Point/Counterpoint: Which New York Team’s Opening Day Lineup is Worse?

By: Michael Abitabilo and Brian Mangan

Suffice to say, the Opening Day lineups for both the New York Mets and New York Yankees stand to look like steaming piles of dog (poop), at least when compared to both historical and even pre-season expectations.

Our co-founders, astonished at their teams’ awfulness, decided this would be the perfect opportunity to debut what will be a regular feature here at the Read Zone: Point/Counterpoint. By way of background, both Mike Abitabilo and Brian Mangan earn their livings as attorneys in New York. And so while some say they are paid to argue, the reality is, they mostly are paid to handle the years of boring minutiae that precedes trials, which sometimes includes persuasive writing.  What better way to test this skill than by assigning each of them to an argument – regardless of whether they agree with it – and having them write a convincing case in support of that argument.

First up, Mets vs. Yankees: who has the stronger opening day lineup. Mike Abitabilo, who is a Yankees fan, has been assigned to argue in favor of the Mets. Brian Mangan, a diehard Mets fan, will write in support of the Yankees. Both arguments are premised on the following opening day lineups:

Yankees Mets
CF Brett GardnerSS Eduardo Nunez

2B Robinson Cano

1B Kevin Youkilis

LF Vernon Wells

DH Ben Francisco

RF Ichiro Suzuki

3B Jayson Nix

C Francisco Cervelli

CF Collin Cowgill2B Daniel Murphy

3B David Wright

1B Ike Davis

RF Marlon Byrd

LF Lucas Duda

C John Buck

SS Ruben Tejada

P John Niese

 Point: The Yankees’ Opening Day Lineup is Better Than the Mets’, by Brian Mangan

What better way to demonstrate how the Yankees’ starting lineup is better than the Mets’ starting lineup than by simply looking at who the Mets plan on trotting out there on Opening Day?  Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and the Mets are nothing short of offensive.

This is a team, presently constituted, that would stand to be given a run for its money at Triple-A.  The Mets’ Opening Day lineup includes the following players: 1) an arbitration-eligible (i.e. basically free) player ditched by the Oakland Athletics so that they could give more at-bats to Coco Crisp, 2) a player who batted .210 last year and over the last three years has posted an OPS of only 719, and 3) a catcher who over the last two seasons has batted .213 with a 667 OPS and is so bad that he was traded *twice* this offseason.

The funniest part is that this Mets’ lineup is probably the best-case scenario.  It was only a week ago that Daniel Murphy and David Wright were both injured and uncertain as to whether they would be back for Opening Day.  As such, we were *this close* to a lineup where our cleanup hitter was Marlon Byrd.

However, despite the return of our best player and only legitimate All-Star, David Wright, the Mets’ Opening Day lineup is still worse than the Yankees’.

Speaking of which, the good parts of the team are simply … not that good.  David Wright, who last year rebounded from an atrocious 2011, is currently injured and even at his best, last season, hit only 21 home runs; and Ike Davis, who while he appeared to return successfully from Valley Fever (yes, seriously) managed to bat only .227.  Wright and Davis together are known for botching a routine infield popup in such a bad way that it led to Davis fracturing his ankle.

Compared the above to the Yankees, and it is clear that the Yankees are far superior.  Even with players such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter all missing Opening Day, the Yankees are still trotting out a lineup that is half way respectable.  It is a testament to their Organization in general that they are able to do that.

The key to the Yankee superiority here is upside.  Their lineup is chock full of players who have the potential to be good – or great – this season.  Kevin Youkilis is only one year removed from an OPS of 833, and we all know how good he was in Boston from 2006-2010 (21 HR per year, .297 batting average).  He’s only 34 years old, so there is something left in the tank, and he crushed it this spring (6 home runs, 1139 OPS). Travis Hafner presents a similar scenario**.  Hafner is now 36, but for the last three years prior to 2012 posted OPSes of 826, 824, and 811.  Although he hasn’t been PRONK since 2006 – he doesn’t need to be.  His strikeout to walk ratio last year as fine, and he’s almost an even bet to return to form.  The third and final member of the Yankees’ trio of important veterans is Vernon Wells, who struggled with the Angels but is only 34 himself and could definitely return to form in the Bronx (he batted .273 with 31 home runs as recently as two years ago).

((**I am told that Hafner is out of the lineup today since the Yanks are facing a lefty, and that Ben Francisco is in the lineup instead.  Francisco for what it’s worth he possesses an OPS+ of 93 over the last three years, is only 30, and has a pretty awesome twitter handle of @bennyfresh_8))

The lineup is not only premised on upside, as the rest of the lineup consists of skilled players from whom you know what to expect. Brett Gardner, when healthy, is a virtual lock to hit .275 and steal 40+ bases.  Ichiro Suzuki has been doing the same thing for a dozen years, and hit .322 last year in the Bronx. Even Eduardo Nunez and Francisco Cervelli present known mediocrities (Nunez 723 OPS in 2012, Cervelli 692 career OPS) and are both young enough to improve.

