Last Updated: 2018-10-04
In the long and storied rivalry of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the teams have played 2,234 regular season games. The 30 teams combine to play 2,430 games over the course of one regular season, so we are a little more than 10 seasons away from the Yankees and Red Sox playing the equivalent of one full 162-game MLB season against each other.
Across all of those years, which date back to 1903 when the teams played as the New York Highlanders and the Boston Americans, they have only met in the playoffs on three occasions. Obviously the playoffs as we know them now haven’t always been the format and it would require the Wild Card, which came about in 1995, to allow these teams to meet. This is the first time in the history of these two franchises that they have met in the Division Series. They played in the ALCS in 1999, 2003, and 2004. The Yankees won the first two series and went on to win the World Series in 1999. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and ended the Curse of the Bambino.
That means that the winner of a Yankees vs. Red Sox playoff series has gone on to win the World Series at a 67 percent clip. Boom! BETTING TREND
Look, in all seriousness, this is only the second time since the 1977 ALCS that we’ve had two teams that won at least 100 games face off in the postseason. The last time was the 2017 World Series between the Astros and Dodgers, so we went 40 years without it happening. These are two very strong teams to say the least and these two teams certainly know each other extremely well, which will make for a very fun best-of-five.
Boston is a -150 favorite with home field advantage and the stronger starting rotation. The fact that the Yankees had to burn Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game is certainly factored into the price here, as JA Happ is the man tasked with facing Chris Sale in Game 1.
Here is the schedule and the pitching probables for the Yankees vs. Red Sox ALDS series:
Game 1: Friday October 5 @ BOS; Happ vs. Sale; 7:32 p.m. ET
Game 2: Saturday October 6 @ BOS; Tanaka vs. Price; 8:15 p.m. ET
Game 3: Monday October 8 @ NYY; Porcello vs. Severino; TBD
Game 4: Tuesday October 9 @ NYY; TBD vs. TBD; TBD*
Game 5: Thursday October 11 @ BOS; TBD vs. TBD; TBD*
Masahiro Tanaka will square off with David Price in Game 2. Beyond that, we’ll see how things play out, but it appears that the Red Sox will use Rick Porcello in Game 3 and I would presume the Yankees roll with Luis Severino, who would be on extra rest for that start. Game 4 would get interesting, as the Yankees did carry CC Sabathia on their ALDS roster and the Red Sox hit righties much better than lefties over the course of the season. JA Happ on short rest is another option, albeit unlikely. I’m a bit surprised to see Porcello get the nod over Eduardo Rodriguez, but the Yankees do have some thunderous right-handed bats and that plays a role.
Overall, the Red Sox had the better offensive profile, but the Yankees had the most impressive one. New York became just the 17th team in MLB history to hit at least 240 home runs and only the sixth to hit at least 250. They hold the all-time record now with 267 dingers in a season. And, yet, the Red Sox posted a higher wOBA. The Yankees did tie for the league lead in wRC+, which is park-adjusted for that Little League field they call Yankee Stadium.
Why the wOBA edge to Boston? Because the Red Sox struck out a lot less. Boston struck out in 19.9 percent of its plate appearances and the Yankees struck out in 22.7 percent of theirs. The Red Sox had a batting average that was 19 points higher and an on-base percentage that was 10 points higher. Even with the Yankees out-homering the Red Sox 267-208, Boston posted a higher slugging percentage by two points. How does that happen? The Red Sox led the league in hits with 1,509. The Yankees were 16th with 1.374.
New York’s hits, arguably, did more damage because they hit a lot more home runs, but the Red Sox had 355 doubles to New York’s 269. They also had 31 triples to New York’s 9. As a result, Boston was the better offense overall because the name of the game is not making outs. The Yankees walked 625 times to Boston’s 569, but the Red Sox had 2,133 baserunners via hit, walk, or hit by pitch to New York’s 2,061.
Any way you slice it, these were two of the elite offenses in baseball this season. The fact that Boston is prone to fewer strikeouts could come into play in a big way in this series, but the Yankees also have a big edge by hitting for more power. I’ve mentioned this a lot, but the playoffs are conducive to teams that walk and hit yabos. The Yankees do both. The Red Sox didn’t hit a low number of home runs with 208, which did rank ninth, but manufacturing innings in a high-strikeout environment like the playoffs is much tougher. For the most part, you’re facing above average to elite arms and it’s very difficult to string together hits in that environment.
