Yankees/Tigers ALCS Preview for Position Players

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Do the homer-happy Yankees or Miggy/Prince-led Tigers have the edge on offense?

This post will be mostly about a comparison of non-pitchers, but first, an aside to explain why this preview does not include pitching.

Thanks to Bud Selig's playoff-scheduling shenanigans, it will be very difficult to predict how New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi will set up his pitching rotation for the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. Jim Leyland has already announced his Tiger rotation, and he will basically keep the same order except for ace Justin Verlander on full rest in Game 3 rather than Max Scherzer since then, Verlander could pitch a potential Game 7 if necessary while still on full rest. Game 1 tonight will be Doug Fister against Andy Pettitte, and our SBN Tigers site "Bless You Boys" did a good preview for that matchup.

Leyland will pitch Anibal Sanchez in Game 2, Verlander in Game 3, Scherzer in Game 4, then repeat the first three in Games 5-7 if necessary. Who they will pitch against is anyone's guess. Until Girardi clarifies his rotation, we are left to speculation and cannot really make a proper pitching preview. Game 2 could either be David Phelps or Hiroki Kuroda on three days' rest, though I think Girardi will probably keep Kuroda on regular rest since he's never done that before and use Phelps with Phil Hughes waiting in the wings to back him up with a couple innings on two days' rest if necessary since he might not even get an ALCS start. Game 3 could be Kuroda or CC Sabathia on three days' rest against fellow ace Verlander since that would be the only way to set him up for a potential Game 7 on full rest. That being said, CC could very well just pitch Game 4 since he would be on regular rest, then be available to pitch Game 7 on three days' rest if necessary. Game 5 would probably just be a rematch of Pettite and Fister on full rest. Game 6 would probably be Hughes on the mound for his first start since ALDS Game 4, and I can't imagine the Yankees turning to anyone other than CC for a Game 7, full rest or not.

Enough speculation. Let's get on with a comparison of who we know will start--the position players.

Position by Position Comparison

Catcher

Russell Martin (NYY) vs. Alex Avila (DET)
Both players were All-Stars in 2011, but neither got off to a very good start in 2012. Martin has more power with 12 more homers and a .192 ISO to Avila's .142, but Avila was much better at simply getting on base with a .352 OBP to Martin's .311. Their respective wRC+ acknowledges this large discrepency, since Avila's 104 bests Martin's 95 handily. They're about the same on defense, though Avila threw out 30% of baserunners to Martin's 25%.
ALDS Comparison
Martin- 12 PA, .176/.300/.412, 2B, HR, 2 K
Avila- 20 PA, .250/.250/.583, 2B, HR, 6 K
Edge: Tigers, but it's very close.

First Base

Mark Teixeira (NYY) vs. Prince Fielder (DET)
Prince was a pricey offseason acquisition for Detroit, but he was worth every penny in 2012. He played in all 162 games, slugged 30 homers and led all first basemen in OBP (.412), wOBA (.398), wRC+ (153), and fWAR (4.9). He was one of the biggest reasons that Miggy won the Triple Crown, since American League pitchers could not pitch around him with Prince backing him up. He is not nearly the defensive first baseman that Tex is, but he was so far superior to Tex in all offensive categories that this comparison is not even close (which is a shame since Prince only makes $500,000 more than Tex).
ALDS Comparison
Teixeira- 22 PA, .353/.500/.353, SB, 2 K
Fielder- 22 PA, .190/.227/.333, HR, 2 K
Edge: Tigers.

Second Base

Robinson Cano (NYY) vs. Omar Infante (2B)
The Yankees have a clear advantage at second with their best player against a guy whose career year in 2010 would be the third-worst season of the other's career. Infante returned to his original team in the Anibal Sanchez/Jacob Turner trade on July 23rd, but slumped from .287/.312/.442 with the Marlins to .257/.283/.385 with the Tigers. Meanwhile, Cano maintained his status as the major league's top second baseman at .313/.379/.550 with 196 hits, 33 homers, a .394 wOBA, a 150 wRC+, and 7.8 fWAR (all tops among second season). Infante's ALDS was better, but it's a small sample size.
ALDS Comparison
Cano- 23 PA, .091/.130/.182, 2 2B, 3 K
Infante- 19 PA, .353/.389/.412, 2B, 6 K
Edge: Yankees.

Shortstop

Derek Jeter (NYY) vs. Jhonny Peralta (DET)
Like in the ALDS, it's a question of whether you prefer a shortstop with a bat or a shortstop with a glove. Jeter excelled on offense with a league-high 216 hits to Peralta's 127 and a 117 wRC+ to Peralta's 86, but Peralta produced 0.6 dWAR to Jeter's -1.4 and 11.7 UZR/150 to Jeter's -16.4.
ALDS Comparison
Jeter- 24 PA, .364/.391/.500, 2B, 3B, 8 K
Peralta- 18 PA, .294/.333/.294, SB, 3 K
Edge: Yankees. Jeter's offense is more impactful than Peralta's defense.

