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: Oct 17, 2010
Posted on: January 29, 2012 6:50 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Not a tough call at all.  Cliff Lee is the LeBron James of MLB.  Great regular season stats, can't win a championship.  Lost 2 games in one World Series vs the Giants.

Since: Nov 20, 2006
Posted on: January 25, 2012 11:28 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Funny, I'll always remember him as the one who blew the "can't miss" 2011 Phillies' chances in the playoffs.
So you remember one bad game, and that defines his postseason numbers?  Talk about short sided.  He's started 11 games.  You're basing an opinion on less than 10% of the available data.  Is that how you normally make decisions?

In his career, he has a .700 W%, a 2.52 ERA, .982 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 1.1 BB/9, and .2 HR/9.  Those are lights out stats... that includes his "fantastic choke" against the Cardinals.  He was so bad that game that it brought his ERA UP  to 2.52...

Let me just laugh about that for a few moments. It's pathetic, and impossible to imagine CC doing anything similar
It may impossible to imagine that for you, but the rest of world is full of right minded people who know what they're talking about.  Sabathia's post season line?

.636 W%, 4.81 ERA (including a 12.27 ERA w/ MIL, a 4.50 ERA in 2010, and I understand how you could forget this, since it was SOOOOO long ago, but he had a 6.23 ERA this year in the playoffs), a 1.616 WHIP... seriously, a 1.616 career playoff WHIP.  8.6 K/9, 4.8 BB/9, and 1.2 HR/9. 

I'm a Cardinals fan, so I have plenty of reasons to not like Philly.  CC got his WS powered by a $200,000,000 payroll.  If that's all you want to base your decision on, fine, it's short sighted for a team sport.  If you want to base it on how they've actually performed, then it's clearly Lee.

Since: Oct 31, 2006
Posted on: January 24, 2012 2:19 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

When its a tough call the Yankee hater writers will always pick the non-Yankee to placate all the non-Yankee fans (aka bunch of haters). You people really are sad. Hating on NY because they win/won alot.

Since: Aug 19, 2006
Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:22 pm

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Really, Lee's so much better in the postseason? Funny, I'll always remember him as the one who blew the "can't miss" 2011 Phillies' chances in the playoffs. So much for stats, because that was a fantastic choke, esp. for such a bold postseason hero (wink, wink). He blew, what, a 4-run lead against the Cardinals? (Let me just laugh about that for a few moments. It's pathetic, and impossible to imagine CC doing anything similar.) 2009 -- the Yankees don't even sniff their triumphant Series win (over Lee and the Phillies) without CC. He powered them through the first two series, not to mention the regular season. Bottom line: World Series wins -- CC 1, Lee 0. Take your stats and have a fun whack with them.

Since: Jun 25, 2009
Posted on: January 24, 2012 10:57 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

Both are great pitchers, but one key thing that separates the two in my opinion is how Lee has pitched in the playoffs.  His overall stats in the playoffs kill CC and aside from one season when the Yankees won it all, CC has been really bad and not done well in most of his playoff starts.

In the regular season I'm not sure there is that much of a difference between the two.  As long as they both keep starting games for great hitting teams they'll both continue to win a lot of games.   Conditioning could end up being a problem for CC, I'm not sure how long he can continue to pitch well at his current weight, let alone if he continues to gain weight.  Not sure I've ever seen a pitcher that big do as well as he has though, so maybe he's the one in a thousand exception to the fitness rule. 

Since: Apr 5, 2007
Posted on: January 24, 2012 9:53 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

I'm a Yankees fan, and I'd rather have Lee.  When he's on, he's unhittable, and that includes against great lineups.  At their VERY best, Lee is better.  Sorry, CC.  Love ya big guy!

Since: Dec 13, 2008
Posted on: January 24, 2012 9:13 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

This is a pretty silly one isn't it???....has to be CC...what has Lee really accomplished compared to CC??

Since: Jun 21, 2010
Posted on: January 24, 2012 8:39 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

For their overall body of work, CC is the clear choice.  For his career, CC has been much more consistant, and has won almost 60 more games than Lee has despite having one more year in the Majors.  At this point in their careers, however,  I would take Lee.  It is safe to say that both pitchers will win games and have their teams in contention for post season play.  But age does funny things with your body.  Lee is in substantially better shape than CC, and should hold up better as both players fulfill their contracts.  I know the arguements that CC has always carried 290 pounds.  However carrying that amount of weight when you hit your 30's is different than when you are in your early 20's.  Until CC and the Yankees address his conditioning, look for CC to get tired more easily, fatigue more easily, and run the risk of injury more easily.    &nbs

Since: Jul 2, 2010
Posted on: January 24, 2012 8:32 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

This is a question best answered by a Tribe fan.  If given the choice who do you want back in the Wahoo uniform?  Since I cannot win the post season without getting to the post season, I will take the average innings to get into the post season and then take my chances.  Give me Sabathia.

Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: January 24, 2012 7:22 am

Would You Rather Have: Sabathia or Lee?

It's very close...Phillies Cliff Lee would be my choice, but the runner up, C.C. Sabathia of the Yankees is just as good. I don't really know why they have this "who would you rather have" series anyway. If you give me some Fantasy Baseball analysis, I would be just as happy, or happier.

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