Finally, this has all been without mention of the Yankees’ rock, Robinson Cano.  All Cano has been able to do is become of baseball’s preeminent stars, the best at his position, as he returns from leading his Dominican Republic team to World Baseball Classic glory.  Over the last three years, Cano has 90 home runs, 321 RBI, and has batted .311 with a 909 OPS.  He’s finished third, sixth, and fourth in the MVP voting.

In sum, the Mets lineup is not only worse, but does not have the same opportunity to exceed expectations as the Yankees’ lineup does.  If even one of Youkilis, Wells, or Hafner can regain his recent form, the Yankees lineup will have a core that is once again formidable.  Even if they do not, the Yankees lineup will be consistent and deep.  The Mets, on the other hand, can only hope that David Wright does not collapse again only one year removed from a .254 average and 19 home runs, and that his second half swoon from last season (.258 average, 750 OPS) was a fluke.

Yankees win in a landslide.  What do you think?

Counterpoint: The Mets’ Opening Day Lineup is Better Than the Yankees’, by Michael Abitabilo

Full disclosure: this argument is not as much about the supremacy of the Mets’ lineup as it is about the putridity of the Yankees’. Having said that, here goes. Let’s start at the top of the lineup.  The Yankees will trot out Brett Gardner as their leadoff hitter on opening day, in place of the still-injured Derek Jeter (who is sort of a jerk, by the way). To put it kindly, Brett Gardner is not exactly Ricky Henderson. Sure, he can cause havoc if he gets on base, but in his last full season (2011) he hit .259 with 7 homeruns and 36 RBIs. His .369 slugging percentage, which is exactly .001 higher than his career average, was good  bad enough to tie him for 125th in the Majors with Cliff Pennington. Gardner’s .323 average in 2012 would be impressive, if he had played more than 13 games, raising questions about his durability and ability to be an everyday player.  As for the Mets, their opening day leadoff hitter is Colin Cowgill. One need not look further than this very site to understand the excitement over this Little Ball of Fury.  In light of his “surprising power” and “great bat speed,” this former college standout has Mets fans clamoring for “More Cowgill.” Thanks, Brian, for making this an easy one. Advantage: Mets

Next up, the two slot, where the Yankees will send up future Kansas City Royal Eduardo Nunez.  Feel free to substitute any small market, inferior organization for the Royals, but the point is this man, who also happens to be an absolute liability defensively, will definitely be included in a trade or overpaid by a bad team within the next three years.  While he has shown some pop and an ability to run the bases, he has never been a full-time player in the Major Leagues.  Besides, anyone would look fast on the base paths compared to Mark Teixeira.  The Mets, on the other hand, will send an in-his-prime Daniel Murphy to the plate. “He’s the best!” Brian Mangan once said to me about Murphy.  In 2012, he hit 40 doubles – good enough for 7th in the league, and more than alleged superstars Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, and Josey Reyes, among others. Entering his fourth season as a full-time player, it’s safe to project that Murphy will hit close to .300 (he’s a .292 career hitter), and drive in 10-15 home runs.  Advantage: Mets

As we approach the heart of each lineup, the Mets’ supremacy really comes to light. Batting third for the Yankees will be Robinson Cano.  As gifted as this man is, he has never quite posted the MVP caliber numbers most people assumed he would. Having recently turned 30-years old, it is now safe to say we have seen Cano’s ceiling: a .300+ hitter who will hit about 25-30 home runs and drive in 100-115 runs. Despite his impressive batting average, Cano’s career on base percentage is just .351, only 43 points above his batting average, and well below the numbers posted by elite hitters.  Even assuming the persistent rumors of an imminent PED suspension prove to be untrue, Cano will still face immense pressure this season, as he will be counted on to be “the Man” for the first time in his career, all the while knowing he is playing for a new contract.  While the Yankees place most of their eggs in this shaky basket, the Mets will rely on David Wright. He’s the Mets’ Jeter, or so I’ve heard (like, 3,000 times).  In the midst of his prime, Captain Clutch is coming off a year in which he hit .306 with 21 HR and 93 RBI, all while surrounded by a terrible lineup and hitting in the since-reconfigured Citi-Field.  With the security of a new $140 million contract, Wright might hit .400 and/or challenge Barry Bonds’s single-season homerun record in 2013.  Advantage: Even

The cleanup spot is almost too easy. The Mets’ cleanup hitter is the incomparable Ike Davis, who, at 26, is just entering his prime. Ike-Zilla, as I like to call him, has shown steady improvement in his time in the Major Leagues. In his first year, he hit .264 with 19 HR and 71 RBI. In 2011, Davis suffered from various injuries and only appeared in 36 games, though he still hit over .300 on a 30+ HR pace.  Last year, he still managed to mash 32 bombs and drive in 90 runs, despite facing the same lineup and ballpark-related challenges as the Captain. Needless to say, I expect plenty of “I Like Ike!” chants in 2013. The Yankees’ opening day cleanup hitter is Kevin Youkilis. Wait, what? Is that the same guy who was run out of Boston in a year when his former manager questioned his commitment to the game, and then, after a hot start with the White Sox, ended up with a .236 average in almost 300 ABs with his new team? What do you know, it is! Advantage: Mets

