Jason Rosenberg and his stable of writers do a terrific job of covering the Yankees over the site It's About the Money, Stupid. The blog is a member of Rob Neyer's SweetSpot Network, and with good reason -- they offer the type of cogent, even-handed analysis that many might not typically associate with New York sports.
I strongly recommend checking out Jason's ALDS series preview, and after you're done with that you can scroll down and read my brief Q&A session with the IIATMS crew here. I asked Jason and his gang five questions that I felt might help illuminate some aspects of the opponent for Twins fans. Make sure you head over to the IIATMS blog later today to check out my answers to their own five questions.
NTB: Many people don't seem to realize what a disappointing season Derek Jeter had, by his standards at least. From your vantage point, are his reduced numbers simply the result of a down year or is he showing his age? Give us a synopsis on his season and rate your confidence in him heading into the ALDS.
IIATMS: Anyone who got within 100 yards of IIATMS knows about Jeter’s disappointing season. We KNOW that something is off with Jeter this year. When we look at his stats, the one that jumps out is a 65.7% ground ball rate, by far the highest in baseball for anyone with at least 300 ABs (there are only three other players with at least 300 ABs and a GB% over 60%). Jeter’s always had a high ground ball rate (career average of 57%), but 65.7% seems extreme, particularly coupled with a career-low line drive percentage of 16.1% and a career-high O-Swing percentage (percentage of balls swung at outside of the strike zone) of 28.2%. These stats confirm what we think we saw all year: Jeter did not make the same kind of ball contact as in prior years, nor did he have the same kind of plate discipline. Is age a factor? Of course age is a factor, he’s 36 years old. But this also may have been an off-year for Jeter, as suggested by his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). BABIP fluctuations are supposed to be mostly a matter of luck. Jeter’s 2010 BABIP is .307, which is better than normal for most players but 50 points below his career average. So, chalk up Jeter’s 2010 to a combination of factors, and figure that (subject to the small sample size) Jeter is probably a better player than he showed this year, but not as good as he was before this year.
NTB: Mark Teixeira's splits this season are striking to me. The switch-hitter's OPS was about 140 points higher from the right side, which bodes well for your club with the Twins starting southpaws in Games 1 and 3. I also notice that Teixeira's OPS was 240 points lower on the road than at home, which obviously doesn't bode nearly as well. What do you make of these splits?
IIATMS: Don’t try to figure out Mark Teixeira. Just don’t. We’ve given up trying. Yes, his 2010 OPS number is down about a hundred points from last year’s near-MVP level, but a year for this guy is either too small or too large a sample size. We’re not sure. Yes, he was more productive from the right side in 2010, but he’s not predictable here either. In 2009, his OPS was 40 points better from the left side; in 2008 he was 92 points better from the left side; in 2006 he was 125 points better from the right side. You tell us what that means. We’re listening. More significant to us is his OPS fluctuation from month to month: .559 in March/April of this year, 1.160 in July, .694 in September/October. But somehow, the guy always seems to make a contribution. For example, Teix manages to draw walks when he can’t get hits – in his combined March/April and September/October, he had more walks than hits. When we make a list of the things we’re worried about for this October, Teix doesn’t make our top 20. (And by the way, thanks for not asking us to explain why Teix’s 2010 UZR was worse than Adam Dunn’s.)
NTB: Give us a breakdown of the Yankees bullpen. Mariano Rivera struggled a bit late in the season but he had another great year and is a postseason legend. Beyond him, however, this doesn't appear to be one of the better groups in baseball. Is there a lefty specialist that you'd trust against the likes of Joe Mauer and Jim Thome late in a game?
IIATMS: Our relief corps got better as the year went on. They ended with a 3.47 ERA (0.02 better than the Twins). Our FIP is not great at 4.06, but blame that on Mo Rivera, whose FIP is usually higher than his ERA (this year a full point higher). The addition of Kerry Wood at the trade deadline was a huge help down the stretch (0.69 ERA, .160 BA against, 10.73 K/9). We don’t expect Wood to be that good in the post-season, but he doesn’t have to be that good to help get us to Mo. As for our LOOGY? That would be household name Boone Logan, a guy whose mere appearance warming in the bullpen used to trigger a spasm of hate tweets in Yankeedom. Only Logan ended the season with an ERA under 3. Against lefties he had a K/9 of over 12 and a FIP of 1.87. He also got better as the year went on: he allowed just one earned run in 13 innings of pitching in July and August. That’s not bad for a LOOGY, and no, we don’t trust Logan versus Joe Mauer in a high-leverage situation. If you know of a LOOGY who IS effective against Joe Mauer, please let us know who that LOOGY is, and we’ll sign him to an eight-figure free agent contract before Wednesday. Only kidding. We wouldn’t do that. So there wouldn’t be any harm in recommending a LOOGY to us. You can trust us.
NTB: What are your thoughts on the Yankees' playoff rotation? CC Sabathia is obviously a horse. Andy Pettitte has owned the Twins historically but carries injury concerns this October. Phil Hughes strikes me as a wild card. Unless they're up in the series 2-1, is there any chance the Yanks don't go back to Sabathia on short rest for Game 4?
IIATMS: We haven’t seen the Yanks’ projected starting rotation, but we think the Yanks will go back to CC in game 4 even if the Yanks ARE up 2-1. The Yanks’ starting rotation consists of a Cy Young runner-up, two question marks, and a threesome that seemed to fight down the stretch for the honor of being left off the post-season roster. We haven’t seen a Yankees-announced post-season rotation yet, but we’ve penciled CC in for three days’ rest in every post-season series in which the Yankees manage to play. CC may need half of 2011 to rest up from what we plan to do to him in the remainder of 2010.
NTB: Finally, give us one key reason the Yankees could win this series and one reason they could lose it.
IIATMS: Same key reason both times: starting pitching. If the Yanks can hold you guys to an average of 4.5 runs a game, then we like our chances. If not, then we’ll be spending much of the post-season making goo-goo eyes at Cliff Lee.
Huge thanks to all the people over at IIATMS for their thoughtful answers. I'm sure we'll be hearing from them again over the course of this series. A few more notes to take you through this final agonizing day before we get this thing started...
* If I did a live, interactive Twins chat here on the blog within the next few days, is that something that people would be interested in participating in?
* One cool aspect of the increased interest in the Twins this year as a result of the new stadium and the quality product on the field is all the new independent apparel that has sprung up. I'm sure you're all familiar with Parker's DiamondCentric label, which has released a number of humorous player-related t-shirt designs including the ever-popular Thome Is My Homey (now available as a hooded sweatshirt).
If you haven't yet, I strongly recommend checking out the "Let's Get Denarded" shirts from the clothing line Seventh.Ink. I got my hands on one of these t-shirts last week and was extremely impressed with its quality; the slick design is printed on American Apparel, so they're actually really nice threads. Please go pay my friends at Seventh.Ink a visit and order your t-shirt or hoody in time for the playoffs!
* Finally, TwinsCentric and a number of other Twins fans will be gathering at at Park Tavern in St. Louis Park for Game 3 of the ALDS, which takes place in New York on Saturday night starting at 7:30 CT. Please join us!