Change-UpOctober 13, 2010
Comparing the Rangers & Yankees
By Patrick Sullivan

Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers dropped the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Division Series last night, setting up an enticing matchup with the defending World Series champions.

The Rangers and Yankees respective run prevention units profile similarly. Each features a dominant ace, capable depth rounding out their rotations, and good bullpens where all roads lead to their shut-down Closers. Defensively, both teams are good, too. The Yankees probably have the outfield advantage with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner patrolling, while the Rangers enjoy the infield edge thanks to their stud middle infield of Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler.

Offensively, it’s an entirely different story. They’re both very good with the bats – the Yanks led the AL in runs and the Rangers were fourth – but they go about their work at the plate in different styles. Lineup anchors for Texas like Mike Young, Josh Hamilton and Kinsler all see fewer pitchers per plate appearance than the league average. And of course, one of the great all-time free swingers in baseball history is Vladimir Guerrero. He’s in the mix too, although he has struggled over the second half of the season. Only the Baltimore Orioles saw fewer pitchers per plate appearance than the AL West champions.

On the other hand, New York saw the most pitchers per plate appearances in the American League other than Boston or Tampa Bay. It’s really only Robinson Cano that will hack away for the Bombers, and it’s not like his approach needs tweaking. He makes it work to the tune of MVP candidacy. Even more troubling for Rangers pitching, not only can the Yanks get ahead in the count, but they hit better than any other team in baseball once there.

This contrast in hitting styles is where the ALCS will hinge. Right off the bat, the Yanks will have a chance to leverage their patience. C.J. Wilson had a nice year, but his traditional numbers outpace his peripherals. The biggest blemish on Wilson’s performance record is his high walk rate, 4.10 per 9 innings. He also throws his first pitch for a strike and induces swinging strikes on pitches outside the zone at a below average rate. Grooving the first one and forcing otherwise patient batters to chase bad balls are two tools the high-walk pitcher can turn to, but Wilson seems to have neither. The Yankees will be a test for him.

As you might imagine, Wilson struggled in three starts against New York this season, pitching just 14.1 innings and walking 5.65 guys per 9 innings. But Wilson’s smart (follow @str8edgeracer on twitter), and he doubtless knows his weakness and his opponent’s strength. In Tampa Bay for Game 2 of the ALDS, he limited his walk total to just two while facing a team even more patient than the Yankees. He’s a good pitcher with great make-up. I’m not counting him out by a long shot.

While Wilson could be a problem for Texas, Lee is the prototype to combat a patient offense. He walks nobody, and pounds the zone with pitches that move every which way. He goes in Game 3 for the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.

For the Yankees, their pitchers will have some latitude to expand the zone thanks to the Rangers’ approach. This is a risky game, however, because the Rangers righty-stacked lineup will crush mistakes from lefties. Vlad, Nelson Cruz, Kinsler and Young all murder southpaws, and if C.C. Sabathia or Andy Pettitte decide they want to get Texas to chase and they don’t bite, the Rangers’ righties should see some nice pitches to hit.

The pitcher-batter match-ups in this series should be terrific, a study in Game Theory from start to finish. I give the edge to the Yankees because of their superior approach at the plate. But it’s close, and if Sabathia and Pettitte are off even the slightest bit, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which the Yankees head home to face Cliff Lee down 2-0. Watch individual pitches, match-ups, strategies and yes, umpiring within each plate appearance. It promises to be fascinating, and it's where this series will be won.


Go look at the past Pitch-FX gamecharts (on for CJ Wilson's starts against the Yankees this year.

He was flat-out cheated by the umpiring. Especially the first game. He and Sabathia were operating under two distinctly different K-zones.

Not sure if it was typical Yankee-homerism or if the men in blue have a distaste for CJ's demeanor.

I decided to check that. April 16, 2010.


0 strikes called balls by ump
0 balls called strikes by ump


9 strikes called balls
6 balls called strikes
net: -3

You might see that as bias. I might see that as an ump that has trouble judging Wilson's pitches accurately. Wilson also through a cluster of pitches that were in the strike zone and called balls... in an area Sabathia never through 1 pitch. CC wasn't getting calls in an area Wilson wasn't - he wasn't throwing there at all.

Bad umping? Yes, unfortunately. Bias? No.

Actually, 1 of the "6 balls called strikes" is possibly a strike. So the net might be -4 for Wilson.

Also, threw instead of through. I need more caffeine this morning.

Second game: August 10, 2010.


0 balls called strikes.
6 strikes called balls.
-6, ouch.

AJ Burnett:

3 balls called strikes
9 strikes called balls.
-6, ouch.

Not bias, but a crappy strike zone for sure. Both guys, in that game, threw pitches in that area of the strike zone I mentioned in my first post. The ump consistently missed those pitches. Hmm.

CORRECTION: Burnett had 0 balls called strikes. I mistook some foul balls (burgundy) for called strikes (red). My mistake. Therefore, Burnett had it worse: -9 net. OOF!

Third game, September 10, 2010.


1 ball called a strike
5 strikes called balls.
net = -4.


2 balls called strikes
4 strikes called balls
net = -2.

You know what I think? I think a lot of the "strikes called balls" are pitches were the pitcher missed his spot - the catcher had to move his glove. That happens A LOT to Burnett, for instance. The pitch may still end up in the strike zone, but he won't get the call. The truth is that AJ *is* wild. And I think it hurts him badly.

Wilson, though not as wild, still has mediocre control and I think he gets penalized as well.

Which team has the fewest ex-cubs?