With the season officially started (technically), I figured we could finally sit down and look at our two teams and how they stack up on the mound. I have no qualms with conceding the offensive arms race here and now, and I think it's clear we have the better defensive team, so that leaves pitching as the biggest area of contention. (If you guys want to argue about the defense, feel free to start a thread about it and I'll meet you there.)
So, we'll look at the current staffs, bullpens and depth of each, posting their 2007 numbers and see how we stack up.
So, let's break this down.Code:Boston ERA FIP K/BB VORP New York ERA FIP K/BB VORP Beckett 3.27 3.04 4.85 58.6 Wang 3.70 3.75 1.76 48.5 Matsuzaka 4.40 4.19 2.51 37.0 Pettitte 4.05 3.83 2.04 36.8 Wakefield 4.76 4.63 1.72 23.2 Kennedy 4.24 4.24 1.77 22.0* Lester 4.57 5.20 1.61 9.7** Hughes 4.46 4.31 2.00 16.1** Buchholz 4.24 4.24 2.10 22.3* Mussina 5.15 3.97 2.60 11.0 *Used BP projection across the line. (used projected ERA for FIP as well) ** Used BP projection for VORP only.
Beckett vs. Wang - I don't think there's any question that the Sox have the advantage here. It's not an enormous advantage, but it's a sizable one. I don't think there will be too much argument on this. Both are very good pitchers, but I doubt many here would project Wang to have the better year.
Matsuzaka vs. Pettitte - Again, this one is pretty obvious. Pettitte gets the edge. I think Matsuzaka will improve over his 2007 a little bit, but not enough to close the gap if Pettitte stands pat. Health concerns over Pettitte are the only reason I hesitate in making my choice here, but they're not subtantial enough to change my stance.
Wakefield vs. Kennedy - This one looks like it could be a close and interesting race. I think I'd go with Kennedy in the end, as Wakefield has had durability issues the last couple of years, but if both remain healthy, I think they could post very similar lines by the end of the season. I don't think the advantage for Kennedy is a terribly big one, but it is there and it could be an important one when comparing the staffs holistically.
Lester vs. Hughes - I'm a Sox fan. I'd love to find a justification for picking Lester here, but let's be realistic. It's Hughes. I think Lester will have a respectable season and will do fine as a 4th starter, but I expect Hughes to be better than that. And not by a small margin. The difference here is about as big as the difference I see between Beckett and Wang. So that advantage is evened out here, I think.
Buchholz vs. Mussina - I don't think Moose is cooked. I think he'll bounce back and improve over his 2007 a bit. Not enough to close in on Buchholz, but enough that this isn't a laughable comparison. I think BP's projected line for Buchholz is pretty fair, and I think Moose will see a drop in ERA to about 4.75. In fact, I expect Moose to end up about where Wakefield ended up last season. So, considering that, this difference evens out the advantage Pettitte has over Matsuzaka, in my mind.
Now, looking at depth, I'm not going to post season lines as both teams have a lot of unknowns and questions in their starter depth. So I'll go right to the comparisons.
Colon vs. Chamberlain - I expect Colon to have a solid year... at least a solid year for a guy coming back from a pretty serious injury to his pitching arm. I think he'll be better than the average back of the rotation starter when he starts, and he'll be average for a long reliever/middle reliever. Joba, on the other hand, will likely be better than that as a reliever, and probably as a starter too. When I compare bullpens, I'll touch on his value there, but as starting pitching depth, he gets the nod over Colon, by a noticable but not huge margin.
Tavarez vs. Rasner/Horne/AAA - I think the Sox have the advantage here, no matter which minor leaguer or journeyman veteran acquisition you plug in. Obviously a major trade changes this, but as the rosters and free agent markets currently stand, the Sox take take this one. It should be about as much of an advantage for the Sox here as Kennedy is over Wakefield, meaning the teams are even except for Colon vs Chamberlain.
Finishing the look at the starters, the Yankees "edge" out the Sox.
Now, looking at the bullpens... there's a ton of variation from year to year with bullpen arms. So this could end up being WAY off, but here are the breakdowns for the closers, set up men, and top three middle relievers for each team. (Beyond that, most bullpens have fungible parts.)
Papelbon vs. Rivera - At this point in their careers, Papelbon is the better pitcher. There just isn't a statistical justification for stating otherwise. The advantage here is significant, but not major. Both teams will have success in close and late games because of these guys. But Boston does get the edge.Code:Boston ERA FIP K/BB VORP New York ERA FIP K/BB VORP Papelbon 1.85 2.41 5.60 27.1 Rivera 3.15 2.61 6.17 22.4 Okajima 2.22 3.29 3.71 29.3 Chamberlain 0.38 1.78 5.67 33.6* Timlin 3.42 4.65 2.21 14.0 Hawkins 3.42 4.43 1.81 15.9 Delcarmen 2.05 3.81 2.41 18.4 Farnsworth 4.80 5.00 1.78 4.8 Lopez 3.10 4.18 1.44 11.3 Bruney 4.68 5.34 1.05 6.2 *BP projected VORP
Okajima vs. Chamberlain - I'll just get this out of the way. Advantage Yankees. Evens out the advantage the Sox have at closer. Okajima won't be quite as good as he was last year, but he should still be a very solid set up man, and Chamberlain might not spend the entire season in the pen in this role. So it's tough to get an exact fix on this situation, but yeah... Yankees get the nod here.
Timlin vs. Hawkins - I'm calling this a wash. These guys had very similar 2007 seasons and both project to be similar again this year. This does have the potential to become an advantage for the Yankees, however, if Timlin's age catches up to him and he hits a wall.
Delcarmen vs. Farnsworth - Gotta go Sox here. Farnsworth showed some improvement once the pressure was lessened last year, but he has a lot to prove before I take him over MDC.
Lopez vs. Bruney - Sox again. Bruney just isn't that good and while Lopez is a situational pitcher, I don't think it's tough to imagine him having a bigger positive impact on the Sox than Bruney has on the Yankees. This is the part of the pen where parts become interchangable and there really isn't a huge impact... so this advantage for the Sox doesn't mean much in the total comparison.
So that gives us a bullpen advantage for the Sox. Is it enough to match the rotation advantage the Yanks have? I think it's pretty close to being enough.
That means that after all this, I'm calling this a pretty even match up. These teams should both have very good pitching staffs in 2008 and that means it should be a very fun race for the division, since both teams are going to be solid offensive clubs (advantage Yankees there, yeah, I know) and the Sox are looking to be a pretty good defensive team again as well.
I'll be interested to see what other people here think, and what areas of my breakdown people take issue with.
Edit: The wildcard here is Joba. He could tip the scales on either side of this equation. If he ends up in the rotation, he pulls the Yankees ahead a few more paces. If he stays in the bullpen, I think he closes the gap there a bit. When he goes to the rotation will also play a part in how much he impacts that comparison as well, so it's tough to say just what kind of impact he'll have. But he's going to replace Mussina if he does move, and that means that number 5 spot becomes a pretty even match up with Clay.