MLB Handicapping: Comparing the Yankees and Red Sox
by Trevor Whenham - 06/18/2009
To be blunt, the Red Sox have made the Yankees their bitches this year. The domination has been well documented - they have played eight times so far, and the Red Sox have won all eight. It hasn't been particularly close, either - Boston has won by an average of three runs per game. Based on the one-sided contests it would be easy to assume that the Red Sox are the class of the AL East by quite a margin right now. That would be a handy conclusion for bettors to work with, but only if it's true. So, is it? Here's a comparison of the two teams on several fronts:
Against everyone else - The Red Sox have a three-game edge in the standings, so the Yankees have obviously done better than Boston playing the rest of the teams in the league. If you remove these eight games from the standings the the Red Sox drop to 32-25, while the Yankees would be a more impressive 37-20. That would indicate that one team isn't as bad as they look, and the other isn't quite as good. The standings strengthen that story if you break it down other ways. Six of the eight games have been played in Boston. Excluding those games, Boston is 17-8 at home, while the Yankees are 21-11. The Red Sox have a very slight edge at home, but it is minimal. On the road, the Red Sox are a bleak 15-17 beyond this series, while the Yankees are an impressive 16-9. Against the rest of the division the teams sport identical 12-8 records. The Yankees have been better against the AL Central (13-5 vs. 10-4) and much better against the West (8-3 vs. 5-10). In short, the outcome of the head-to-head series doesn't tell anything close to the same story that the rest of the schedule does.
Starting pitching - The team's rotations are surprisingly parallel. They both have a prospective ace that certainly isn't pitching like one - Wang for the Yankees, and Matsuzaka for the Sox. Both teams have a core of solid veterans who are mostly doing their jobs - Beckett, Wakefield, and Penny for Boston, and Sabathia, Burnett, and Pettitte for New York. Of the group, you could argue that Sabathia has been the biggest disappointment, but he's two games above .500, and he has the lowest ERA of any starter on either team, so he's far from a disaster. Both teams also have young guys who have lacked consistency but are very good when at their best - Lester and Masterson in Boston, and Chamberlain and Hughes in New York. You can't really give either team a significant edge, though Boston does have one advantage - depth. With John Smoltz joining the rotation this week, and Clay Buchholz tearing it up in Pawtucket, they have an embarrassment of riches. Unless you think a lot more of Kei Igawa than I do then you would admit that the Yankees don't have as much top-level talent itching for a shot right now.
Bullpen - Boston has a very clear edge here. They have the best bullpen ERA in the league, while the Yankees are way down the list at 23rd, allowing 1.72 more runs per nine innings. The stats are consistently with the Red Sox across the board - Boston has a better win percentage, more saves, fewer blown saves, a lower opposing batting average, fewer hits, and so on. The closers are a good example of the difference - Papelbon has just one more save than Rivera, but he has a significantly better ERA, and has allowed fewer hits in more innings.
Hitting - Again, the two teams are surprisingly similar. Their batting averages are within a point of each other, and the OPS, runs, hits, and triples are within the same ballpark. The Yankees have a big advantage in home runs - 104 to 80 - but that makes sense since the ball has been flying out of the new Yankee Stadium at an alarming rate this year. The Yankees also have an edge in discipline - Boston has struck out 66 more times.
Betting performance - Boston has been much kinder to bettors this year. Only the Rangers and the Dodgers have been more profitable on the money line on the season, and no team has been more profitable on the money line at home or on the run line overall. The Yankees, on the other hand, have burned money all year - they aren't profitable on the money line at home or on the road, or on the run line. They are that dangerous kind of team as well - they aren't so bad for bettors that it scares people off, so people keep trying and keep seeing their bankroll shrink.