ALCS Preview: The starters


For the third time in the last eight years, the Yankees and Angels will lockup in a postseason series. This time they’re meeting in the American League Championship Series, so a trip to the World Series is directly on the line. Much will be made about how the Angels have handled the Yanks in recent years (53-38 head-to-head in the Scioscia Era), but these are different teams with different players kicking off a brand new series tied at zero.

We’ve already taken a look at the managers, so let’s move on to the guys that will set the tone each game, the starting pitchers.

Game One: CC Sabathia vs. John Lackey
Prior to 2009, Sabathia’s postseason career was nothing to look at. Lackey, on the other hand, has a pretty impressive playoff record. As a rookie, he won Game Seven of the 2002 World Series on three day’s rest, and in total he’s made 10 postseason starts (and two relief appearances) with a 3.02 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, both considerably lower than his regular season stats. However, Lackey missed parts of the last two seasons with arm injuries, and he’s walking more batters while striking out fewer now than he did in his heyday. Against the lifeless Red Sox in the ALDS, Lackey threw 7.1 scoreless innings.

Sabathia, on the other hand, is no chump. He’ll start Game One with 236.2 innings already on his arm, which is what he’d thrown through Sept. 20th last year. He settled down very nicely after a rocky first three innings against the Twins in the ALDS, temporarily shaking that postseason choker tag. Regardless of that nonsense, Sabathia has similar walk, strikeout, and homerun rates as Lackey, but he’s much tougher to hit, holding opponents to a .233 batting average against. The Angels struggle against quality fastballs, so Sabathia is the ideal guys to kick off the series.

Game Two: A.J. Burnett vs. Jered Weaver
Weaver, like Lackey, feasted on the punchless Red Sox in the ALDS, tossing 7.1 innings of two-hit, one-run ball. His walk, strikeout, homer, and hit rates are all similar to Lackey’s, but he’s already 39.2 IP over his previous career high set last year, so fatigue could end up being a factor. He also struggles against lefties, who’ve got close to a .200 point OPS advantage off Weaver than righties. The Yankees have also proven to be a tough assignment throughout his career, hitting him up for a .263-.341-.558 batting line, resulting in a 5.88 ERA in seven career starts.

With his personal catcher behind the plate, Burnett walked a tightrope in his first career playoff start last week. Giving away free passes at a rate of five every six innings isn’t going to cut it, especially since an Angels team that will run wild on the basepaths and hits extremely well with men in scoring position. However, Burnett has the same advantage as Sabathia in that he’s a power pitcher, though he had one good and one bad start against the Halos this year. This one might be a wash.

Game Three: Andy Pettitte vs. Scott Kazmir
It’s amazing to think that because of Tampa Bay’s run to the Fall Classic last year, Scott Kazmir had made as many postseason starts (6) as CC Sabathia. His postseason track record mirrors his regular season struggles over the last two years, however Kazmir has rediscovered some of the velocity that made him so highly touted a few years ago, and you know that all those years in the brutal AL East means he won’t crap his pants when the Bombers roll into town. Pettitte, well there’s not much to say about his postseason track record that hasn’t already been said a million times over. You have to favor the Yanks here.

Given the schedule of the ALCS, both teams could deploy their top starter on three day’s rest in Game Four, then again on full rest in Game Seven. It makes sense for both clubs to do that regardless of how the first three games play out, because they both sport inferior fourth starter options.

The Yankees used Chad Gaudin and Joba Chamberlain as their number four and five starters down the stretch, though Joba was effective in short stints out of the bullpen in the ALDS, and you get the feeling that Joe Girardi likes having that extra power arm available late in the game. That makes it likely the team would turn to Gaudin for a potential Game Four start.

Despite his success in September (3.54 ERA, team was 5-0 in his five starts), Gaudin’s weakness is that he has trouble getting lefthanders out because he’s so fastball-slider heavy. On the year, he’s held righties to a .224-.293-.380 batting line, but lefties rocked him to the tune of .296-.408-.415. On any given day the Angels can run pencil six lefties into their lineup (well, Bobby Abreu plus five switch hitters), obviously not a good matchup for Gaudin. Regardless of how effective Chad was down the stretch, CC Sabathia on three day’s rest is better than anything else the Yankees have.

