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Ask Pinstripe Alley 10/8/18: Using an opener for CC Sabathia, Giancarlo Stanton’s batting spot, Game Five starter

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The answers to our special postseason mailbag are in!

Ask Pinstripe Alley

On Sunday I placed a call for Yankees mailbag questions. It was a short turnaround considering the team’s postseason position. You delivered, however, by supplying over a dozen questions! I’m going to answer a few this afternoon. If I didn’t get to yours, don’t feel left out. Another editor may get to it later in the week.

nooooname asks: Obligatory “Should they use an opener for the CC game?” question. It would depend on how rested their bullpen is after tonight, but the Red Sox do have a front loaded lineup, and it is the only inning where you’re guaranteed to face their 1-2-3. God forbid that reliever gets torched though. That would suck.

Now this is a fun idea! The Yankees have played around with bullpen games, but never quite committed to an opener. They came the closest on September 29th when Domingo German pitched ahead of Lance Lynn. Would it make sense to try it tomorrow when CC Sabathia takes the mound?

Consider how the top of the Red Sox’ order has historically fared against Sabathia:

Red Sox against CC Sabathia

Name AB H HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
Name AB H HR AVG OBP SLG OPS
Mookie Betts 28 12 0 .429 .514 .536 1.050
Andrew Benintendi 18 4 0 .222 .300 .333 .633
JD Martinez 14 2 0 .143 .250 .143 .393

Is it possible to user an opener for just one batter? Mookie Betts has been an absolute pain for Sabathia. Otherwise, the veteran left-hander has handled Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez quite well. If he can get through Betts, he should have the tools to escape the first.

For Sabathia, the trick will be to remove him before too long.

First time through the order: .248/.314/.340 (655 OPS)
Second time through the order: .208/.294/.376 (.670 OPS)
Third time through the order: .328/.376/.547 (.923 OPS)

Boone refused to use a quick hook last night, but he cannot hesitate with Sabathia. Let him get through the order once — twice at the very max — and then call on the bullpen.

Anthony asks: Any chance Aaron Boone makes a change in the lineup? Giancarlo is getting pitches to hit. He’s just not swinging at them or he’s trying to do too much. Maybe move him up to second and put Judge in the four spot? Perhaps it might take some pressure off and let him find his swing again?

Giancarlo Stanton is having a rough ALDS, isn’t he? He went 4-14 following Monday night’s game, complete with five strikeouts and no power. His Game One ended so poorly that I wrote this short piece on it. Not great, Bob!

When one takes a step back and stops living and dying with each pitch, however, it becomes clear that the Yankees need Stanton in the heart of the order. He remains one of baseball’s premiere power hitters. He can change the game with a single swing of the bat. His career statistics back that up.

I can’t imagine Boone dropping Stanton in the order. That would be a reactionary move and the Yankees don’t operate that way. Moving him up into the two-spot is an interesting idea, as it should in theory get him some better pitches to hit. The looming presence of Aaron Judge does strange things to pitchers. That said, Judge has been so successful batting second that I can’t imagine the team moving him from that spot.

Ultimately, Stanton’s struggles are the product of a small sample size. His track record speaks for itself. The enormous power potential he carries means he’s not going to get dropped in the order. Moving him up to second makes for a cool idea, but probably one that the Yankees won’t try.

y4nkees asks: J.A. Happ struggled versus Boston, and he has normally pitched well against them. Was it just random struggles or the playoffs messing with him? Tanaka pitched well, so does he get the nod for Game Five instead of Happ?

Happ threw a clunker in Game One against the Red Sox. Tom recently broke down what went wrong, and it appeared to be a problem with fastball location. If you’re interested in pitching analysis, take a look at the story.

Was that disaster start enough to scare the Yankees away? That’s tough to say, especially considering Happ’s sustained success against Boston in recent years. New York’s front office doesn’t make reactionary moves — a theme of this mailbag — but would that change in a winner-take-all Game Five?

Masahiro Tanaka’s postseason performance makes this worth discussing, however. The right-hander allowed a solo homer in five innings of quality work against the Red Sox on Saturday night. He also owns a 1.50 ERA over 30 career postseason innings. Tanaka would line up to start a potential Game Five on regular rest. That’s tempting.

Some have speculated that Happ struggled because the Red Sox got a look at him in the last week of the season. As Josh mentioned in the PSA office, wouldn’t that work against Tanaka as well? Should the Yankees advance to a Game Five, the team will have a tough decision to make. I think Tanaka gives the team the best chance to keep Boston off the board — his stuff can be so good — and for that reason, I would tap him if there’s a game on Thursday.