Monday, March 16, 2009

State of the Rotation: Part I

We have discussed the Red Sox and Yankee rotations a bit over the off-season but not at length yet. It should be a pretty fun discussion now that the Yankees have put together a rotation that on paper could edge the Sox starting five.

We’ll make this easy and start at the top. Both teams feature a strong ace and both happen to be left-handers. Some may argue with the order of which I’ve seeded these pitchers, but for further reference these are the match-ups for this week:

Jon Lester vs. CC Sabathia
Josh Beckett vs. A.J. Burnett
Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Chien-Ming Wang
Tim Wakefield vs. Andy Pettitte
Brad Penny vs. Joba Chamberlain

And now onto the first match up of Jon Lester vs. CC Sabathia:
Some may think that Beckett deserves to have this number one spot in the Sox rotation, but I disagree. If Lester is healthy during the regular season he is a superior pitcher to Beckett and his value as a left-hander emphasizes that point. You probably want to give the ball to Beckett in a big game, but you want Lester to lead the way through the summer.

Throwing out their salaries compared to the performance (Lester would win hands down) these two pitchers are just downright nasty. There is obviously a much smaller sample size for Lester over the course of his career since he is three and a half years younger than Sabathia and has missed significant time during his short major league career while dealing with his cancer.

But Lester has already made a significant name for himself during the 2007 playoffs and the 2008 regular season. He has quickly risen to the top of the Red Sox rotation and is on track to becoming one of the best lefties in the game.

Most of us already know the track record for Sabathia: Great 2007 and 2008 regular season performances, followed by post season flops. I am one who is less inclined to discount Sabathia in the post season because in both seasons he was forced to pitch a ridiculous amount of innings for teams that had shaky bullpens. Both instances wore him down to the point where his effectiveness in the post season was compromised.

Both pitchers have mid-90s velocity on their fastballs and both have a wicked breaking pitch to back it up. Each has stellar command of their pitches and in spite of Sabathia’s bad track record in big games, I’m going to say that those three starts he made on three days rest to personally deliver the Brewers to the playoffs give him some credits in the clutch department.

Verdict: Sabathia has an edge over Lester. Lester can pitch with the big guy any day of the week but Sabathia has the more established track record of dominance over the past eight seasons. Lester could pass him in the years to come but for 2009 CC is the better lefty to have on your staff. Yanks lead 1-0.


Dennis said...

I don't think it is even as close as that. Both are excellent pitchers, but to me the difference is sheer dominance.

Of Sabathia's last ten starts in 2008, he had what I will call a dominant start (went more than 7 innings, gave up 2 runs or less, and struck out 8 or more) in 7 of them. Sabathia will do that 10 -12 times this season. That is 10-12 games in which New York will only have to score 2 runs to win and the bullpen will pretty much have the night off.

Lester, on the other hand, will only dominate like that 4 or 5 times this season. And you know what, that is outstanding. There are probably only 25-30 starting pitchers in all of MLB that will do that even once. The list of guys who will do it multiple times is very short.

Both are great pitchers, but if we are comparing the two, I think Sabathia has a decisive edge.

Joey said...

I agree with your analysis Pete. I think it would be fun to pull up these posts on November 1st and see how good your predictions are.

Anonymous said...

Interesting factoid: Last season, Lester gave up 1 run or less in 14 of his 33 starts. The only other pitcher to accomplish this feat was Tim Lincecum (and he's in the NL).

Dennis said...

Actually Roy Halladay allowed 1 run or less 14 times, as did Ryan Dempster. Lincecum and Sabathia did it 18 times. Santana and Lee did it 13 times, hell, Dice K did it 15 times.

Dan said...

One has to look at Dice-K's record in that department with a jaundiced eye as many of those starts went only 5 innings or so. On top of Sabathia's stats, I don't think that fatigue will be a factor with him. Like Randy Johnson, his size gives him the leverage to deliver again and again. Johnson was able to pitch 240-260 innings a year because of this. I say that Sabathia will be able to manage similar output.

Dennis said...

That was my point, there is a big difference between allowing 1 run in 5 innings and 1 run in 8 innings.