Yankees: Brian McCann
Red Sox: A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski has proven one thing over the years; for a catcher he can hit. Well, that’s not completely true, he has also proven that he is a less than adequate defensive catcher. Boston was in need of a catcher this offseason though and Pierzynski was available at the right price, so they bit. I’m sure they won’t mind slotting his 17 homeruns and 70 RBI from last season into their lineup. His batting line of .272/.297/.425/.722 was not great last year, but the Sox are hoping he is closer to his .278/.326/.501/.827 line in 2012.
Brian McCann is the total package. Offensively he is every bit as good as Pierzynski, and has been more consistent over his career. His line last year was .256/.336/.461/.796 and he hit 20 homeruns. The Yankees would love that production from the catcher position, especially after a year where they got just about nothing from Chris Stewart and Austin Romine offensively. Defensively McCann is above average. The pitchers already appear to be taking to him. This one clearly goes to the Yankees.
As far as the backup catchers go, Cervelli appears to have picked up where he left off, which would make him one of the best 3-4 backup catchers in the league. David Ross is simply not in that category.
Yankees: Mark Teixeira
Red Sox: Mike Napoli
If for no other reason than the ability to stay healthy, Mike Napoli is the better option at this juncture. Add in the fact that offensively we have no idea what Tex will be able to contribute at this stage of his career after wrist surgery, and it’s really a no brainer. First base is an offense first position, and Napoli is unquestionably better right now. His batting line last year was .259/.360/.482/.842 and he slugged 23 homers to go along with 92 RBI. Maybe Teixeira in his prime would top this line, but not in 2014. Also, while Tex is one of the top first basemen in the league, Napoli is no slouch at first base himself, and his defense has been a positive for him and the Sox.
Meanwhile the Yankees are dealing with a major question mark at first. Few question his ability to return to his former defensive prowess, however his offensive performance has been on a downward trend for years now, even before the wrist injury. His OPS has been trending downward since 2008, and so has his average. If completely healthy, he is still good for an above .800 OPS though which is nothing to scoff at even from a first baseman. It will be an interesting year for the Yankees at first base. If Teixeira gets hurt, Russ Canzler is the next option. That would be a pretty steep drop-off from a healthy Teixeira.
Advantage: Red Sox
Yankees: Brian Roberts
Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia
For years, the Yankees had an advantage in this department. With the departure of Robbie Cano, this is no longer the case. Pedroia’s .301/.372/.415/.787 line with nine homeruns last year is likely better than anything the Yankees can put at second base. He’s also a good fielding second baseman.
The Yankees with trot out Brian Roberts. If healthy he has been an effective second baseman throughout his career. The problem is for the past four seasons he has been unable to play more than 77 games. The injury appears inevitable, and if that is the case then the Yankees will have to turn to their backup options, which include Solarte, Jose Pirela, Corban Joseph, or Zelous Wheeler. None of those guys are going to hold a candle to Pedroia, and that includes a healthy Brian Roberts.
Advantage: Red Sox
Yankees: Kelly Johnson
Red Sox: Will Middlebrooks
Will Middlebrooks had a fairly typical sophomore slump after his strong debut season. In 2013 he hit .227/.271/.425/.696 with 17 homeruns, and was demoted in the middle of the season. His rookie season he had an OPS of .835. The question is whether 2013 was just a sophomore slump or if pitchers had simply adjusted to him and figured out how to get him out. It’s impossible to tell for sure, but the early returns in Spring Training seem to favor Middlebrooks. He is hitting .310 with two homeruns already.
The Yankees, on the other hand, will open the season with Kelly Johnson. His numbers last year were similar to Middebrooks, only he does not offer nearly as much upside. If deployed properly by Joe Girardi, and if the Yankees can find a suitable platoon partner, perhaps Johnson will put up better numbers this year. What we do know, however, is his power will be an improvement over the Yankees third base situation last year. Overall though Middlebrooks has more potential and the Red Sox would seem to be at an advantage in this battle, even if it’s only slight.
Advantage: Red Sox
Yankees: Derek Jeter
Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
While Xander Bogaerts remains the darling of Boston, he is still just 21 years old. In the long run, there’s little question that he provides more value than Jeter. For 2014 though, I’ll take Jeter. Bogaerts’ stats last year notwithstanding, he is young and he is going to have an adjustment to the MLB. He had just a .194 average in his first 31 at bats, which are relatively meaningless. It’s a lot to ask a 21 year old to play 160 games in the majors with no adjustment though. I don’t question his phenom status at all, and I feel pretty strongly he is going to be a beast in this league, someday.
All of that said, I’d take Jeter in 2014 any day. Every milestone Jeter has ever had has come in dramatic fashion. His 3,000th hit was a homerun. He has been a top notch performer in the clutch his whole career. He has made big defensive plays in big situations. The fact that this is his last season only makes me think he will do something remarkable yet again. We all know what Jeter can do, and he appears to be fully healthy. There’s no reason he shouldn’t turn in a Jeter-esque season in 2014.
