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.
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.
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.
You know what you pay $60 million over three years for? A DH who crushes the misplaced sinker.
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.
Cutter in is tough if located if not, someone like Carlos Santana could unload.
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.
The Indians have a star studded lineup. Sometimes the stars simply have great matchups, here is Francisco Lindor destroyer of worlds and sliders away.
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.
- Incorporated from the Sonny Gray Preview [↩]