Comparing the Contenders

Wednesday, December 28 2005 @ 12:40 AM EST

Contributed by: Craig B

Where do the AL East contenders sit right now compared to each other? Let’s compare them by looking at how their current depth charts stack up. At each position (including starters one through five and three bullpen slots for closer, lefty/righty setup men and the rest) the three teams will be ranked according to the likely productivity of their current situation. We’ll assign points on a 3-2-1 scale for each team and total them up at the end.

Needless to say, this is such a basic level of analysis that I'm almost ashamed to call it that. Still, it will give us a sense of the talent level on hand and where each team's advantages and disadvantages lie.

For each team, I mostly used the CBS Sportsline depth chart, which is very good, to save me the trouble. Where there was a substitution I thought was obvious, I made it. I think the Sportsline depth charts are restricted to guys on the 40-man roster, which makes sense to me.


New York – Jorge Posada, Kelly Stinnett
Boston – Jason Varitek, Kelly Shoppach
Toronto – Gregg Zaun, Guillermo Quiroz

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2, Blue Jays 1

Jason Varitek is the class of a good group, but having a proven backup like Stinnett puts the Yankees ahead of the Jays. Posada and Zaun are essentially a wash, with Zaun’s better ability to block balls in the dirt balancing out a slight edge in power and errors the other way.


New York – Jason Giambi, Andy Phillips
Boston – Kevin Youkilis, Andy Marte (?)
Toronto – Lyle Overbay, Shea Hillenbrand

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1

There was a time when Jason Giambi was extremely durable. Those days are done now. The rankings here basically come down to a single question: how many games can Jason Giambi play? If he plays 140, as he did last year, the category goes to the Yankees. If he plays 80, as he did two years ago, it goes to the Jays. I’d bet he plays more than 110, and that means the Yanks have it.


New York – Robinson Cano, Felix Escalona
Boston – Mark Loretta, Tony Graffanino
Toronto – Aaron Hill, John McDonald

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2, Blue Jays 1

Loretta wins this group for the Red Sox, with Cano edging out Hill based on what he showed last year. Again, with a very talented player here the Jays have the opportunity to move up, but aren’t likely to get the same production as a Mark Loretta this year.


New York – Derek Jeter, Felix Escalona
Boston – Alex Cora, Dustin Pedroia
Toronto – Russ Adams, Aaron Hill

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1

Cora hasn’t been a regular at shortstop for five years, is turning 30 and isn’t as good a hitter as Russ Adams; the Red Sox have a shot at significantly outperforming the Jays’ shortstop and also a shot at making the shortstop position their Achilles heel. Derek Jeter is the class of this group by a country mile.


New York – Alex Rodriguez
Boston – Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis
Toronto – Corey Koskie, Shea Hillenbrand

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1

Koskie and Hillenbrand make a nice little lefty/righty combo. Lowell fell further than Koskie last year; before that, the two were essentially a wash as fine hitters and fielders without either having a significant edge. The further fall puts the Sox a notch behind, combined with the nifty platoon potential of the Toronto third sackers. A-Rod, of course, is the best player in the league. As with Jeter and Cano, though, the Yankees have essentially nothing behind him, and if he gets hurt, are in rough shape.


New York – Hideki Matsui, Bubba Crosby
Boston – Manny Ramirez
Toronto – Frank Catalanotto, Reed Johnson

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2, Blue Jays 1

Cat and Sparky are a nice platoon combination, but that’s it. Manny, being Manny, has the advantage over Matsui. Again, the Yankees must beware injuries. Oh, and Manny is perhaps headed out of Boston, but unless they get an entire starting outfield for him (which they might do, if they ate his entire contract, but unlikely otherwise) their outfield rankings won’t change for the better.


New York – Johnny Damon, Bubba Crosby
Boston – Adam Stern, Bullpen Catcher
Toronto – Vernon Wells, Alex Rios

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2, Red Sox 1

Adam Stern’s a Canadian boy, which is why the Red Sox avoid getting “Red Sox 0” here. And yes, I prefer Vernon to Damon, even though his offense is usually maybe ten runs worse. I think he’s probably more than ten runs better on defense; half of that with the throwing arm and also Damon tends to drop a few balls a year, whereas Vernon wouldn’t bobble the CN Tower if you dropped it on him point first. He also gets to a few more balls. Also, Vernon’s younger than Damon and heading into his age-27 season. I think it’s a clear choice. Toronto’s also got a better backup situation (Rios and Johnson) than the Yanks, a phenomenon that is noticeable throughout these comparisons.


New York – Gary Sheffield, Bubba Crosby
Boston – Trot Nixon, Brandon Moss
Toronto – Alex Rios, Reed Johnson

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1

Nixon’s missed 60 games a year on average the last three seasons, couldn’t hit a lefty if you gave him a tennis racket, and his backup is some hitherto undiscovered species of plant life. Seriously, Moss is 23 and hit .268/.337/.441 in AA last year, so his Toronto equivalent is somebody like Ron Davenport. Does that make Boston’s situation worse than Toronto’s? I have to think it does, especially with Nixon having had knee surgery in October. He’s vaguely expected to be ready for spring, but given his history the knee may give problems.


New York - Bernie Williams
Boston – David Ortiz
Toronto – Troy Glaus

Red Sox 3, Blue Jays 2, Yankees 1

Toronto could have signed Jesus Christ to DH (can’t play in the field, bad knees you know) and they’d still have the second-best guy in the division.

