Later tonight, in the series finale against the Red Sox, CC Sabathia will make his final start in what has been a rock solid bounceback season. He owns a 4.02 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 172.1 innings overall, which is far better than the 4.73 ERA (4.68 FIP) he had a year ago, or the 4.81 ERA (4.40 FIP) line he had from 2013-15. Couldn’t have asked for more from the big man.
At this point Sabathia’s $25M option for next is going to vest — the only way it won’t vest is if he finishes the season on the DL with a shoulder problem, which is very unlikely — and he’ll be back in the rotation next year. And according to Mark Feinsand, Sabathia wants to continue pitching beyond next season, and he would like to remain with the Yankees. From Feinsand:
“It’s definitely gone by quick,” Sabathia said of his eight years in pinstripes. “I know I want to pitch after next year, but I haven’t thought about where or what. Hopefully it will be here. We’ll see.”
“I feel like this is just the beginning of what I’m trying to do. I feel like there’s a lot more still to learn and a lot better to get. It’s exciting … As long as I’m healthy, I feel like I’ll be able to get big-league hitters out. I’ve proven that.”
There are tangible explanations for Sabathia’s success this season. First and foremost, he’s replaced his four-seam fastball with a cutter, which better allows him to get inside on righties and make them uncomfortable. Righties hit .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) against him last year, and this season that’s down to a much more manageable .258/.326/.398 (.316 wOBA). Huge difference.
Also, Sabathia is healthier this season. He missed some time with groin strain back in May, but that was nothing serious. His arm is healthy and his troublesome right knee has held up, thanks in part to the new brace he’s been using. Sabathia is sober too. We shouldn’t discount that. Addiction consumes your entire life. Sabathia is in a better place mentally and physically than he has been for some time.
This reminds me of the Mike Mussina situation back in 2006. Mussina was 37 at the time and he was clearly no longer the pitcher he was in his prime, but he was still capable and familiar, so the Yankees brought him back on a two-year deal for 2007-08. Sabathia will be 37 next year, and like Mussina, he’s not longer what he once was, but he’s shown this year he can still be an effective pitcher.
Not long ago re-signing Sabathia after next season was complete crazy talk. Now? Well, let’s not completely dismiss the idea just yet. I’m not saying the Yankees should re-sign Sabathia. They’ll have all of next season to evaluate him, after all. If he’s able to repeat his 2016 season in 2017, then yeah, maybe a short-term deal to beef up the back of the rotation makes sense. There’s always a need for pitching and the decision doesn’t need to be made right now.
Either way, Sabathia has been the Yankees’ second best starter this season, and there are reasons to believe his success is not a fluke. The cutter and his health are chief among them. Since his option is going to vest, the Yankees will have Sabathia for next season, and they’ll get to see whether his new approach is something built for long-term success. If it is, bringing him back in 2018 might not sound as crazy as it once did.