We now commence with our Annual NoMaas Menage a Trois Prospectus. Over the next couple of weeks, we will unleash a series of articles comparing the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays on the strength of their offense, pitching, and defense (the “Grit, Heart, and Team Chemistry” article has been cancelled this year since the Sawx own those categories in perpetuity). We begin today with the offense.

Offense is the Yankees’ strength. The Bombers scored the most runs in 2010 by a healthy margin (followed by Boston at #2 and Tampa Bay at #3), and they are returning nearly every player from that lineup. Let’s break it down and see what 2011 will bring.

First, a couple of quick housekeeping notes….

The numbers you see in parentheses are the players’ Marcel wOBA projections for 2011. We use these as a starting point, but do not take them as gospel. One look at last year’s offensive comparison will show that even when you average out all the projections, the end of the season numbers don’t always want to comply. One-third of all projections will end up being so far off that they look useless. The other two-thirds have a wide enough error bar that we shouldn’t sweat wOBA differences of less than 10 points. We will provide a more robust analysis including health and playing time information, while still remaining true to our never-touched-a-woman roots.

Finally, instead of bowing to the demands of the proles and comparing players position-by-position, we are going with a more sensible comparison of top hitter to top hitter and so on down from there.

1) Teixeira (.374)
Gonzalez (.371)
Longoria (.373)

In 2010, Teixeira hit for the lowest wOBA since his rookie year. He got off to his usual horrific start, except that this time it was more putrid than ever (.270 wOBA). As if shopping for matching bookends, Tex ended the season by posting a .312 wOBA in the last month and then a .240 wOBA in the playoffs. Pretty dour, right?

Fear not, NoMaasians…all signs point to a return of the masher we all know and love. Once Tex got past the first month’s BABIP (an absurdly low .148), he was just fine. His overall K% was right in line with his normal rate, and his BB% was a couple ticks better than his career average. In fact, July through August was one of the best stretches of his career. The September swoon is very likely attributable to a broken toe, which is now healed. Tex’s two prior seasons saw wOBAs over .400. Listen to The Fans’ projection here — a .394 wOBA is very attainable.

You can throw out the Marcel for Adrian Gonzalez because it came out before he escaped Petco. In his last three seasons, AGon had road wOBAs of .407, .431 (despite a .280 BABIP!), and .395. Smack dab in his prime, he isn’t likely to do worse than that last number. Think the move to tougher competition is going to slow him? Here are the ERA+ numbers for the AL East last year: NY (106), TAM (104), TOR (99), BAL (93). And here’s what he faced in the NL West last year: SF (121), COL (112), LA (96), ARI (89). With Marcum, Garza, and Pettitte gone from the division, the AL East will feel pretty cozy for Gonzalez. He will also enjoy the lefty-launching pads of Camden Yards (boost homers (+20%), The Rogers Centre (14%), and Yankee Stadium (+24%). Even The Fans’ rosy projection of a .403 wOBA probably isn’t quite high enough.

Evan Longoria’s Marcel reeks of regression. He has .377 wOBA for his three-year career. He’s 25 years old, an age when not only are players improving, but when many make their biggest jumps in performance level. Marcel doesn’t know about Longoria’s sterling pedigree — two MVP campaigns in college, named the best hitter of the 2006 draft by Baseball America, selected 3rd overall by Tampa (first hitter selected). Marcel also doesn’t avail itself of the minor league numbers which support the legitimacy of his Major League success. Again, go with The Fans — .384 wOBA.

Unless Longoria breaks out this year, he’s a step behind Teixeira and Gonzalez. Gonzalez has demonstrated a higher upside than Tex, as his 2009 is better than any of Teixeira’s 8 seasons. But the most impressive numbers may be these: 693, 681, 700, 720. Those are AGon’s PA totals going back the last four years in a lineup that didn’t turn over much. Boston will rarely have to go to the bench to replace their top hitter, who in turn is likely to create more runs than anybody on the three teams.

