Does one of the C’s in CC Sabathia stand for consistent? He is among the most sure things in baseball for a starting pitcher, and I think it’s this consistency that often has CC overlooked. When he was with briefly with Milwaukee he was mentioned as among the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best. In the year and a half since signing with the Yankees, those mentions have slowed, if not come to a full stop. Should they have?
Any conversation about the best pitchers in baseball undoubtedly includes Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zack Greinke, Chris Carpenter and others. CC’s name is often left out. There are a few main factors which contribute to this: 1. He’s moved to the AL East, clearly the best division in baseball and toughest to pitch in. 2. He’s a high priced Yankee free agent signing. The MSM loves to gloss over the “Core Four” but the hired guns of the Yankees don’t get as much love, as they are often treated as mercenaries. CC doesn’t get bashed like A-Rod does, but he probably had has many glowing articles written about him nationally in his 3 months in Milwaukee as he has in a year and a half in pinstripes. 3. CC is historically a slow starter, so he doesn’t jump out of the gate fast with eye popping numbers. While I know ERA isn’t the best stat out there for pitchers (or close) I will consider it for the sake of this post as I’m questioning the lack of CC love in the mainstream.
What really brought this to my attention was a chat in April/May with Rob Neyer. He listed Lincecum, Greinke, Halladay, Hernandez, Haren and “Your favorite Cardinal” as the best pitchers in baseball. Those guys are all great, but considering the league switch, should Haren, Carpenter, Wainwright, and Lincecum automatically be considered better than CC? When asked about CC, Neyer replied “At the moment, no. He was among the very best when his K/BB ratio was in the 4-5 range. Since joining the Yankees he’s been under 3. Still plenty good, but not mystical.” Isn’t that simple statement explained by joining the Yankees in the AL East? Also of note, a follow up question the next week asked “You mentioned that CC isn’t on the level of the top pitchers in the league, and that when he gets hi K/BB ratio in the 4-5 range, it would be a better argument. Am I missing something, but little Timmy has never had a K/BB ratio in the 4’s for an entire season?” Neyer’s retort “No, he hasn’t. But his HR rate has been absurdly low. Sabathia’s a different sort of pitcher.”
Seriously? Lincecum’s HR is absurdly low not only because he’s a great pitcher, but he pitches in the NL, in an extreme pitchers park, in a division where he also gets to pitch in pitchers parks like LA and San Diego. If CC were pitching in San Francisco, even if his K/BB rate didn’t improve (which it undoubtedly would), wouldn’t his HR rate likely become “absurdly low?” While it’s a small sample size, it’s interesting to note that in CC’s 17 National League starts, his HR rate was 0.4/9. That’s the definition of absurdly low Rob. CC’s HR/9 in Interleague play is 0.5/9 (in 242 innings). Again, absurdly low.
Ubaldo Jimenez got off to a great start in 2010 (and has since, predictably, tailed off) but still hasn’t been as a good as CC was in Milwaukee and has a much shorter track record than CC had by the time he got to Milwaukee. Yet Ubaldo had a ton of articles written comparing him to Bob Gibson a month ago, while CC had articles written about how he can only beat the Orioles (written by a moron, but written and published nonetheless). Ubaldo has been fantastic this year, but can anyone really say he’s a better pitcher than CC? I’m not ready to, not by a long shot.
While the Greinke love has tailed off this year, he’s still a great pitcher and deserves to be discussed among the best in baseball. But better than CC? I don’t think you can say that with any certainty. His 2009 was otherworldly, and better than any season CC has had, but he hasn’t been as good as CC this year when using MSM stats and has been a very similar pitcher by more advanced metrics. Again, considering ERA as the MSM would, Greinke’s ERA is 3.10 since 2007 (including time in the pen) and CC’s is 3.05. Greinke was fantastic last year, but to simply use a one year sample to put him in the best in baseball conversation and leave CC out is shortsighted. It comes back to CC’s consistency. He hasn’t had an off the charts season from April to October, so his peak just hasn’t been as memorable. CC doesn’t have a 2.16 ERA like Greinke (only once under 3, never in the AL), so his consistency is almost a downfall. If he had a 4.10 ERA in 2007 and a 2.00 ERA in 2008, he’d have roughly the same 3.05 cumulative ERA, but in the minds of many, having one off the charts season would make him seem like a better pitcher. Hell, if you had polled around baseball before last October, many of the experts would tell you Josh Beckett is as good as CC. It ain’t close.
Without delving into the case of every top pitcher in baseball, it’s wrong to dismiss CC as not being amongst the best. Neyer mentioned Haren, Carpenter/Wainwright, and doesn’t consider CC in their class? Really? Even Neyer, who for the most part knows his stuff (except for the “Yankees clearly don’t care about defense” nonsense), and should understand the difference in leagues (and divisions within the leagues) made it a point to leave CC out. He didn’t forget CC, he specifically stated reasons why CC wasn’t among the top pitchers in baseball. You can tell me that Felix and Halladay are better than CC and I won’t make much of an argument. Neyer somehow even managed to leave out future Yankee Cliff Lee (was he subconsciously already fitting him for pinstripes?), whom you could certainly make a case for being among the best, but when you tell me that all of those are guys are definitely better than CC, I have to disagree.
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