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Rays vs. Yankees batter-by-batter breakdown

Sure, the actual games are what matters, but how about a position-by-position Battle Royale on paper

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

With the Rays and Yankees series underway on the actual diamond, and both teams starting to get fully healthy, it seems the perfect time for a position-by-position breakdown of the two teams.

We’ll start by comparing the two lineups, and later today get to the pitching side of things.

A couple of brief notes:

  • Both teams, the Rays in particular use LOTS of platooning, so there’s obviously a shade of gray to these positional assignments.
  • Also, we’re going to go relatively surface here. Every single position could get its own full article if we wanted to go reallllly deep. We’ll note the reason for picking a winner, but we’re not going to make this bad boy 3500 words long.
  • I didn’t include a bench section because we included some platoons along the way, and there are so many moving parts at the end of the bench (Durham shuttle, etc.), a lot of that would be pure guesswork.
  • This is forward-looking not looking back on 2019 so far.
  • Vote! Be as biased or unbiased as you wish.

On to the matchups!

Catcher: Mike Zunino/Travis d’Arnaud vs. Gary Sanchez/Austin Romine

This one seems super obvious on the surface. Sanchez has five more homers than any other catcher in baseball, while Zunes has slashed just .177/.225/.323 in his first season with the Rays. There are a few factors that tighten things up a bit, though. First, Sanchez has seen such a dramatic drop in his framing skills that one of the three Ringer baseball articles they write a month was dedicated to it. Zunes, on the other hand, has been above average by just about every defensive catcher metric, and as such, by Baseball Prospectus WARP, the two are separated by only 1.1 wins. Toss in the fact that d’Arnaud is a better backup backstop than Romine, and this is closer than you’d think, but the Yankees still definitely have the edge.

Winner: New York

Poll

Catcher advantage

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Rays
    (6 votes)
  • 93%
    Yanks
    (86 votes)
92 votes total Vote Now

First Base: Ji-Man Choi/Yandy Diaz vs. Luke Voit

One of the big benefits of having Voit at first base is not needing to platoon him, but the other big advantage is that he’s just better. In 2019, he has a 137 wRC+, this coming on the back of his absurd 187 wRC+ with the Yanks after the Cardinals shipped him to The Big Apple in exchange for an actual big apple. Diaz has been outstanding, while Choi has been solid, but Diaz will play more at third, and Voit has proven himself at this point.

Winner: New York

Poll

First base advantage

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Rays
    (11 votes)
  • 87%
    Yanks
    (79 votes)
90 votes total Vote Now

Second Base: Brandon Lowe/Joey Wendle vs. Gleyber Torres

Lowe and Wendle aren’t actually platoon partners. Both are lefties and Daniel Robertson, if he wasn’t struggling so much, would make the far superior platoon mate. As is, second is the best position for both, so we’re listing them here. (Like I said at the start, assigning one position to any Rays player is a fool’s errand.) And the Lowe-Wendle combo actually makes this one closer than some might assume. Torres is definitely a really good young player, but I’m not sure he’s as good as his 2019 numbers suggest (122 wRC+), as he’s gotten fat off Baltimore pitching, and his defense is still a bit suspect. Lowe is due for some regression as well (140 wRC+; .393 BABIP), and we don’t know what to expect from Wendle returning, but overall this feels quite even for the rest of 2019.

Winner: Draw

Poll

Second base advantage

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Rays
    (39 votes)
  • 58%
    Yanks
    (56 votes)
95 votes total Vote Now

Shortstop: Willy Adames vs. Didi Gregorius

The Yankees just got Didi back, but he doesn’t appear to have any rust, slashing .333/.355/.467 so far in just eight games. I love Adames as much as the next guy, but Didi is one of the best in the league.

