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11 wins to defend the title.

11 wins to once again reach the pinnacle of the baseball world.

Three down, eight to go.

The march to championship #28 continues tonight.

This is part 6 of The Yankee U’s preview of the 2010 American League Championship Series.  Part 1 examined CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis.  Part 2 looked at Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter.  Part 3 examined Texas’ offense and Part 4 looked at their bullpen and bench.  In Part 5 Moshe took a look at Texas’ defense.

Conclusion

This week we’ve spent some time with the Texas Rangers.  In the first piece I examined Games 1 and 2 starters, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis.  With Wilson we saw a reliever turned starter with a good repetoire and good results in 2010.  Yet Wilson’s Achilles Heel is the walks: his BB/9 of 4.10 could be a real obstacle to success in Game 1.  Wilson is especially tough on lefties, but the Yankees will probably negate that advantage by stacking the lineup with righties tonight.  I’m expecting a lineup of Jeter-Swisher-Teixeira-Rodriguez-Cano-Thames-Posada-Granderson-Gardner, meaning that six of nine will be right-handed hitters (note: yep).  In Colby Lewis we saw another Texas surprise, a guy who spent a few years in Texas and returned to the majors a completely different pitcher.  Lewis has good peripherals and limits the walks, but he’s also vulnerable to the fly ball and pitches to a rather predictable pattern from a selection standpoint.  If the Yankees can grind out the at-bats and work some walks, they be able to put up some runs in a hurry with extra-base hits.

In part 2 we looked at Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter.  There’s not a whole lot more to say about Cliff Lee other than this: he’s really good, and the Yankees will need a great outing from Pettitte if they want to take Game 3.  Tommy Hunter, on the other hand, is rather mediocre.  His win-loss record and ERA belie a pitcher with average stuff and no strikeout ability.  Hunter is either Brian Duensing or Nick Blackburn for the Rangers, and neither is a good option.

Part 3 examined Texas’ offense.  The Rangers have several big weapons in Hamilton, Guerrero and Cruz, and some fairly good bats in Young, Kinsler and David Murphy.  The 8-9-1 bats don’t stack up to the Yankees, though, and there are real questions about Josh Hamilton’s health heading into this series.

Today, part 4 looked at Texas’ bullpen and bench.  Texas has two great arms in Feliz and Oliver, and a good righty reliever in Darren O’Day.  The back end of their pen is a little weaker, and they have curiously chosen to bring 4 lefty relievers to the ALCS.  This means several things.  For one, we’re due for a lot of pitching changes from Ron Washington.  This will be annoying. Secondly, Washington may be planning on using the lefties at the bottom of the order to face Granderson and Gardner.  Girardi may shuffle the lineup to anticipate this move, slotting Granderson in the two-hole.  Secondly, the ALCS will be Thames time.  Hopefully he’s up to the challenge.

Finally, in part 5 Moshe looked at Texas’ defense.  He noted that they’re particularly strong at C, 2B, LF and RF and at least adequate at CF and 1B. He also argued persuasively that Andrus is underrated by UZR in 2010, which is a good thing given that Andrus can’t hit a lick.  The only real glaring defensive weakness for the Rangers is at 3B, where Michael Young resides.

Prediction

Taking everything into consideration, I don’t feel quite as confident about the ALCS as I did about the ALDS.  Part of it is the way CJ Wilson pitched against the Rays, part of it is Colby Lewis’ body of work in 2010, part of it is fear of Josh Hamilton, and the rest of it is because of Cliff Lee.  However.

I feel like I know the Rangers fairly well and I know the Yankees like the back of my hand.  I’m confident about our chances in this series.  I don’t think Game 3 is an auto-loss by any means:  Cliff Lee isn’t perfect, the Yankees have beaten him before, and Andy Pettitte is a respectable foe.  I’m also cautiously optimistic about AJ Burnett.  Bizarrely, I’m expecting him to pitch well in Game 4, and it’s not based on anything other than a gut feeling.  Our lineup is really superb, Sabathia-Hughes-Pettitte is a fantastic troika, and our bullpen is fantastic.  Ultimately, I think the Yankees are fundamentally better than the Rangers this year, and while anything can happen in the playoffs I will be surprised if this is the end of our run.

Yankees in 5.

***************************************************

I have Matt and Moshe’s prediction, and I’ll update this post if other authors chime in.

Moshe: Yankees in 6

Matt: Yankees in 5

This is part 5 of 6 of The Yankee U’s preview of the 2010 American League Championship Series. Part 1 examined C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. Part 2 featured Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter. Part 3 looked at the Texas offense, and Part 4 examined the Texas bullpen and bench.

