It's never too early to talk about what could be the best rivalry in MLB in 2012: Rangers vs. Angels. Count on our buddy over at ESPN.com's Sweet Spot, David Schoenfield, to do just that. Here's some of his look at a Tale of the Tape between the teams. You can read the whole thing here.
Catcher: Mike Napoli vs. Chris Iannetta
Here's the thing about Napoli: He actually hit better on the road in 2011, so his monster season wasn't just a result of changing to a better park. After hitting .187 through May 27, Napoli finished at .232 in the first half and crushed the ball after the All-Star break, hitting .383/.466/.706 (wait, why was he batting eighth in the World Series?). Napoli cut his strikeout rate over 7 percent from 2010 and increased his walk rate. He did have a .344 average on balls in play compared to his career mark of .303, even though his line-drive percentage was only 1 percent higher, so some regression is no doubt in order. Still, his booming bat makes this a clear selection. Advantage: Rangers.
Schoenfield breaks down every position in this way. To save space, I won't put all the position players here for you, but here are his advantages:
First base: Angels (no shock with Albert Pujols there)
Second base: Rangers
Third base: Rangers
Left field: Rangers
Center field: Rangers (he lists Josh Hamilton as a CF)
Right field: Angels
His take on the starting rotation:
No. 1 starter: Yu Darvish vs. Jered Weaver
Weaver has been one of baseball's top 10 starters the past two seasons. Darvish may be good, but as good as Weaver? That's expecting a lot. Advantage: Angels.
No. 2 starter: Matt Harrison vs. Dan Haren
The ERA difference between the two was small -- Harrison's 3.39 versus Haren's 3.17, and once you factor in the home parks, Harrison actually had the better adjusted ERA. On the other hand, Haren had a 192/33 strikeout/walk ratio compared to Harrison's 126/57. While he benefits from being in the perfect park for him, we have to go with Haren's proven record of success and durability. Advantage: Angels.
No. 3 starter: Derek Holland vs. C.J. Wilson
Wilson had a 2.31 ERA on the road in 2011. Don't be surprised if he contends for the Cy Young Award in 2012. Advantage: Angels.
No. 4 starter: Colby Lewis vs. Ervin Santana
Unlike Haren, as a flyball pitcher Lewis is probably in the worst park for him. He gave up 35 home runs in 2011, and 23 of those came at home. On the road, he went 9-5 with a 3.43 ERA. The underlying results of the two are pretty similar, although Santana has better stuff. I get the feeling that if you switched parks, they'd post each other's numbers. Advantage: Draw.
No. 5 starter: Neftali Feliz vs. Jerome Williams
In his first promotion to the majors in 2009, Feliz averaged 11.3 K's per nine with a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2010, those numbers fell to 9.2 and 3.94. In 2011, they fell again, to 7.8 and 4.3. Why is he getting worse? Will a move to the rotation help? Did he throw his fastball too much? Will he recover from blowing the clinching game of the World Series? All intriguing questions without answers to be determined. Jerome Williams -- yes, the kid who came up with the Giants in 2003 when he was just 21 -- is still just 30 years old. He made it back to the majors after beginning the year in independent ball. Advantage: Rangers.
Closer: Joe Nathan vs. Jordan Walden
From June 28 on, Nathan pitched 28 innings, allowed a .190 average and struck out 28 batters with just five walks. You can't read too much into 28 innings, but it's a good sign that it just took him some time to recover from Tommy John surgery. Walden led the majors with 10 blown saves, but his underlying numbers were all strong. I love his power fastball and with a little better command, he should be dynamite. Advantage: Angels.
Bullpen: Alexi Ogando/Mike Adams/Koji Uehara/Scott Feldman/Mark Lowe vs. Scott Downs/LaTroy Hawkins/Hisanori Takayashi/Rich Thompson/Bobby Cassevah
With Ogando apparently slated to move back to the pen and a full season from Adams, the Rangers' pen looks deep although it currently lacks a reliable left-hander. Advantage: Rangers.
Manager: Ron Washington vs. Mike Scioscia
It's hard to give Washington the edge after his postseason performance. On the other hand, Scioscia gave Wells 500 at-bats. Advantage: Draw.
So the final is Rangers 9-7 with two draws. Should make for a pretty interesting 19 games between these teams. Again, it's worth a read. You can do so here.