Indians

The Cleveland Indians Versus CC Sabathia

Editor’s Note: The following piece was originally published on October 6 prior to Game 2 of the ALDS. The strategy against Sabathia in a decisive Game 5 remains the same.

The Indians face 37 year old former ace CC Sabathia, a pitcher whose performance in the 2007 ALCS was a large part of the Indians falling short of a World Series appearance. Still, his fingerprints remain on this Indians team with Indians playoff pinch-hit weapon Michael Brantley waiting patiently on the bench. Sabathia, once a fastball leaning smoke show much the way Luis Severino is today, has transformed to Jamie Moyer-esque slop artist. Along this redemption trail Sabathia has been rock solid for the past two years. In 2017, Sabathia posted an ERA of 3.69 with peripherals suggesting he outperformed his inputs. Sabathia’s FIP and xFIP suggest he is more of a four-five starter than that of his ERA.

The Sanchez factor:

Before diving into key individual pitcher versus hitter matchups, a consideration of the base-running portion of offense. The Indians have one key advantage offensively as the margins narrow in the postseason: Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez has a competent arm—perhaps better than average—but the complexity and danger existing for the Yankees occurs in playoff arsenal changes. While the arsenal usage discussion below is important, playoff pitchers will generally lean on secondary offerings more to increase strikeout rates. The Yankees, however, are pitching to Gary Sanchez who has the blocking skills of a soup strainer. Sanchez leads the American League in passed balls and struggled again on Tuesday evening when the Yankees beat the Twins to punch their ticket to the ALDS. The Yankees can either be more careful throwing breaking balls with runners in scoring position, increasing the number of fastballs the Indians hitters receive, or they can risk giving away free bases with additional breaking ball usage.1

WFNY Projected Lineup Against Sabathia:

1 Lindor SS (S)
2 Jackson CF (R)
3 Ramirez 2B (S)
4 Encarnacion DH (R)
5 Bruce RF (L)
6 Santana 1B (S)
7 Chisenhall LF (L)
8 Gomes C (R)
9 Urshela (R)

A note before diving further into Sabathia. Reason would compel that Sabathia’s start is not a start in the traditional sense. The Yankees bullpen has been phenomenal with both Chad Green and David Robertson capable of covering a significant pitch load as seen on Tuesday night. This start likely sets up as a piggyback start where Sabathia operates with a very short leash.

First, Sabathia’s usage.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Sabathia has abandoned the four-seam fastball and traded it in for a four pitch mix designed to keep opposing hitters of balance as well as working each sector of the strike zone.

Sabathia sits at roughly 90 MPH with the sinker/cutter combo but has actually lost a tick over the past month.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Sabathia is another pitcher who can be exploited by a patient lineup and the Indians are certainly patient but now for the three highlighted matchups.

Sabathia like most pitchers will lean on the sinker on the lower outer third in order to attempt to induce ground balls.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

You know what you pay $60 million over three years for? A DH who crushes the misplaced sinker.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

After going away in a sequence, Sabathia will then work the cutter in on the hands of right-handed hitters, specifically, up in the zone to change eye levels.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Cutter in is tough if located if not, someone like Carlos Santana could unload.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Finally, if Sabathia is up in the count with a chance to finish off the plate appearance comes the slider as a speed change down and away.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The Indians have a star studded lineup. Sometimes the stars simply have great matchups, here is Francisco Lindor destroyer of worlds and sliders away.

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

The Indians have a favorable matchup that will simply depend on execution. Sabathia is a mediocre big league pitcher at this point, if the Indians can force him into the zone with the slider and cutter, than can score early and often.  The key will be jumping on Sabathia before the piggyback with the Yankees dynamite pen begins.

  1. Incorporated from the Sonny Gray Preview []

  • Chris

    “…or they can risk giving away free bases with additional breaking ball usage.”

    Bingo! Bruce’s sac fly only happened because Sanchez gifted Jose Ramirez two bases.

  • Bulldogs_3

    Chisenhall over Jackson against a lefty? I’ve seen crazier decisions this series but why Chiz?