Yankees: Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner
Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino
The Red Sox are sporting a lot of depth in their outfield right now, but their starting three cannot compare to the Yankees. Both defensively and offensively the Yankees are simply better. Jackie Bradley is a major question mark in center field, and while Daniel Nava had a good season last year he lacks a plus tool. He hits for average power and doesn’t have much in the way of speed. Shane Victorino is a better fielder than Beltran, and will steal more bases. Beltran has considerably more power though and is more of a threat in any lineup. He’s a sure bet to OPS over .830 in his career.
Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are simply better than the other two Red Sox outfielders, at least until they prove something. Nava is 30 years old so it’s unlikely his ceiling is anything more than he was able to do last year.
Yankees: Alfonso Soriano
Red Sox: David Ortiz
You really can’t argue with Big Papi on this one. His .959 OPS last year is going to be tough for Soriano to compete with. He hit .309/.395/.564 last year and whether you want to admit it or not, every pitcher in this league still dreads having to face him even though he’s 37.
Soriano had a resurgence ever since joining the Yankees last season. It will be fun to see if he can continue that success over a full season. He will spend a lot of time at the DH, and will also spend time in RF. That is about the only advantage he has over Ortiz. Soriano has his 30+ homeruns the past two seasons, and if he can do that again he will go a long way towards closing the gap between he and Ortiz.
Advantage: Red Sox
Yankees: Francisco Cervelli, Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, Ichiro Suzuki
Red Sox: David Ross, Grady Sizemore, Jonny Gomes, Jonathan Herrera
The bench is of minor importance but in this case the Yankees have very little power on their bench. There’s really not anyone to go to in a pinch hit scenario. The Red Sox do have that. On the other hand the Yankees have solid defensive backups at just about every position, and Cervelli is the best backup catcher on both teams. Mind you the catcher plays more than any other backup. All of that said, the Red Sox get the win on this one simply because their bench actually has a power threat.
Advantage: Red Sox
Yankees: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda
Red Sox: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront
Neither Jon Lester nor CC Sabathia are the ace they used to be. Lester is coming off two of his worst seasons as a pro. CC Sabathia is coming off his worst season as a pro. The major difference between the two is that Lester performed better last year. It is unknown if CC’s horrible performance last year was due to velocity, but we will soon find out. I have faith in CC, but I have to give the advantage to the Red Sox on the first starter race.
John Lackey had quite the resurgence last year after his worst season as a pro in 2011 followed by a full season lost to injury in 2012. He had one of his best seasons ERA wise in 2013, with a 3.52. He also had a spike in strikeouts last year which was the most he had in six years. I’m willing to bet there will be a regression to the mean. Meanwhile, Hiroki Kuroda had a very typical year for himself, complete with a dropoff at the end of the season. On the other hand he also had a better ERA than Lackey in what was a down year for him. Plus he’s a lock for 200 innings while Lackey is a major injury risk. Advantage goes to the Yankees here.
Clay Bucholz was absolutely fantastic when he was healthy last year. He sported a 1.74 ERA over 108.1 innings. That’s a bit of a small sample size though and the question remains whether he can do that over a full season. The last time he had sustained success for a full season was 2010, so there is reason for doubt. Meanwhile, the Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka in the third spot in the rotation. Tanaka of course is the Japanese import who will be gracing the Yankees mound with his services this year. All scouting reports are said to be accurate, and most project him to be good enough to be a number two pitcher. In the end it’s impossible to say who will be better in 2014 since Tanaka is such an unknown, but I’m going to bet on Tanaka and give the advantage to the Yankees here.
The fourth starters are Jake Peavy and Ivan Nova respectively. Without delving too much into the numbers and the credentials, Peavy is 33 and has had an ERA above four in three of the last four seasons. I see no reason why that will change. Ivan Nova is turning 27, which is often the breakout season for professional baseball players, and had an ERA of 3.10 last year. He is brimming with confidence now and his coaches and fellow players are impressed with his stuff early on in camp. I see no reason this year isn’t a massive success for him. Advantage goes to the Yankees here too.
Michael Pineda may end up being a monster this year. He could end up returning to his old form and becoming an all-star yet again. The early signs are pointing towards a successful season for him. The problem is he has everything to prove. Felix Doubront, on the other hand, is 26 and has shown improvement each of the last two seasons. This is one scenario where a known quantity is better than an unknown like Pineda. Advantage goes to the Red Sox.
Overall Starting Rotation Advantage: Yankees.
Yankees: David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Matt Thornton, Preston Claiborne, Dellin Betances.
Red Sox: Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Chris Capuano, Burke Badenhop, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller.
In this case the Yankees again have uncertainty. The Red Sox have an experienced closer, a bonafide setup man, and a solid relief corps surrounding them. The Yankees have a completely unproven starter, an unproven setup man, and a couple of solid pieces.
Advantage: Red Sox.
That puts the advantage to the Red Sox in with a score of 6-4. This does not in any way mean the Red Sox are a better team. In fact, the Yankees have the advantage in some of the most important positions. The starting rotation and the catcher are of major importance. Also, the Yankees would gain at least two on the Sox if I broke up the outfield and the pitching staff into individual players. In the end the race is about equal if you look at it objectively, and this season will be yet another great rivalry between the two ball clubs. To me, the Yankees have caught up to the Red Sox on paper. Now they just need to do it on the field.