A more-or-less for fun position-by-position contrast between the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. I’ve treated each position as one player, so the stats are for aggregate production, not that of the individual players who have manned them, so for example in left field you get Brett Gardner + Andruw Jones, not just Gardner. I have also included two stats which by now you are no doubt familiar with, True Average and WARP. These are Baseball Prospectus statistics. I’ve liked the definitions, but if you don’t feel like clicking the important thing to know is that True Average summarizes a player’s total offensive contribution in a number scaled to batting average (.210 is bad, .310 is good), WARP, or Wins Above Replacement Player, summarizes a player’s hitting, fielding, baserunning, and pitching into one number that shows how many wins they’ve added over a hypothetical freely available talent, and if you take both and mix them with orange juice and vodka you will have a Screwdriver.
Salty and Varitek have been better than expected, the former boosting his numbers after a slow start with a terrific (.327/.407/.538) June. Note that the Red Sox have thrown out only 24 percent of attempted basestealers this year, the third-worst mark in the league. The Yankees are fourth-worst. It hasn’t hurt either of them too badly. Call that a mark in Jesus Montero’s favor whenever he arrives. The degree to which Rays catchers have failed is surprising. Semi-prospect Robinson Chirinos, acquired from the Cubs as part of the Matt Garza deal, has heated up after a miserable start, hitting approximately .306/.380/.465 from May 1 on, and perhaps they’ll think about trying him out sooner than later.
Casey Kotchman has to be one of the most confounding players in history. A former first-round pick from a baseball family, he seemed to establish himself back in 2007 after a series of injuries and illnesses, only to completely fall apart. Last year he had a season (.217/.280/.336) that would have destroyed most first basemen for good, and it was only because of Dan Johnson’s nightmarish 25 games a the start of the season that he’s gotten to redeem himself. That he has done in spades. His personal TAv is .318, his WARP 1.5; the Rays are more competitive here than they look.
At a recent trip to the Stadium, I sat near fans arguing Teixeira versus Gonzalez. They were asking each other if you would take Teixeira’s power or Gonzalez’s batting average. They seemed to be missing that the real question should be "Teixeira’s power or Gonzalez’s both"—in which case it’s not a question at all. Teixeira is having a perfectly good year, but barring Jose Bautista, Gonzalez was the first-half MVP.
You can’t go wrong with any of these players. Pedroia and Cano have been largely even to this point, with the former rating a slight edge on defense so far. Injuries had the former MVP off to a slow start, but since the end of May he has been on a torrid streak, hitting .351/.460/.612 with seven home runs in 34 games. Cano had a soft May himself, but he has also rebounded, hitting .316/.374/.526 with four home runs and three triples in 35 games. Zobrist has had a great comeback from last year’s disappointing season, but his contribution here is diluted by that of Sean Rodriguez. Zobrist’s personal TAv (.305) and WARP (3.1) is competitive with that of Pedroia and Cano, though he doesn’t possess the glove of his counterparts.
Longoria was a popular preseason pick for AL MVP, but injuries cost him April and he’s been inconsistent since returning. His substitutes were disastrous: Rays third basemen hit .184/.238/.357 in April. Rodriguez edges Youkilis here for two reasons: first, though no one noticed, A-Rod was having his best defensive season at third base. Second, Youkilis is entirely a Fenway phenomena this year, hitting .383/.492/.664 at home, .185/.303/.356 on the road. That is a fluke—Youkilis doesn’t need the Green Monster’s help to be a good hitter—but until he shows the road crowds some results, the whole is slightly less than it appears to be at first glance. Of course, with A-Rod out for at least a month, all of this could change.
The Rays make a lot of good decisions, but their decision to bury Brignac after his spectacularly miserable start to the season makes sense only if they had a viable alternative. They did not. Brignac is hardly Cal Ripken on either side of the ball, but he likely would have sorted himself out eventually and given them something resembling an average performance. Instead, they’ve defaulted to an erratic mix with Johnson, whose upside appears to be even more limited. Meanwhile, Jeter isn’t Jeter anymore, but he’s still the class of this crew. No wonder the Orioles are fighting to hold on to J.J. Hardy.
Another odd decision by the Rays was to believe in Sam Fuld’s hot start when they had Desmond Jennings (now injured but solid after a slow start) and Brandon Guyer at Triple-A. Guyer is up now, but even accounting for the arb-shyness that has castrated general managers, the Rays have behaved passively at best. Meanwhile, Carl Crawford has been a disaster unredeemed by showing a little bit of life before disappearing to the disabled list. Gardner also got off to a slow start, but has hit a very comfortable .292/.374/.395 since April; you can take that from your left fielder in a year in which offense seems to have been downsized for the new economy.
Ellsbury rates the edge here because his offensive season has been nearly as good as Granderson’s and his defensive season, at least as the metrics see it, has been far superior. Upton’s output has been greatly disparaged, but he’s been more than solid—batting average isn’t everything.
Joyce should be voted Ms. Most Over-His-Head First Half. He’s presently going through a protracted regression, hitting .163/.224/.317 over his last 30 games. Swisher couldn’t find the handle for the first two months, but had a great June (.326/.445/.651) and will presently pass Joyce. With J.D. Drew’s contract up at the end of the year and Josh Reddick playing very well, the Sox might be asking themselves if they should just write this one off once Crawford comes back. As it is, they have received the worst right field production in the majors.
The Yankees continue to throw away baseball’s equivalent of Monopoly Free Parking. Jorge Posada had a very nice 17 games in June. Before, after you have rehearsals for retirement. Assuming health for Jesus Montero, it is very difficult to argue that a catcher/DH share for the young player would be a higher upside play for the Yankees at both positions, getting Martin’s gone-dead bat out of the lineup part of the time, putting Posada on the bench the rest of the time.
Final Score: Red Sox 4, Yankees 3, Rays 1. Given the wild card, it probably doesn’t matter if the Yankees or Red Sox try to fix those areas in which they are inferior to their competitors ("Hooray," he said limply) but that’s not necessarily something either team should take for granted.