Just a few years ago New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia was one of the most feared pitchers in baseball. Now, at 33 years old, there is a chance his career will never get back on track. But would it actually be better for the Yankees if Sabathia wound up retiring? Some experts seem to think so.
At the height of his prowess, Carsten Charles (no, CC does not stand for “chewy center,” stop it) Sabathia was as dominant as any pitcher in the major leagues. He’s a six-time All-Star, has led the American League in wins twice (2009, 2010), helped the Yankees win the World Series in 2009, was the ALCS MVP that year, and won the 2007 AL Cy Young Award. On top of all that, he was (and still is) one of the most respected players in the game. But now he’s facing microfracture surgery on his right knee, and coming back from that is far from a sure thing.
Sabathia is almost certainly done for this season, and it was a year in which he struggled through eight starts with a 3-4 record, a 5.28 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. After a stellar campaign in 2011, he hasn’t been the same pitcher. That year he posted a 3.00 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP, a 19-8 record and a stellar WAR of 7.0. Things have steadily declined since.
Last season Sabathia pitched 211 innings, but finished 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and a WAR of just 0.3. His ERA in the second half of the season was 6.08, and he allowed 224 hits. He also surrendered career-highs in earned runs (112) and home runs (28). He just hasn’t been the same, dominant guy we saw in the past. This year he looked much older than his age (33) on the mound and seemed to be laboring through every start.
Sabathia signed a monster seven-year, $161 million deal with the Yankees after the 2008 season, then inked a mini-extension in the fall of 2011. As of now the Yankees are on the hook for at least $53 million in salary and a $5 million buyout from 2015 through 2016. But they could owe Sabathia as much as $73 million if he makes it back and is able to actually get on a mound again.
Even if Sabathia does return, there is little reason to believe he will reclaim his glory years. His stuff has simply fallen off rapidly over the past few seasons. Alarmingly so, in fact.
In 2009 his average fastball velocity was 94.1 mph. In 2014, it is at 89.6 mph. That’s a scary drop. And it’s not like his injuries this year are the only reason, as last season he was down to 91.3 mph.
The Pitchf/x pitch value/100 for his fastball (wFA/C) in 2014 is -2.61. For those not into sabermetric pitching stats, that measures the number of runs he has saved with his fastball per 100 pitches. Zero is average, a negative number is not good news. So yeah, that’s bad. But it gets worse when you go deeper.
His pitch value/100 for his sinker (wSI/C) is -1.75 in 2014, for his slider (wSL/C) it’s -0.78 and his curveball (wCU/C) is -0.86. All of those show a massive downward trend. To give you an idea how badly Sabathia is trending, in 2010, his wSL/C was 2.27. That means he saved 2.27 runs for every 100 sliders he threw. Now he’s at -0.78 runs per every 100 sliders.
Sabathia is a great guy who has proven himself to be an insanely durable workhorse wherever he’s been. He has topped 200 innings eight times in his 14 year career, and been over 180 five other times. But the possibility exists that his body may now be irrevocably broken down from all that wear.
The Yankees would almost certainly be better off if he didn’t attempt to make a comeback, since it would save them a ton of money. Especially when you factor in the insurance the team has on his contract and his rapidly diminishing stuff.