Stephen asked me to handle this small portion of the preview, and I was glad to oblige. I looked at the Texas defense, going around the diamond in order and then looking at outfielders as well.

C: Bengie Molina
2010-2008 UZR: None
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): -1, -2, 6

Advanced metrics are fairly flawed when it comes to catchers, so we need to use simpler numbers to show that Molina had a solid year behind the plate. He caught 24 basestealers against 79 stolen bases, which is an adequate total, and allowed 4 passed balls and just 1 wild pitch to elude him all year in 113 games.

1B: Mitch Moreland
2010-2008 UZR: -.1, NA, NA
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): 0, NA, NA

Again, the advanced metrics do not help us much here, as Moreland is a rookie with too small a sample at the position to give us an adequate picture of the quality of his defense. It is instructive to note that he was replaced at the position by Chris Davis late in games down the stretch, suggesting that the Rangers see him as a liability in the field.

2B: Ian Kinsler
2010-2008 UZR: 2.1, 10.1, -5.2
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): 8, 22, -7

UZR was killing Kinsler for years, but in 2009 he suddenly turned things around and put up a stellar season in the field accoring to both UZR and DRS. I am wary about giving much weight to a single season worth of UZR, but he followed it up with another positive year in 2010, suggesting that he may have worked on his defense and has therefore become a good second baseman. I’d likely rate him as solidly above average but not spectacular, based on the numbers and my (very) amateur scouting eye.

SS: Elvis Andrus
2010-2008 UZR: 0.1, 12.1, NA
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): 0, 14, NA

Neither metric loved Andrus quite as much as they did in 2009, but I think the scouting reports and the numbers match-up here. While he is prone to an error here and there, Andrus has fantastic range and gets to balls most other shortstops do not. I would put him among the top 5 defensive shortstops in baseball without any qualms.

3B: Michael Young
2010-2008 UZR: -5.4, -7.6, -4.6
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): -12, -18, -5
Young graciously moved from SS to 3B after the 2008 season to make room for budding prospect Elvis Andrus. While the move has helped the team defensively at SS, it has done them no good at third. Young is just as bad there as he was at short, as he generally makes the play right at him but has poor range in every direction.

RF: Nelson Cruz
2010-2008 UZR: 7.7, 9.6, 2.8
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): 11, 11, 2

While scouts do not see Cruz as a spectacular defender, advanced metrics see him as one of the better right fielders in the sport. He shows good range, has a solid arm, and does not make a ton of mistakes. With a small right field in Yankee Stadium, he should have no problem covering ground in front of the short porch.

CF: Josh Hamilton
2010-2008 UZR: 1.1, 4.3, -15.4
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): 4, 9, -5

Hamilton spent most of his team playing left for the Rangers this year, but I think we will see him in CF on most nights during the ALCS. The only season in which he actually got the bulk of his time in center was 2008, and his defensive numbers were poor that year. I would consider him an adequate center fielder, but nothing more, particularly because he seems to be playing hurt. If they do move him to left field and bench David Murphy against lefty starters, Julio Borbon will see time in CF. Borbon is an excellent defensive player with spectacular range, but his arm can be run on.

LF: David Murphy
2010-2008 UZR: -2.3, 3.2, 3.5
2010-2008 DRS (+/-): 0, 2, 0

Murphy is an average to slightly above average defensive player who is not spectacular at any aspect of fielding but is solid at all. He can throw a bit, he gets to his fair share of flyballs, and he does not make many mistakes.

Conclusion

Texas is a good defensive team (6th in DEF according to BPro) that is poor at just one position, third base. They are likely adequate in CF and at 1B, and are above average at C, 2B, and LF. They also have two excellent starters in right and at short, and the backup in CF is excellent as well. I would not expect them to make a lot of defensive mistakes in the series.

This is part 4 of 6 of The Yankee U’s preview of the 2010 American League Championship Series.  Part 1 examined CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis.  Part 2 looked at Cliff Lee and Tommy Hunter.  Part 3 examined Texas’ offense.

The Bullpen

Texas has a solid bullpen with a lot of decent parts.  I’ve prepared a chart with all vital data, and we’ll start with that.

texas

I’ve highlighted in teal blue the numbers I find to be the most interesting.  You can peruse the chart for yourself, but I’m going to take a guided tour of the most relevant data. Neftali Feliz and Darren Oliver are alike in several key respects.  They both have great strikeout stuff with fantastic K/BB ratios.  Their underlying statistics confirm their low ERAs, Oliver registering low marks across the board.  Feliz has a great WXRL score, meaning that he’s done well in high leverage spots in 2010.  The Yankees have touched Feliz before, but he’s been a very good reliever for the Rangers this year and throws 98 mph fastballs like it’s just no thing.  Interestingly, Feliz has a reverse split.  He’s been far tougher on lefties than righties in 2010, holding them to an OPS-against of .409.  It’s a very small sample (131 plate appearances), so it’s something to watch going forward.  Oliver also has two unique skills: getting groundballs and pitching to lefty hitters.  His GB/FB ratio is the highest amongst all Texas relievers, and he’ll be used primarily in the seventh and eighth innings, particularly to face lefties.