Winner: New York

Poll

Shortstop advantage

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Rays
    (12 votes)
  • 86%
    Yanks
    (78 votes)
90 votes total Vote Now

Third Base: Yandy Diaz vs. DJ LeMahieu/Giovanny Urshela

This is a position that is going to see LOTS of faces for both teams the rest of 2019. Diaz already got mentioned at first base, but only because Choi needs a platoon partner over there; he’ll get most of his time at the hot corner. And wow, has he been a revelation in his first season with the Rays. He’s slashing .286/.363/.502, and nothing about that slash line seems fake. DJLM is a solid bat (although I’d love to see him ever have to play more than half his games outside of Coors or Yankee Stadium), and Urshela is apparently filming a New York Baseball version of Like Mike, but Yandy is a real one.

Winner: Tampa Bay

Poll

Third base advantage

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Rays
    (36 votes)
  • 60%
    Yanks
    (55 votes)
91 votes total Vote Now

Left Field: Tommy Pham vs. Giancarlo Stanton

This is probably the best showdown of the entire diamond and could fill an entire article on its own. When healthy, Stanton is as good a bet to win an MVP as any hitter in baseball. When healthy, he’s as feared a hitter in baseball. When healthy, he’s likely to hit line drives that go through humans. However, Pham has been healthy all year, and he’s got a 139 wRC+ in what has felt like a bit of an off-year so far. This is tough. If I see even a week’s worth of healthy Stanton games I’d probably call this a draw, but this second I’m going Pham by a hair.

Winner: Tampa Bay

Poll

Left field advantage

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Rays
    (39 votes)
  • 57%
    Yanks
    (52 votes)
91 votes total Vote Now

Center Field: Kevin Kiermaier/Guillermo Heredia vs. Aaron Hicks/Brett Gardner

This is where both teams show their depth. Quick, guess Heredia’s wRC+ against lefties this season... 149! Quick, guess his wRC+ overall... 105! He’s been the literal perfect fourth outfielder this season. Of course, the Yankees have plenty of outfield depth of their own (Rest in Power, Clint Frazier), and it shows here. Gardner is a great fourth outfielder (who I’d actually trust going forward a hair more than Heredia), but we’ve gone this far without even mentioning the starters. And that’s because in my mind you’re splitting hairs between the two. In fact, this position is pretty much a toss-up in my mind. I think the vote will go to the Rays since this is a Rays site, but I think that’s underselling Hicks.

Winner: Draw

Poll

Center field advantage

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Rays
    (45 votes)
  • 51%
    Yanks
    (48 votes)
93 votes total Vote Now

Right Field: Avisail Garcia vs. Aaron Judge

I love Avisail. I love that I was so wrong that he was going to be a bad fit for the Rays. I love him a lot.

Judge by a mile.

Winner: New York

Poll

Right field advantage

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Rays
    (7 votes)
  • 91%
    Yanks
    (80 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now

DH: Austin Meadows vs. Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion already seems like The One That Got Away. The projections have him for “only” .243/.349/.497 for the rest of the season, but that seems aggressively low, especially with the new ballpark. An OPS of .900 seems likely. That being said, Meadows has been posting 100 wRC+ months as his valleys this season (before the past week, at least). Actually, that’s important, let’s pull it out of the parenthetical: Before the past week, at least. This will be a very telling next couple weeks for Meadows. He really hasn’t experience a tough stretch since coming to Tampa Bay. I’d expect him to bounce back, he’s shown every sign of becoming an All-Star this season, but this pick seems like a ceiling/floor debate. EE is the safer play, but Meadows’ ceiling (especially given his positional flexibility) makes him give him the slightest of edges.

Winner: Tampa Bay

Poll

DH advantage

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Rays
    (51 votes)
  • 42%
    Yanks
    (38 votes)
89 votes total Vote Now

So that’s four to New York, three to Tampa Bay, and two draws by my count (I’m guessing the polling goes: 5-4 to the Rays, we’ll see). Not bad considering the Yankee lineup is getting a lot of buzz as one of the best of all time with all their players returning. We’ll come back later with the pitching breakdown.