One of my friends, Dante, wrote an extremely long post with a preview of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry this year...
He did an incredible job on detailing the rivalry and assessing both teams based on position, strengths and weaknesses...
I'm going to take my own spin on assessing the rivalry with a four-part series: Infield, Outfield, Pitching, and Intangibles (which would include the bench, managing, and the Manny/A-Rod impacts).. I have no idea how the spacing of the four-parts will be time-wise, but I'll do my best!
When we're talking about the infield, we're talking about 5 positions: 1st base, 2nd base, shortstop, 3rd base, and the catching position...
1st base: Doug Mientkiewicz/Josh Phelps/Andy Phillips vs. Kevin Youkilis
Yankees: Because of Jason Giambi's inability to defend 1st base, make the pivot throw to 2nd base, and stay injury-free while playing 1st, Mientkiewicz was signed to bring his defensive skills and glove to the team, and comparing the Zone Ratings of Giambi and Mientkiewicz, the differences are huge: .838 to Doug's .881. When it comes to errors, Giambi has 73 in 1040 games played at 1st, compared to Doug's 28 in 848 games.
The defensive upgrade is apparent, but offense? Meh. In the last three years, Doug has hit a weak .253 with an equally weak .721 OPS. Hitting 9th in the potent Yankee line-up won't hurt him quite as much, but his bat isn't something you can really get excited about. Depending on who the Yankees pick to platoon with Doug, the decision should not greatly bother the team.
Heck, career-wise, Doug actually hits left-handers a little better: .271 AVG/.759 OPS against right-handers, as opposed to .269/.780 against left-handers.
Red Sox: In addition to having one of the coolest last names in baseball and being a Jew (as Denis Leary proclaimed in a now-banned YouTube video), Kevin Youkilis isn't a bad baseball player himself. Career-wise, his Zone Rating is actually lower than Giambi's: .828, but let's keep in mind that he platooned in 2nd base (2 games), 3rd base (105 games) and left field (18 games) in his career. Yes, Youk isn't a Godsend at 1st base. However, he has the flexibility to play other positions in the infield and in the outfield. He committed 5 errors last year, compared to Doug's 3 and Giambi's 7. Stats or not, Youk plays better defense than Giambi, but Doug has the advantage over Youk.
Besides platooning at different positions, he has a pretty decent bat. In his three-year split (which is his entire career in the majors), he has hit .275 AVG/.802 OPS, and he has slowly improved in the last three years. Being at the supposed prime age (28), he should improve a little bit more for a good .280 AVG/.810+ OPS, which projects to be better than Doug's projection, even if Doug hits above his head.
Advantage: Boston -- With pop in his bat and the decent defense, Boston looks to have a bigger advantage over what many consider to be a defensive "specialist".
2nd base: Robinson Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia
Yankees: There's a lot I can say for Cano, but I'll start with an amazing projection and summary from SG of Replacement Level Yankees Weblog. In the link, SG lists the players who have had a season where the person hit for an average of .330 or higher at an age of 25 or younger in a full season since World War II. If you look at the list, there is not one bad player in that list. Must I say anything more about Cano's bat? I think not.
Cano decreased the amount of errors at 2nd base from 17 to 9 last year, while increasing his Zone Rating by .009. Guys, Cano is only 24. If not the best 2nd baseman in the league, he is easily in the top 3. Is it safe to say that it's more than likely that his defense will continue to improve? Cano is likely to improve his defense and build on his 2006 success at the plate. If he doesn't, I'll eat my hat. =)
Red Sox: Meet Dustin Pedroia. Many similarities will point to him being a lot like Marcus Giles. Pedroia's not a guy you can sleep on. He has the ability to be pretty good down the line, and as SoxProspects.com state, "Overall, Pedroia may not be an all-star, but is likely to be a dependable second baseman at the major league level, which is a great asset for any team, especially on a cost-controlled basis."
He should make a splash into the majors this year with full-time playing at 2nd base, but at this point, he's still a rookie with lots of potential that has not been tapped yet. In 2007, we should see some of that potential either come out of his pores or stay hidden in his bowels.
Advantage: Yankees -- It's Cano... CA-no! Pedroia will be good for the Red Sox in the future, but it's Cano!
Shortstop: Derek Jeter vs. Julio Lugo
Yankees: Derek Jeter, what is there to say about him? MVP-candidate last year, and somehow, he was able to get his third straight Gold Glove. I don't think I need to explain Jeter's successes hitting last year, so let's go into defense.
Though there has been lots of talk about Jeter's defensive woes, Jeter has actually rated better than an average shortstop for the 2nd year in a row. For a player past his prime age of 28 to keep improving offensively and defensively is remarkable and shows the dedication a player has to the game.
Yes, statistically, he may be below-average, and yes, through the eyes of many Yankee fans, he's an amazing defensive shortstop. I take the middle road. He may not be the greatest thing at shortstop since sliced bread, but he can still make the plays. Heck, where will ESPN be without Jeter's jumping 360 throws to 1st base?
Red Sox: Statistically, Julio Lugo is a better defensive shortstop than Jeter. If you wanna go by Zone Rating, Lugo's .848 to Jeter's .821. If you wanna go by Rate, Lugo's 102 to Jeter's 93, career-wise. His defense is actually an improvement to Alex Gonzalez's Rate of 95 career-wise and .843 Zone Rating.