As for the Angels, they could go with southpaw Joe Saunders in Game Four, but he’s just as shaky an option as Gaudin. After his breakout 2008 season, Saunders allowed 15 more hits, 8 more homers, and 11 more unintentional walks in 12 fewer innings in 2009. He also battled a shoulder injury, putting up a 2.55 ERA in eight starts against weak competition to finish the year after coming off the DL. Like Gaudin, Saunders has a significant platoon split, holding lefties to a .696 OPS while righties pound him for a .829 OPS. Unlike Gaudin, Saunders doesn’t strike anyone out (4.9 K/9), which plays right into the Yankees strength because they struck out less than all but three teams this season (one stupid little strikeout away from that being just two teams). Again, John Lackey on three day’s rest is a superior option.

It’s entirely possible one of the two managers will try to get cute with a 3-0 or 2-1 series lead and go to their fourth starter, but in a potential seven game series against one of the three best teams in the league? I want my ace taking the ball as much as possible. Assuming the the Yanks go with Sabathia in Game Four, you have to give the Yanks the edge when it comes to the rotation because of the ability to trot out premium hard throwers in five of the seven possible games.

Categories : Pitching, Playoffs


  1. MatyRuggz says:

    I’ll take power over finesse anyday. Girardi would be a fool not to trot Sabathia out in Game 4.

    To all of you naysayers who may post the 3-days rest arguement in terms of Sabathia breaking down, remember that his postseason breakdown for the Brewers last year was after pitching 3-4 starts on 3 days rest in a row to end the regular season. We’re only asking for one here and I think the big guy has it in him.

  2. Drew says:

    I love our 3 vs. their 3. I do wonder though at what point do we make CC the game 4 starter? Anything other than 3-0?
    I do like Saunders over Gaudin but as for the other three starters, things look great(I’d still like Jober over Chad but I think I’m in the minority now).

  3. GG says:

    ahhhh more content, I love it….but you guys need to do something about the increased number of shirtless men appearing on the home page in recent weeks, its getting to be a bit much

  4. Chris says:

    Looking at the Kazmir velocity chart reminds me of Joba and his loss of velocity. I wonder how many other pitchers lose velocity for an extended period of time (half a season or more) and then regain it at a later time. Both Kazmir and Verlander appear to be in this group of pitchers…

  5. vin says:

    Didn’t McKeon go to Beckett on short rest in game 6 in ’03? It’s absolutely the right move.

    CC starting game 4 is a complete no-brainer. He doesn’t have a Lincecum-type body. He has a successful history of pitching on short rest. Plus that leaves Gaudin as the “in case of emergency, break glass” reliever. Stash him away in the pen in the event there’s an extra inning game.

  6. thurdonpaul says:

    i think CC going in game 4 will depend as much on how his game 1 start goes, as much as it will depend on how the series is going to that point.
    if CC goes 6 or 7 easy innings, maybe 100 pitches, because we are leading by 6 or 8 runs, thats different then if he goes 8 innings and throws 120 pitches, in a tied or 1 run game.

  7. Sam says:

    Ok, quick hypothetical here. You’re up 3-0 against the Angels. You throw Sabathia on 10/20 and he wins. BOOM!

    The World Series starts on 10/28. Do you start Sabathia in Game 1, for the rare back-to-back playoff starts?

  8. raysam says:

    start Joba in game 4

  9. vin says:

    I was thinking about this yesterday…

    Is there a team with a better front 3 starters than the Yanks?

    Lackey – edge NYY
    Weaver – push (he kind of reminds me of AJ for some reason)
    Kazmir – edge NYY

    Lee – push
    Hamels – push (’09 Hamels, not the ’08 edition)
    Happ/Pedro – edge NYY

    Kershaw – edge NYY (but could be close)
    Billingsly – push
    Wolf – edge NYY
    (I’m not 100% sure how Torre would stack his 3 starters, or if Billingsly is even healthy enough to start)

    • The Ghost of Scott Brosius says:

      I think the closest teams are boston and the cardinals based on the quality of their front twos. Luckily their both gonzos. I think number 3 we tend to have the edge just because andy is so steady and has the track record.

      • vin says:

        Yeah, I agree.

        I didn’t even get into bullpens either. The Dodgers are pretty solid, but who knows how hard Torre rode those guys this year.

