I was called into a meeting with the YES men today, so I’ve been trapped away from desk. As such, I am so far beyond the schedule that, in the words of Mel Brooks, I’ve gone to plaid. Herewith, a r-r-r-rapid run through the head to head matchups we still had yet to cover–and if anyone asks, the dog ate my homework, too.
THE STARTING ROTATIONS, AND GAME 1 STARTERS
CLIFF LEE vs. CC SABATHIA
This is as perfect a baseball matchup as any of those 1912 Walter Johnson-Smoky Joe Wood confrontations you’ve read about in the history books. Two top lefties with a shared origin in Cleveland. Lee had a slightly better year than Sabathia, with two thirds of it against the same DH-infused competition in the AL. The wins aren’t there, but that was a function of run support early on than it was anything that Lee did wrong–his quality start percentage was over 80 percent as an Indian. The Phillies gave him more support later, but thanks to some late-season hammerings he wasn’t quite as effective as he had been. The one thing Lee retained all the way through was excellent control, walking just one batter per nine with the Phillies. The Yankees will of course test this aspect of his game, but it would probably be better to disregard most of the career stats you’ll see quoted during the broadcasts–it’s nice that Mark Teixeira has done well against Lee, but Lee has been a lot of different guys in his eight seasons and most of those guys weren’t as good as the version that won the Cy Young award last year.
Shifting haphazardly to CC (everything about this installment is haphazard), if you emphasize late-season action then you can make a more pointed comparison between the two. Lee made his last 12 starts for the Phillies and was a 50-50 proposition, making a quality start half the time. Even so, his low ERA testifies to just how good he was when he was on. “Unhittable” wouldn’t be too strong a description. CC wasn’t quite as spectacular in his last 12 games, but he was more consistent overall, making 10 quality starts and posting a 2.52 ERA overall. Both Sabathia and Lee are getting to innings totals that they’ve never reached before, so fatigue could be a factor.
As for the rest of the rotations, you’d think the Yankees would be up to dealing with Pedro Martinez’s artistry. He was Leonardo da Martinez against the Dodgers, but the Yankees have a very different offense than the one Joe Torre had in Los Angeles, with more impact hitters getting the platoon advantage on Pedro. Cole Hamels can be dominant, but that wasn’t the case this year, either in the regular season or the postseason. As I wrote earlier this week, a key to this series for the Yankees is whether their slumping switch-hitters can find themselves against Lee and Hamels.
On the Yankees side, In Andy Pettitte we trust, but I fear A.J. Burnett’s wildness and right-handedness against hitters like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. That said, lefties had a harder time with him this year than righties did (.217/.310/.343) which could be a fluke or a sign from Zeus. Your pick until the actual game. If the Yankees have to go to a fourth starter, the Phillies are in a better position with either J.A. Happ or Joe Blanton. A slim EDGE: Yankees, assuming CC takes Game 4 again. Otherwise, we’re even or very slightly leaning towards Philly.
I only have time to say that the Yankees have far greater depth, assuming Coffee Joe doesn’t start making like a hyperthyroid octopus and start pulling two relievers at a time from the bullpen. Note that though Phillies relievers have not been as problematic in the postseason as expected, they have allowed 25 hits in 25 innings while walking 13 and striking out 19. That suggests to me that their aggregate 3.24 ERA ain’t worth the pixels it’s written on. Again, the Dodgers had a lot of guys who could be pitched to, or pitched through to get out of trouble. The Yankees are, at least on paper, a far deeper lineup.
The other day I suggested the Yankees pull Mike Dunn back from Arizona to become the bullpen’s third lefty. Dunn is crazy wild, but that’s not such a bad thing–a walk to Howard from Dunn is better than a home run off of Bruney. This point may be moot if Coffee Joe is careful and doesn’t spend his southpaws too early. The good news is that thanks to his cutter, Mariano Rivera can sort of pass as a third lefty. EDGE: YANKEES
Again, the Clock-Hounds nip at my heels, so I will again resort to something I wrote earlier: Should Girardi play the hyperactive, overly fastidious neat-freak to Charlie Manuel’s laid-back slob, this version of the Odd Couple will benefit Philadelphia. EDGE: PHILLIES.
I worry about Burnett and I see a bullpen loss somewhere due to missed matchups, but CC and Pettitte come up big again and some of the sleeping Yankee hitters will wake up. Yankees in six games.
ONE OTHER QUICK NOTE ON THE ROSTER
I was in such a rush that I forgot to comment on the addition of Brian Bruney, which is good, but I’d hate to see him slide ahead of David Robertson if the latter is actually healthy enough to pitch. This actually raises two questions: if Robertson isn’t healthy enough to pitch then why is he still on the roster, and if he is healthy enough to pitch than why isn’t Girardi pitching him? There’s really no good answer to either of those questions.
As for Eric Hinske returning and displacing Freddy Guzman, that undoes a move that should never have been made. Hinske gives the Yankees some pop off the bench that they lacked last time around, something that became obvious in all those tight late- and extra-inning games where Girardi ran out of players. Guzman was essentially a kick-returner on a baseball team. Even if the Yankees had a 50-man roster available to them, the utility of a kick-returner would be questionable as there is no kicking in baseball. Steve Martin once referred to luxuries like a gasoline-powered sweater and a fur-lined sink. That’s what Guzman was, and the only times that Girardi used him his impact was solely negative in that he achieved nothing decisive on the bases while depriving the Yankees of a more useful player. That Guzman actually got to bat in the ALCS demonstrates that if there’s a manager who can correctly utilize this particular chess piece, he’s not working this World Series.
Thus: up with Hinske! ? with Bruney, S-O-S to Robertson, and as General McAuliffe said to the Germans at Bastogne, “Nuts!” to Guzman. Finally, best of luck to the Yankees and may this be a fun series for all.
As mentioned earlier, I go directly from here to a live Baseball Prospectus roundtable at game time. It’s a fun way to watch the game, with a parallel commentary track, somewhat on the tart and irreverent side. All are welcome, and I look forward to hearing from you then… And I’ll be back with some more commentary after the game. Somebody hose me down, ’cause I’m burning up!