Planning For a Dodgers vs Yankees World Series
by Cary Greene
June 29, 2022
Today I’ll explore what the Yankees path through the 2022 MLB postseason is going to look like. Starting with the obvious, the Dodgers are my prohibitive favorites. The four other legit contenders right now are the Astros and Red Sox (in the AL) and the Braves and Padres (in the NL). All four of these teams could be teams the Yankees need to deal with at some point in the playoffs or World Series.
The Path to the World Series:
Given that the Bombers will likely earn a first round bye in the playoffs this season, I can predict that they’ll probably face the Astros in the AL Championship series. Is there a chance this won’t happen? Nope. Not really. I think it's virtually guaranteed to happen. The Astros and the Yankees are the league's two best teams.
Houston has ridiculously dominant pitching and an offense capable of lighting up strong playoff pitching. It’s very safe to say that the road out of the American League, the one that leads to the World Series, will run through Houston this year. Fangraphs gives Houston a better chance of winning it all for a reason.
Offensively, the Houston offense has the third-ranked OPS against right handed pitching (.747), right behind the Dodgers and Yankees. In order for the Yankees to advance out of the American League and to then win the World Series, they’ll have to literally “shift-gears” and go from dealing with teams that are highly vulnerable to right-handed pitching, like the Rays, the Red Sox, to a team that crushes right handed pitching.
To make matters worse, the Astros pitchers also dominate right-handed offenses, ranking 4th in MLB in suppressing right-handed batters. With this in mind, it would absolutely behoove Brian Cashman to try to help the Yankees add some key left-handed bats with great splits against right-handed pitchers.
Will this strategy help the Yankees advance out of the Division Series? In all likelihood, yes. Both the Red Sox and the Rays are much better against left-handed pitching, so the Yankees will want to stack right-handed relievers in the Division Series which will almost certainly be against either the Rays or the Red Sox.
Specifically built to cut-down right-handed lineups, the Rays hold opposing right-handed batters to a paltry .218 batting average, which makes the Rays MLB’s second most toughest pitching staff against right-handed lineups.
Fortunately, the Red Sox are significantly more vulnerable to right-handed hitting. Though it’s too early to predict which team the Yankees will face in the Division Series, there’s a strong chance it’s going to be Boston. The Red Sox have stronger pitching, believe it or not and they have a decided advantage offensively as well. Notice, I’m discounting the Blue Jays from this conversation entirely, because they simply don’t have the pitching this season.
What Would a Yankees vs Dodgers World Series Look Like?
If it came down to a World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers, it would be a series for the ages. Using Fangraphs and current fWAR charts, the Dodgers have the better infield, with clear advantages at Catcher, First Base and Shortstop. The Yankees have the better outfield and the better Starting Rotation, whereas the bullpens are very evenly matched.
The Dodgers are nearly invulnerable. Their pitching is good enough to stifle the Yankees offense and they can put up crooked numbers against good pitching. In order for the Yankees to beat the Dodgers, they would need to rely on their Starting Rotation to pave the way for a championship. They’d also need a huge series from both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Perhaps a player like DJ LeMahieu or Gleyber Torres would be a key difference maker.
The Dodgers presently are vulnerable though. If I was Brian Cashman, I’d be all-in on improving the already very strong bullpen and also, he might want to improve positionally if the opportunity presents itself at the deadline.
Meanwhile, offensively, Dodgers struggle a bit against left-handed pitching as they rank only 11th in OPS vs lefties (.725). Their three best players, Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and <gulp> Freddie Freeman all crush right-handed pitching. That said, they have five other players they can run out, all with OPS’s above .750 against righties. The Dodger lineup is likely going to hit Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. In fact, if I was Aaron Boone, I might not even start Taillon in a World Series against LA.
Conversely, while Betts, Turner and Freeman all hit left-handed pitching well, the parade of hitters who can complement them tails off significantly and only Will Smith and Chris Taylor have OPS’s over .750. Clearly, beating the Dodgers in seven games involves exploiting this flaw. Betts, Turner and Freeman will get their hits, but the Yankees could limit the damage with a strong bullpen and get significant length out of lefty starters (or starters with light’s out splits), I imagine beating the Dodgers would become much more achievable.
J.P. Sears (a lethal lefty) makes a ton of sense as an option for the Yankees. We have seen how good he can be. The Yankees should consider keeping him in the big leagues. Not only would it be valuable to limit Severino’s innings but Cortes has never pitched starter’s innings and it would be great to keep the bullpen fresh while also giving Monty and Taillon some breaks. With such a huge lead, the Yankees ought to consider a six-man rotation with Sears as the sixth starter.
