Part two of a series of comparisons between the New York Yankees and the rest of the tough American League East. After taking each other to the limit in the division race and in the playoffs in 2012, the Yankees and Orioles both finished 85-77, good enough for third in the division but six games out of a playoff spot.
While the Yankees made some big moves this off-season, the Orioles’ off-season was mostly a disaster. Their attempt to sign closer Grant Balfour ended with his physical failure, and for much of the off-season they were unable to attract many of the big free agents available and traded their closer Jim Johnson to Oakland. They managed to salvage the winter by signing Nelson Cruz to a 1-year deal and Ubaldo Jimenez to a 4-year deal, but still whiffed on Ervin Santana. The O’s thus go into the 2014 campaign with one of the deadliest lineups in the American League, but also with a suspect pitching staff.
All projections are from RotoChamp.com
BAL- Matt Wieters: .265/.328/.449/.777, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 58 R
NYY- Brian McCann: .259/.338/.449/.787, 24 HR, 77 RBI, 61 R
Advantage, Yankees. While Wieters hasn’t totally lived up to the hype in his five-year career, he’s still an outstanding defensive catcher and has plenty of pop. Going into his age-28 season, he’s poised for another good season. McCann has been one of three best catchers in baseball since breaking into the league in 2005 along with Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer. His power numbers should go up with the move from Turner Field to Yankee Stadium.
BAL- Chris Davis: .262/.347/.565/.912, 43 HR, 101 RBI, 81 R
NYY- Mark Teixeira: .245/.337/.461/.798, 26 HR, 86 RBI, 70 R
Advantage, Orioles. Davis finally put it all together last year, leading the majors in homers, RBI, and total bases. He should have zero problem putting up monster power numbers at Camden Yards again. Teixeira is coming off a season cut short to 15 games by a wrist injury, and it’s unknown how much that problem will linger. Not to mention his numbers were already declining every year as a Yankee. He still should be able to hit enough homers and RBI at the Stadium, but it remains to be seen how much the wrist will limit those totals
NYY- Brian Roberts: .247/.310/.364/.674, 5 HR, 28 RBI
Advantage, Orioles, but this position is a total mess for both teams. The former Oriole Roberts is replacing one of the best players in the game, and has only played 192 games in the previous four seasons. Weeks and Flaherty will probably interchange for much of the season. Flaherty has some pop but not much else. Weeks showed potential in his rookie year in Oakland but has been absolutely putrid since. But both guys are much younger and less of an injury concern than Roberts
BAL- Manny Machado: .268/.302/.432/.734, 12 HR, 55 RBI, 61 R
NYY- Kelly Johnson: .232/.311/.395/.706, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 8 SB
Advantage, Orioles. Machado is still dealing with that knee injury, but the 21-year-old is still one of the best young players in the game. He’s an amazing defender with the ability to play both short and third and his bat, with a swing reminiscent of a young Alex Rodriguez is still growing (he led the league in doubles but only hit 14 homers). A second baseman by trade, Kelly Johnson has only played 16 games at third in his eight-year career. He does have good power, and playing in Yankee Stadium could help him put up solid numbers, but he may need to move back to second if Roberts gets hurt.
BAL- J.J. Hardy: .262/.307/.431/.738, 22 HR, 72 RBI, 70 R
NYY- Derek Jeter: .275/.334/.369/.713, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB, 53 R
Advantage, Orioles. Hardy is pretty underrated. He’s a career .260 hitter, but he’s had five seasons with over 20 homers, pretty rare for a shortstop. Not to mention he’s an outstanding defender, so his value really gets pushed up by being solid overall. We all know about Jeter. It’s a given he likely won’t hit .316 like he did two years ago, and it’s hard to say how many games he can play at shortstop. He says the ankle is fine, and he looks okay running the bases and playing short this spring, so he should at least be replacement level on a decent amount of games played, something difficult to do for any 40-year-old player.
BAL- Nolan Reimold: .244/.304/.418/.722, 12 HR, 34 RBI, 36 R
NYY- Brett Gardner: .263/.340/.388/.728, 8 HR, 55 RBI, 29 SB, 82 R
Advantage, Yankees. The Orioles are still trying to figure out their situation at DH and LF, but it looks like Reimold is probably their most likely option. After a solid rookie season in 2009 (116 OPS+ and 15 HR in 104 games), Reimold has played just 182 games. Gardner has been one of the most underrated players in the game last few years. He has been worth about four wins or more in his last three full seasons, as he’s an outstanding defender in left and center and steals plenty of bases.