Another notable reliever is Darren O’Day, who is particularly adept at limiting walks.  He’s also likely to see time in the seventh and eighth innings, especially to face right-handed hitters. Other relievers are lower on the totem pole, but it will be interesting to see how the Rangers utilize Derek Holland.  He’s been tough on lefties in 2010, but often struggles with his command.

Note: after this preview was completed I learned that the Rangers had made two roster changes, adding LHPs Kirkman and Rapada.  Dustin Nippert and Esteban German were removed.  You can learn about Kirkman and Rapada here and here.  Nippert is no great loss for Texas, and Kirkman and Rapada are no great gains.  I hope you’ll forgive me for not updating the chart. If you won’t forgive me for not updating the chart then you can go make your own chart.

The Bench

I’ve also prepared a chart with relevant data for the Rangers’ bench.

bench

All the relevant data is there, the PA, tripleslash, wOBA and HR.  I’ve also included a column called Special Skill.  Each one of these players has a special purpose on the Rangers’ lineup.  The Special Skill is why.

Jorge Cantu’s special skill is twofold.  For one, he can play both first and third base. He’s primarily a first baseman, but he’s essentially their corner infielder backup.  Secondly, I’ve listed “0.446″ for his Special Skill.  0.446 is his lifetime SLG percentage, showing that Cantu has a history of having a bit of pop in the bat.  He’s certainly having a down year in 2010, but his track record suggests a decent amount of power, not a bad thing for someone who could possibly pinch-hit in late innings.

Julio Borbon’s Special Skill is “15″, which represents the number of stolen bases he’s accumulated in 2010.  This number would most assuredly be higher if he had any way of getting on base with any regularity.  Since he doesn’t, he’ll be used primarily as a backup outfielder and pinch runner.  He’s fast, and he’d be a tough out on the basepaths.

Andres Blanco is the other backup infielder on the Rangers’ roster, and for that reason I’ve listed his Special Skill as “IF”.  Blanco can play 2B, SS or 3B, and he doesn’t have much use with the bat.

The fourth bench bat for the Rangers is Matt Treanor, and his special skill is “C”.  Treanor’s the backup catcher, and his skills involve being the backup catcher and being married to Misty May Treanor.

Last and definitely least, is Jeff “Smiley McChuckleface” Francoeur.  I’ve listed his Special Skill as ” :) ” because Francoeur is known to woo local media members with the power of his smile, leading them to write articles like this.  So, this is the part of my ALCS preview where I refuse to acknowledge that Francouer has limited use as a platoon player hitting left-handed pitchers, and simply assert the following: Jeff Francoeur is a replacement-level player who gets love from the media simply because he smiles at reporters.  He’s awful and everything you need to know about Jeff Francoeur you can find in this quote from him while he played in Atlanta, a quote that has been seared permanently into my memory:

frenchy

The best part of all?

obp

That’s the scoreboard at Turner Field.  See that OBP section?

Oh Jeff.  May you find your rightful place in indy ball ever so soon.

This concludes part 4 of The Yankee U’s 2010 American League Championship Series preview.  Come back later for part 5, when Moshe examines Texas’ defense.  Following that will be Part 6: Summary and Prediction.

We’re just a few hours away from first pitch in Arlington for the ALCS and here’s what’s swirling around my head on a rainy Thursday night after a fourteen hour work day (you, of course, will be reading this on Friday morning).

Just to get it out of the way, I’m predicting the Yankees will win the ALCS in five games. I’m not sure which game they’ll lose, I just think they’ll lose one. Winning in five would be nice because it would mean a second straight ALCS victory at home, and the more the team can celebrate in Yankee Stadium the better. I wanted the Yankees to play the Rangers instead of the Rays and I’ve gotten what I wanted. Hopefully, the Yankees can follow through on their end of the deal. Of course, I’m very confident that they will. Still, one thing is puzzling me.

I’d rather the Yankees start CC Sabathia on three day’s worth of rest in Game Four instead of A.J. Burnett, regardless of the score of the series. This really has nothing to do with Burnett–okay, mabye a little–I just want the Yankees’ best starter lined up to start in Game Seven. That’s also not to say that I don’t think Andy Pettitte could handle pitching in a potential Game Seven, I’d just rather have the team’s best pitcher out there when the season is on the line. However, the way they have it set up is that no matter what, the worst SP of the bunch will only pitch once in the series. That’s fine with me.