    • JMK aka The Overshare says:

      I think you’re right in your belief that our starters match up better than those teams, but I’m not sure Hamels is even on Burnett’s level at this point in the season. He was good last year and okay this year, but his strikeouts are way down, his hits are up and he looks like he might have hit a wall a few starts ago. Dude’s thrown a lot of innings. AJ, though really inconsistent, has pitched well of late (yeah, sss issue, I know). The walks are scary, though.

      • vin says:

        I think I may have been subconsciously giving Hamels some credit for what he did last year. Seems to me that, like AJ, Hamels is really the key for his team. If he turns it on, then the Phils are going to be mighty tough. Even with Brad Lidge.

    • andrew says:

      Billingsley has been awful. Wolf and Kershaw were their #1 and 2 for the first round, with Padilla filling in the #3 role.

    • Tank the Frank says:

      Kazmir completely owns the Yankees.

      • vin says:

        Historically, yes. But like Hamels, you have too look at what he’s done this year. He’s had the worst year in his career this year. In his 6 reg. season starts with the Angels this year he’s had a low ERA but his SO/9 are way down from where it has been over his career.

  10. raysam says:

    The key to the series is to wear out Angels starters and then get into their bull-pen

  11. raysam says:

    CC and andy should take care of their starts with AJ you dont know what you are going to get.

  12. raysam says:

    Time for Damon to step up could be his last year in pinstripes.

    • vin says:

      One of the best things about Damon is his ability to foul off tough pitches, and wait for a mistake. In the playoffs, he’ll see fewer mistakes, but being able to prolong ABs pays off in the long run. We’ve seen it not only during his time with NYY, but when he was in Boston.

    • Tank the Frank says:

      These four days off should do him a world of good. Hopefully he can get it going, especially against Weaver. For some reason he’s .158/.273/.158 career against him. Strange for a pitcher who normally doesn’t pitch well vs lefties.

      • andrew says:

        I don’t know… didn’t he have 2 days off before the playoffs started? It doesn’t look like rest is the issue. He’s gotten a lot of rest over the past few weeks.

  13. Rose says:

    The thing with the Angels arms are they are SCARY consistent when comparing Home and Road splits.

    2009 Angels
    Home: 736 IP, 4.44 ERA, 548 strike-outs, 257 walks, .273/.337/.439 (.776) against
    Road: 709 IP, 4.47 ERA, 514 strike-outs, 266 walks, .271/.339/.424 (.763) against

    Even their record was eerily similar; Home: 49-32, Road: 48-33.

    So you can’t really count on them being far worse on the road than on the road. Although the Yankees hit them .285/.386/.446 (.832) at Yankee Stadium this year compared to .264/.335/.462 (.796) at Angel Stadium.

    Despite giving up 21 more home runs, 28 more walks, and 26 more hits at home, the Yankees ERA, wins, etc. favor their home. It will be an interesting series to say the least…

  14. Tank the Frank says:

    Looking at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like any team has an advantage pitching-wise. Each team has hit the other’s starters pretty well over their respective careers; the one exception being Scott Kazmir’s dominance over the Yankees.

    Be that as it may, if either team’s #1 or #2 starter threw 7+ innings of one run ball, it wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) surprise anyone.

    I think the pitching is a wash to be honest. There’s no way this series doesn’t go seven IMO. Hopefully the Yankees can do what they do best and grind it out against the starters, put a few runs on the board, and then pounce on the bullpen late. If LAAAAAAA’s bullpen pitches well, the way they have recently, the Yanks are going home. But that’s a big IF.

  15. phil O'neill says:

    CC must pitch game 4, unless we are up 3 games to none.

  16. phil O'neill says:

    do the yanks take bruney over marte? i think i would

    • Rose says:

      In 2.1 IP at Angel Stadium, Bruney has a 11.57 ERA. Marte’s actual overall is sadly close to that…and he’s only pitched 1.0 IP against the Angels to a 0.00 ERA though yielding 2 hits…

      Either way it’s scary but you would probably go with Bruney since they have a shitload of switch hitters…

      • Rose says:

        …making Girardi’s lefty-on-lefty fetish moot…and Marte’s overall usage unnecessary.

      • Doug says:

        personally i think they need the 2nd lefty. while abreu is the only true lefty in the lineup, guys like figgins and morales have extreme lefty-righty splits (favoring the left side) that it’d be nice to be able to turn them around in a tight spot.