Occupying the fifth spot for the Yankees will be the recently-acquired Vernon Wells.  It’s hard to criticize Brian Cashman for this move. Anytime you can take another contender’s fifth-best outfielder and plug him into your starting lineup, you have to do it!  This isn’t just a credit to the Angels’ stellar outfield corps; Wells is coming off a season in which he hit .230 with 11 HRs and 29 RBIs. Marlon Byrd has been a professional hitter for almost ten years now. He is a career .278 hitter who can almost certainly match Wells’s putrid power numbers.  The Byrd Man might not be a hall-of-famer, but at least another team wasn’t so desperate to unload him that they agreed to pay nearly 75% of his salary over the next two seasons. Advantage: Even

Fear not, Yankees fans, the advantage of the Designated Hitter should give your team the edge in the six slot.  As most baseball fans are aware, the Yankees have a long history filled with great hitters: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Mattingly, Jeter and now, Ben Francisco. When I saw he was penciled in as the opening day DH, I literally had to look up his first name (though, in my defense, I had an inkling it was Ben). Francisco is apparently the right-handed half of a DH platoon, in the lineup to face the lefty Jon Lester.  This career .257 hitter has never hit more than 15 home runs in a major league season, and last reached that milestone four years ago! He is coming off a year in which he hit .240 with a total of 4 HRs and 15 RBIs while playing for three different teams.  The Mets, on the other hand, will send Lucas Duda out in the six-hole. Last year, Duda hit .239 with 15 HR and 57 RBI – numbers Francisco could only dream of at this point in his career.  Impressively, though, Duda’s on base percentage was nearly 100 points higher than his batting average, at .329. As Duda enters his year 27 season – historically the best for baseball players – it is reasonable to project Duda to hit 20 home runs with 70 RBIs, numbers that will certainly dwarf Francisco’s output for the year – especially since Francisco is almost certain to be released within two months. By the way, the other half of the Yankees’ platoon will be occupied by Travis Hafner, which would be awesome, if this were 2006. Advantage: Mets

Ok, I love Ichiro. I can’t argue that John “Don’t Call Me Jack … or Joe” Buck is better than him, but I will just point out that Ichiro is now 39 years old, and was hitting .261 last year before being traded to the Yankees. Advantage: Yankees

In the number eight spot, the Yankees will send up utility (pronounced “backup”) infielder Jayson Nix. This reminds me of that song where the something-bone is connected to the other-bone, and so on. Nix is in the starting lineup because of an almost unbelievable chain of events (and by events, I mean crappy players). First, A-Rod (more on him another day) goes down with another weird hip injury no one had ever heard of until he suffered it in 2009. Then, the Yankees sign Kevin Youkilis to play third while A-Rod recovers, then spell Mark Teixeira at first and get some at-bats as the designated hitter.  Once Teixeira went down with a weird wrist injury no one has ever heard of, the Yankees were in a bind at first base. First they tried Juan Rivera there. If Vernon Wells would have been the Angels fifth-best outfielder this season, Juan Rivera would probably have been their 14th best. Rivera was so bad they cut him and signed Lyle Overbay, who was so bad he was released by the Red Sox (who are also terrible). Overbay made the team, but instead of sending the light-hitting lefty to the plate against Lester, the Yankees shifted Youkilis to first, and inserted Nix into the starting lineup.  So, in sum, Nix would not have been in the lineup but for: (a) injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira; (b) the suckiness of Juan Rivera; and (c) the fact that Lyle Overbay hit .063 against left-handed starters last year. The Mets, on the other hand, will send six time all-star and former AL MVP Ruben Tejada to the plate. Once considered in the same class as Jeter, A-Rod, and Nomar, I remember this guy’s glory days with the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles like they were yesterday. … Ok, so I have just done some research and figured out this is NOT Miguel Tejada, but still, this Tejada has hit .271 in over 1,000 Major League ABs.  Advantage: Mets

Despite the 9 slot featuring a pitcher against a position player, I’m not ready to concede this matchup! As much as I love Ichiro is how much I hate Francisco Cervelli.  His terrible offensive numbers could be excused if he were a defensive stalwart (as we were initially told), but the reality is, he is as terrible behind the plate as he is in front of it (or should I say next to it? Whatever, my point is he is bad at hitting). John Niese, on the other hand, managed to hit a respectable .218 last year.  At a minimum, the Mets are assured of a guy who can lay down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner and turn over the lineup, which is way better than Cervelli unsuccessfully swing for the fences while John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman praise his excitable disposition. Advantage: Even

In sum, it is abundantly clear that the Mets’ opening day lineup is far superior to that of the Yankees.