What Went Right: CC Sabathia


Every team has an “ace,” at least according to the rudimentary definition of the term. Yeah, someone has to be the best pitcher on the staff and someone has to start on Opening Day, but that doesn’t make that person true aces. A true ace is the guy that can carry his team on his back for stretches of the season. He’s the guy you give the ball to in big games without hesitation. He’s the guy that when you sit down and turn the television on to watch the game, you expect a win. The Yankees have a true ace, and his name is CC Sabathia.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Sabathia’s first season in New York was a smashing success; a brilliant regular season effort (3.39 FIP in 230 IP) followed by an even brilliant-er postseason capped off with a World Series victory. Building upon that success and being even better in 2010 would be damn near impossible, but CC gave it his best shot anyway.

Typically a slow starter, Sabathia skated through five April starts with a 3.12 ERA, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Rays in his second start of the season. He ran into a rough stretch after throwing eight innings of one run ball against the Orioles in his first May outing, dropping four of five starts thanks to 21 runs allowed in 28.2 IP. It was an uncharacteristic rough patch for CC, who battled fastball command more than anything, but once the calendar flipped to June, CC stood for Cruise Control.

Seven innings and three runs against the Orioles. Then seven innings and two runs against those sameOrioles. Then seven innings and three runs against the Phillies. Then 16 combined innings and one run against the Mets and Dodgers. It goes on like this for quite a while.

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

From May 30th through September 17th, Sabathia made 21 starts and threw no less than seven innings in 17 of them. The other four lasted 6.1, 6.2, 6.0, and 6.1 innings. He posted a 2.53 ERA in 152.2 innings during that stretch, holding opponents to a .273 wOBA. The Yankees won 17 of those 21 games, and most importantly CC was saving the bullpen. The rotation went from rock solid to down right disastrous during that time thanks to Andy Pettitte‘s injury and the general suckiness of Javy Vazquez, A.J. Burnett, and Dustin Moseley. The days that Sabathia pitched were the days everyone was able to rest easy, knowing that the big guy was going to take the ball deep into the game and if nothing else give the Yanks a chance to win. More often than not, they did.

Sabathia was also at his best when the team needed him to be. With a 6-14 record in their previous 20 games, the Yanks were stumbling through the final month of the season and had yet to clinch a playoff spot through 158 games. The natives were getting restless, but CC took the mound in Game 159 in Toronto and carried his team to a guaranteed playoff berth with 8.1 innings of one run ball. The only thing that stood in the way of a complete game win was the greatest reliever of all-time; Sabathia had plenty left in the tank if needed. Three weeks later, when the Yanks had their backs up against the wall in Game Five the ALCS, CC gave them six hard fought innings against the Rangers to extend their season another day.

The end result for Sabathia was a season that pleases both old school fans and saberists alike. He went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 34 starts, numbers that have him squarely in the conversation for the Cy Young Award. CC also posted a 3.54 FIP and 5.1 fWAR, figures that made him one of the eight or ten most valuable pitchers in the league. If you prefer Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, only Felix Hernandez was better. No matter which demographic you below two, old school or nerdy stats, we can all agree that the Yankees were lucky enough to trot out one of the game’s best every five days this season.

The CC Sabathia experience is now two years old for Yankee fans, and it’s near impossible to call his tenure anything but masterful. The Yanks have won 45 of his 68 starts, and on an individual level CC has posted a 3.27 ERA (3.47 FIP) in an unbelievable 467.2 innings. As far as the Yankees are concerned, almost nothing went more right than Sabathia in 2010.

Categories : Players


  1. Steve H says:

    While there’s still a long way to go (unless he opts out and leaves, there really isn’t any more the Yankees could have asked from CC in the first 2 years of his contract. On and off the field and in the clubhouse he is everything you could ask for in a baseball player.

  2. I’ve always identified with position players more than pitchers, but I feel pretty comfortable saying CC is my favorite current Yankee, and it’s not really that close. He’s awesome, reliable, and on top of his on-field exploits, he seems like a good guy. So glad he wound up in pinstripes.

  3. I Voted 4 Kodos says:

    Before he signed with the Yankees, I didn’t realize how good of a pitch his changeup is. I love that he has the confidence to throw it in hitter’s counts and in full counts. There’s nothing better than watching him slow it by someone who’s geared up for a fastball.

