Amid the turmoil surrounding the Yankees’ starting rotation this winter, one constant remained. CC Sabathia still stood at the helm, ready for his third season as the Yankees ace. It figured to be his most important. Behind him was A.J. Burnett, who had an up-and-down, but mostly down, 2010; Phil Hughes, whose performance slipped considerably after a phenomenal start to the 2010 season; and a smattering of fourth and fifth starter candidates that included Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, and, if in name only, Sergio Mitre. Without an ace, the Yanks would have been sunk before they started.
In the aggregate, CC has done his job. Through 10 starts he’s averaging 6.2 innings per outing and has a 3.06 ERA and 2.80 FIP. He’s kept the ball in th epark a bit more frequently than in recent years, but even if we adjust his HR/FB ratio it still works out to a 3.24 xFIP. That is, he’s doing quite an excellent job all around, even if some of his starts have been less than ideal. The Yanks could use him pitching deeper into games, of course, but that will come with time. In fact, a better performance altogether could be in the cards.
During Sabathia’s first two seasons in pinstripes, we’ve grown used to decent starts followed by downright domination. Here are his numbers through his first 10 starts in each of his seasons with the Yankees.
There seems to be an early season problem in each year, whether it be inordinately low strikeouts (09) or high home runs (10). This year he has a hit rate higher than normal. Now, here’s how Sabathia has fared from start No. 11 through the end of the last two seasons.
In each instance his walk rate has slightly improved, while his strikeout rate has jumped at least one per nine. His home run rate jumped a bit in 2009, but, as in 2011, it’s not at a sustainable level. This isn’t too uncommon for Sabathia. In his career he has a 3.75 first half ERA, which slides to 3.31 in the second half. This includes a jump in strikeouts, by, yes, about a batter per nine innings. Things seem to get better for Sabathia. If that happens in 2011, he could finally find himself atop that Cy Young ballot.
This isn’t to say that Sabathia will necessarily improve. It’s tough to ask for much more than he’s given through his first 10 starts this year. But to see his hit rate improve wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s had one small problem area during his first 10 starts in the past two years, and has improved them in both instances. Just imagine, though, if, as was the case in the last two years, he starts striking out an additional batter per nine innings. That would put him right around where he was at during 2008, the best season of his career.
In a season when the Yankees have needed Sabathia to step up, he’s done so. While some of his starts haven’t inspired praise, in the aggregate he’s been a bit better than in his first 10 starts in the past two years. If, as has been the case in nearly every season of his career, he gets into a groove this summer, we could be in for something special. We know that Sabathia is capable of it.