Advantage: Sox

2) ARod (.365)
Greek God of Goatlike Facial Hair (.389)
Manny (.371)

Apparently the Cameron Diaz Diet has worked — Alex Rodriguez showed up at camp slimmer than last year. More importantly, he and his doctors believe his hip is in better shape than it has been in a couple years. That’s good news, as the hip may well have contributed to his un-ARodly .363 wOBA. He’ll also be helped by an upward regression from his .274 BABIP (career: .318). His late season resurgence (.411 wOBA over the final month despite a .275 BABIP) hints that his 2009 .405 wOBA is within reach. However, Rodriguez is 2 years older now and will turn 36 this year, so we need to dial back the expectation a bit. He may outhit Teixeira on a rate basis, but his need for rest won’t allow him to put up Marky Mark’s PAs. The Yankees will probably make use of Eric Chavez in this slot some, which means the Yankees won’t get as much production overall as they will with Tex. Nonetheless, huge bounceback year coming for ARod…

Kevin Youkilis has put up wOBAs of .419, .413, and .402 in the last three seasons. At 32, his decline could be arriving, but he’s the best hitter of this group. The only concern with Youkilis is that when you play this damn hard and aren’t afraid to get the uniform dirty, you’re bound get a little dinged up here and there. His looong list of injuries (and that doesn’t include the stab wounds and bullet holes that he probably has quietly played through without telling the training staff) has started to limit his PAs.

Manny Ramirez completes this trifecta of great aging sluggers. He was once the greatest of the three (seriously, the dude put up a .476 wOBA back in 2000), but now he the most aged and infirmed. Manny actually maintained an almost perfect record of health his entire career. Last year however, ManRam was forced to the DL three separate times with leg issues, followed by a post-season hernia operation (not sure if this will prevent him from urinating inside his team’s scoreboard). At 39, he entering Chipper Jones territory — still a great hitter, but one whose body can’t hold up for more than 500 PAs. The switch to DH should help, but Manny also will surely continue to miss games just by being Manny.

The younger Youkilis has the upper hand here.

Advantage: Sox

3) Cano (.354)
Crawford (.354)
Zobrist (.350)

You can safely take the over on Cano’s Marcel projection, which appears to be weighting his atrocious 2008 (.307 wOBA) too heavily. His BABIP that year was 40 points lower than his career average, and Cano seems to have legitimately matured in his plate approach under Kevin Long. Always a strong contact hitter, Cano finally started taking some walks last year as he upped his BB rate to 8%. Look for Cano to put up another 2009 type of year (.370 wOBA), and to continue playing almost every game of the season.

Carl Crawford makes up his slugging deficit to Cano with his speed. Crawford uses his legs to maintain a respectable OBP, and once he gets on he is an elite base stealer. The oddities of Fenway’s fence should give him a bit of a boost over Tropicana Field.

Ben Zobrist’s wOBA from 2008-2010: .364 (227 PAs), .409, .323. This is a tough dude to project. He is almost certainly not the MVP-caliber player he was 2009. He also isn’t the below-average player he was in 2010. He’s established himself over the last two years as a high walk rate guy with a decent strikeout rate. His career BABIP is a meager .278, but given his relatively small number of PAs, he should benefit from some regression to the mean there. His HR/FB rates were over 17% in 2008 and 2009, but that number fell to 6% in 2010. Where you want to put your projection between those numbers is your call. He’s got upside, and I’ll take the over on the Marcel by a solid 10 points. But you’d still take the surer things above.

Crawford and Cano offer very similar run production for their teams. Crawford puts up the higher PAs (because he leads off), but Cano has actually been the more durable. Because of this and the fact that any leg injury will completely undercut Crawford’s value, we’ll give the slight edge to Cano.

