eventually got in the way.

As Tex got closer and closer to free agency, the Rangers didn’t want to lose their star for nothing (or, well, two draft picks), so they did what they did with Alex and traded him. There was a different general manager in charge this time, and Jon Daniels wanted to acquire players just like himself: young. He eventually settled on a five prospect package from the Braves, one that literally change the course of the franchise and set them up for this playoff run that the Yanks are trying to stop.

Now the corner infielders for the defending World Champion Yankees, the fingerprints of A-Rod and Teixeira are still all over the Rangers. Three of the five players they received for Tex – closer Neftali Felix, shortstop Elvis Andrus, and lefty reliever Matt Harrison – are on the playoff roster, and the money they saved by dealing Alex allowed them to not only sign Michael Young long-term, but also invest in a farm system that has produced players like Justin Smoak, Julio Borbon, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Mitch Moreland, and Alexi Ogando, all of whom are either on their playoff roster or were traded for players who are.

The Yankees and Twins had a loose connection when they met in the ALDS; the only significant common player between the two clubs was Carl Pavano, arguably the worst free agent signing in Yankee history. The connection between the Yanks and Rangers is much deeper however. A-Rod and Teixeira will surely be booed this weekend, but the Texas faithful should not discount their impact on the current Rangers team. They wouldn’t have gotten where they are without them.

The Cliff Lee connection

Cliff Lee pitches in the 2002 AA All Star Game as a member of the Akron Arrows. Credit: AP Photo John Spivey

Since the Rangers downed the Tampa Bay Rays to earn the right to face the Yankees in the ALCS, most of the coverage has focused around Cliff Lee. The Yanks had to beat Lee’s team last year to win the World Series; they almost traded for him three months ago; and they plan to go hard after him this winter when the southpaw hits free agency. It’s a tailor-made situation for a compelling story, and Lee’s story has led sports sections from Arlington to Armonk.

In response to the over-the-top Cliff Lee-Mania, RAB reader Richard Iurilli launched a Twitter phenomenon. “Cliff Lee throws so hard, he can throw a baseball around the world and strike himself out,” he said. The kicker though was was the hashtag: #cliffleefacts. Said Joe Auriemma, “Cliff Lee can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves.” Said Kelsey O’Donnell, “The apocalypse would come if Cliff Lee EVER loses a game.” And on and on it went.

Yet, it’s impossible to talk about the impending American League Championship Series without revisiting July 8, the day Cliff Lee maybe, kinda, sorta almost became a Yankee. In The Post today, Joel Sherman, seemingly the most connected of New York reporters, goes back inside the Cliff Lee negotiations, and for the most part, it’s a story we know well. The Mariners were desperate to pry Justin Smoak from the Rangers, and they either wanted Eduardo Nuñez or Ivan Nova to join Jesus Montero instead of David Adams or were willing to use the Yanks to put the pressure on Texas GM Jon Daniels. Depending upon who you ask, a deal with the Yanks was on the verge of completion. “We had him,” Brian Cashman said to Sherman. “We had a deal in principle pending physicals.”

Sherman sheds some light on the process:

Around 9 p.m. Eastern Time on July 8, Seattle agreed with the Yankeees to accept Montero, Adams and righty Zach McAllister for Lee, and the sides swapped medical info. Around 3 a.m. Zduriencik called Cashman to say Seattle team doctors were concerned about Adams’ right ankle. This confused the Yankees. Adams had been out since injuring his ankle sliding May 23, yet the Mariners kept insisting he had to be included and the Yankees only relented that night.

Seattle’s concerns proved valid, as subsequent tests weeks later revealed a fracture and not a sprain for Adams.
Over the next several hours Seattle asked the Yankees to replace Adams. The Yankees offered touted righty Adam Warren. The Mariners said either Nova or Nunez must be the replacement, which was their initial position a week earlier. Cashman refused, stating the Yankees would not yield significantly more to get Lee for half a season than Philadelphia had given Cleveland to obtain Lee for a season and a half or Seattle had given Philadelphia to get Lee for a season.

Also, the Yankees came to believe Seattle had not shut down conversations with Texas. There are no written rules, but general protocol is that once a deal in principle is reached, then the trading teams go silent with other clubs.