This article by Brendan Prunty is a must read. It just goes to show (again) how great a hitting coach Kevin Long is and how hard even the most talented players, like Robinson Cano, work on perfecting their crafts. If I ever again hear anyone say Robinson Cano is lazy, I’m going to slap that person in the face with a tire iron. Who’s with me?

Lastly, there’s this tweet from beat writer Mark Carig. Answering that question is nearly impossible and you could make a case for each one. For example, Adrian Beltre didn’t lead the Red Sox to a playoff spot, but he had a fantastic season and provided great value considering his relatively low cost.

For the Yankees, we could argue that A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira paid for themselves by winning the 2009 World Series. The value/cost argument also holds true for the 2010 Yankees in regards to Marcus Thames. He was signed to a Minor League contract and ended up performing at a much higher level than we would’ve expected.

My ultimate answer, though, would be combining the value/cost versus raw performance arguments. After all, raw performance is what you really want, right? No matter how much or how little you sign a player for, you want him to put up big numbers. If the team doesn’t make the playoffs, that’s really not his fault, is it? I mean, do we blame the aforementioned Beltre for the Sox missing the playoffs? He did everything he could to make sure the Sox DID make it. If you can get a guy to play well AND have a relatively low cost, then you’ve won that signing in every way possible.

Las Vegas bookmakers have the odds for the Yanks-Rangers ALCS at 8-5 Yankees. That sounds about right to me. Gambling is one of the world’s oldest forms of crowd sourcing, and when there’s too much optimism or pessimism it presents an opportunity for smart money to come in, just like what happens with the stock market. From the bookmakers perspective, they just want to keep the money even on both sides of the bet and don’t really care what the number is, so odds tend to reflect the conventional wisdom on whatever it is people are gambling on.

It’s tough to bet against the Yanks. The Yanks have appeared in 13 ALCS series since its inception in the 1969 season, and they’ve won 11 of them. The two losses are easy to remember, the most recent being the 2004 Red Sox series that needs no recounting. The other was in 1980, when the Yanks were swept 3-0 (best of 5 back then) by George Brett’s Kansas City Royals. The Yanks were a 103 win team that year under Dick Howser, who was promptly fired by George Stienbrenner for having the audacity to lose 3 in a row at the worst time possible. George was pilloried for the move both locally and nationally for firing the popular Howser, and he never lived it down.

Since the Yankee failures have been so few and far between, it’s easy to be complacent and overconfident. I think that’s a big mistake for this series. The Rangers have an excellent lineup, an outstanding bullpen and feature a pitcher in Cliff Lee whose postseason dominance has been well documented. You don’t have to take any great leaps to envision the Yanks losing the series, a single loss in the first two could set off a chain of events that the Yanks may not recover from. Yanks split the first two in Texas, lose to Cliff Lee in Game 3 and now either start the highly unreliable and ineffective AJ Burnett or go on short rest with a 3 man rotation the rest of the way.

I think the key to this series is avoiding the 3 man rotation, and that means either find a way to beat Lee or take the first two in Arlington. If the Yanks are down 2-1 in the series, I don’t see any way they will pitch AJ Burnett. I don’t worry about CC on 3 days rest, but I don’t like Hughes or Pettitte on short rest at this time of the year. Hughes is already well past his career innings high and we saw how hittable he becomes when he’s fatigued this year. In that stretch of games before the All Star break from June 13-July 4 he gave up 12 Runs in 24.1 IP and had all sorts of trouble putting away hitters. His fastball tends to straighten out when he’s tired, and when that happens hitters get much better swings off him. With Andy, you have a 38 year old coming off a bad back and a groin injury, the last thing I want Andy to do is pitch on short rest.

The Yanks and Rangers are evenly matched. The Yanks led all of Baseball in Runs Scored this year, while finishing 3rd in (AL) Bullpen ERA and 7th (AL) in overall team ERA. The Rangers finished 5th in Runs Scored, 2nd in (AL) Bullpen ERA and 4th in (AL) overall team ERA. But the Yanks have faced many outstanding teams in their 13 ALCS series, and found a way to win most of them. There’s something to be said for the difficulty of going all the way that first time around, and having the veteran presence of guys with rings in your clubhouse who’ve been there and done that. Neftali Feliz showed some uncharacteristic shakiness in the ALDS, and some of the errors Texas made is something they won’t get away with facing the Yanks. I’m cautiously optimistic heading into this series, but if anyone thinks this series is going to be a cakewalk then they’re just not paying attention.

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