Blog Entry

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Posted on: January 23, 2012 10:30 am

By Matt Snyder

For the latest installement of this offseason series, let's match up two left-handers who used to be teammates. It's CC Sabathia of the Yankees against Cliff Lee of the Phillies. Both are north of 30 years of age yet still elite pitchers. And both are very handsomely compensated for their skills.

Each player has won one Cy Young ... for the Indians. They were together in Cleveland from 2002 until about midway through the 2007 season. The Indians ended up with the following players after trading these two aces (yes, I know Roy Halladay is technically the Phillies' ace, but Lee is ace-caliber): Matt LaPorta, Zach Jackson, Rob Bryson, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson.

As an aside, I'll admit that I had a hearty chuckle in putting this one together. There aren't many things better to observe than New York and Philadelphia fans hurling insults at one another.

That being said, this is an obviously tough and very legitimate question. Let's dive in.

The case for Lee

At the age of 29, Cliff Lee turned his entire career around. He's now an elite pitcher. He was 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 2008, en route to a Cy Young award. The next two seasons he had four different zip codes, but was still far above average. In 2011, however, he finally found a home and was back as a Cy Young contender.

Would You Rather Have
For the Phillies in 2011, Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 238 strikeouts in 232 2/3 innings. Perhaps more impressive, however, were his six complete games -- all of which were shutouts, a figure that led the majors. Amazingly, his 42 walks actually marked a regression from the 18 in 2010, but it just goes to show how good Lee's control is.

And then we have the postseason. Lee is 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 89 strikeouts in 82 career playoff innings. He has owned the mighty Yankees in three career playoff starts against them. Sabathia, meanwhile, has a 4.81 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 86 career postseason innings.

Finally, we cannot discount size here. I think the people who go after Sabathia for being "fat" or "out of shape" are misguided -- he's not small, but he's as durable as anyone -- but as the two pitchers get into their mid-30s, I think it would be naive to ignore the possibility that Lee will age much better.

The case for Sabathia

Carsten Charles Sabathia has proven himself one of the biggest workhorses in baseball for the past five seasons. It would be unheard of to expect 240 innings in a season from most pitchers in the majors, but that is Sabathia's average from 2007-2011. There is no pitcher in baseball who better places the burden of carrying the entire pitching staff than Sabathia.

He gets the job done in numbers, too. He has five straight top five finishes in Cy Young voting. Last season, the big man went 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 230 strikeouts in 237 1/3 innings. He was also tasked with facing the rugged AL East in one of the best hitters' parks in the majors (Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia is also a hitters' park, but not near as drastic as Yankee Stadium).

The salaries -- which are gigantic -- are a wash.

Sabathia is 31 while Lee is 33, so the age tips the scale slightly in Sabathia's favor.

Our call

This is one of my toughest selections -- they had an indentical 6.9 bWAR last season -- but it's going to be Lee. While Sabathia is younger and has a longer track record of success, Lee has been a bigger shut-down pitcher, especially in the postseason. Now that he's found a long-term home, I expect that to continue.

Fan Vote:

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed and "like" us on Facebook.

Since: Jan 18, 2012
Posted on: January 24, 2012 6:35 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

I like CC because of his age and his natural stuff.  To me he is one of the few guys pitching today that could give you 300 IP a year.

Hate to say this but this is the best starting pitcher Brian Cashman has ever brought to the Yankees in all of the years he has been GM.  That is not saying much because that group includes Pavano, Jeff Weaver, AJ, Javier Vázquez not once but twice and a bunch of others. 

Since: Nov 21, 2006
Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:41 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

 Players, especially pitchers, built like him, will break down because of their weight.
David Wells disagrees.

Since: Jan 11, 2012
Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:19 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

I like what you have to say here except for a couple of things.  

1. Girardi only cost CC one start.  If you go back and do the math on the dates, you'll see that.  If it had been a 5 man rotation the whole time, he would have had one more start.  And if the Yankees had had a game on the 29th, he would have missed another, but their season ended on the 28th.  

