CC Sabathia has undoubtedly been the ace that the Yankees have lacked going into their last several post-season campaigns. But will he remain so in October?
CC detractors will point to his combined 2-3 record with a 7.92 ERA and a hideous 2.200 WHIP in 5 total post-season starts. His defenders will likely point out that his worst post-season performances (in 2007 and 2008) came on the heels of his having carried a heavy load late in the season just to get his teams (Indians and then Brewers) into the post-season.
What does the evidence show?
In 2007 it was not an issue of rest days – CC did not pitch on less than 4 days rest a single time during the 2007 season and post-season. Now he did carry a heavy load in the games he did pitch – especially late in the regular season. During his last 14 regular season starts that year he threw more than 100 innings – averaging more than 7.0 IP/game. He was incredibly effective in those starts – giving up 4 runs once, 3 runs twice, and 2 or fewer runs eleven times despite going deep into every game. His regular season-IP total was 241 and he had an extra day of rest between his last pitch of the regular season and his first pitch in Game 1 of the ALDS vs. the Yankees. In that game he threw 114 pitches in just 5 innings, giving up 3 runs but ultimately getting the win thanks to the first of what would be two horrendous starts by Chien-Ming Wang. He then had a full 7 days off before starting what would be his biggest post-season clunker in Game 1 of the ALCS vs. Boston: 8 ER and 5 BB in just 4.1 IP. He was pulled after throwing just 85 pitches. He then had regular rest before laying another – albeit smaller – egg in Game 5 of that ALCS (6 IP, 4 ER, 2 BB). Was 241 IP in the regular season too much? He had only thrown more than 200 innings once before and it was five years earlier (2002) when he threw 210 IP. Or were the Yankees and then the Red Sox just too strong? Or some combination? Who knows.
In 2008 it was such a different story that I hesitate to even take his poor performance in the one post-season game in which he pitched very seriously. He put on one of the most heroic late-season pitching runs in modern baseball history to virtually single-handedly carry Milwaukee into October. He started 4 straight games on short rest in late September – averaging more than 7 IP per start in that stretch (including his final regular season start – a complete game in which only one unearned run was scored). In those 4 critical games he gave up a total of 6 ER and 4 BB and compiled a 1.88 ERA. His regular season IP-total had bulged to 253 and he got only 3 days rest before starting Game 2 of the NLDS vs. Philadelphia, when the walls finally caved in: he only went 3.2 innings giving up 5 ER (all in the second inning) and 4 walks.
So what can we expect from CC tonight after the 230 IP he gave the Yankees this season? One thing to watch for is his walk total. Whether CC has pitched well or poorly in his 5 total post-season games, one thing he has done way too much of is give up free bases. In 5 post-season games in which he has never gone more than 6.0 innings, CC has walked a total of 22 batters, including 5 walks in his first (and best) post-season start when he went 6.0 IP and gave up 2 ER vs. Seattle in the 2001 ALDS. Will the confidence he has in a powerhouse Yankee line-up free him up to pitch more aggresively in and around the stike-zone and keep the walks down? I certainly hope so.
The Posada Factor: One indicator that I hesitate to raise, but is pertinent given last night's news that Molina – and not Posada – will catch AJ Burnett's start on Friday night, is CC's track record throwing to Posada. I love Posada and hate to give fodder to his critics, but Girardi's and Cashman's decision regarding AJ's start simply begs the question. So here goes…
In his career CC has thrown to 12 different catchers. It is in the 15 games that Posada has caught that CC's worst SO:BB ratio; opponent BA; opponent OBP; and opponent OPS have all been compiled. Is this due to the increased competition he has faced since moving to the AL East? Well, in his 10 starts throwing to Cervelli and his 10 to Molina, he has some of his best stats across these categories. Throw out his pairing with Sal Fasano (since it was only for one game) and this is where the various CC/Cervelli, CC/Molina, and CC/Posada pairings rank among the eleven catchers not named Sal Fasano to whom CC has thrown in his career:
CC/Cervelli (10 games): 3.65 SO:BB - 3rd; .191 BA – 1st; .244 OBP – 1st; .551 OPS – 1st
CC/Molina (10 games): 6.33 SO:BB – 1st; .233 BA – 4th; .273 OBP – 3rd; .622 OPS – 3rd
CC/Posada (15 games): 1.55 SO:BB – 11th; .262 BA – 11th; .344 OBP – 11th; .758 OPS – 11th
Small sample sizes? Yes and no. However small they are, they are no greater than the samples that Girardi and Cash had to go on when deciding who would catch AJ. Regardless, here is to hoping that CC's last two post-seasons and his performance when throwing to Posada this year have little to do with how he pitches tonight and the rest of this October.