Evaluating the American League Playoff Contenders 

As we head into the playoffs, letís take a quick look at the contenders to represent the American League in the World Series. Weíll start with each teamís 2004 regular season offensive statistics. (In parentheses is the teamís ranking for the applicable category among the 14 AL teams.)

Batting  On-Base % Slugging %
Anaheim (1st) .282    Boston (1st) .360 Boston (1st) .472  
Boston (2nd)  .282  New York (2nd)  .353  New York (2nd) .458  
New York (9th)    .268 Anaheim (6th)   .341 Minnesota (9th)  .431  
Minnesota (10th)   .266 Minnesota (9th) .332  Anaheim (10th) .429  




Runs Scored  Home Runs Stolen Bases
Boston (1st) 949   New York (1st -t) 242 Anaheim (1st) 143 
New York (2nd) 897  Boston (4th)   222 Minnesota (3rd)  116  
Anaheim (7th)  836 Minnesota (6th)   191 New York (8th)  84 
Minnesota (10th)   780  Anaheim (10th) 162 Boston (11th) 68  




So what do these numbers tell us?

Observation #1: The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are clearly the most threatening offensively. Obviously, the whole point of offense is to score runs, where they rank first and second in the American League. They both do it with heavy bashers and big innings as evidenced by also ranking first and second in both on-base and slugging percentage. Also worthy of observation is that the Red Sox narrowly edge the Yankees in all three categories discussed.

Observation #2: The team most likely to play small ball? The Anaheim Angels. Though ranking first in the league in batting average, when taking into account on-base and slug they fall off into offensive mediocrity. Their isolated power (slug minus average) is only .147 which means lots of singles. Compare that to the isolated powers of Boston and New York which are each .190 due to plenty of extra-base hits. Though fewer extra-base hits, they will steal more than the power-laden teams.

Observation #3: The second most-likely team to play small ball is the Minnesota Twins. Their offense is mediocre across the board with above average success only in the stolen base department. Donít expect their offense to carry them.

If itís not to late to add another team statistic, while weíre on the topic of ďsmall ballĒ letís take a quick look at sacrifice bunts. Weíll find that they rank consistently with our prediction of which teams are likely to play small ball more often:  

Sacrifice Bunts
Anaheim (2nd) 56   
Minnesota (5th-t)  46  
New York (9th)   3
Boston (14th)  12




In reverse order, from Boston to Anaheim, we know which teams will more heavily rely on moving station-to-station waiting for the three-run blast.

Now what about pitching?  

ERA Batting allowed On-Base allowed   Slug allowed
Minnesota (1st)   4.03    Boston (1st) .255 Boston (1st)  .318 Minnesota (2nd) .406
Boston (3rd) 4.18   Anaheim (3rd) .263  Minnesota (2nd)  .323  Boston (3rd) .408  
Anaheim (4th) 4.28   Minnesota (7th) .267 Anaheim (3rd) .326 Anaheim (5th) .415
New York (6th)  4.69 New York (9th) .271 New York (4th) .328 New York (6th) .432  





Observation #1: None of the teams got here with slouches on the mound. Only two non-playoff teams were in the mix in team ERA and slugging percentage allowed. When it comes to keeping runners off base, these four teams were the best in the league. Should be plenty of good pitching in these seriesí.

Observation #2: The Yankees rank dead last in each category. Granted, they were respectable numbers so itís not like they were lapped by the competition. But they were clearly the least effective of the four pitching staffs.

Letís take a closer look at the breakdown between starters and relievers:

Startersí ERA Batting allowed On-Base allowed   Slug allowed
Minnesota (1st) 4.03    Boston (1st) .258 Boston (1st)  .318 Boston (1st) .414
Boston (3rd) 4.31 Anaheim (6th .273 Minnesota (2nd)  .321 Minnesota (3rd) .427  
Anaheim (4th) 4.70 New York (7th)  .267 New York (3rd) .326 New York (7th)  .442
New York (6th)  4.82 Minnesota (11th) .274 Anaheim (4th) .332 Anaheim (9th) .443





Bullpen ERA Batting allowed On-Base allowed   Slug allowed
Anaheim (1st)  3.47 Anaheim (1st)  .242 Anaheim (1st) .313 Anaheim (1st) .358
Boston (4th)  3.92  Minnesota (5th) .248 Boston (2nd)  .320 Minnesota (3rd) .364
Minnesota (5th) 3.97 Boston (6th) .249 Minnesota (5th) .327 Boston (5th)  395
New York (9th) 4.43 New York (10th) .266 New York (7th) .332 New York (8th) .411




Observation #1: Though the Twinsí starters have a lower ERA than Bostonís, the Red Sox starters ranked best in the AL in each of the percentage categories. The difference between the startersí ERA of Boston and Minnesota and those of Anaheim and New York is quite substantial.

Observation #2: The Angels bullpen took a clean sweep over each of the categories. While the Red Sox and Twins bullpens are nearly identical, until getting to slugging percentage allowed, Anaheimís bullpen ERA is head and shoulders above the rest.

Observation #3: Can the Yankees bullpen actually be that vulnerable? They consistently rank in the third quadrant of the American League. Itís been a long time since anything like this could be said about New Yorkís bullpen. Expect manager Joe Torre to try to get his starter to go as close to eight innings as possible and go straight to Mariano Rivera, perhaps even making the call to Rivera in the 8th as he has done so often in the past.

Letís throw defense into the mix also:

Fielding % Stolen Bases Allowed
Anaheim (2nd)  .985 Minnesota (5th)  73
Minnesota (5th) .984 Anaheim (9th) 87
New York (6th) .984  New York (10th) 90
Boston (10th) .981  Boston (14th)  123






Observation #1: Bostonís station-to-station bashers limit their defensive prowess.

Observation #2: Boston ranks dead last in stolen bases allowed. Why is this important? Who is their first round opponent? The Red Sox could find themselves susceptible to the Angelsí style of play.

CONCLUSION: When itís all said and done, who do these offensive, defensive and pitching numbers favor? It depends what draws your attention. Itíll just be interesting to see how it all plays out. Itís possible that the two most well-rounded teams play each other in the first round. And that series does not involve the Yankees.