Advantage: Yankees

4) Swisher (.352)
Ortiz (.347)
Damon (.343)

Despite suffering a terribly fluky season in 2008 (his BABIP was .249), Swish is a remarkably consistent hitter. There’s no reason he can’t approach his pace from the last two seasons (.376 wOBA).

Big Papi may be 35, but he showed last year that he can still mash when healthy (.380 wOBA). He’s not the same guy who put up wOBAs well into the .400s from 2004-2007. But, he’s also not the same guy who suffered from bad injury and BABIP fortune in 2009 when his wOBA fell to .342. Ortiz is the best hitter of this group on a per PA basis. His age, gross obesity, and dwindling ability to hit lefties should start to cut into his PA totals.

Hello Damon, my old friend; I’ve come to hate on you again. Johnny D is not in the same class of hitter as his counterparts. He’s 37 and the cracks are starting to appear in his once invincible genetic code. Damon’s power fell precipitously last year in Comerica (.130 ISO), and Tropicana Field is no friendlier to lefties.

Swisher and Ortiz a close call, but Swisher offers more reliability. He’ll play his 150 games and maintain great production. While Ortiz can still rake, we can’t completely ignore his 2009 (or his increased risk of diabetes and other fat people’s diseases). Edge to Swish.

Advantage: Yankees

5) Granderson (.341)
Pedroia (.361)
Upton (.330)

Curtis didn’t blow in 2010, but he wasn’t all we had hoped for. A groin strain cost him the month of May, and a .277 BABIP kept his wOBA at a mediocre .346. Granderson has all the tools to succeed (well, against righties anyway) and all he needs is to have his BABIP revert to his career average (.314). Other than two month-long DL stints in his career, he hasn’t missed any days due to injury.

Gritty, gutty, dwarfy Dustin Pedroia was having a fine season until he fouled a ball off his foot in June, causing a fracture that required surgery. He has the same injury that ruined Yao Ming, so any projection for Pedroia should be discounted. Health aside, Pedroia has gone from being underrated as a prospect to overrated as a big leaguer. He lives of banging the ball off of the Green Monster. Without Fenway’s freak architecture, Pedroia would be closer to the .344 wOBA hitter is on the road (vs .387 at home).

Upton is still only 26, and his showed signs of a power breakout last season. Yet, he’ll have to reverse his rising strikeout rate trend before he starts making real gains. The potential is there, but Upton can’t swing with these guys yet.

Granderson and Pedroia have identical career OPS+s: 113. Granderson has the clearer path to a full, standout season.

Advantage: Yankees

6) Gardner (.341)
JD Drew (.355)
Johnson (.327)

Gardner had a breakout season in 2010, posting a .358 wOBA. He is universally expected to regress this year and you won’t find a projection system thinking he’ll get out of the .340s. Two reasons Brett Gardner is for real and will build on last year’s success: 1) He played the entire second half with a thumb injury; and 2) He has a pattern of struggling when initially promoted to a new level, only to persistently improve. He should expect some BABIP regression and his utter lack of power limits his upside. But, the Vizzizzle Projection System has BMG speeding his way to a .362 wOBA next season. You heard it here first.

JD Drew continues to be under-appreciated by Red Sox fans. He’s been an above-average to excellent hitter for four years in Boston (to say nothing of his very good defense). Even his reputation as a brittle sissy is a bit overblown. He’s managed over 535 PAs in three of those years, and had 456 in the other year. Nonetheless, Drew is 35 and the injuries will only multiply at this point. Drew really slipped in the second half last year, and that could be a harbinger of things to come.

Dan Johnson has above-average power (.170 ISO, 13% HR/FB) and an excellent eye at the plate (.91 BB/K). So, why the crappy projection from Marcel? Johnson has a career .250 BABIP. That will improve significantly this year and Johnson will produce above-average numbers. He’ll still be a bit short of Gardner and Drew though.

We’re putting our faith in RUN BMG. Gardner will produce about as well as Drew, and he will play more games.

