New York Yankees: Looking to Do What the Tampa Bay Rays Could Not

October 18, 2010

Before the pennant races concluded, many people thought, and wrote, that the Yankees did not want to win the American League East because they did not want to to possibly face Cliff Lee twice in a five game series.

Once again, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

And the Yankees now have it.

They are in the same situation as the 2010 AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays were: Since they split the first two games in Arlington, they are now in a five game series against the Rangers.

And Cliff Lee is starting Game 1 and, if necessary, will start in Game 5.

Most Yankee fans thought they were getting a break when Lee had to pitch Game 5 in the ALDS and could not start Game 1 in Arlington.

I marvel at all the people who say that the Yankees should be happy that they got a split in Texas, “which is all they really needed, anyway.” Actually, the opposite is true.

When you win the first game on the road, nothing short of winning two should be acceptable.

It seems that Yankees fans (and many in the media) are already throwing in the towel in Game 3, assuming Lee will keep his masterful pitching performances going.

That may be the case, but it also can be far from the truth.

Lee has faced the Yankees three times this season, and is 2-0, 3.09 ERA. In the first game, Lee threw a complete game, allowing four runs while striking out only two hitters.

In his second start against New York, the Yankees rallied late, beating the Rangers in Texas. Although he struck out 11, Lee also gave up four runs this game. In his third start, Lee won 4-1, but walked three, his season high.

Twice in his three starts against the Yankees this year, Lee allowed four runs—so the Yankees have gotten to Lee this season. The issue in all three of those games this season was the Yankee starting pitching was atrocious.

Dustin Moseley, Javier Vazquez and Phil Hughes all were hit around by the opposition.

Even last year during the World Series, the Yankees lost twice to Lee, but after getting dominated in Game 1, they scored five runs off Lee in seven innings in his second start.

Again, by scoring five runs off Lee in Game 5 last year, they should have won the game, but A.J. Burnett was pretty bad that day.

I have all the confidence in Andy Pettitte tonight. The major league’s all-time winningest postseason pitcher is coming off a tremendous performance in the ALDS, but it was 11 days ago.

Unlike CC Sabathia, who has no command after longer rest, as he has gotten older, Pettitte is much better with longer rest between starts. Over the last three years, Andy is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA on six-plus days rest, better than his overall numbers. 

Looks like a good pitching match-up to me, a game the Yankees can win. In Lee’s 28 starts this year, Lee has allowed four or more runs in 11 games. And in those games, the opposing team was not patient at the plate, working the count, but were aggressive early in the count.

Lee threw primarily fastballs the first time through the order in his two games in the ALDS. In Game 1 at Tampa Bay, he threw only fastballs in the first inning when the Rays loaded the bases.

At that point, the Rays stopped being aggressive and did not score.

If the Yankees are aggressive early, and look to attack the first pitch fastball, they can score runs. You can not “pitch count” Lee out of the game, but need to bang him around and knock him out.

If the Yankees get four runs off Lee, they will win tonight.

Be aggressive early and let Pettitte do his thing.

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Cliff Lee: With CC Sabathia Leading the Way, Is Lee To Yankees a Done Deal?

August 23, 2010

A story in today’s New York Post quotes CC Sabathia after his 17th win yesterday, “I’m here,” Sabathia said. “Hundred percent.”

Sabathia is referring to the clause in his contract to opt-out after next season. CC was not sure he or his family would like the hustle of New York, and being Californians, wanted the option to go back to the west coast.

I think you know I’ve built a house here, right?” CC said. “My kids go to school here. We live here year round. So I’m not going anywhere.”