Boston did steal 125 bases in 156 attempts, which is a phenomenal success rate. Gary Sanchez is a butcher behind the plate and the Red Sox are going to put pressure on him on balls in the dirt or with stolen base attempts because Alex Cora is one of the more aggressive managers in baseball. Sanchez has a good arm, but terrible receiving mechanics. Could we see more of Austin Romine as a result? It will be one of Aaron Boone’s big decisions in this series. The Yankees, by comparison, only stole 63 bags with 21 caught stealings.
The Red Sox pitching staff ranked fifth in K%, so there is a good chance that a lot of Yankees hitters will take that long stroll back to the dugout with their heads down. On the other hand, Boston’s K rates are very skewed by guys like Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, who are simply elite when it comes to missing bats. That is the one Achilles heel that this Yankees lineup has. Guys swing and miss a ton. They compensate by walking a lot and hitting a lot of homers. Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello don’t issue a lot of walks. Sale, however, is the only guy that is elite in the strikeout category. Porcello and Price are above average, but, again, facing the Yankees is a lot different than facing the Orioles or Blue Jays.
I teased the platoon splits a little bit. The Red Sox have struggled against lefties. After the All-Star Break, Boston had a .302 wOBA against lefties, per Baseball Savant. The Yankees were ninth at .322. They’ll get two of them in Sale and Price. The Red Sox also appear to be getting two in Happ and my guess is Sabathia in Game 4. Baseball Savant does have different wOBA constants than Fangraphs, so you will see some differences between the two sites. New York was third against lefties for the season in wOBA at Fangraphs and Boston was 18th.
Against righties, though, Boston excelled. The Red Sox led the league in wOBA at .349 and were second in wRC+ at 116. Unfortunately for them, the Yankees were fourth in wOBA against righties, so it isn’t a huge advantage, though the park factor-adjusted wRC+ has Boston seven percent better in that split.
One last thing I need to mention is that the Yankees are at the forefront of the anti-fastball revolution. During the 2018 season, the Yankees had the third-lowest percentage of fastballs thrown. Only Detroit and the Angels threw fewer fastballs, which is kind of an interesting thing to look at as we go forward. The Yankees threw fastballs 55.1 percent of the time. League average was 60.02 percent.
As far as hitting offspeed and breaking pitches, the Red Sox ranked first in wOBA at .297. I would expect the Yankees to go even heavier on breaking balls, which is something that they did against the Indians in the ALDS last season. Increased reliever usage with the premium velocity from those guys may allow for more fastballs, but the starters are going to be pretty breaking ball-heavy, with the exception of JA Happ, who throws about 70 percent fastballs and the Yankees have let him do his thing.
While .297 isn’t a great wOBA overall, it is the best on breaking balls and offspeed pitches, so the Red Sox are in the best position of any team to handle that type of attack.
These are two elite offenses. The Yankees hit homers, walk, and strike out. The Red Sox don’t strike out and get on base a lot, where they make things happen. Again, in this type of environment, I do think that fortune favors the team that plays guerrilla ball, but Boston’s ability to put more balls in play may end up swinging the balance a bit in the series.
I don’t want hate tweets or hate mail from people who think I am implying that the Red Sox bullpen is bad. But, this is a classic postseason case of a better rotation against a better bullpen. With Chris Sale at the front and the renaissance of David Price, the Red Sox have the edge from a rotation standpoint. It isn’t an enormous edge with the acquisition of JA Happ and a terrific second half from Masahiro Tanaka, but it is an advantage.
Boston held a K% edge of 25.4 percent to 24.2 percent as far as rotations go. The Red Sox had a 3.80 FIP and the Yankees had a 3.84 FIP. One of the biggest advantages for the Red Sox in this department is that Luis Severino has not pitched well since the All-Star Break, as I outlined in my Wild Card Game preview. He allowed a .290/.331/.490 slash line and a .351 wOBA. That was after he posted a .256 wOBA against in the first half. His fall from grace could be a factor if Game 3 is a swing game.