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez (NYY) vs. Miguel Cabrera (DET)
This debate is the same as the one across the diamond with Teixeira vs. Fielder. Miggy is just overpowering and one of the best players in the league at .330/.393/.606 with a 166 wRC+ and a league-high 44 homers. A-Rod's 114 wRC+ is okay and his defense is better, but this comparison isn't even close.
ALDS Comparison
Rodriguez- 18 PA, .125/.222/.125, 9 K
Cabrera- 22 PA, .250/.318/.350, 2 2B
Edge: Tigers.

Left Field

Ichiro Suzuki (NYY) vs. Quintin Berry (DET)
Ichiro and Berry's seasons were actually more similar than you would think. Ichiro out-hit and out-slugged him, but Berry had a higher OBP (.330 to .307) and they stolen almost the exact same number of bases (22 and 21, respectively). Berry played so well that the manager Jim Leyland left the struggling Brennan Boesch off the playoff roster. Ichiro's performance since he left Seattle for New York is probably the difference-maker though, since he's dramatically improved his season while in pinstripes. He hit .322/.340/.454 with 13 doubles and five homers as a Yankee.
ALDS Comparison
Ichiro- 25 PA, .217/.250/.304, 2 2B, SB, CS, 3 K
Berry- 12 PA, .300/.364/.400, 2B, SB, 3 K
Edge: Yankees, but again, it's closer than you would think.

Center Field

Curtis Granderson (NYY) vs. Austin Jackson (DET)
Ah, the classic debate that began when Granderson was traded to the Yankees and prospect Austin Jackson went to Detroit in December 2009. Some praise Granderson's 108 blasts since the trade, but others put much more value in Jackson's superior defense and offensive improvements. It was a toss-up between the two in 2010 as they were essentially equal on defense while Jackson cooled down after a hot start and Granderson rebounded with a strong final two months. AJax slumped in 2011 and Granderson was a legitimate MVP candidate. Jackson won the debate in 2012 though with a far more consistent season on offense than both his BABIP-fueled 2010 and Granderson's 2012. He was one of the best center fielders in baseball, hitting .300/.377/.479 with a 135 wRC+ and 5.5 fWAR to Granderson's .232/.319/.492 with a 116 wRC+ and 2.6 fWAR. Expect this debate to continue long past 2012.
ALDS Comparison
Granderson- 20 PA, .158/.200/.316, HR, SB, 9 K
Jackson- 22 PA, .250/.286/.350, 2 2B, 7 K
Edge: Tigers.

Right Field

Nick Swisher (NYY) vs. Andy Dirks (DET)
Dirks was quietly awesome for the Tigers in 2012, splitting time between left and right. When Berry plays left, Dirks is in right, and he moves to left when Avisail Garcia starts or makes an appearance. A lefthanded hitter, Dirks hit .322/.370/.487 with a 133 wRC+ in 88 games this year, offensive numbers better than Swisher's .272/.364/.473, albeit in 60 fewer games than Swish. Swisher probably gets a slight edge on defense thanks to a superior UZR/150 this year at the position (3.4 to -4.9), but it's worth noting that Dirks was a better corner fielder in 2011 though. Since UZR gives its best estimates with a couple years of data, it could be argued that they're about the same in the field.
ALDS Comparison
Swisher- 21 PA, .111/.190/.111, 5 K
Dirks- 18 PA, .294/.294/.353, 3 K
Edge: Tigers by a hair, but I could certainly understand the argument for Swisher since he has much more of a track record.

Designated Hitter

Raul Ibanez (NYY) vs. Delmon Young (DET)
Young's only 26, but outside of a solid 2010 with the Twins, he has never really lived up to his promise as the top pick of the 2003 draft. Although he hit 18 homers, the second-highest total of his career, he only hit .267/.296/.411 with a disappointing 89 wRC+. His numbers did improve to .308/.333/.500 line when facing lefties though, so CC and Pettitte will have to watch out for that. Ibanez had an up-and-down season and actually only spent 28 games at DH due to the Brett Gardner injury. He'll likely stay at DH and take on the Tigers' righthanded rotation from there; he hit 19 homers and slugged .492 against them.
ALDS Comparison
Ibanez- 10 PA, .444/.500/1.111, 2 HR, 2 K
Young- 18 PA, .235/.278/.235, CS, 3 K
Edge: Yankees.

Overall Edge for Position Players

Simply going by my comparisons added up, the Tigers have a slight edge, 5-4, but that's contingent on the narrow Martin vs. Avila and Dirks vs. Swisher debates, both of which went to Detroit. The Yankees' offense scored 78 more runs and slugged .453 to the Tigers' .422 while fighting off two 90-win teams for the division title. The Tigers got 38 games to beat up on the worst pitching staffs in the league, the Indians and the Twins and were still outscored by the Yankees. I'm overruling my comparison point total and giving this very close advantage to the Yankees.
ALDS Comparison
Yankees- 200 PA, .211/.278/.333, 8 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 3 SB, CS, 47 K
Tigers- 178 PA, .252/.293/.337, 8 2B, 2 HR, 4 SB, CS, 39 K
Edge: Yankees, but just barely.

Who do you think has the edge on offense? Vote in the poll and sound off in the comments below. Feel free to chime in your thoughts on the pitching rotation as well.

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