That is great news for the Yankees, who have relied on Sabathia more this year then they even did last season. A remarkable feat indeed, considering CC won 19 games in the regular season last year, three more in the post season and was the stopper when the rotation became erratic.
Deja vu all over again in 2010, right?
What CC’s declaration also tells me is that Cliff Lee is even more likely to sign with the Yankees next season after becoming a free agent. After being traded THREE times in less than a year, Lee wants to play with what is comfortable to him.
And CC is comfort food for Cliff Lee.
They are really good friends since their days with Cleveland, and CC is perhaps the biggest cheerleader for players to come to New York. And with Lee and Yankee rotation stalwart A.J. Burnett both hailing from Arkansas and sharing the same agent, Lee is almost guaranteed to become part of the 2011 Yankee rotation.
But would it be a good idea?
Lee has not been that good since the early July trade to the Texas Rangers. In his nine starts for Texas, Lee has a 2-4 record with a 4.18 ERA, and the Rangers are 3-6 in Lee’s nine starts. His seasonal ERA has risen almost a full point from 2.34 to 3.09.
And most of this damage has come from the American League East opponents Lee has faced, the same opponents he would face in about half his starts if he were a Yankee next season.
Baltimore beat Lee up Saturday, hitting four home runs in the process. The Orioles also bombed Lee in his first Rangers start, belting three more dingers. It is interesting, but the Orioles (the last place Orioles) have scored at least one run in eight of the 15 innings they have faced against Lee.
Lee did not fare well against Tampa Bay in his one Ranger start, allowing six earned runs, and lost both his Tampa games while pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Lee dominated Boston for most of his one start as a Ranger, but blew the lead in the bottom of the 9th inning. It was a game the Rangers would eventually lose.
And that game was the first of many games Lee has allowed late leads to evaporate. On the 11th, Lee dominated the Yankees but blew up in the 7th inning, allowing four hits and two runs before leaving. His next start, Lee had a two-run lead in the 8th against the Rays before allowing five hits and four runs.
In Lee’s five starts against the AL East since the trade, the Rangers are 0-5 and Lee has a 6.22 ERA. But in his four starts versus the lowly Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s, Lee is 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA*.
*Funny thing, is that Lee is dominant against all teams but the AL East and the San Diego Padres, who have tattooed Lee for 10 earned runs in 13+ innings.
Is it the vaunted issue of pitching against the AL East? If so, then it would be a major problem if Lee signed with the Yankees at a five (or more) year deal for CC type money. Similar to how the Red Sox must feel about signing John Lackey away from the comfy AL West to the powerful AL East.
Is it because certain teams approach Lee differently? In his most recent start against the Rays, Lee faced 34 batters, and has 27 of them swing at a pitch before taking a called strike. In his last start, the Orioles also were very aggressive, with 19 batters swinging at a pitch before getting down in the count by taking a strike.
Or coming off his 272 inning 2009 season, is it that Lee has just tired some during this season? He did miss the first month of 2010 with a small suspension for throwing at an opponent and then suffering a minor injury.
What ever it is, Lee has not been the same pitcher.
The Yankees would want to sign Lee for their own purposes, but to also keep him away from one of the AL contenders for the next four or five years like Texas or LA, maybe Boston if they can deal away Lackey or Daisuke Matsuzaka.
But the last time the Yankees signed a free agent pitcher to keep them away from their rival did not work out as expected, right A.J. Burnett fans?
Even though the Rangers still have an eight-game lead in the AL West, Lee’s performance has not been what they, or anyone else has expected. Lee will not have the comforts of facing the NL or AL West lineups in the post season.
Despite last years playoffs, the Yankees have scored seven runs in 15 innings against Lee this year, and Tampa Bay has beaten Lee three times this season.
Lee’s performance against the AL East playoff teams should be a huge factor regarding the value of his next contract. If he suffers through a miserable 2010 post season, would the Yankees go all-out for Lee as is expected?
CC Sabathia hopes so, and might change his mind about the future if Lee is not in pinstripes.

CC Sabathia vs. Tim Lincecum: Which Pitcher Is More At Risk for Injury?

July 21, 2010

Two pitchers with heavily decorated resumes.

The first, CC Sabathia, has more of a track record and is completing his 10th full season in the Majors.