One way to limit a rotation disadvantage is to use the bullpen. We saw Aaron Boone aggressively go to the bullpen in the Wild Card Game to take Luis Severino out before his third trip through the order became problematic. The Yankees can do that and apparently will. They have multi-inning guys like Chad Green and even a guy like David Robertson, who regularly pitched more than an inning in last year’s playoffs. Maybe New York’s super bullpen didn’t dominate the league by as much as I anticipated, but they posted the highest K% at 30.2 percent. Their 3.33 FIP was second only to Houston and their 3.38 ERA was third behind Houston and the Cubs. Walks played a bit of a role in the FIP increase, as that is one of the four components of fielder independent pitching.
The Yankees also dealt with some bullpen injuries over the course of the season, including a prolonged period without Aroldis Chapman. The midseason addition of Zach Britton was a big one and gave the Yankees several trustworthy high-leverage arms.
The Red Sox didn’t have a bad bullpen, like I already mentioned. It was sixth in K%, which is great, but bottom 10 in BB%. The Red Sox were sixth in bullpen FIP, but there was a 22-point gap between the Giants and the Red Sox for fifth and sixth. The Red Sox also showed signs of regression that department with a -0.12 ERA-FIP discrepancy and a 4.05 xFIP.
Craig Kimbrel is undoubtedly elite, but he’s not a multi-inning weapon. Matt Barnes has turned in an excellent season and his underlying metrics are even better than his traditional ones. I’m not sure how Joe Kelly hasn’t maximized his arsenal more, but he’s at least useful. Heath Hembree has good K rates in his role. But, overall, this is one of the weaker bullpens of the playoff teams.
Advantage: New York
Ever so slightly, I lean to a New York advantage with pitching because of what we know about the playoffs. I’m writing this as the Brewers bullpen is pitching a shutout against the Rockies in Game 1 with one hit allowed and 10 strikeouts. The game has changed. The game is forever changed with the specialization of pitching staffs. As great as Chris Sale is, as great as David Price has been, those outs that those guys can’t get fall on Kimbrel, Barnes, and an uninspiring group of relievers. In a tight, low-scoring run environment, give me the better bullpen every time.
(we’ll ignore how the Brewers blew it in the ninth before I posted)
Again, this is mostly tangible with the stats available, but there’s no other place to put it. The Yankees were about average defensively. The Red Sox were a very strange team defensively. They were -46 defensive runs saved, but led all of baseball in UZR/150. This, however, can be explained. The Red Sox were +7 defensive runs saved in the outfield and were third in UZR/150. Second base was a black hole for Boston, at least until Ian Kinsler showed up. He was average defensively, which was a monumental upgrade over Eduardo Nunez. Xander Bogaerts was actually not very good at shortstop and Rafael Devers was quite bad at third.
Only three teams hit a higher percentage of fly balls than the Yankees, so maybe they aren’t in the best position to take advantage of one of Boston’s biggest weaknesses. The Yankees were quite solid defensively in the outfield, but also had some infield issues of their own. Boston was middle of the pack in GB/FB splits, so we’ll have to see how that plays out.
Fenway Park is a small venue in its own right, but Fenway has been a below average park for power over the last several years. It is great for all other kinds of hitting, but bad for home runs with that Green Monster in left field. Yankee Stadium is the best part in baseball for home runs. The Red Sox do have home field advantage here, which could actually be to their advantage.
Pick: New York in 4
Give me the better bullpen and the team with better power. I think there have been more than a few skeptics about Boston, which is hard to say with a team that won 108 games, but the Red Sox were +9 in BaseRuns record, as that alternate standings metric projected them out to be a 99-63 team. BaseRuns takes all of the individual outcomes and places them in a context-neutral environment. The Yankees were a 97-65 team by this metric.
Why did Boston overachieve so much? They were far and away the best offense in baseball from a wOBA standpoint with runners in scoring position at .365. They had a .316 BABIP in those situations, which ranked second behind the Twins. By 3rd Order Win Percentage, Boston was also a 99-63 team. The Yankees were also 99-63 and were only worse by percentage points. That’s a standings metric you can find at Baseball Prospectus.
The Red Sox also allowed just a .282 BABIP with men in scoring position on the pitching side. That was another outlier relative to league average and another factor in both the BaseRuns and 3rd Order Win Percentage alternate standings.
It isn’t a huge factor for me that the Red Sox played over their heads in the regular season, but I was already leaning towards the Yankees side anyway and this was just another part of the equation.
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