But, unlike many power pitchers, both pride themselves on pitching deep into games. They ranked second and third in the AL in innings per start in 2011 (behind James Shields). Each also commands a four-pitch arsenal that includes an A++ breaking ball. Verlander throw his curve relatively hard (79.3 MPH, #11 among MLB starters) and often (18.3%, #14). Sabathia also works in his slider frequently (21.3%, #19), but depends upon its incredible movement, rather than velocity (82.4 MPG, #56).
I hypothesize that one reason both pitchers have gained an even greater level of dominance in 2011 is the increased utility of their second breaking pitch. Sabathia came into the league in 2002 with a curveball. When he developed his slider under Carl Willis in Cleveland, he gave up the curve all together. In 2011, he’s brought it back, especially as a “get me over strike” against right-handed hitters. He doesn’t use it often (6.2%), but it adds another element of surprise that keeps hitters off balance.
Verlander, similarly, has been increasing his use of the slider (to 8.4% in 2011). He also throws it primarily to righties. Perhaps, more accurately, he throws it at righties, as he usually keeps it inside and off the plate. The pitch also works to further upset the hitters’ timing, as Verlander’s slider clocks at between 85 and 90 MPH, substantively faster than the curve, but significantly slower than his fastball.
While the Tigers have generally feasted on left-handed pitching this season (.783 OPS), C. C. is not just any lefty. Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, and Ramon Santiago – all among the Tigers usual lefty-killers – have not had any such success against The Big Sleep. It may be an obvious gameplan, but Sabathia must avoid facing Miguel Cabrera in crucial situations. Miggy is 9-for-16 with 2 HR, 11 RBI, 4 BB, and only 3 K against C. C. on his career. Victor Martinez has has won a few battles (2 HR, .520 SLG), but C. C. is still winning the war (.296 OBP).
Brennan Boesch‘s injury and the ensuing Magglio Ordonez resurgence (.419/.444/.558 in September) is also worth noting, as Maggs has had modest success against C. C. (.822 OPS), although much of the damage was done when they were much younger and much different players.
From Verlander’s perspective, the greatest threats are Derek Jeter (.357/.455/.393) and Jorge Posada (.333/.462/.476). Posada had a double and a pair of RBI and Jeter had a pair of hits against Verlander in April, so these track records aren’t entirely out of date. Nick Swisher has 3 career HR off Verlander, but also 19 K and a .259 OBP.
The Yankees best assets may be Aura and Mystique. On his last two trips to the Stadium, Verlander caught a mild case of the yips, walking 9 in 11 innings. He only walked more than three batters in a start twice in 2011, both times against New York. On each occasion he had to be replaced after six innings, two of only eight starts in 2011 that he failed to get through seven. Patience could be the Yankees greatest virtue. Detroit has a pretty good bullpen, but I think they’d still rather see a fresh Al Alburquerque than the presumptive Cy Young.