With the bat, Lugo's 3-year split: .284 AVG/.753 OPS, and an improvement of Gonzalez's .249/.691. Though the contract for Lugo may seem a bit pricey (4 year/36 million), at least, he's a pretty big improvement over Alex Gonzalez, eh?
Advantage: Yankees -- When you have a MVP candidate (and arguably, the AL MVP) and the team captain as your shortstop, he most likely trumps the competition, and that includes Julio Lugo.
3rd base: Alex Rodriguez vs. Mike Lowell
Yankees: Let's be brief on A-Rod. His split of .290 AVG/.915 OPS last year was considered inferior and non A-Rod like. Considering, in his MVP season of 2005, his OPS was a ridiculous 1.031, anything less would seem a letdown. Much has been made about A-Rod's playoff struggles, but since we're talking about the 19 games the Yankees/Red Sox will play in the regular season, the playoff talk will have to wait.
Putting on weight last year definitely took a toll on A-Rod's body when it came to offense and defense. A-Rod is considered a 5-tool player, considered to be (including me) the most valuable type of player. However, the extra weight he had last year took away from three of those tools: base-running ability, throwing ability and fielding ability.
A-Rod's stolen base totals has decreased from 28 in 2004 to 15 in 2006. If ESPN hasn't hammered the images of A-Rod's mis-aligned throws yet, trust me, at times, A-Rod's throws have been off-line. When it comes to defense, A-Rod increased his Zone Rating by .005, but his errors: 12 to 24 last year.
Now, reporting to camp this year, he cut out about 13 pounds of weight off his body. That should give him a small boost in his speed. He can also get to balls quicker and throws across the body should be easier to make. The jump in errors should be proved as a fluke above anything else. If A-Rod is seriously thinking about opting out, a monster season will get him even more money from a willing team. If A-Rod isn't going to opt out, the Yankees should reap the rewards of a great season, which is what I'm predicting.
Red Sox: Ah, the former Yankee farm prospect, Mike Lowell. After a terrible 2005 season and the last season he experienced in Florida, he came to the Red Sox and put up good numbers: .284 AVG/.814 OPS, a .48 jump in AVG. Also, he made good use of the Green Monster, resulting in a jump of 11 doubles and 12 home runs from last year.
His defense, as Borat would say, was "very nice". A .811 Zone Rating destroys A-Rod's .741 Zone Rating, and of course, if you make 18 less errors than the reigning MVP, your defense is going to shine in comparison. As Red Sox fans remind me quite a number of times, the Red Sox last year committed the least amount of errors as a team: 66 errors. There is no doubt in my mind that acquiring Mike Lowell in the Florida trade helped improve that defense, even though there have been talk and evidence (through the Defensive Efficiency rating) that the Red Sox did not have the best defense last year.
Advantage: Yankees -- It's a future first-ballot Hall of Famer with a couple of great years left in him vs. a pretty good 3rd baseman. Hall of Famer wins.
Catcher: Jorge Posada vs. Jason Varitek
Yankees: Let me remind you of one thing: Jorge Posada is 35 years old. 35 years old is a pretty old age for a catcher. Let me also remind you of this: Posada may possibly be the most underrated part of the Yankee dynasty in the late 90s to early 2000s.
Last year, comparing all the catchers, who had the most HRs between them? Posada and Ramon Hernandez were tied with 23. RBIs? Posada and Victor Martinez were tied for first with 93. Forgetting Joe Mauer for a second, who came in 2nd when it came to and Slugging Percentage and OPS? Posada with a .492 SLG and .867 OPS. Last but not least, who does Posada's stats compare to the best at the age of 34? Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk.
Posada has a great bat for a catcher, and he has increased in the number of runners he catches stealing (37%). Tony Pena has worked with Posada last year, and the results are easy to see. With more work with Pena, Posada's hitting numbers may decrease due to age, but his defense? Barring major injury, Posada's defense numbers should range the same.
Red Sox: Jason Varitek means an incredible amount to the pitching staff of the Red Sox. Many have pointed to the fact that the collapse of the Red Sox was triggered by Varitek's torn cartilage in his left knee. When it came to the games Varitek actually played and hit in, the numbers were mediocre at best. I have made numerous jokes about ".243 Varitek" and "I only fight with a catcher's mask on" Varitek, but his numbers were even worse than a .243. Varitek hit .238 AVG/.725 OPS. Meh at best.
Though we can put some blame on his injury, Varitek was never great at throwing runners out stealing, throwing runners out at a 22% success rate last year, and 25.7% career-wise (compared to Posada's 30.3% career-rate). However, Varitek has made a lesser amount of errors (52 errors in 1017 games, 0.051 errors per game) than Posada (69 errors in 1222 games, 0.056 errors per game) and he also has less passed balls (89 to Posada's 111). Varitek is a slightly better defensive catcher, while Posada has a better throwing arm.
Advantage: Yankees (slightly) -- The injury factor is huge. When you're a catcher, your knees are all you got. If you look at Posada's injuries last year, he was out of games later in the year because of non-knee injuries. Recovering from a bruised left elbow, a bruised finger, or even a strained left knee tendon is definitely easier than recovering from surgery to repair torn cartilage in your lifeblood as a catcher. With also the better bat, Posada takes it.
Next post, we'll look at the outfield!
Happy reading! =)