Advantage: Yankees

7) Posada (.341)
Ellsbury (.330)
Jaso (.338)

Posada’s pee-stained bat has been of high value for the Yankees over the past decade. However, he enters the 2011 season as a bit of a wildcard. On one hand, his batting eye and power have held up surprisingly well for an old catcher, and the switch to DH ought to be a big boon to his health. On the other hand, Posada has dealt with issues in his knee, shoulder, neck, fingers, foot, and lower leg — and that’s just in 2010. Not having to catch will help contain the injury issues, but Posada is not going to revert to his prime at 39. At the age, decline may hasten very quickly. Let’s hope we get one last good year from Jorge. Enjoy it, because it’s the final time you’ll see him in pinstripes.

Jacoby Ellsbury missed most of last season with a rib injury after colliding with a neurotic teammate. Much of his success as an above-average offensive force (career .343 wOBA) is predicated on his elite speed (his 85% SB success rate matches Brett Gardner’s) and BABIP (.380 in 2007 which lead to a .407 wOBA, but .312 in 2008 which gave him an average .333 wOBA). Ellsbury still might grow as a hitter, but his skills say he’s a low-walk, low-power guy who needs to make a ton of contact and steal his way to being above-average. He’s also been bitten by the injury bug quite a bit in his short career.

As a lefty, John Jaso should see the better part of the playing time in a platoon with righty hacker, Kelly Shoppach. He has little in the way of power or speed, but he absolutely controls the strike zone with a walk rate over 14% and a strikeout rate under 12%. With that as a starting point, Jaso delivers good on-base skills for a catcher.

As long as he can stay the decline for a few more months, Posada is the clear class of the field here.

Advantage: Yankees

8) Jeter (.334)
Scutaro (.318)
Sean Rodriguez (.317)

If you’re a NoMaas reader, you already know the deal on Jeter. He had, by far, the worst year of his career last season. He’s projected across the board for a modest rebound, but at 37, he’s not likely to approach All-Star shortstop hitting levels again. The thing with Jeter is that his underlying skills have always been average. He’s always been an average walk rate guy with an average strikeout rate and average (now declining) power. But, he and Ichiro are THE outliers when it comes to BABIP. Whereas the gravity of BABIP pulls hard at almost every other hitter in baseball, Jeter and Ichiro have been able to sustain very high BABIPs (and therefore great production) year after year. Last year, the magic failed for Jeter. It’s a stretch to project anyone to defy the gravity of BABIP by much, and his aging legs further work against Derek in this regard. The Yankees vastly overpayed to retain their Captain. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this article, having your 8th best hitter be league-average or better ain’t too shabby.

After Marco Scutaro had an outlier year for Toronto in 2009 (.354 wOBA vs .320 career wOBA), Theo Epstein scooped him up. Scutaro promptly returned to his career baseline playing for the Sox in 2010. As a 35-year old, that’s probably where he’ll stay. It’s notable that the Sox do have another option here in Jed Lowrie (who is the best young player in baseball history), whose Marcel has him as a decent improvement (.336). Bill James and The Fans have Lowrie projected for .363 and .351, respectively. Right now, it looks like the Sox will start Scutaro.

Sean Rodriguez has looked over-matched by big league pitching in his short career, and the Marcel projection reflects that. However, that projection is very unreliable since it is based on less than one full season’s worth of PAs. Rodriguez owns some eye-popping minor league numbers, clearly has some serious power for a second baseman, and is only 25…there is upside here.

This group is the hardest to project because of Jeter’s age, Rodriguez’ youth, and Scutaro’s playing time. Jeter’s offseason preening left a bad taste in the mouth for a lot of Yankee fans, but do you want to bet against him?

