Sunday’s Playoff Starting Pitchers

I was glancing through the scheduled starting pitchers for today’s four playoff games, two of which will be the first games of a series, and I found myself somewhat in awe of the mixed bag of gladiators preparing to take the mound within the next several hours. Sure, there is still a fair amount of chalk to be found with guys like CC Sabathia, Gio Gonzalez, Adam Wainwright, and Madision Bumgarner. On the flip side of the coin, a pretty awesome coin that has something to do with baseball, who could have successfully predicted Jason Hammelwould be squaring off against the Yankees in October? Oh how magical the postseason is!

If experience is a factor, CC Sabathia is a heavy favorite. Did you see how I used ‘heavy’ there? Mandatory Credit: John Munson/The Star-Ledger via US PRESSWIRE

Since it’s obvious that the beginning of the postseason is going to be the biggest news item to tackle this weekend (and presumably the next few weeks unless David Price gets traded or Mike Trout starts his own shoe company with products that enable one to leap over fences), let’s take a look at today’s match-ups in an attempt to derive some meaning from them and an assign advantages to teams. Hey, we’re talking about one game here, but it’s fun.

Oakland Athletics (Tommy Milone) at Detroit Tigers (Doug Fister)

The A’s-Tigers showdown is the lone game today without a guy whose name could defensibly be thrown into the ace category. Honestly, though, there are certainly plenty of things to like about both starters. Doug Fister, coming off his recent random assault on consecutive strikeout history (nine in a row!), had a fine season when healthy. The Tiger hurler struck out over three times the men he walked and posted 3.42 FIP and 3.39 xFIP figures in his 161 2/3 IP for 2012. Tommy Milone’s chief asset is his ability to not ever walk anyone, as his 1.71 BB/9 rate is something to be proud of. Milone struggles to miss many bats and is also primarily a fly ball pitcher, facts that will likely endear him to Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Milone put up a solid and inexpensive season for the A’s, but he’s a lot less dangerous when not pitching in his massive home park or against the Mariners.

New York Yankees (CC Sabathia) at Baltimore Orioles (Jason Hammel)

Okay, this seems really lopsided, but let’s look for a few reasons to like this match-up more from Baltimore’s point of view. First off, CC Sabathia was merely very good instead of great this season, logging a 3.33 FIP in 200 innings. Let’s not talk about how he’s still striking out nearly nine per nine or how his walk rate is nearly as low as Milone’s. As for Hammel, he was extremely effective in the 118 innings he logged this season. Hammel was worth 2.9 WAR per FanGraphs in that span thanks to an 8.62 K/9 rate that wildly exceeds his career norm. Hammel has done a fine job limiting the long ball all season, and against an old but powerful Yankee offense, that could be rather important. It’s not all luck, either, as Hammel sports a 53.2% ground ball rate for 2012. I still have to prefer Sabathia in this one for obvious reasons, but it wouldn’t be entirely shocking for Hammel to generate loads of grounders and help his underdog team sneak away with a win.

Washington Nationals (Gio Gonzalez) at St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright)

This is the match-up that intrigues me most, which is cool since I’ll be in attendance at this game. (I had to boast a little bit; my excitement made me do it!) Gonzalez is a legitimate Cy Young candidate, while Wainwright has been one twice before and regained his previous form after making some adjustments once he returned from Tommy John surgery to start the season. Gonzalez tossed a complete game shut-out against the Cardinals in his one outing against them this season, though it did take place during a particularly brutal multiple-game swoon for the St. Louis offense. Wainwright made two starts against the Nats this season, and he got lit up for 14 hits and seven earned runs in those 8 2/3 innings. It’s worth noting, however, that almost all of that damage was done in the first of the two starts; the Cardinal ace gave up just one run over six innings in start number two. Given Gonzalez’s fine season and utter baffling of the Cardinals a little over a month ago, he would likely be considered the favorite, but this one should be a duel down to the wire either way.

Cincinnati Reds (Bronson Arroyo) at San Francisco Giants (Madison Bumgarner)

Bronson Arroyo has largely been a punching bag both for NL hitters and for writers like yours truly, but let’s give the man a little bit of credit. The tater-allowing champ of 2011 put together his finest season since his first as a Red, walking only 1.56/9 and posting a 4.08 FIP in 202 innings. That said, Bumgarner is a better pitcher than Lord Legkick, and his left-handedness figures to do only good things for the Giants against fellow southpaws Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. I’m tempted to say I like this match-up better for the Giants than I do any of today’s others. Did I mention Bumgarner’s only start against Cincinnati this season resulted in a one-hitter with eight strikeouts? I probably should have gotten around to that already. I think this one’s a slam dunk for the Giants even considering Bumgarner’s late season woes, but once again, this is one game and anything can happen. Yet another reason to savor the playoffs.

If Brian’s writing strikes your fancy, read his work at StanGraphs and follow him on Twitter at @vaughanbasepct.

Topics: 2012 MLB Playoffs, Adam Wainwright, Baltimore Orioles, Bronson Arroyo, CC Sabathia, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Madison Bumgarner, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants, St Louis Cardinals, Tommy Milone, Washington Nationals

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