  • Garry_Owen

    “Sanchez has a competent arm—perhaps better than average—but the complexity and danger existing for the Yankees occurs in playoff arsenal changes.”

    When I read this, I gasped, sure that you had committed plagiarism and confident that I had read this exact sentence before. Indeed, I shared the sentiment with my wife last night while watching the game, but couldn’t remember who had said it – I just remembered how good it was. So I was all, like, “Oh no, don’t let it be!” And a very quick interweb search showed that this exact sentence was indeed copied(!) . . . from your prior article. So, never mind. Carry on. Turns out, if I’m going to pay attention, I should pay better attention.

  • mgbode

    Hattery has Jackson in that lineup. He also has lefties Chisenhall and Bruce.

    OF options:
    A-Jax
    Allen
    Kipnis
    Bruce
    Chisenhall
    Brantley (probably only PH)

    Kip has been brutal against LHP in his career. Chis not much better except he’s been great in 2017 (limited PA). I have a different idea on how it SHOULD be (wrote a whole column on it) but it is tough to figure out what the Indians actually will do tonight (what Mike was trying to do there).

  • mgbode

    He even added a footnote to reference his own prior article 🙂

  • Garry_Owen

    But that doesn’t account for my knee-jerk propensity, Bode!

  • Bulldogs_3

    I read your column… You’re the guy that benched Bruce after he had 3 RBIs with a HR and double last night, in favor of Jackson who struck out twice, right?

    To be fair, I understand your analytics but you gotta ride the hot hand.

  • mgbode

    A-Jax has been phenomenal this season too & has always been phenomenal against LHP.

    I’d consider keeping Bruce in, but it would be for Chisenhall not A-Jax (and he’d be off the bench once CC is out of the game even if I didn’t).

    Also, thank you for reading.

  • mgbode

    But it does account for lawyers’ love of footnotes.

  • Garry_Owen

    The only footnotes lawyers love are their own.

  • Bulldogs_3

    You know who else was phenomenal this season? Luis Severino, Ervin Santana, John Gray, Chris Sale, and Zach Grienke.

    I think Hattery’s lineup is perfect – I obviously mis-read it earlier. My bad, and well done Hattery.

    Analytics are nice, and often pay off, but I still say play the hot hand in the playoffs.

  • mgbode

    are you saying that Severino and his 1.99 ERA over his last 8 starts wasn’t the hot hand? etc.

    yes, in small sample sizes, crazy things happen. so, you play the odds to create the best probability of success.

  • Bulldogs_3

    The Severino decision was a no-brainer. He was without-a-doubt their best pitcher leading up to the wild card game. 99 people out of 100 would have thrown him in that game because the talent level was pretty vast.

    That isn’t the case for this situation. The level of talent is much closer between Chiz and Bruce than, say, Severino and Gray (who pitched well – go figure). Chiz has played well in his limited season but Bruce has the hot hand. Its the ultimate baseball debate: eye test vs. analytics.

    I’m glad Tito makes these decisions and not us.

  • mgbode

    I’ve got no qualms if he goes Bruce over Chis. That is a real tough one and either is fine. A-Jax sitting against LHP, I would have a problem there.

  • Bulldogs_3

    That’s very true – can’t really go wrong with either one… And what if Zimmer was healthy?! How would we ever choose?!

    Also the only mention of Brantley (Who was traded to the to the Indians for CC) is as a pinch hitter… He could start too… There’s just too much talent on this team

  • mgbode

    Brantley is still hobbling. Ask Nunez if he wishes he was only a PH now.

  • Steve

    The hot hand doesn’t really exist. Especially in baseball when tomorrow’s starting pitcher might throw from the other side.

  • Chris

    See G_O… He has a citation! It must be true!

  • Bulldogs_3

    I changed my mind- I go with Kip in the 2 spot in CF, start Jackson in LF but have him bat after Bruce (for protection)

    In Tito we trust

  • mgbode

    Ha.

  • Bulldogs_3

    Apparently the real question was: Kip or Chiz… not Chiz/Bruce

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