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W2W4: CC Sabathia vs. Giants

9/20/2013

Three things to watch for from CC Sabathia against the San Francisco Giants on Friday night.

Pitch selection: Whither the changeup

Last night Boston Red Sox starter John Lackey did something he hadn’t done in any start over the past five seasons. He worked exclusively off two pitches -- his fastball and his slider.

And it worked.

Lackey pitched a two-hitter in the Red Sox's division-clinching win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Granted, Sabathia and Lackey are completely different pitchers, but would Sabathia consider taking a page from that book? Or at least consider reducing the use of his changeup in favor of more breaking balls.

Consider this: Sabathia’s changeup has not been an effective pitch for him of late. Over his last six starts, Sabathia has thrown 104 changeups and they’ve resulted in almost as many baserunners (16) as they have outs (19).

Collectively, when we dig into the granular data, we find that the Giants hit changeups from left-handed pitchers the best of any team in baseball. Their batting average (.353) in at-bats ending with the pitch rates best in baseball.

Their slugging percentage against it ranks second-best and their line-drive rate ranks third-best.

Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval have a history of success against the pitch, not just this season, but going back the last few years.

Relative to other teams, the Giants hitters have respectable numbers against breaking balls from lefties as well. But they do have a tendency to do something Sabathia could use to his advantage -- chase sliders out of the strike zone. Their chase rate (40 percent) against sliders from lefties ranks fourth-highest in the majors.

Sabathia still has a good slider. His ratio of outs to hits/walks with the pitch in the last six starts is better than 6-to-1.

Sabathia may need to try something different. His ERA is 6.59 over his most recent 12 outings.

The matchup: Pitching to Pence

We mentioned that Pence has a history of success against changeups from lefties. This season, he’s hit everything from lefties. Pence is batting .325 with 10 home runs in 151 at-bats against left-handed pitching this season.

Pence’s one vulnerability against lefties is against fastballs inside. Over the past two seasons, he rates among the worst in baseball in both batting average (.118) and miss rate (missing on 24 percent of his swings) specifically against that pitch.

Statistically speaking: His ERA

Sabathia enters this start with a 4.90 ERA. A bad start would push that number above five with one (or two) starts left in his season. Only one Yankees lefty has qualified for an ERA title with an ERA of 5.00 or higher since the team moved to New York in 1903, and it was Randy Johnson (5.00 in 2006).