The Best He’s Ever BeenBy
CC Sabathia was almost perfect last night. Mother Nature tried her hardest to throw him off track with a pair of short but just long enough rain delays in the later innings of his outing against the Mariners, perhaps robbing him of just enough command and rhythm that it cost him the perfect game. Sabathia ended his night with a career-high 14 strikeouts in seven innings, allowing a total of two balls to leave the infield. He was dominant, completely overpowering a weak lineup, but this was not a one-start thing.
Sabathia has been the best pitcher in the world over the last month or so, a span covering seven starts. He’s thrown 54.2 of 63 possible innings (86.8%) and allowed just five runs. Five. Only 46 batters have reached base in that time (0.84 WHIP), and only 31 of those 46 batters reached via a base hit. CC has struck out 72 batters in that span, raising his season strikeout rate from 6.6 K/9 to 8.3 K/9 in just seven starts. That’s 46.1% of his season strikeout total in 32.4% of the innings. Sabathia’s been so good these last seven starts that we can legitimately ask this question: has he ever had a seven-start stretch like this before?
The best season of Sabathia’s career was 2008, when he combined to rack up 7.1 bWAR and 7.6 fWAR in a career-high 253 IP with the Indians and Brewers. His second half effort with the Brewers is the stuff of legend, when he practically carried the franchise to their first playoff appearance in a quarter-century. Sabathia made 17 starts with Milwaukee, including the final three on three days rest. He managed to accumulate 4.8 bWAR and 4.6 fWAR with the Brewers, which is a great season for most pitchers. He did that in 130.2 IP.
The best seven-start stretch during Sabathia’s time with Milwaukee came from August 8th to September 5th, when he threw three complete games and two shutouts in seven starts. The table on the right has the stats from CC’s last seven starts this year as well as the stats for that seven-start stretch with the Brew Crew back in 2008. I used Sky Kalkman’s WAR Calculator to calculate the WAR, which is pretty close to bWAR. It uses actual results in the calculation (runs allowed), not underlying performance (FIP) like fWAR. It tells us what did happen, not what should have happened.
As you can see, the run Sabathia is on right now is even better than what he did in Milwaukee three years ago. He recorded two fewer outs but struck out a dozen more batters and allowed 14 fewer hits and one fewer homer. Those seven starts in 2008 came against the Braves, Nationals, Astros, Padres (twice), and Pirates (twice), who combined for a .421 winning percentage that season. These seven starts this year have come against the Rockies, Brewers, Indians, Blue Jays, Mariners, and Rays (twice). That’s a combined winning percentage of .496. He’s performed better against better competition.
It’s hard to believe considering how dominant he was during his brief stint in Milwaukee, but Sabathia’s last seven starts have been better than anything he’s done before. He’s piling up strikeouts and keeping opponents off base via hits and walks. No one is scoring off him, not at all, and he’s taking the ball deep into the game every time out. We see hot streaks come and go all season long, but it’s not often that we see one of the game’s best go off a run better than anything they’ve ever done before. This is the pitching equivalent of 2007 Alex Rodriguez, the starting version of 2008 Mariano Rivera. That’s how good Sabathia has been for the last month.