Advantage: Yankees

9) Martin (.315)
Saltalamacchia (.312)
Brignac (.318)

Russell Martin was one of the few tidy signings made by the Yankees this offseason. He’s on a cheap one-year deal and he will serve well as the bridge to The Next Big Thing. Not too long ago, RussMart was a solidly above-average hitting catcher. Then, Joe Torre ran him into the ground, and Martin posted two straight meager years. Health is the name of the game for Martin, but health is no guarantee for any catcher, much less one with RussMart’s track record. The guess here is that the Yankees will start out with Cervelli as the backup (.319 Marcel), but The Jesus may very well force his way into the conversation. That would be very good news for the Yankees.

Theo worked overtime to acquire the busted prospect, Saltalamacchia. Clearly, Boy Genius thinks Salty’s career .307 wOBA is the product of his many injuries. Saltalamacchia is young and flashed power in the minors, but he’ll have to overcome his health issues and quickly vanquish his terrible hitting record across 4 big league seasons. If it doesn’t work out with Salty… well, let’s just say the Sox don’t exactly have a Montero-like bat to fall back on.

Brignac’s bat was well-regarded when he was a prospect. He wouldn’t be the first prospect to struggle for awhile and break through only after the hype has gone. Unfortunately for Tampa, he’s showed no signs of being anywhere near a breakout at the MLB level.

RussMart narrowly wins this category on his own, but the looming presence of Jesus Montero makes it case closed.

Advantage: Yankees

10) Bench
Yanks — Montero or Cervelli, Andruw, Justin Maxwell, Eric Chavez or Eduardo Nunez

Sox — Lowrie, Tek, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Mike Cameron, Josh Reddick

Rays — Joyce, Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Sam Fuld, Justin Ruggiano

The bench often gets overlooked, but it ought to count equally as another batting slot. Collectively, the bench will get as many PAs as a fulltime player. This holds even more true for the Yankees and Red Sox, who have a number of injury risks. This is the one area where the Red Sox finish third.

Lowrie will get into games and could be quite useful. After that, the Sox are really praying for health from all their starters. The Yankees have the ultimate trump card here in Montero. If he works out, he could be a difference-maker come September. Andruw was another nice little signing and he will be a great counter-attack when teams leverage LOOGYs against Granderson. However, with the durability of Jeter, ARod, and Tex being in question, the Yankees are left exposed on the infield without good replacement options.

Tampa Bay’s front office shows off their expert roster construction skillz here. Matt Joyce has crushed righties. The Rays can platoon at catcher and exploit Shoppach’s power. The Rays also have an intriguing catching prospect in Robinson Chirinos. Casey Kotchman has never lived up to his prospect hype, but if the Angels gave up on him, there’s probably something there. Zobrist deserves to get some double-counting here as his super-sub shtick will give flexibility to Joe Maddon in leveraging his bench. And we haven’t even started mentioning Desmond Jennings and others in the Rays formidable farm system.

Advantage: Rays

As you can see, the Rays offense is clearly a step behind their AL East rivals. They did manage the third most runs in baseball last year, and exchanging Crawford and Pena for Manny and Damon actually isn’t all that bad. Yet, they are standing still at best, while the Red Sox are improving. Gonzalez and Crawford, plus a healthy Youkilis and Pedroia would close up 2010′s 41-run gap with the Yankees. Gonzalez and Youkilis are elite hitters who are capable of creating significantly more runs than what we should expect from the Yankees top two. Having Crawford, Ortiz, Pedroia, and Drew behind them will make for very long days in the lives of American League pitchers.

Remember though that the two big Red Sox additions come with the subtraction of Adrian Beltre (.390 wOBA in 2010) and Victor Martinez (.360 wOBA in 2010). While Tex and ARod don’t figure to match AGon and Youk run for run, the Yankees should expect to make up those runs with their better depth. In addition, the Yankees are in a better position than the Red Sox to respond to the inevitable injuries that will strike these teams as the season unfolds.

Thus, when it comes to scoring runs, the Yankees will still be the best in baseball.


Who will assume the dominant position?