The Twins and the Tigers each won today, which means the winner AL Central will come from a tie breaking 163rd game to be held on Tuesday (at the incredibly awkward time of 5:07 Eastern/4:07 local time; that is a gripe for another day). I’d been planning on doing a quick preview on here because they are fun to do and I enjoy reviewing head to head match-ups. Instead I waited the entire weekend only to see the Tigers flounder in their series against the White Sox. Luckily for you I have, as usual, concocted a scheme to make all well again: a three team head to head to head comparison!
It seems to be common perception that pitching and defense are what wins in the playoffs. That may or may not be true, but either way you have to score to win. You can hypothetically win a game in which you allow twenty-three runs; you can’t win one scoring zero. So let’s begin with offense:
The Yankees led the majors in runs scored, by a pretty fair margin, with 905. The Twins were seventh in all of baseball, something that surprises me each time I look at it. I think I am still used to the buntbuntbuntscrap days of the Twins, but they’re a fairly dangerous offensive team (in spite of a few of the dreadful regulars in their lineup). At the other end were the Tigers, who were fourth worst in the AL in runs scored (17th ranked in all of baseball). With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what made up each of their offenses.
The Yankees set a team record for homeruns this season (with 242), as well as homeruns at home (129). There is good power in almost every slot of the lineup, as well as on the bench. A lot was made of the absurd homerun rates at New Yankee Stadium, but that seems to have cooled lately. There were only 16 more homeruns hit at home then on the road this year. Whether the “wind tunnel” will turn out to be an annual Spring/early Summer surge, or if it was simply an aberrational stretch, it seems a lot more evident that the homerun records for this team were the result of the lineup more than anything.
The Yankees, like in runs, pretty handily led the league in homers. In spite of their low run totals, the Tigers actually finished tenth in baseball in homers (in a rather large park) with 178, six ahead of the 13th ranked Twins. The Yankees also (surprise) led baseball in slugging and isolated power (ISO). The Twins were ninth and 15th, the Tigers 16th and 12th in those respective categories.
As far as getting on base, the Tigers (.330 OBP) were way behind both the Yankees (.362) and Twins (.344). The Tigers also finish a distant third to the Twins and Yankees in batting average and total walks. It’s pretty clear why they’re offense sputters, in spite of the decent homerun totals.
The pitching matchup is not quite as lopsided. In ERA, the Yankees come in 12th in baseball (but 4th in the AL) with a 4.30 line. The Tigers are just about on the level with them, 6th in the AL with an ERA of 4.35. The Twins (once again, this was a surprise all season) had a 4.51 ERA and actually had the best bullpen ERA of the three teams, which further shows just how iffy their rotation can be. I guess it shouldn’t be as unexpected to me as it is, they don’t exactly have a Johan Santana in their rotation anymore.
(By the way, in their most important game of the year, the Twins started Carl Pavano on 3 days rest. They’ve come a long way.)
For a more nuetral look at the pitchers performances, let’s check out their FIP. The Yankees were right in line with their ERA with a 4.31 FIP. The Tigers were at 4.53, and the Twins 4.38. That highlights the defensive differences in the two teams, with Tigers pitchers receiving more help (thanks, Adam Everett!) than those for the Twins (thanks, Delmon Young!).
Speaking of defensive help, the Tigers pretty much have three things going for them if they make the playoffs: at least two games from Justin Verlander each series; Miguel Cabrera; and their defense. They were third in baseball with a 50.5 team UZR, tremendously ahead of the Twins and Yankees, who were at -36.3 and -16.2, respectively. I think the Yankees play a little better than that number, but they’re still definitely behind Detroit. Robinson Cano, for example, played better than his -5 UZR this year (so I think, anyway… defensive evaluations get much better next season when batted ball and player data begin to be tracked and examined in the same fashion as pitch fx).
As their records would indicate, the Tigers and Twins are fairly well matched and the Yankees are far ahead of either of them in overall talent. The Twins are going to have home field advantage for the play-in game, and in a game where the pitching matchup is fairly even (Scott Baker for the Twins against Rick Porcello of the Tigers) you have to go with the team that was better offensively all season long.
tl;dr: Yankees will win in 3 or 4 games, regardless of this rounds opponent.
I promise to be less smug if/when the Yankees make the ALCS; like any sane Yankee fan, I respect the Red Sox and am deathly afraid of the Angels, who turn the Yankees into a little league team every season.
Hopefully the network friendly broadcast schedules don’t run the games or prevent anyone from seeing their hometown team (though I’m sure this will happen). Every series should be fun. Nothing beats playoff baseball!