The New York Yankees’ CC Sabathia is accentuating an otherwise successful tenure in pinstripes with a solid campaign in 2017, likely his last season in the Bronx.
Although the New York Yankees are 2-4 in their previous six games against the Boston Red Sox, one of those two victories was achieved with CC Sabathia looking the part of a savvy ace on the mound.
In his most recent start at Fenway Park, Sabathia managed a quality start, allowing four hits, two runs and one walk in six innings of work, striking out four batters. Because of Sabathia’s effort, the Yankees thrust a no-decision upon Cy Young hopeful Chris Sale’s ledger for the fourth time against New York this season. The Yankees won three of those games, and would have won all four had it not been for Aroldis Chapman’s blown save in his penultimate spot as a closer, a role he relinquished to a committee of David Robertson and Dellin Betances after a series of underwhelming performances in the month of August, when Chapman posted a 9.45 ERA and 1.80 WHIP in six appearances.
CC Sabathia is now 7-0 with 1.46 ERA in 8 starts following Yankee loss this season. https://t.co/aPTuHjjjN0
— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) August 20, 2017
In 2017, Sabathia has played the valiant role of stanching the bleeding for the Bombers. According to Katie Sharp, CC is 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA in eight starts following a Yankee loss in 2017. In three starts against Boston this year, Sabathia is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA. Such numbers have, at the very least, kept the Yankees within a manageable striking distance of the Red Sox, who currently lead the AL East by 4.5 games after taking two of three from New York over the weekend.
Sabathia is in the final year of a lucrative deal that will have spanned nine seasons with New York. With the Yankees, he is 116-73 with a 3.77 ERA, 114 ERA+ and a 1.26 WHIP, all pretty much aligned with his career averages (he is 233-146 overall with a 3.71 ERA, 117 ERA+, and 1.25 WHIP), according to Baseball Reference. The resume, even without the 300 wins that would have fully legitimized his Hall of Fame candidacy, could make him eligible for Cooperstown, as he compares favorably to a pair of Hall of Fame pitchers in Catfish Hunter and Tom Glavine, according to Baseball Reference’s measuring stick for Hall of Fame monitoring.
On Saturday, Sabathia notched his 2,810th strikeout, 20th all-time and the most amongst left-handed pitchers. A six-time All-Star (thrice with the Yankees in ’09, ’10, and ’11), he won the Cy Young Award with Cleveland in 2007, when he led the American League in starts, innings pitched and K/BB ratio. He finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting four other times, finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting in 2008 in his split tenure with the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers. He led the league twice in complete games, and three times he led the league in shutouts.
With the Yankees, Sabathia twice lead the AL in wins (19 in ’09 and 21 in ’10), pushing the Yankees to a World Series title in 2009, his first year under contract. While most credit Alex Rodriguez’s bat for the Yankees’ success in those playoffs, Sabathia was every bit the star on the mound, if not more integral to the club’s title hopes, that year.
In that postseason, Sabathia earned the ALCS MVP (in two starts against the Los Angeles Angels, he was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 0.75 WHIP), notching three wins in five starts, a 1.98 ERA, and 1.06 WHIP, posting a loss in Game 1 of the World Series (when the Yankees were severely outmatched by Phillies’ starter Cliff Lee in a 6-1 defeat) and a no-decision in Game 4, which the Yankees would eventually win 7-4. In both starts, the “roughest” of that postseason, CC still spun two quality starts, allowing five runs over 13 1/3 innings (good for a 3.29 ERA). All told, CC is 9-5 with a 4.53 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 18 postseason starts (his turns in 2010, 2011 and 2012 with the Yankees were particularly abysmal), but his first October in New York was one that galvanizes an otherwise solid tenure with the Yankees.
After the 2011 season, the Yankees faced the very real possibility of losing CC to free agency. By opting out after that season, Sabathia was able to renegotiate his contract, in which he would earn $122 million over five seasons, adding another season and more money per year to an already inflated pact.
