As we tuned in to last night’s Yankee-Angels match up, we were greeted by players who were bundled up for the 45 degree game time conditions with winds and light rain that made it feel much colder. Eric Aybar and Robinson Cano were bundled up like Eskimos and looked more suited for the ski slopes than a baseball game.
We saw CC Sabathia, a classic power pitcher who features a fastball and slider dominating hitters all night. John Lackey, who relies more heavily on his curveball to get hitters out struggled to get through the evening, allowing 12 baserunners in 5.2 innings of work. This isn’t an accident or reflection on their ‘toughness’ or ability to ‘perform in a big spot’. It a function of who they are as pitchers trying to operate in in last night’s game conditions.
Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record touched on this point in his most recent column. He reported on Angels manager Scioscia’s reaction to the game conditions. He writes:
By 8 p.m., as Sabathia threw his first pitch to Figgins, the announced temperature was 45 with a real-feel reading of 41. There wasn’t much rain to deal with, but Sabathia and Lackey both had a secondary challenge , trying to grip the ball that had as much feel as a pool cue. Trying to throw a curveball under those considerations isn’t just a chore, it’s enough to worry any manager trying to get to the World Series.
“The elements are there,” Scioscia was saying before the game. “You’re going to have to just get around them and play as well as you can and hopefully win. There are going to be elements out there that are going to affect some of the things that both teams try to do. It’s definitely going affect both pitchers.
“I think the trick is to go out there and get it done under any conditions. Anyone can play this game [when it’s] 70 degrees and beautiful. When it’s going to be like it is [Friday night], you have to keep your focus … bring your game plan out there and execute it as well as you can.”
The second part is where I disagree with Scioscia. To be sure, both pitchers operated under the same conditions but some are more affected by them. We have seen pitchers like Trevor Hoffman (who features a changeup) dominate in the regular season and get tattooed in the cold of October. Anyone who relies on a feel pitch like a curve ball or change up to get hitters out will struggle to command their out pitches, while a pure power pitcher like CC can get by with dropping his change and challenging hitters with his 4 seam fastball and slider.
All of which leads me to Joe Saunders. I agreed with Mo and Joe Pawlikowski of River Ave at being befuddled by the choice of Saunders to start Game 2 over Scott Kazmir, and the weather conditions only deepen my doubts about the decision. Kazmir is mainly a Fastball-Slider power pitcher like CC Sabathia, who can scrap his change and still get by like CC did last night. Saunders is a pitcher who throws a 2 seam fastball and relies heavily on his change up to get hitters out, both of which can be affected adversely by the cold weather. Saunders pitches to contact and tries to coax the hitters into getting themselves out on ground balls. But as fastballs go, the 2 seam fastball is much more of a feel pitch that the 4 seam variety, and if you can’t get it down in the zone hitters typically have a field day with it. Yankee fans have seen that for many years with Chien Ming Wang, who on his best day throws the 2 seamer as hard as anyone in the game. Since Wang throws it harder than Saunders does, that allows him more margin for error. To top it off, Saunders hasn’t pitched in over 2 weeks, which can affect a pitchers feel for his pitches even under perfect conditions, and tonight promises to be anything but.
From the Yankee perspective, AJ Burnett relies on a curveball as well, but he doesn’t control it well even in perfect conditions and often relies on his outstanding 4 seam fastball to get him out of trouble. His curveball is also a usually a power curve, which is less of a feel pitch than the slower curves most pitchers throw. AJ may get himself into trouble tonight with some walks and wild pitches, but doesn’t figure to get hit hard facing the largely right-handed Angels lineup. If you had to bet on who would be more affected by the conditions, the clear choice would be Joe Saunders.
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