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:

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Since: Dec 15, 2010
Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:27 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Lee even looks like the jerk he is in the photo

Since: May 28, 2007
Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:12 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

lee has sick numbers second half of year,almost unhittable,plus c.c. struggles in playoff's.gimme a CLIFFbar!!!

Since: Mar 22, 2008
Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:08 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Much tougher ballpark? it is tougher but not by that much. How was Pujols the phillies biggest threat? Pujols has the most trouble with the phillies out of any team in baseball. He played the phillies once in the playoffs and it wasnt even him that killed the phillies. 

Since: Mar 22, 2008
Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:05 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

who would you rather have? A guy who is pretty bad in the playoffs (CC) or a guy that has been really good (Lee). Id rather have the guy who isnt just good in the regular season but also the postseason. Easy pick Cliff Lee.

Since: May 9, 2010
Posted on: January 23, 2012 7:38 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

I'm going with Sabathia. He's pitching in a much tougher ballpark and facing much better hitters. Clifton Phifer Lee is overrated in my book, but hell does it matter? The Phillies are going to win the World Series 8 years in a row because they "no longer have to deal with their biggest threat Albert Pujols"

Since: Nov 13, 2008
Posted on: January 23, 2012 7:19 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Have to go with C.C. Lee has been hurt a few times the last few years and that back problem of his is going to continue to flare up. CC in as strong as a horse. Younger, equal or better numbers and never hurt, how can you pick Lee?

Since: Aug 18, 2006
Posted on: January 23, 2012 6:39 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

CC has a ring, but its not like he made the difference. Dude got lit up. He only has the ring because of that jacked up Yankees lineup. He couldn't win it in Cleveland or Milwaukee.

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: January 23, 2012 6:32 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

RINGS...... Sabathia 1
;     &nbs
p;     Lee 0


Since: Oct 19, 2007
Posted on: January 23, 2012 6:25 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

No question that BOTH Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia are excellent pitchers and instantly make their prospective teams so much better!  With that said, just based on a weight standpoint you would think you would have to pick Lee.    

Since: Jun 10, 2011
Posted on: January 23, 2012 6:21 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

I'd love to have either one, but I'd take C.C.. I see him getting to 240-250 wins and doing quite well for the remainder of his career in NY. He's a terrific fit in that clubhouse and is the clear ace on a good team. He handles the pressures of NYC well and seems to be injury-free. Plus, I just like the guy.

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