In that span, CC never quite lived up to the promise of his brilliant 2009 campaign. He would only make the All-Star team once (in ’12), sporting an 84-50 record (he only managed double-digit wins thrice, hitting double digits in losses three times), 4.35 ERA (as high as 5.28 in an injury-plagued 2014) and 1.34 WHIP, figures unbefitting of the ace he once was and has not been since 2013, when he led the American League in earned runs allowed (112) over 32 starts and 211 innings pitched.
But over his last two seasons in pinstripes, Sabathia has been the mark of consistency, this, after battling a long-standing and secretive bout with alcoholism before the 2016 season. This year, in a rotation that has featured solid performances by ace Luis Severino and rookie Jordan Montgomery, Sabathia has delivered a WAR of 1.9 (third-best amongst Yankee starting pitchers, behind the aforementioned Severino and Montgomery), higher than the touted bullpen arms of Betances and Adam Warren and 0.1 behind reliever Chad Green. In what could also be Masahiro Tanaka’s final season in New York (he can opt out and test free agency this offseason), Sabathia has proven himself more valuable to the club than the former ace, especially when taking into account his superb numbers against Boston, and more durable than rotation-enigma Michael Pineda, lost earlier this season to Tommy John surgery.
While general manager Brian Cashman made headlines with the acquisitions of Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia in response to Pineda’s injury and Luis Cessa and company’s inability to pin down a spot in the rotation, Sabathia has returned to the reliable workhorse of yesteryear, posting eight quality starts (in 20 starts total) while managing shut out ball in four appearances. For a stretch in June, he was unhittable in three starts, posting a 2-0 record with a 0.49 ERA and 0.76 WHIP over 18 1/3 innings of work while striking out 16 and walking just one batter. He was a huge reason why the Yankees were 15 games over .500 on June 12 and held a divisional lead in the AL East for a spell prior to the All-Star break.
Although Severino’s ascension to becoming the ace of the rotation was highly unlikely after his horrid 2016 campaign, the young righty flashed ace potential in 2015. More unlikely is what Sabathia has crafted at the age of 36, where he has proven himself an asset to the Yankees’ postseason run in 2017 despite many pronouncing him finished after 2015, when, for a brief time, New York was a Mets’ town on the strength of their World Series appearance against the Kansas City Royals.
Now, with the Mets in the tank, mostly due to the health (or lack thereof) of their starting rotation, New York once again belongs to the Yankees, with CC capably serving as a leader and important cog to the starting staff, pitching brilliantly against Boston after a knee injury almost placed him on the disabled list.
Quite frankly, the knee ailment he suffered in an abbreviated start against Toronto on August 8 would have proven too debilitating to the Sabathia of only two or three years ago. But the Sabathia of today hardly treats a setback of that ilk as one that can ruin a season—instead, he has used it to strengthen his stance as a viable option in the rotation, as this past Saturday’s start demonstrated, vehemently so.
As of now, CC is sixth all-time in strikeouts (1,417) in Yankee history, 41 shy of Lefty Gomez (1,468). He will also likely finish with a better ERA (3.77) than Mike Mussina (3.88), David Wells (3.90), David Cone (3.91), Andy Pettitte (3.94) and Roger Clemens (4.01), amassing similar innings pitched (1,617 1/3, as of August 21) to Mussina’s total of 1,553, with CC likely edging out Mussina as the greatest free agent pitching acquisition in Yankee history.
Given Sabathia’s contract terminating at season’s end and his turning 37 in late July, he is likely done as a Yankee, even if he plays out his career through a string of “prove it to us,” one-year tenders. While he may not factor in New York’s 2018 plans, he might very well prove valuable to what the Yankees hope to accomplish this year: Reaching the ALDS for the first time since 2012, CC’s last year as an All-Star. Should he continue his consistency and relative resurgence, the Yankees could find themselves fortunate in pursuit of a deeper postseason run than what they have become accustomed to in the last five seasons.