In which we honor Sabathia’s workhorse-ability

2011 Season Preview: Feliciano and Logan
The RAB Radio Show: March 17, 2011
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

CC Sabathia has been many things since signing with the Yankees two offseasons ago. An ace, a Cy Young contender, a playoff hero, and more than anything else, amazingly durable. Seriously, the guy has thrown 467.2 innings over the last two years and 961.2 innings over the last four years, and that’s just the regular season. Roy Halladay is the only other pitcher within 50 innings of that total, and Dan Haren is the third and final member of the 900+ IP club going back to 2007. It’s an exclusive club.

Joe lovingly called Sabathia a freak in his season preview, and we mean that in the nicest way possible. CC is literally the largest left-handed pitcher in baseball history, in terms of combined height (6-foot-7) and weight (295 lbs.). Randy Johnson was listed at 6-foot-10 but only 225 lbs., and Mark Hendrickson stands 6-foot-9, 240 lbs. The only other pitcher to be at least CC’s height and weigh over 270 is another guy in Yankees camp, Andy Sisco (6-foot-10 lbs., 270 lbs.). Marlins lefty Sean West is the only other guy in history to stand at least 6-foot-5 and weight at least 250 lbs. That’s it, just those three; Sabathia, Sisco, and West. One of these things is not like a way better pitcher than the other things.

The table to the right tallies up Sabathia’s starts as a Yankee, broken down by the number of innings thrown. He’s thrown at least eight full innings in exactly one-fourth (17) of his 68 starts over the last two years. That’s pretty amazing. Another 30 starts lasted at least seven full innings, so that’s no fewer than 21 outs recorded in 69.1% of his starts, essentially seven out of ten. Just think about that for a second. Seven innings in seven out of ten starts. That’s not even video game stuff; my starters have a tough time completing seven innings in The Show. Sabathia is that good.

(Just to be clear, 8+ refers to starts longer than eight innings. 7+ is starts between 7 and 7.2 innings, 6+ is starts between 6 and 6.2 IP, so on and so forth.)

In terms of pitches thrown (table to the right), only 16 times (23.6%) has CC failed to top the century mark. Furthermore, two of those 16 starts ended with his pitch count at 99. That 110-120 pitch range seems to be the comfort zone, but Sabathia has certainly proven to be capable of 120+ pitches if needed. His single game high with New York is 123 pitches, done three times.

Amazingly enough, Sabathia only has one nine-inning complete game with the Yankees. That came on May 8th of 2009, when he threw a shutout and four hit the Orioles in what was pretty much his “welcome to New York” moment. That has more to do with having the greatest reliever in the history of the universe available to close out games than it does Sabathia’s inability to get 27 outs in a start. CC has also thrown three other complete games in pinstripes, but two were eight-inning loses and the other was a six inning, rain-shortened game.

Both of the starts in which Sabathia failed to complete three innings came in 2009. The first was in late-June, when he left a start against the Marlins after recording just four outs due to stiffness in his biceps. He was back on the mound five days later, holding the Mets to one run in seven innings. The other short start was his final one of that season, when the Rays rocked him for nine runs in just 2.2 IP. Five days later, he beat the Twins in Game One of the ALDS. As for the two other starts that were less than five innings, the first came in his very first start with the Yankees, and the other was that 4.2 IP start against the Red Sox last summer that got hit with a rain delay. If it hadn’t been for Mother Nature, he surely would have completed the inning. When Joe Girardi hands the ball to Sabathia, he’s getting at least five innings out of him, more than nine times out of ten. That level of reliability is impressive and incredibly valuable.

The term “innings-eater” is usually reserved for guys like Joe Blanton and Jon Garland, and all it really means is that the pitcher is capable of sucking for six or seven innings instead of four or five. Guys like Sabathia, who combine quality pitching with bulk innings are true workhorses, and you can count the number of pitchers like that on one hand. I didn’t think it would be possible for a pitcher to exceed the expectations associated with a $161M contract, but so far Sabathia has done that for the Yankees.

2011 Season Preview: Feliciano and Logan
The RAB Radio Show: March 17, 2011
  • Gonzo

    You should rename this article, Why CC is going to cost a TON after the season.

    Great breakdown. Love seeing that table filled with high %’s at the top.

  • Steve H

    I had this discussion several times last year, and this is what separates CC from a guy like Lester. Lester is every bit as good as CC (maybe better) per inning, but the extra few outs CC gets, every start (avoiding the pen), is what makes him the better pitcher. He’s just a beast.

    • NJ_Andy

      Really solid point. As somebody who falls easily in love with high rate stats (oh Robertson, how your k/9 makes me drool), I sometimes underrate CC. Even innings eaters have their value, somebody like CC who can dominate over oodles of innings is a treasure.