The second, Tim Lincecum, affectionately known as “The Freak,” is in his fourth season, and has two Cy Young Awards.

However, both are known as workhorses, the proverbial baseball term that gives revered status to those pitchers who miss very few starts to injury and normally throw 200-plus innings per season.

Based upon their sizes, both Sabathia and Lincecum are on the opposite ends of the spectrum of pitchers you would consider workhorses.

CC is a hulky 6’7″ 290-pound behemoth, while Lincecum stands 5’11” and 170 pounds. Yes, even though Tiny Tim appears more slight, he is listed at 170.

Both have thrown a lot of innings in their careers. Sabathia has averaged 31 starts and 210 innings during his first nine full seasons, while Lincecum has averaged 32 starts and 226 innings in his only two full seasons.

In today’s game, those are huge amounts of innings…but somewhere Steve Carlton is laughing.

Both pitchers are headed for similar (if not higher) numbers this year. CC has made 20 starts and Lincecum 19, with both having double-digit wins once again.

Interestingly enough, Sabathia is the only active MLB pitcher who has double-digit wins and a winning record in each season of his career.

But with the similarities between the two pitchers (team workhorse aces) and their differences (body type), which hurler is the more likely pitcher to eventually break down?

I don’t think either one will break down anytime soon. Both have pretty good pitching mechanics. Their arm actions are great, putting less stress on their elbows and shoulders.

But history does provide a glimpse of those types of pitchers who have long careers, and they are not usually the slight of build guys.

There have been 70 pitchers in baseball history who have thrown 3500-plus innings. The leader, of course, is Cy Young, with a ridiculous 7,356 innings. It doesn’t matter what era you are pitching in, that is a preposterous amount of innings.

So, of all these 70 pitchers, only eight are of the recent era. They are Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris, and Mike Mussina.

All of the other 62 pitchers played the bulk of their careers before the 1980s.

Almost all of these 70 pitchers were six feet tall or bigger. Ten were under six feet tall, and all but one played before the 20th century, when pitchers threw with less velocity but more often during a season.

The only pitcher under six feet tall who pitched in the modern era was Whitey Ford, who tipped the scales at a robust 5’10”, 178 pounds.

But Ford was a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher who would pepper the corners with moderate fastballs, change ups, and cut pitches (literally). Similar to Glavine, minus the cut balls.

There are not many smallish built pitchers who throw many innings, especially hard-throwing slight of build pitchers like Lincecum. Even Pedro Martinez and his lengthy career, has thrown only 2,827 innings, and he is similar in size to Lincecum with the same velocity.

Martinez, who had tremendous pitching mechanics, ended up having rotator cuff surgery in 2006. His rotator cuff issues began back in 2001 (at age 29) when he missed a good chunk of that year to the injured shoulder.

Lincecum is now 26 years old, but at the same age, Pedro had thrown about 300 more innings than Lincecum will throw this season.  

Sabathia, as of this writing, has thrown 2,027 innings. That is good for 404th place all time. At his current rate, CC will move into the 360th-place range.

He has a workhorse frame, and even with the seven postseason series (and 61 more innings), Sabathia looks as strong as the day he broke into the Majors.

With his slight build, Lincecum should not compile as long a Major League career as Sabathia. He may not break down for major arm surgery like Pedro, but I would not bet against it.

History shows us smaller guys do not last as long or throw as many innings as bigger guys.

But both smaller and bigger guys end up getting surgery. That is the nature of the beast with pitchers.

They say pitchers’ careers are made with their legs, and the arms are just along for the ride. When the legs get tired, the arm gets tired, and that is when injuries occur.

That is why a Major League pitcher who is throwing around 120 pitches can still throw more if his legs are strong, but a guy can be wiped out after 90 if his legs are weak.

From the looks of both pitchers, it appears Sabathia’s legs have a bunch more strength than Lincecum’s.

For that reason, his size, and the longer history of sustained work with no ill effects, I believe CC Sabathia will have the longer career, logging many more innings than “The Freak.”