Keeping Ron Marinaccio (who has great splits against right-handed hitting) around and continually exposed to MLB batters is also a great idea because his splits against righties leads the entire team. Giving these young pitchers innings now will better prepare them for the post season. These are valuable innings for necessary experience.
Brian Cashman should also scour the trade market for lefty relievers who dominate righties, or righties who have devastating splits vs. right-handed hitting as well. This should really be Cashman’s primary focus at the 2022 Deadline - from a pitching perspective.
On the other side, Dodgers pitching is number one in MLB against right-handed hitting so if the Yankees have any aspirations of winning a championship, they still desperately need quality left-handed bats. This tells us that not only do the Yankees need to upgrade, they need even more balance. I’m hoping Matt Carpenter continues his resurgence, but the Yankees still need a few pieces as Joey Gallo isn't exactly raking tough righties these days.
Other opportunities to upgrade and add better offensive balance are at backup catcher, on the bench, and in the outfield.
Is the Yankee Bullpen Built to Win a World Series This Year?
While the Yankee bullpen has been a huge team strength, I reckon the answer to this question is that it needs to be tweaked for the playoffs, which is very matchup dependent. I could see a scenario where the Yankees even add or subtract names from the bullpen roster depending on which team’s they’re facing.
LA has the best OPS in baseball against right-handed pitching (.775). This means that using righties in high-leverage situations in a potential World Series matchup with LA may be a recipe for a World Series loss - though it’s really more about pitchers' splits against righties than their handedness.
If I were Brian Cashman, I’d obviously be looking to stack relievers in my playoffs bullpen who have devastating splits against righties. I’d also want plenty of lefties to take advantage of any games played at Yankee Stadium. In order, the Yankees best pitchers against right-handed batters this year are Ron Marinaccio, Clay Holmes, Clarke Schmidt, J.P. Sears, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes, Mike King, Wandy Peralta, Miguel Castro and Jordan Montgomery. That’s a great group of pitchers to manage and it’s a group that does need a bit more support, and in Marinaccio, Schmidt and Sears cases, they enough big-league experience to handle the pressure that the postseason will surely bring.
Winning against the Dodgers would likely involve getting a ton of production out of this group.
Considering In-House Bullpen Reinforcements:
Interestingly, the Yankees have two potentially extremely helpful lefties who may indeed be on the postseason roster, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman.
Looking at splits, currently rehabbing Yankee lefty Zack Britton is historically much tougher on left-handed pitching than he’s been recently. Granted, right-handed batters are hitting Aroldis Chapman hard this year - but if he can also return to peak form, it could make even more of a difference. Chappy’s usually lights out against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. This is a situation to monitor as getting him back for a World Series push, along with Britton, could be huge.
In a run to a World Series championship, both Britton and Chapman could be used in key spots during crucial games, or as bridge-relievers. Personally, I’d deploy them both in any high leverage situations that demanded it, leaving the closing duties to Clay Holmes, who has gone from merely the incumbent to the de facto-dude.
Jonathan Loaisiga has also been historically excellent against right-handed hitters but this year, he’s not getting the job done and Domingo German uncharacteristically struggled in 2021 against righties as well. If Loaisiga or German come back resembling their former selves, then either could be key additions to the Yankees relief corps, but not at the expense of Ron Marinaccio or J.P. Sears. The Yankees should trim relievers who struggle against right-handed batters when crafting their World Series roster.
Lucas Leutge might be a candidate to actually be kept off a World Series roster if the Yankees are facing the Dodgers as they’d likely knock him around. This is why I’m in favor of not demoting Marinaccio.
There are plenty of teams looking for relievers, Luetge has regular season value coming out of the pen for the Yankees, but his median trade value per baseballtradevalues.com is $1.1 million. Because he’s pretty effective against left-handed hitters and because Britton and Chapman are both hopefully coming back, the Yankees should look to shop Luetge at the deadline. Marinaccio and Sears are the future and they’re both ready now. Instead of blocking them, Cashman needs to get them vital big league playing time if he wants to win a World Series. The numbers clearly show both can help.
Another move the Yankees might be wise to consider would be trading Jonathan Loaisiga, while he still has significant trade value. He’s presently worth $16.4 million in median-value, again courtesy of baseballtradevalues.com. Don’t forget, Ken Waldichuck and Hayden Wesneski are also both looking every bit the part of legit pitching prospects.
Decisions like this can be difficult, but putting the Yankees best foot forward with a World Series in mind should involve a World Series bullpen and both Marinaccio and Sears deserve to be part of that because it will make the Yankees better situationally against a team that on paper, is presently even better than they are.