      I was going to argue that it’s less valuable with a pen as good as ours this year, but on retrospect it seems even more valuable. This lets those guys get saved for caddying the 4-5 guys when they (inevitably) get blown away.

      • Big Apple

        I’m a big fan of the innings eater…I’ll probably take heat for it, but I always thought Livan Hernandez would’ve worked out in the 5th spot on the yanks. Imagine getting 7+ from your 5th starter? Even he loses a lot he still saves the pen.

        The Yanks offense scores enough to bail out a starter with a 5+ ERA.

  • AndrewYF

    I forgot how bad CC was in April ’09. That month was misery.

    • Steve H

      He can’t handle NY!!

      I remember the backpage of some NY rag after Opening Day against the Orioles showing a frustrated CC with the headline “Birdbathia!”. Awful.

      • AndrewYF

        I thought the prevailing wisdom was that the ’08 division race/playoff run ruined him, and he would never be the same again.

      • bexarama


        There was also a “MONEY FOR NOTHING!” headline referencing both Tex and CC, heh.

  • NJ_Andy

    On a tangentially related note: how durable do you guys expect Hughes to be this year as he finishes maturing? He’s a big boy too, is 200 IP out of the question?

    • Gonzo

      I assume 200ip is totally in the realm of possibility. They are probably going to need him that much. Whether he makes the few extra starts and lasts longer in some games to account for all of the extra innings, I don’t know.

  • Monteroisdinero

    180 innings as a 20 year old. 17-5 for Cleveland.

    Don’t see that too often.

    • Tom Zig

      Won’t be seeing it this year either with a certain 20 year old…(ducks)

      • Monteroisdinero

        Glad you took the bait Tom :-)

        • Tom Zig

          It’s called Miketurbaiting.

    • JGS

      146 innings as a 19 year old, including 90 at AA. Don’t see that too often in a 19 year old either

  • Teh Comp Pick

    Fantastic article but that last sentence is speaking from an odd point of evaluation as everyone had expected all along he would be very good for the first few years of the deal. It has only been two years, but yes they have been awesome.

    • Mike Axisa

      That’s why the “so far” is in there.

  • johnny

    While parrotting the no pitching narrative to me the other night, this giants fan said to me “…and sabathias not a #1 I don’t care what anybody says.” I laughed so hard beer came out my nose. Hes not only an ace, he’s our ace.

    • vin

      I love how people don’t understand what being a “#1” or “ace” really means.

    • Hannah Ehrlich

      I want to know what this guy considers a #1.

      • johnny

        Somebody who leaves money on the table to pitch for sf I suspect

  • UncleArgyle

    Unfortunately CC has been getting those outs via groundballs and not strike outs. And as every “real” baseball fan knows, Strikeouts count more than groundouts, so CC is actually not that good anymore.

    /Rob Neyer’d

    • pete

      no, it’s just because the yankees don’t like strikeouts, so they told him to stop striking people out

      • Tom Zig

        The Yankees obviously don’t care about defense.

      • Gonzo

        Strikeouts are fascist!!!

  • vin

    CC has been everything the Yanks could have hoped for, and then some. His ability to pitch well AND eat innings really lightens the load on the pen (as has been mentioned).

    Another lefty who throws TONS of quality innings every start? Cliff Lee (there’s that name again). I did have a nice 6 month stretch of fantasizing about what CC and Lee could do in pinstripes, and how much better they can make an already good bullpen. Oh well.

    • Steve H

      Lee throws tons of innings every start, but he doesn’t make every start like CC does.

      • vin

        Right, but in fairness he has made 31, 34, and 28 since he became “Cliff Lee.” And on an inning by inning basis, he is probably better than CC – like Lester.

        Definitely don’t want to turn this into a(nother) Lee thread so I’ll stop there.

  • Urban Planning Student

    I think a mid-value or discount hotel around the Stadium might just work, especially given how expensive New York City hotel rooms are. The Stadium and Hard Rock Cafe are right there. Plus, as this blog shows, there are many reasonably safe places to park and Metro-North and the subway are right there.

    Personally, I think a mixed-use office complex would be beneficial. The mix of workers and business owners would have a beneficial impact on the area.

  • Colin

    CC totally just tweeted this link

    • Peter R

      Hey CC.

      Thanks for being so freaking awesome.

      Please, please if you are tired some day just ask Joe G to skip a start. I am serious. One missed start is waaaay better than starting an injury history (we all know one leads to another). Thats a lot of innings big guy and we really need you to keep on trucking.

      So please, take that day off if needed, we understand.

      You are awesome. That is all.

  • Kiko Jones

    Worth. Every. Penny.