        • Rose says:

          Very true, but that could be because they don’t hit righty all that often. It’s similar to postseason numbers…if you get the right amount of at bats…they eventually even our with your regular season numbers (i.e. Jeter). They don’t have as many at bats right handed so the numbers are skewed in either direction sometimes (more often than not it’s worse)…but still…you’re right and it probably would be better regardless…if you had a decent LHP…Marte hasn’t been anything stellar this year…or since we got him for that matter.

          • Doug says:

            yeah, marte has been less than stellar, but i’d personally rather have him pitch to morales in the 7th with a couple of guys on than a guy like joba.

            at least marte would have a role. not sure when bruney would actually come into a game unless it’s a blowout. well, i guess that is a role then :-)

            • Rose says:

              The thing with Bruney is we just saw how well they hit Papelbon who is light years better than Bruney. So their ability to hit power arms late in games in the playoffs thus far has been well documented. Some of Papelbon’s locations weren’t good…but others that were hit weren’t THAT bad. Still don’t know why he didn’t use his splitter…but that’s rather here nor there. We just have to be careful…

            • MatyRuggz says:

              Having Gaudin on the roster would make Bruney redundant anyway.

        • Tank the Frank says:


          Although Aybar’s splits are pretty even. Who’s another switch-hitter? Matthews? I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him.

          But I agree with you, turn those guys to the right side where they are less comfortable.

          • Rose says:

            Izturis and Willits do also…

          • Doug says:

            vs. L/R OPS splits:

            Morales: .801/.962
            Figgins: .630/.865
            Abreu: .735/.865

            Izturis and Aybar are better vs. lefty, Izturis especially. Matthews is essentially the same. Willits is awful vs. everyone and doesn’t get up enough to care.

            • Doug says:

              vlad, surprising, hits righties (.831) much better than lefties (.686).

              i’m not advocating sending marte in there to face him, though :-)

  17. Doug says:

    with such an OPS discrepancy between lefties and righties, wouldn’t it be nice to have posada in the lineup instead of molina against weaver in game 2.

    oh well, a man can dream.

    • Rose says:

      It’s not just OPS…it’s everything. Weaver is a RHB killer. If Jose Molina wasn’t already an automatic out…Weaver will put a stamp on it.

    • Chris says:

      Maybe they can have Molina bat lefty. He can’t be worse than when he’s batting right handed, right?

      Also, I think Girardi showed in the ALDS that he won’t be shy in pinch hitting for Molina. You’re looking at 1-2 at bats at most for Molina, so it’s not as big a deal as it seems on the surface.

      • Rose says:

        You’re looking at 1-2 at bats at most for Molina, so it’s not as big a deal as it seems on the surface.

        Hopefully more! Because that would mean we’ve batted around quite a few times :)

      • Doug says:

        i dunno. just think runs are going to be at a premium, so posada’s bat is that much more important.

  18. phil O'neill says:

    power bullpens are essential in the playoffs. bruney looked great down the stretch. i just dont trust marte in big situations

  19. TopChuckie says:

    I think starting CC in Game 4 on 3 days rest is a no-brainer mostly because it sets him up for Game 7 on 4 days rest, and if anyone has ever been able to handle 3 days rest, it seems CC’s the guy. Obviously hopefully it never comes to a Game 7, but if it does, CC’s the guy you want out there and preferably on 4 days rest.

    And I would not use Marte in any role. The next out I see him get will be the first.

  20. Mike bk says:

    “In the 10-day forecast that I looked at, it looks like we have some rain in the forecast, so that can change things,” Girardi said Tuesday during a conference call. “But we are definitely considering possibly going to a three-man rotation in this round, but we’ll have to take a look at it and see how it goes.”

    Seems like a 3-man rotation is a distinct possibility.

  21. Bo says:

    Theres no chance the Yankees use a 4th starter in this series.

    Girardi will go to CC on short rest before he uses Gaudin and Joba. Plus theres no chance he takes Joba out of his pen. How would he overmanage then???

  22. JM says:

    We should all drop some funky lyricsssssssss.

  23. [...] evening, we’ll take our time previewing the series. We’ve already done the managers and the starters. Now to the [...]

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