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Just The Sports: Yankees Pitchers vs. Red Sox Pitchers

Just The Sports

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Yankees Pitchers vs. Red Sox Pitchers

With the Yankees and the Red Sox duking it out for AL East supremacy and the playoff berth that comes along with it, it is worth looking at how their pitching staffs stack up against each other since pitching will partly determine who walks away with the division title. For the most part, the two teams' records will be determined by their best three starters so those are the only ones I examined. I chose the three top starters from each team based on SNLVAR, or support-neutral lineup-adjusted value over a replacement level pitcher. SNLVAR is a Baseball Prospectus statistic that measures how many wins above a replacement level pitcher a pitcher adds if he receives league average run support.

The SNLVAR leaders for the Boston Red Sox are as follows: Curt Schilling (3.6), Tim Wakefield (2.2), and Josh Beckett (2.1). For the Yankees, the three starters are Mike Mussina (3.7), Chien-Ming Wang (2.7), and Jaret Wright (2.1). Yankee fans may wonder where Randy Johnson is on this list, but he has been outpitched by Wright this season. Now, let's compare the pitchers to their counterparts.

In the ace department, we have Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina. Since we already know Mussina has a higher SNLVAR, we could just stop there and anoint him the ace of the aces, right? Of the two, Schilling has the higher strikeout rate and the lower walk rate. The higher strikeout rate is to be expected from a power pitcher like Schilling, but the lower walk rate shows just how good Schilling is at what he does. Sometimes it is unfair to label him as a power pitcher or a finesse pitcher because he takes the best of both of those words (high strikeout rate, low walk rate) and uses them on the mound as his 7.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio indicates.

Mussina has the lower home run rate of the two. Mussina also has a slightly lower WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched), but a slightly higher fielding-independent ERA. As for their profiles, each is a flyball pitcher up to today with Schilling being a more extreme version of one. As expected from their home run rates, Mussina has a lower HR/FB% and also a higher infield fly ball percentage, but Schilling bests Mussina in allowing a lower percentage of infield hits. Basically, the battle between these two pitchers is a push. However, Mussina may find himself hard pressed to keep up his absurdly low (for him) batting average allowed on balls in play of .271, his lowest such mark since 1995.

The second match-up pits the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang against the Red Sox's knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Comparing Wakefield to Wang is almost criminal, as their SNLVAR's suggest. Almost. Still, for the disparity in SNLVAR, Wakefield does have an advantage over Wang in both strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio. This advantage is largely because Wang is an extreme groundball pitcher and relies on his defense to get outs for him. Wakefield also has a lower WHIP than Wang, again understandable considering Wang allows a higher percentage of balls put in play.

Overall, though, Wang is better than Wakefield. He has a significantly lower fielding-independent ERA (4.02 to 4.64) even if his regular ERA is only marginally better than Wakefield's. Here, the Yankees have an advantage over the Red Sox.

Some may be dubious of whether Jaret Wright can continue to perform well, but it is what it is, and he has been the third best starter for the Yankees this year in terms of SNLVAR.

His counterpart on the Red Sox, and a player who matches him in SNLVAR, is Josh Beckett. Beckett is having one of his worst seasons as a major league pitcher, with career highs in ERA, fielding-independent ERA, and home run rate, all categories you do not want to post a career high in if you are a major league pitcher. Also, his strikeout rate is the lowest it has been for his career (7.48 K/9).

For the season, Beckett has certainly lived up to his reputation of being a pitcher who occasionally dazzles on the mound, but in the end ultimately leaves the observer dissatisfied. Beckett has certainly been the least consistent Red Sox starting pitcher.

Still, I am comparing Beckett to Wright and not Beckett to what his potential is. Beckett has the edge over Wright in a few categories: strikeout rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and WHIP. However, Beckett's 2.13 HR/9 is absolutely killing him and the Red Sox and makes Wright's .50 HR/9 look positively sublime. Beckett is also second to Wright in fielding-independent ERA (3.84 to 5.82). Once again, I have to give the edge to the Yankees, at least until Beckett can decrease his home run rate or Wright turns back into a pumpkin.

So far, it looks like you have to give the edge to the Yankees' three best starters over the Red Sox's three best starters, when ordered by SNLVAR.


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