Because the bench players are included in the positional marks, I won’t do a separate bench score. The Blue Jays have easily the best pinch-hitting options, followed by the Red Sox with the Yankees bringing up the rear. Totalling the figures for the lineup gives you Boston 17, Toronto 16, and New York in the lead with 21. It’s close as we head out to the mound.


New York – Randy Johnson
Boston – Curt Schilling
Toronto – Roy Halladay

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2, Red Sox 1

I hope to god there’s no debate about this.


New York – Mike Mussina
Boston – Josh Beckett
Toronto – AJ Burnett

Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 2, Yankees 1

Mussina has clearly slipped enough (despite the Yankees’ crappy defence behind him) in the last two years to tail the two former Marlins. Beckett and Burnett have both been about the same over the last two seasons; thrown similar numbers of starts and innings and Burnett’s been a hair more effective but there’s nothing between them. Beckett’s shoulder injury (he’s expected to be ready, though) and Burnett going back to the pitching coach he’s devoted to and with whom he had his greatest success gives AJ the nod over Josh by the narrowest of margins.


New York – Carl Pavano
Boston – Matt Clement
Toronto – Gustavo Chacin

Red Sox 3, Blue Jays 2, Yankees 1

Pavano is expected to be ready for spring, but shoulders are tricky. Anyway, it’s not relevant… his ERA+ numbers the last five years are 73, 79, 94, 137, and 93. Which one looks like the fluke to you? Chacin also has a much better career ERA+ than Clement, but in this case I’ll go with the veteran and the strikeouts.


New York – Shawn Chacon
Boston – David Wells
Toronto – Ted Lilly

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1

At this stage of his career, Wells is a consistently average starter who hits that consistent average through extreme methods. His results the last three seasons are indistinguishable from Lilly’s, except he’s pitched more. Lilly being thirteen years younger, is that an advantage? He’s actually less likely to implode completely than Wells, despite some rocky moments last season, since he can still strike guys out. I think the Yankees maybe have the best guy of the lot here in Chacon, who finally made his Escape From Coors Field and it really looked good on him. Chacon can pitch. As for Lilly and Wells, I honestly can’t pick between them, but Lilly offers the better “upside” and so for that reason I guess I’ll go with him. If you disagree, give a half point to Boston and take a half point from Toronto. But I have to choose.


New York – Chien-Ming Wang
Boston – Tim Wakefield
Toronto – Josh Towers

Red Sox 3, Blue Jays 2, Yankees 1

If Wakefield and Towers really are the fifth starters on these teams, they surely must be among the three or four best fifth starters in baseball right now. Wakefield gets the definite edge for the innings he can consume and his superb year-to-year (if not game-to-game) consistency.

Rotation totals are Toronto 12, New York 8, Boston 10, making the overall numbers 29-28-27 New York-Toronto-Boston as we head for the pen.


New York – Mariano Rivera
Boston – Keith Foulke
Toronto – BJ Ryan

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1

Foulke’s knee problem doesn’t hurt him here, as he’s third-best anyway. Third best in this company is no shame at all.


New York – Kyle Farnsworth (righty), Mike Myers (lefty)
Boston – Mike Timlin (righty), Lenny DiNardo (lefty)
Toronto – Justin Speier (righty), Scott Schoeneweis (lefty)

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 2, Red Sox 1

Boston are hurt a bit at looking at the setup men from each side, because they don’t really have a true lefty setup man. So these ratings may be a bit unfair to them, but then they get to add their extra righthanders to the next group. Toronto have the best balance here, the Yankees have the best guy last year in Farnsworth. But Myers isn’t a true setup man, more of a lefty specialist. It’s hard to put a guy who throws 40 innings a year in the same league as a guy who will throw 60. We could substitute Ron Villone for Myers, but Villone’s not as good as Schoeneweis either. It’s a tough call, but I think the Toronto guys are a better bet because of Farnsworth’s extreme inconsistency.


New York – Ron Villone, Tanyon Sturtze, Aaron Small, Scott Proctor
Boston – Rudy Seanez, Guillermo Mota, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen
Toronto – Jason Frasor, Pete Walker, Brandon League, Scott Downs

Red Sox 3, Yankees 2, Blue Jays 1

Boston are the class of this mix. Rating the Blue Jays over the Yankees here would require a leap of faith, namely that Downs showed his true colours last season and that his fine performance wasn’t a fluke, and that Aaron Small didn’t show his true colours last season and that his fine performance was a fluke. One of those is likely true, but are both?

The bullpens rate out at Yankees 7, Blue Jays 6, Red Sox 5.

So who’s got the best team right now? Totalling up the numbers, we get

Yankees 36
Blue Jays 34
Red Sox 32

And note that before the Johnny Damon signing, it would have been 35-34-33, which is about as close as you can get. Of course, the offseason’s not done yet; the Red Sox are apparently looking to dump Manny Ramirez and the Yankees still need to cut about $35-45 million in payroll to get to their break-even point (if they are interested in doing that, as they claim to be). But as of right now, if you largely ignored the possibility of injuries the Yankees seem to have a slight edge in talent, with the Jays breathing right down their necks and likewise with Boston.

It's generally assumed that there is a wide gap in talent between New York and Boston on one hand, and the Jays on the other. I hope that this very simple analysis shows everyone that it's just not so.

I can’t wait for April.