Nov
11

What Went Right: CC Sabathia

By

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
  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    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.

    • larryf

      Off the field he couldn’t convince LeBron to be a Yankee fan AND play for the Knicks. All will be forgiven if he convinces Lee to pitch for us this year.

      • steve (different one)

        Hell, AJ might redeem himself if he helps wooing Lee!

        • CBean

          /pictures AJ at Lee’s doorstep with a bunch of daisies

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            (knocks on door)
            High pitched voice on other side of door: WHO IS IT?
            Otter: It’s Mr. Thoughtful, with a dozen roses for–
            (door opens to reveal five Omega fraternity men, pounding fists)
            Otter: — you.
            (under breath)
            Otter: …2, 3, 4, 5.
            (confidently)
            Otter: Okay, it looks like we’re going to be a few flowers short, so some of you boys are going to have to share.

          • Mister Delaware

            Slams daisies into Lee’s face … pauses … realizes its funnier with whipped cream.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      He hasn’t yet convinced Derek Jeter to play for free.

      CC Sabathia is such a jerkface.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        Other side of that coin:

        He hasn’t yet convinced Hal to give Jeter a 10 year/$350 million deal with guarantees he sticks at SS for as long as he wants.

        CC Sabathia is such a jerkface.

    • Danny T

      What do think think…

      Lee signs for 5 yrs @ 25 million per, topping CC’s yearly. Then CC, wanting to be the highest paid pitcher, opts out and demands 25.1/yr for the remaining years?

      Not that I want this to happen, but just a thought

      • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

        Even if he has no intention of leaving, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t use the opt-out to at the very least rework the last few years on his deal. You have leverage, why not use it?

        • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

          Agreed. My guess is he opts out but never actually gets to the market and gets a longer term deal (though maybe less AAV).

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            Yezzur.

        • MikeD

          Agreed,and I’ve thought about this.

          From what I’ve read, CC and Lee are good friends, but they’re also very competitive, one trying to better the other. That’s a good thing. Lee knows what the Yankees gave CC, so I’m not sure he’s going to take less. In fact, I’m sure he’s not going to take less. He may not get the years, but at the least he’ll want the same average yearly salary, and his competitive side will want just a little bit more. If the Yankees give it to him, CC may just turn right around and use that opt out clause to then beat Lee’s annual average. All good to me, as long as Lee’s on the Yankees and both are pitching well.

  • http://twitter.com/joero23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    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.

    • steve (different one)

      Agreed (aside from Mariano)

  • I Voted 4 Kodos

    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.

  • YankeesJunkie

    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.

  • Johnny O

    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.

    • YankeesJunkie

      It would, but nothing to complain with two top 4 finishes in two years with the Yankees.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    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?

    • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

      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.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      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.

      • Jimmy McNulty

        Oh, CC’s still an amazing pitcher and this team would be fucked like a furloughed prisoner without him. Glad he’s here. Being merely a top 15 starter as opposed to a top ten starter, or top ten as opposed to top five, isn’t exactly a bad thing, either. Looking at his stat sheet again it appears those ridiculous k/bb numbers from 2007 and the jump in strikeouts in 2008 seems to be more of an outlier than anything else, though.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          … this team would be fucked like a furloughed prisoner without him.

          Can’t say I’ve ever heard that expression before…

          (adjusts necktie)

          Don’t prisoners actually like and request furloughs, though? That would seem like a good thing, not a bad thing.

          • Mister Delaware

            I think he means literally “having a lot of intercourse”.

            • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

              Isn’t that a good thing though? Usually the expression “they would be fucked without XYZ” carries a very negative connotation.

              • Jimmy McNulty

                Used the word fuck in two different contexts at once, BIATCH!!!!!

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                  That’s it, McNulty, i’m taking you off of Major Crimes and putting you on desk duty.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Could it also simply be that CC looks a little more human because now that he’s in the AL East, he’s facing slightly better competition than he did in the AL Central?

        • http://twitter.com/AndrewLeighNYC Andrew

          And also better competition than what he buzzsawed through during his stint in Milwaukee, which I think a lot of fans relate to as his most dominant stretch of pitching. CC is pretty awesome and has actually refined his game a lot with the emergence of his change up, I think he’s right there with the best pitchers in the game, no doubt about it.

      • Hughesus Christo

        Ah, the Posada Corollary. I know it well.

        No one on the Yankees is the best player of all-time every day of every season, so I’m disappointed. Eat it, Hall of Famers.

        • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

          I think we should call it the Joe Girardi corollary

    • MikeD

      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

        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…

  • CBean

    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.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I can’t imagine how any Yankee fan could have anything to complain about CC.

      COMPLAINT: He’s not Chinese.

    • a.hinds

      he does not support local salad bars.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        COMPLAINT: His overwhelming success while being fat makes my own general lack of success while being fat more blatantly obvious.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      He did not accept my invitation to come over my house and make me banana pancakes, for that I will forever old a grudge.

    • Mister Delaware

      He grabs his dick on the mound too much.

      • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

        Not nearly as much as this guy

  • larryf

    Cliff Lee:

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

    /Seattle baseball’d

  • larryf

    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.

  • JerseyDutch

    Good article. The title said it all.