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Game 4 Preview: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers

Mike Pelfrey makes his Tigers debut against CC Sabathia and the Yankees.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Former Tigers starters like Brad Penny and Alfredo Simon catch a lot of flak from fans for their performances in Detroit. Sure, neither player was anywhere near All-Star caliber during their respective lone seasons playing for the Tigers, but they both topped the 180-inning mark in 31 starts. For a pair of Tigers clubs desperate for an innings-eater at the back of their rotation, both players filled their roles admirably.

Enter Mike Pelfrey, the supposed heir apparent to Detroit's whipping boy throne. I've said myself that I don't particularly care for Pelfrey's two-year deal, but he was a necessary (and potentially savvy) pick-up for a rotation decimated by injuries in 2015. With Daniel Norris and Shane Greene, among others, facing concerns over their 2016 workload, a veteran like Pelfrey can help ease the tension by taking the ball every fifth day come hell or high water.

There's reason to hope for a little more too. Pelfrey posted a solid 4.00 FIP last season, and has been the victim of a high BABIP in 2013 and 2015, his last two full seasons. Some believe that an improved infield defense could help bolster Pelfrey's numbers, giving the Tigers a deeper rotation than many initially projected.

New York Yankees (2-2) at Detroit Tigers (3-0)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP CC Sabathia (6-10, 4.73 ERA in 2015) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (6-11, 4.26 ERA in 2015)

Pitcher (2015 stats) IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Sabathia 167.1 18.9 6.9 4.68 1.2
Pelfrey 164.2 12.0 6.3 4.00 2.0

CC Sabathia has had a rough go of things in the past couple years. He was limited by injuries to 46 innings in 2014, all the while posting the worst ERA and FIP of his career. He nearly matched that FIP in 2015, this time allowing a 4.73 ERA in 167 1/3 innings. To make matters worse, Sabathia left the team on the eve of their postseason matchup with the Houston Astros in order to seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

Now on more solid footing, Sabathia outlasted righthander Ivan Nova in spring training for the final spot in the Yankees' rotation. However, with a 5.51 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 16 1/3 innings, it's difficult to really consider him the "winner." He fared much better in his final nine starts of 2015, holding opponents to a 2.86 ERA and .686 OPS in 50 1/3 innings. However, he walked 25 batters during that stretch, allowing a .343 on-base percentage, and did not last seven innings in any of those final nine outings (though he did log four quality starts).

At one point, Sabathia was a workhorse of a lefty, capable of overpowering hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a darting slider. Those days are over now, as Sabathia's fastball only topped out in the 93-94 mile per hour range last season. He averaged 91.2 miles per hour with the four-seamer, which is partially why opponents hit .300 with a .467 slugging average off that pitch in 2015. He started throwing his slider more than ever to left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .516 OPS in 140 plate appearances. Righties, on the other hand, hit .309/.363/.502 with 25 home runs.

Hitter to fear: Brian McCann (.452/.531/.786 in 49 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Mark Teixeira (.227/.261/.409 in 23 plate appearances)

Things have not gone well for Pelfrey against this current Yankees roster throughout his career. His numbers against the Yankees team are nothing shocking -- he's 2-3 with a 4.72 ERA in six starts -- but the current crop of Bronx Bombers is hitting .366/.426/.528 in 136 combined plate appearances against him. Of those with at least five career plate appearances against Pelfrey, all but Teixeira are batting .300 or better. Ten of Brian McCann's 19 hits (in 42 at-bats) have gone for extra bases.


While Pelfrey has struggled against this roster in his career, he had no trouble with them in their last meeting, limiting them to a run on five hits in 5 1/3 innings. As mentioned in yesterday's preview, the Yankees struggled considerably with ground ball pitchers last season, something that Jordan Zimmermann was able to do without many strikeouts on Friday. Pelfrey will give up a few more hits, but keeping the Yankees in the ballpark could be the difference.


Offense. Lots of offense.