Wednesday, October 3, 2007

ALDS Preview: Offense

You may be wondering what the point of discussing New York’s offense is at this point. Trying to compare another team to the current New York offense sounds like an exercise in futility, doesn’t it? If you’re trying to build a case for Cleveland having a better offense, then you’re definitely going nowhere fast. What I would like to do is compare the tools available to each team (power, speed, OBP) and see where each team stands per category. Cleveland may be outclassed overall, but that doesn’t mean they can’t exploit the weaknesses of the opposition to gain an edge. I also looked at how each offense handles certain pitching styles to see if any surprising trends showed up. Below are the season stats for each team:

G. Sizemore .290 33 24 .390 127
A. Cabrera .265 0 3 .354 107
T. Hafner .285 1 24 .385 123
V. Martinez .292 0 25 .374 133
R. Garko .279 0 21 .359 123
J. Peralta .260 4 21 .341 105
J. Michaels .243 3 7 .324 92
F. Gutierrez .262 8 13 .318 108
C. Blake .260 4 18 .339 106

K. Lofton .244 2 0 .344 91
T. Nixon .238 0 3 .342 82
J. Barfield .204 14 3 .270 58
C. Gomez .202 0 0 .278 60
K. Shoppach .257 0 7 .310 106

J. Damon .263 27 12 .351 101
D. Jeter .284 15 12 .452 126
B. Abreu .278 25 16 .369 119
A. Rodriguez .339 24 54 .422 183
J. Posada .322 2 20 .426 160
H. Matsui .285 4 25 .367 128
J. Giambi .269 1 14 .356 112
R. Cano .277 4 19 .353 124
M. Cabrera .248 13 8 .327 93

S. Duncan .282 0 7 .329 133
D. Mientkiewicz .266 0 5 .349 112
J. Molina .260 0 1 .333 107
W. Betemit .230 0 4 .278 84

Note: Click EqA and OPS+ for more info. All stats taken from BR and BP.

Yikes. To be honest, I didn’t picture the Tribe getting blown away in nearly every offensive category; that certainly makes my little speech above seem irrelevant. There it is in black and white though.

The only thing Cleveland has going for it (as far as a possible advantage) is the way their power is spread throughout the lineup. Five of their starting nine have at least 20 homeruns, with only two batters not reaching double digit taters. Cleveland’s power distribution has contributed to many of their come-from-behind victories this season and could re-emerge to steal a late playoff win. I take little comfort in this fact as I stare at three guys with a .420+ OBP and a 54 homer cleanup slot for New York.

One surprising part of New York’s offense is how much speed they have at the top. The Yanks have three players with 20+ SB and a fourth with 15. Tribe pitchers are going to have to buckle down and keep an eye on their baserunners; otherwise the speedy top of the Yanks’ lineup will be giving Victor fits all night. Cleveland’s SB totals don’t reflect a speed threat outside of Grady, but the potential for mobile havoc is there. Cabrera, Lofton, and Gutierrez all have base-stealing speed, while Michaels and Barfield offer extra speed off the bench for close and late situations.

As mentioned above, New York’s bread and butter are wearing down pitchers with long at bats and walks. New York is fourth in the AL in pitches per plate appearance (3.89) and walks (637) and first in OBP (.366). Not to be outdone, Cleveland is second in the AL in pitches per plate appearance, sixth in walks (590), and seventh in OBP (.343). With two patient offenses in the box it will be interesting to see how long of a leash starting pitchers get with their pitch counts. If the leash is short (100-110 pitches), the bullpen may end up playing an even bigger role for each team as starters grind out each at-bat. It would make sense to allow your more durable pitchers (think C.C. vs. Byrd) to go the extra mile in the playoffs though, so early bullpen appearances may not be so prevalent.

It would obviously be an uphill battle for Cleveland to out-slug New York in a shootout. With the above lineups intact, New York edges Cleveland in OPS+ 127.3 to 113.7. Just for fun, let’s remove one of the Yanks’ best player (Rodriguez) from the lineup: 120.3 OPS+ to Cleveland’s 113.7. Even without Rodriguez, New York has Cleveland smoked on offense (at least on paper).

I could talk about how the playoffs are a crapshoot (they kinda are) and how the Tribe’s momentum and underdog status could help them break through (arguable), but those aren’t things I would want to hang my hat on going into the playoffs. What we know for sure, is there are just too few holes and too many great hitters on New York for Cleveland to realistically expect to win with an offense-first strategy. What we also know, is that Cleveland is far from a one-dimensional team and boasts two aces to combat New York’s nine-headed monster. So there you have it: the bottom line for the ALDS is pitching versus hitting. That was probably the most mundane ALDS preview around, but it’s pretty blatant, especially after sifting through the stats for anything out of the ordinary.

On the Season Series

I wanted to wrap up my ALDS ramblings with a counter to all the fans and writers who incessantly use the Tribe’s 0-6 season record against New York as the basis for their arguments. Cleveland is a different team now than it was then, especially back in April during the first series. Two games consisted of Westbrook and Sowers getting shelled. Sowers is no longer with the team and Westbrook was possibly injured in April (he missed nearly a month from May-June). Game 3 of the April series saw Carmona surrender 2 ER over 6 IP; again, good enough to win if not for Borowski’s worst single game performance all season. All this happened in the third week of the season.

Fast forward to the September set: Travis Hafner is out of the lineup with an injury, Trot Nixon starts 2 of 3 games, and Barfield is still the starting second baseman. Which of these factors holds true today? Here’s a hint; it rhymes with De Niro. Cleveland was still mired in a horrible offensive slump with .723 OPS in August (season-low), which means they were unable to support the solid starts tossed by Carmona and Westbrook (7 IP 4 ER, each). Plus, where’s C.C. in all of this? Well, he hasn’t faced New York since 2004.

Are people really that quick to dismiss Cleveland in this series? What’s a more accurate assessment, 96 games or 6?

Pronk (.965 OPS in Sept.) is finally back to lead a resurgent offense into the playoffs in support of the Tribe’s outstanding pitching (3.27 ERA in Sept.). The team has gotten a shot in the arm from players like Jensen Lewis and Asdrubal Cabrera. Jake has also been one of the best pitchers in the AL leading up to the playoffs with a 1.90 ERA in August and a respectable 4.14 ERA in September. And again, Sabathia has not even faced New York this season.

The Tribe enters the playoffs with an enthusiasm and confidence that will be tough to overcome when fused with their enormous talent. If you want to keep shoving the season series in my face, go ahead. I’m already looking towards October.

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