BAL- Adam Jones: .297/.335/.505/.840, 29 HR, 103 RBI, 13 SB, 84 R
NYY- Jacoby Ellsbury: .285/.340/.433/.773, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 38 SB, 89 R
Advantage, Yankees. This is a tough choice. Both guys are two of the best center fielders in the game. Jones is an iron man, playing 140 games or more in each of the last four seasons, and he has a ton of power for his position. However, he is a free swinger with an career OBP of just .322 (and .318 last season), and the metrics like UZR have rated him as a bad defender. Ellsbury has been prone to freak injuries in his career, but he is one of the best overall players in the game. He steals bases with amazing efficiency (52 of 56 last season), he’s a significantly better fielder than Jones (UZR/150 close to 10.0 or more in his last four seasons.) He may not have the power Jones has, but he may get back to double digits in homers at Yankee Stadium. It’s tough, but Ellsbury wins this by a small margin.
BAL- Nick Markakis: .286/.350/.395/.745, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 72 R
NYY- Carlos Beltran: .276/.339/.474/.813, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 72 R
Advantage, Yankees. Markakis had a down season after breaking his thumb — on a pitch by C.C. Sabathia no less — but he’s still in the prime of his career at the age of 30. I don’t see why he can’t bounce back this season to his normal numbers. After dealing with a knee injury five years ago, Beltran has played 140+ games in each of the last three seasons in the National League. He incredibly put up a 136 OPS+ in that time in mostly pitcher parks. At Yankee Stadium, he should be able to beat the age curve with the short porch and the DH option.
BAL- Nelson Cruz: .261/.322/.475/.787, 26 HR, 76 RBI, 68 R
NYY- Alfonso Soriano: .247/.297/.462/.759, 26 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB, 64 R
Advantage, Orioles, slightly. Of course, Cruz is coming off his Biogenesis suspension, and did not sign with a team until late February. The Orioles got him on a 1-year deal for $8 million; that could be the biggest bargain of the whole off-season. Soriano put up an .850 OPS and hit 17 homers in just 58 games in his return to the Boogie Down last year. Both Cruz and Soriano, never full-time DHs in their lives, are similar hitters: free-swinging right-handers with a lot of power. Cruz is a lot younger, but Soriano is more durable. It’s close though.
Advantage, Orioles. The 22-year-old Schoop is the Orioles top hitting prospect, and could get a lot of playing time with the health of Machado and the black hole at second base. The age of the Yankees’ roster and the problems they have in the infield may force them to play Nunez and Ryan a lot-one can hit and can’t field, while the other is stellar with the leather and is almost an automatic out at the plate.
BAL- Chris Tillman: 185 IP, 4.18 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 2.55 K/BB
NYY- C.C. Sabathia: 196 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.11 K/BB
Advantage, Yankees. Tillman has come into his own the last two years, pitching to a 121 ERA+ and an All-Star appearance and 16-win campaign last year. The soon-to-be 26 year-old has been named the Orioles’ Opening Day starter. If you look deeper into his numbers, his peripherals suggest his ERA should have been higher (4.42 FIP last year), so it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll be as successful as he’s been the last two years or the below average pitcher he was in his first few seasons.
It’s hard to project Sabathia. He had a horrible season in 2013, as he gave up a career high 29 home runs in 211 innings, mostly due to lost velocity. However, he is attempting to reinvent himself, as he’s lost 40 lbs in the off-season, fixed his arm angle to what it used to be (he changed it two years ago after dealing with a bone spur in his elbow), and he has experimented with a cut-fastball he learned from Andy Pettitte. Is it that crazy to say that he will be much better this year, even if he won’t be the beast he used to be?
BAL- Ubaldo Jimenez: 185 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 2.25 K/BB
NYY- Hiroki Kuroda: 184 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.14 K/BB
Advantage, Yankees. This could easily go either way. Jimenez was very bad in 2011-12 but had a nice bounce-back season in 2013, pitching to a 3.30 ERA and striking out 194 batters in 182.2 innings (9.6 K/9) as he helped the Indians make the playoffs. Like Cruz, he signed late in the winter. But now he is in the brutal AL East, pitching in a bandbox at home and against three opponents in the division with bandboxes for home parks. In his 19-win campaign in 2010, he allowed just 10 homers in 221.2 innings as he called Coors Field home. In Cleveland, he gave up a total of 48 homers in 424.2 total innings
The AL East has been very kind to Kuroda, as he’s pitched to a 125 ERA+ in his two years in the Bronx and has easily been the Yankees’ best starter in that time. The Yanks will need to watch for his innings, as he’s flamed out a bit in the waning moments of the last two seasons. If the rest of the rotation is good, they probably won’t need to rely on the 39-year-old as much this year.
