Jan
28

Pitchers in the first year of a $100 million deal

By

On Tuesday night the Oklahoma Sports Museum honored CC Sabathia with the Warren Spahn Award, given to the best left-handed pitcher in baseball, for the third straight year. Created in 1999 and handed out annually, the award has seen just five winners. Randy Johnson won the first four years, Andy Pettitte took it in 2003, Johan Santana won it when he won his Cy Young awards, 2004 and 2006, and Dontrelle Willis won in 2005. The story of the night, however, was not the award itself, but rather how Sabathia handled the pressure of moving to New York.

Jeff Latzke of the Associated Press gathered some quotes from Sabathia about his transition from the smaller markets of Cleveland and Milwaukee to baseball’s biggest stage. Good guy that he is, CC credited his teammates for all the support they provided.

“It takes a lot of pressure off when you play with great players,” he said. “Just being around those guys and them having experience of being in the postseason and being on a championship run, it definitely gives you a calming feeling to be able to be around those guys every day and know what it feels like to win a championship.” He then added, “Every game I started this year, I didn’t feel like I needed to go out and throw a shutout or go out and be perfect. Just keep the game close, and hopefully my team is going to score enough runs to win.”

Intuitively it makes sense that a big-time pitcher would face less pressure on an offensively charged team. A $100 million contract might buy you and your family anything you want, but it can’t buy you a break with your new team’s fan base if you don’t live up to the deal. Still, there’s no way to actually prove the calming effect of a 900-run offense. We’d have to play mock psychiatrist, and I’m just not interested in that game.

Still, to explore this a little deeper, look at Mike Hampton, baseball’s second $100 million pitcher. He headed to Colorado in 2001 after two stellar seasons with the Astros and Mets. The Rockies offense that year scored 923 runs, leading the NL by 76. They OPS’d .837 as a team, .035 higher than the next highest. Yet Hampton posted, by a run and a half, the worst season of his career, pitching 203 innings to a 5.41 ERA.

(Of course, that Rockies team didn’t quite have the experience the 2009 Yankees had, but again I’m not trying to prove or disprove Sabathia’s statement. Just looking at other similar situations.)

Then look at Kevin Brown, baseball’s first $100 million man. He didn’t quite repeat his stellar 1998 after the Dodgers signed him for the 1999 through 2005 seasons, but he still managed a 3.00 ERA, good for a 143 ERA+ as offense flourished in baseball. His team, however, scored just 793 runs, 17 below league average.

Yet while Brown and Hampton don’t conform to the idea that a high powered offense helps calm a pitcher, the two $100 million pitchers prior to Sabathia do. Johan Santana moved from small market Minnesota to big market New York in 2008 and lowered his ERA by 0.80 runs to 2.53. He also led the league in starts. The Mets offense was third in the NL in runs that year. Barry Zito, who made the move a year earlier, saw his ERA inflate by 0.80. The Giants had the second worst offense in the league that year.

I’m sure that in some way, having a powerful offense full of experience players helped ease Sabathia’s tension as he took the mound early in the season. How much it affected his pitching, however, we’ll never know. I’m fine with that. All we do know is that after a slow start to the season Sabathia pitched as well as we could have reasonably expected. He appears ready to do it again in 2010.

“I’m itching to get to spring training, itching to get started, itching to see the guys and just try to do it again.” More excellent words have never been spoken.

Credit: AP Photo/Nate Billings

Categories : Pitching

43 Comments»

  1. Big Juan says:

    Three cheers for the big guy.

  2. ROBTEN says:

    “I’m itching to get to spring training, itching to get started, itching to see the guys and just try to do it again.”

    Someone should tell CC they have a lotion for that.

  3. pat says:

    Just a special player in every facet of the game. We’re lucky to have him.

  4. Reggie C. says:

    Man … there was a time when Kevin Brown was second only to Pedro Martinez in terms of stuff and intimidation. We landed him waaaaaayyy too late, and so it irks me when I hear fans dismiss Brown as a garbage pitcher. Same thing with Randy Johnson.

    • Slugger27 says:

      who in the hell dismisses randy as a “garbage pitcher”???

      hes top 5 all time

      • JGS says:

        I’m guessing people only remembering the 5.00 ERA he put up as a 42 year old in 2006. It’s pretty mind-boggling

      • Reggie C. says:

        You wouldnt believe the number of times i’ve found myself defending the careers of Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson against angry Yankees fans. Sure these guys weren’t as warm or media savvy as CC or Pettitte, but there are alot of fans who only point to these guys’ respective Yankees stints.

        It happens much less frequent these days, as i’ve really trimmed down the number of Yankees games i watch out in bars, but its happened enough times.