2. Also, CC pitched very well in 5 of his last 6 I'm not sure about the logic behind him being too strong and not pitching well on extended rest.  He might not have liked it, and I completely understand that for a professional, but it didn't seem to harm his results.  His ERA balooned from his 2 early August starts.  The starts before were fantastic, the starts after (except one) were really good.  

Since: May 29, 2009
Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:15 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

The poor decision on Girardi's part, I believe, cost CC not only a number of starts (at least 4), but also cost him any chance at the Cy Young
CC wasn't going to win the Cy Young this year, he had a great year, but Verlander and Weaver were much better across the board.

Also -- CC had 33 starts.  Only one pitcher in the AL had 35 starts (Haren), every other ace had 34, so unless the Yankees were playing a longer schedule than the rest of the AL -- there is exactly zero chance CC missed "at least 4 starts". 

CC's problems this year was with the one team the Yankees want him to be great against -- Boston.  He started the year 0-4 against Boston and gave up 6 runs twice and 7 runs another time against them.   Where Verlander faced Boston twice and was 1-0 and only gave up 3 runs in 16 innings against them.  

Since: Dec 29, 2011
Posted on: January 23, 2012 11:43 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

How many of the Phillies and Yankees fans posting here are not biased?? I mean, if C.C. were playing for Philly and Lee for the Yanks, they would find a point to argue in favor of the respective pitcher. I was a huge Dave Stieb fan back in the day, and if you were to ask me in 1985 who would I have had as my starter, I would have easily chosen many instead of Stieb.

Since: Apr 15, 2008
Posted on: January 23, 2012 11:22 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

The only reason CC struggled at the end of the season last year was because of poor management.

Joe Girardi, that local sabre metrics genius, didn't have the kahunas to keep a pitcher (Burnett) out of the rotation, and decided to use a 6-man rotation over the final 7 weeks of the year.  From that point on, CC struggled, losing both fastball command (because he was too strong on his pitching day) and change up command as well.

The poor decision on Girardi's part, I believe, cost CC not only a number of starts (at least 4), but also cost him any chance at the Cy Young.  Through the end of July CC had been pitching lights out and was actually ahead of Verlander in not only Wins, but a number of other categories also.  CC's ERA ballooned, his walks/strikeout ratio rose significantly, and started giving up the long ball because he found himself in too many hitters counts.

CC complained privately to Girardi about this, making it clear he wanted to pitch every fifth day no matter what.  Girardi acknowledged the same after the season ended on Mike Francesca's radio program in New York.  But CC never made this a matter for clubhouse or public consumption because he is a team first guy.

Both Lee and CC are top of the rotation guys...we all know that.

But I would give the edge to CC overall. 

Since: Jun 14, 2009
Posted on: January 23, 2012 10:38 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Call me biased, but I gotta go with Lee on this one.

Since: Dec 7, 2006
Posted on: January 23, 2012 10:21 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

tripleight, you can't tell me you are not concerned about his weight.  He gained weight last year and he did not pitch well in September and was horrible against the Tigers.  Maybe he gets 240 wins, but it will be because the Yankees score runs for him.  He is a good guy and teammate unlike A-Roid, but with his weight, you cannot expect him to be injury-free forever.  Players, especially pitchers, built like him, will break down because of their weight.  Lee, while older, is much more physically fit, and I know weight would not be an issue with him.

Since: Dec 11, 2011
Posted on: January 23, 2012 9:50 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

I'll take the lefty with the ring.

Since: Jul 27, 2011
Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:56 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

I love the Phils and Lee (since when is he a jerk, DamnYankees, taking way less to go to Philly?), but I'd take Sabbathia.  He IS younger, he's tough, and though he's been erratic in the post-season, remember that Lee cost the Phils when he blew a 4-0 lead last  year vs. the Cards and lost two games for Texas in the previous Series.  Sabbathia has done the three-day rest routine more than once and won.  He's consistent, faces some of the toughest competition, and he doesn't have the supporting rotation to take the heat the way Lee clearly does. There is no loser here, but right now, I'd take Sabbathia.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or