It would seem to be an easy choice. After all, in the 2010 ALCS the New York Yankees were thumped in six games by the Texas Rangers. So it follows that the Yankees, in the 2011 postseason, would prefer to avoid the incumbent American League champs for as long as possible — if not entirely.
Of course, with the AL wild card almost certain to come from the East Division, that means the Yankees will play either the Detroit Tigers or those menacing Rangers in the ALDS. Right now, Texas has a one-game lead on Detroit, and if that holds, the Yankees will face the Tigers. And while that might seem like good news for the Bronx Bombers, it’s actually not. In fact, the Rangers are a far more accommodating matchup for the Yankees than the Tigers.
Is this just idle talk from the idle contrarian? Far from it. In this case, the numbers bear it out.
First and most obviously are the regular-season results. This season, the Yankees are 7-2 against the Rangers with a run differential of plus-27. Against the Tigers, meantime, the Yankees are 3-4 with a run differential of minus-3.
The Yankees’ offense, of course, is a power attack. They pace the majors in homers (217) by a spacious margin. More specifically, when Yankees hitters put the ball in the air, the ball tends to cross the outfield fence quite often, at least in relative terms. When it comes to home runs per fly ball, the Yankees lead the majors, again with a cushion.
All these tendencies of New York hitters wouldn’t be terribly relevant if they didn’t dovetail quite nicely with the tendencies of Texas pitchers. Miracle of miracles, it turns out they do! The Texas staff ranks fourth in the 14-team AL in fly-ball rate, which, one may surmise, is not a good thing when facing the Yankees. Worse still is that the Rangers’ staff yields the third-highest HR/FB rate in the AL. All of that, to summon a related metaphor, is in the Yankees’ wheelhouse.
Some of that latter figure is, of course, owing to the character of the Rangers’ home ballpark, but we’re not concerned with neutral context in this instance. Rather, we’re concerned with how the Rangers’ staff will fare against the cloutin’ Yankees lineup in homer-friendly Arlington and almost-as-homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. The expectation based on recent history is: not well.
On the flip side, the Rangers’ offense is much like New York’s in that Texas batters hit home runs (second to the Yanks in the majors) and hit a high rate of homers per fly ball (also second to the Yanks in the majors). However, the Yankees’ staff isn’t similarly inclined to help them out. Yankees pitchers, unlike their Rangers counterparts, keep the ball on the ground (second-lowest fly-ball percentage in the AL) and do a significantly better job when it comes to preventing home runs on fly balls. And if this series comes to pass, then it will likely come to just that.
Depending on how the Rangers structure their ALDS rotation, the Yankees could face a lefty four times in a potential set that goes the full five games. In a five-game series, the Yanks would face lefty ace C.J. Wilson twice and fellow lefties Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, provided Holland and Harrison are both part of the ALDS rotation. That’s four lefties in five games. At a minimum, the Yankees would face a left-handed starter three times in a five-game series against Texas.
The significance, as you might have guessed, is that the Yankees have crushed left-handed pitching this season. In fact, Yankees batsmen lead the AL versus lefties in … deep breath … home runs (there’s that one again), OBP, SLG (and OPS!), wOBA, wRC+, wRAA and HR/FB (there’s that one again). Or, stated another way, they lead the AL versus lefties in quite a lot of things. This is not good news for Texas.
And what of those alternative Tigers? Contrary to what the Yankees would prefer, Detroit pitchers do not give up many fly balls and do not surrender many home runs on the fly balls they do permit. Furthermore, the Tigers will have no lefties in their playoff rotation. Plus, there’s the whole “two lethal doses of Justin Verlander in a short series” consideration.
So despite what you might think, the Yankees should be pulling for the Tigers this week so that they can play the defending AL champs in the ALDS.