      • JMK aka The Overshare's Garden Apartment Complex says:

        /Kanye’d

      • Sweet Dick Willie says:

        hes top 5 all time

        Kevin Brown? You really think so? Really?

        Maybe, MAYBE top 25 all-time, but I kind of doubt even that. If I gave it more than a few minutes thought, I’m pretty sure I could come up with 25 MLB pitchers who had better careers than Kevin Brown.

  5. JGS says:

    Well, Johan Santana is good enough to excel anywhere, but moving to the NL certainly helped him out at least as much as having a nice offense behind him.

    and the Spahn award was created in 1999, not 1990

  6. John says:

    Joe, it was created in 1999, not 1990.

  7. pat says:

    Joe, the award, it was created in 1999.

  8. JMK aka The Overshare's Garden Apartment Complex says:

    Joe, the award was created in 2014, not in 1990 or 1999.

  9. pat says:

    I guess 100 million will buy you a good tailor. CC looks positively svelte in that photo.

  10. bexarama says:

    I love everything about him.

    Remember how we used to hear about how he wasn’t a big-game pitcher? Good times.

    • did people actually say this? or did they say it about burnett? i guess they’re referring to, what, his bomb against boston in the ALCS when he was w/ CLE?

      • Rick in Boston says:

        And to his performance with the Brewers in 2008.

        • I hope you’re talking about his playoff performance. But yeah, I think that when a dude throws 4000 regular season innings on three days rest it might be normal to expect a bit of “tiring” down the stretch.

          • bexarama says:

            Yeah, they were talking about his playoff performance which was, of course, a SSS. It was really silly to say he wasn’t a “big game pitcher” because he sucked in that one game in the NLDS last year considering that he was a pretty major reason the Brewers were even in the playoffs at all, and most of the games he pitched in the second half were “big games” as in, if he lost, they weren’t gonna go to the playoffs.

            I hope, at this time last year, we’re laughing just as heartily at the fact that Vazquez was considered “not a big game pitcher.”

      • bexarama says:

        Yes, there was a lot of “hurrr he sucks against Boston!!! Dumb move by the Yankees!” from Red Sox fans. Yes, it’s a totally dumb move to get one of the most awesome and durable pitchers in baseball based on two games from the postseason. In 11 regular season starts against the Sox, he’s 5-5 with a 3.29 ERA and a rather impressive 4.71 K/BB against the Sox and they’re OPSing .667 against him.

    • Bo says:

      It’s not like he had a good selection of October performances before he got here. The questions were justified.

      • Colombo says:

        So wait…are you now advocation caution when looking at a small sample size?

        My mind, tis blown.

        • no just the opposite actually, he is saying itsnot like cc had a good (as in performance) selection of october performances before he got here. the questions (ahbout him not being a big game pitcher) were justified.

          as usual.

        • Sadly, it appears he’s saying that we didn’t know if sabathia was a “big game pitcher” or not, since there wasn’t a significant statistical sample. I assume he would also say that Sabathia is a big game pitcher now, since he threw 30 good innings in the postseason this year. What he should say is that Sabathia is a really fucking good pitcher, and when he doesn’t have to throw on 3 days rest for a solid six weeks then he’ll be just fine.

        • No, he’s not.

          What he’s saying is, “While Sabathia’s great performance in the 2009 postseason where he played to his normal level of dominance on the heels of his prior small sample sizes of poor play in previous postseasons should teach me, SalBoGrantLanny, that everyone else has been right when they say that small postseason sample sizes that sharply deviate from larger career sample sizes are generally pretty worthless and this should be the crystallization of the ‘A ha!’ moment, I’m going to just chalk this up as a nebulous ‘It’s one of those crazy inexplicable things” and continue to ignorantly think “my initial questions were justified and I was right to be supremely skeptical of Sabathia, just like I’m always right about my skepticism of players based on miniscule sample sizes’. Also, Andrew Brackman sucks balls.”

          Sincerely,
          SBGL

        • Colombo says:

          It does seem as though I gave Bo too much credit. I promise, it won’t happen again.

      • [in Ron Howard-Arrested Development-narrator voice]

        They weren’t.

  11. “It takes a lot of pressure off when you play with great players,” he said. “Just being around those guys and them having experience of being in the postseason and being on a championship run, it definitely gives you a calming feeling to be able to be around those guys every day and know what it feels like to win a championship.” He then added, “Every game I started this year, I didn’t feel like I needed to go out and throw a shutout or go out and be perfect. Just keep the game close, and hopefully my team is going to score enough runs to win.”

    Translation:

    Winning = good clubhouse chemistry

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