Who Should Start a One Game Playoff?

As the season comes to a close, the Yankees hold a slim half game lead over Baltimore. Obviously, there’s a realistic chance that the Orioles take the division and relegate the Yankees to a one game wildcard playoff.  Coolstandings.com estimates a 24.8% chance of the Yankees being one of the Wild Card teams. The good news is that if the Yankees end up not winning the division, they should have a wildcard spot locked down a few days before the big day. Since the remaining regular season games would be essentially meaningless, they would be able to go into that game with whoever they choose well rested. But who would start that game?

The obvious choice to start the game is CC Sabathia. CC has been the staff ace ever since signing prior to the 2009 season. However, his 2012 hasn’t quite stacked up to his previous seasons. While he’s certainly been good this year, he hasn’t been as dominant as he’s been in years past. His velocity has been down all season and he’s been very prone to the long ball. Check out Derek’s article for more details. To make matters worse, he has been particularly underwhelming in his recent starts. He’s certainly still a reliable pitcher, but it’s unclear that he’s better than Hiroki Kuroda at this point.

Let’s look at their numbers this season:

Kuroda has been just as good as CC this season and has certainly been better as of late. Because of this, it’s very tempting to ride the hot hand and roll with Kuroda. However, it’s important not to get too caught up in small sample sizes. While Kuroda may be pitching better right now, Sabathia undoubtedly has the better track record. Kuroda’s past ERAs, FIPs, and SIERAs have been on par with what he’s done this season; but, it’s important to remember that he was in the NL up until this year. Essentially, he’s performed the same despite facing DH’s instead of pitchers. It’s hard to buy a breakout like this by a 37 year old.

Sabathia’s performance in a “down” year is just as good as Kuroda’s in what has arguably been his best season. Even just a little bit of regression to the mean for these players would mean Sabathia is expected to perform better in the future. ZiPS agrees and projects a 3.43 ERA for CC the rest of the way and a 4.00 for Kuroda.Another radical idea is to make it mostly a bullpen game. While I think this is a good idea in theory, I’m not sure it suits the Yankees given the unreliability of some of their relievers. However, I would hope to see guys like Soriano and Robertson used for more than their usual 3 outs if necessary.

Starting Sabathia also makes sense considering he’s currently on track to start that game anyway. This means there would be no need to finagle the rotation and risk throwing anybody off of their usual rest patterns. As good as Kuroda’s been, Sabathia’s still the guy who the Yankees should be relying on in a big game.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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