Yankee fans spent the day waiting for the trade to become official on the 9th, and it never did. Now, instead of pitching Game 2 of the ALCS for the Yankees, Lee will face them in Game 3 on Monday night in the Bronx. “So be it,” Cashman said. “If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. We will find out in who has the best team. I have no regrets. I am comfortable with not [completing the trade]. In time we will learn if that was the right thing to do.”

In his 3UP post today, Sherman discussed Lee at length and compared it to the Johan Santana situation. A few years ago, we lobbied hard against a trade that would have sent Phil Hughes along with at least Ian Kennedy and one or two other pieces to the Twins for Johan Santana, but this time around, I was more comfortable with the Lee trade. I can’t speak for Joe or Mike here, but I worried about the Yanks’ blown opportunity. I worried about Lee’s future with another team, and I worried that Jesus Montero might just be a little bit overhyped. After all, even though the magazine ranked him the fourth-best International League prospect this year, Baseball America says his defense is highly suspect. If Montero is only a bat but not a catcher, his future value declines.

Of course, the Yankees have a plan, and they’re going to stick to it. Brian Cashman knows that, as Tyler Kepner noted, when it comes to free agency, the Yanks get their guy. They got Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. To the Yankees, money isn’t an obstacle, and if the only thing that separates them from Cliff Lee is two weeks of the playoffs and a $110-million contract, so be it.

Still, even though Lee won’t take the mound for another four days, his presence looms over this ALCS. He is Texas’ savior, an ace they haven’t had in decades, if ever, and he’s the almost-was for the Yankees. Nearly a member of the team in July, Cliff Lee will once again try to stop the Yankees from winning a World Series for what hopefully will be the last time before he joins them.

Open Thread: One more baseball-less night

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It’s been a long week for us Yankee fans, who watched the team clinch an ALCS berth way back on Saturday. Five days later, we are still without baseball, but that’s going to change roughly 24 hours from now. The Yanks arrived in Dallas earlier today and had a little workout session at the park today in advance of tomorrow’s Game One. Every game they play from here on out will be the most important game of the season, and I can’t wait.

Here’s the open thread for the night. None of the hockey or basketball locals are in the action, and the NLCS doesn’t start until Saturday. Looks like one of those nights when you’ll actually have to leave the basement to entertain yourself. I know, what the hell is up with that? Anyway, you guys know what to do, so have at it.

ALCS Scouting Reports

Right before the ALDS started, we took a look at some advanced scouting reports provided by the MSM, and sure enough they held true. The Yankees’ powerful offense took advantage of Minnesota’s pitch-to-contact heavy pitching staff, and when Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes turned in gems behind CC Sabathia, the Twins had no chance.

Now that the Yanks have moved on to the ALCS, let’s look at Keith Law’s (Insider req’d) and Frankie Piliere’s scouting reports for Texas. As you’d expect, both mention that the Rangers will only go as far as Josh Hamilton and Cliff Lee take them. Beyond the two superstars, they need C.J. Wilson to not pitch himself into trouble with walks, which seems obvious enough. Their lineup isn’t terribly deep, with Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler representing the only real threats behind Hamilton. Vlad Guerrero, who had a monster first half, wOBA’d just .327 from July on. Make sure you check the links out, plus this one with four key ALCS matchups courtesy of Piliere.

Knowing George M. Steinbrenner III

When Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner passed away in July, The Times ran a personal recollection by Mary Jane Schriner of the Boss. Schriner had know George when the two were teenagers, and she remembered him as a “fun-loving, kind and generous young man who brightened my youth.” Schriner revealed that she was still in possession of a series of letters a young Steinbrenner had written her back in 1949, and she wanted to publish these letters, a testament to a budding relationship that was stunted by college and the intervening years.

Today, The Times has a follow up. The Yankees have so far successfully blocked publication of the letters. Yanks’ COO Lonn Trost said the contents “will cause untold embarrassment and damages to the Steinbrenner family and the Steinbrenner’s business interests.” The Yanks claimed that Steinbrenner holds the copyright in the letters and can block as sale. As my Copyright professor explains to The Times, George Steinbrenner’s copyright simply prevents publication, and Schriner can still sell the letters.

For her part, Mary Jane Schriner says there’s “nothing in those letters to upset her. They’re sort of boring.” For now, the Schriners are trying to convince the Hall of Fame to take and attempted to auction them on eBay. The auction, though, set to start at $50,000, drew no bidders. As this saga plays, Schriner has also published a story about her summers with George. The 20-year-old Steinbrenner was a charmer in training.