If the Rangers can’t have Cliff Lee pitch the opening game of the ALCS, they could do a lot worse than C.J. Wilson as his stand-in. In his first full year as a starter Wilson shined, throwing 204 innings to a 3.35 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 4.20 xFIP, and 3.81 tERA. He now faces his toughest challenge of the year in the Yankees lineup.
As his rate stats indicate, Wilson can be tough on many hitters. The average quality of opponent he faced was .252/.320/.387, but he held them to a .217/.311/.311 line. He was especially tough on lefties, holing them to a .144/.224/.176 line — that’s just five extra base hits, all doubles, out of the 171 lefties he faced. The three lefties in the Yankees lineup could face some trouble this evening.
With a 49.2 percent ground ball rate, Baseball Reference would classify Wilson as a groundball pitcher, since he ranks in the top third of the league. This makes him even tougher against the Yankees. They hit groundball pitchers to the tune of .263/.343/.394, which is far worse than they hit fly ball pitchers. They’ll get a couple of those later in the series, but tonight they’ll be facing someone who matches up well against them in that regard.
The one thing that might undo Wilson this evening is his walk tendency. He led the league with 93 walks this season, while the Yankees’ offense drew the second most (and third wasn’t even close). Wilson faced the Yankees three times this season and walked nine batters in 14.1 innings. He actually pitched pretty poorly against them overall, allowing nine runs on 18 hits. The Yankees hit .300/.408/.350 off him, quite a bit better than Wilson’s season average. That’s because the Yankees lineup is quite a bit better than the average hitter Wilson faced this year. The nine starters tonight combined to hit .275/.357/.465 on the season.
The average hitter against CC Sabathia this season hit .254/.324/.395 and he held them to a .239/.301/.355 line. As is the case with Wilson, Sabathia will face a lineup considerably better than that this evening. The Rangers’ starting nine hit .290/.350/.454 on the season. They also tend to hit groundball pitchers a bit better than fly ball pitchers. That doesn’t exactly bode well for Sabathia, who kept about half of his balls in play on the ground.
The Rangers have seen Sabathia just once this season, and that came all the way bak in April when they lost to him in a rain-shortened game. Wilson was on the hill for that game as well, though it was in New York. The Rangers lineup has changed completely since that time, so if there’s even a shred of predictability in other previous match-ups, there certainly is none here.
Tonight’s match-up might not be ace against ace, but it comes close. Wilson presents a formidable challenge for the Yankees. If he can avoid the walk problems that hurt him against them this season we could see another brilliant playoff performance. As long as the long break between starts doesn’t affect Sabathia’s command, he too should be able to hold down the Rangers’ lineup. In a battle between two of the league’s best offenses, we could definitely see a pitchers’ duel tonight.
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