BAL- Wei-Yin Chen: 190 IP, 4.17 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.65 K/BB
NYY- Masahiro Tanaka: 196 IP, 3.63 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 4.23 K/BB
Advantage, Yankees. Chen is an extreme fly ball pitcher in a bandbox. He is not bad by any means, but his average peripherals just make him a slightly above average pitcher. Tanaka has looked as good as advertised so far in spring training, but it will be interesting to see how he will make the real adjustment to pitching in the states. My concern with him is the fact that his fastball doesn’t move very much (though he can jack up to the mid-90s), which could have him at risk to be homer-prone at Yankee Stadium. Even so, his command on all his pitches could be good enough for him anyway.
BAL- Bud Norris: 200 IP, 4.05 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 2.27 K/BB
NYY- Ivan Nova: 196 IP, 3.63 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 4.23 K/BB
Advantage, Yankees. Norris has been a good innings-eater in his career, but not much else. He does strike out a lot of batters (career 8.5 K/9 in 740.1 innings), but he also gives up homers. Not good in Camden Yards. Nova is a bit of an enigma in his brief career. He was very good in 2011 and 2013, but very bad in 2010 and 2012. He may have just dealt with confidence issues in 2012, as the self-proclaimed “best pitcher in the world” was the Yankees’ best pitcher from July forward last year, pitching to a 2.59 ERA in 15 starts.
Advantage, Yankees. Pineda and Phelps have looked very good so far in Spring Training. If Pineda can stay healthy, that could really lift the Yankees this season. Bundy and Gausman are the Orioles’ top prospects, but it’s unlikely if either can contribute a lot this season, especially Bundy who had Tommy John last June. Gonzalez has been a very good back-end starter for Baltimore last two years. Potential wise, I think the Yankees are more secure with their backend of the rotation.
BAL- Tommy Hunter: 60 IP, 4.05 ERA, 12 SV, 1.18 WHIP, 3.82 K/BB
NYY- David Robertson: 62 IP, 2.76 ERA, 30 SV, 1.13 WHIP, 3.62 K/BB
Advantage, Yankees. This is where the Orioles really screwed up. They traded Jim Johnson, who had the most saves in baseball in the previous two seasons with 101, in hopes to sign another, more consistent closer. After agreeing to a deal with Grant Balfour, the Australian failed his physical and the Orioles decided to not sign him. Thus, they are forced to use Tommy Hunter, who has been pretty good as a reliever with the Orioles. Like the Orioles, the Yankees have a new closer, who is replacing the greatest closer of all-time. Robertson is a better bet than Hunter simply because he has been one of the best relievers in the game for the past three or four seasons.
BAL- Darren O’Day: 60 IP, 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB
NYY- Shawn Kelley: 62 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.84 K/BB
Advantage, Orioles. With a 192 ERA+ since 2009, the submariner O’Day has been one of the more underrated relievers in the game. He’s been especially good as the Orioles set-up man last two seasons. Kelley’s ERA is inflated by two really bad months last season; he had a 2.27 ERA between May 5th and August 30th. He struck out a whopping 71 batters in 53.1 innings. But can he be a reliable 8th inning option for the Yankees? He gives up too many homers (27 in 181.1 innings in his career), and he’s a bit wild (3.9 BB/9 last year).
BAL- Brian Matusz: 60 IP, 4.05 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.88 K/BB
NYY- Matt Thornton: 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.63 K/BB
Advantage: Orioles. Like Hunter, Matusz is a failed starter who has found his niche in Buck Showalter’s bullpen with a 3.08 ERA in 64.1 innings there. Lefties hit just .168 against him last season. Thornton was an All-Star caliber reliever for the White Sox four years ago, but his peripherals have declined since 2010. Lefties hit just .235 against him last year, but righties automatically became a prime Derek Jeter, as they went 28 for 84 against him last season. Both guys are nasty against lefty batters. Just do not let them face righties.
Advantage, Orioles. Webb and Patton have been effective the last few years. A former starter in his native South Korea, Yoon could be an X-factor for the Orioles this season. The Yankees have questions at the back-end of their bullpen, but Betances has a lot of potential for them.
VERDICT: Yankees. Both lineups are very deadly, it’s relatively even. However, the Yankees get the advantage as their rotation is significantly better than the Orioles at pretty much every spot. The Orioles do have the advantage overall in the bullpen, but Robertson is easily the best and most proven reliever between the two teams. The Yankees will be the better team in 2014, but Buck’s O’s will again be a problem for everyone else and will be in the hunt for much of the season.