    What a pleasure it is to watch this guy take the mound every 5 days.

  4. YankeesJunkie says:

    CC has been worth every penny of his deal so far giving the Yankees over 500 IP in the playoffs and regular season of just dominant baseball. He is not the best pitcher in baseball like he was in 2008, but he has been easily one of the 8 best pitchers in all of baseball and going into his age 31 season no reason for him to stop now.

  5. Johnny O says:

    I was at game 5 of the ALCS and once the offense scored a few runs, you just KNEW that CC wouldn’t let them back in. What a great feeling.

    He doesn’t deserve it this year, but it would be great to see CC get a Cy in pinstripes.

  6. Jimmy McNulty says:

    I’ve been debating with other friends of mine about CC Sabathia. I feel that since becoming to New York, he’s been merely very good as opposed to an elite starter on the level of a Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, etc. However, my friend brought up a good point. Since coming to YS he feels as if CC has changed his approach, he’s been getting fewer strikeouts but more ground balls because of the ease of allowing a HR at the stadium.

    Your thoughts?

    • Andrew says:

      He got his highest percentage of GBs in 2010 but his K/9 didn’t really drop that much from his career norms. And he allowed pretty much the same percentage of fly balls that he usually allows, both in ’09 and ’10. If he’s changed his approach the results don’t really bear it out in a big, noticeable way. His performance in NY has kept him in the upper echelon of starters across the league, he’s had his mediocre outings but it’s hard to ask for much more from CC.

    • I think you have to be careful of falling into a “grass is always greener” mentality. You might just think CC is a step down because you see him all the time, and the bad/awful starts stick in your mind just a bit more. Whereas I assume you didn’t watch every one of Lee or Felix’s starts, and just know that they are often incredibly good.

      Lee and Hernandez struggled at points in the season, just like CC did. While I would take Felix over CC every day of the week and twice on Sunday due to his age, all three of them are cream-of-the-crop good.

      As for CC changing his approach, I dunno, he seems like the same guy to me. I think he surprised people by getting strikeouts on the change/slider and not always by blowing guys away with the heat.

    • MikeD says:

      I think the “merely very good” tag sells him a bit short. He is an ace in the true sense of the word, based on quality and quantity of work. In any given year, we’ll see a Zack Greinke 180 ERA+ from a pitcher, as we did from Josh Johnson this year (although not convinced he’d do better than CC if he was in the AL and AL East) but sustaining a high level year in and year out is what makes an ace. That’s why I’m not putting Greinke in the ace category. Unbelievable year in 2009, but a bit of a UFO. I won’t ask him to do it again, but he’s at least show he’s consistent, 230 IP, 135 ERA+ guy to enter the ace discussion.

      I still think there’s a chance that CC’d best year has yet to come. He’s young enough, hasn’t lost anything, and is durable that a 150 ERA+ year is again possible. It was CC who basically preached the fist-pitch strike approach that Lee adopted. CC in 2007 only walked 37 players in 241 innings. He’s never quite approached that again. I’m hoping a revival of the CC/Lee rotation will push both men to be their very best.

      In any given year, there’s a break-out, pushing Lee to the back end of the top ten pitchers. Yet looking at his career overall, he’s more in the top five. (I can’t even rate Lincecum ahead of him, since I believe we’ve already seen the best from the Freak.)

      • MikeD says:

        Sorry, last paragraph should read that in any given year a break-out season (such as Johnson) will push *Sabathia* to the back-end of the top-ten pitchers. Yet looking at his career overall…

  7. CBean says:

    I can’t imagine how any Yankee fan could have anything to complain about CC. He’s amazing on the mound– and even when he’s not Ace stuff, he works through it and keeps you in the game. And off the field, he just seems like such a good guy. <3 so much.

  8. larryf says:

    Cliff Lee:

    12-9 in 2010 and will get 25 million a year for 6 years.

    /Seattle baseball’d

  9. larryf says:

    And CC is a very good hitter with a Pedroia/Kearns approach to every pitch. Every swing is maximal. Results may vary.

    I would like to see him hit more in late October next year.

  10. JerseyDutch says:

    Good article. The title said it all.

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