Tag: CC Sabathia Week

One More Appreciation of CC Sabathia

Like it was for all of you reading this, life was different for me when CC Sabathia made his first start for the New York Yankees back in 2009. I hadn’t yet graduated college; that was a month or so away. I hadn’t yet established my career; that took longer than I thought it would. I hadn’t yet started writing for TYA, let alone RAB. I hadn’t yet met my wife, much less gotten married and had my son. Now, through combinations of choice and circumstance, my life and CC Sabathia’s career have changed immeasurably. There has been one constant about him, though.

Regardless of the year, regardless of the team’s success or his own, CC Sabathia has been and continues to be one of the easiest players to root for in my ‘career’ as a Yankee fan. It’s always easy to root for talented players and Sabathia exemplified that. He did so not just through his early career and peak, marked by high-velocity fastballs and nasty sliders, but later in his career when he reinvented himself as a soft-contact pitcher. Many pitchers can try to do that, but Sabathia is one of the few who was successful in doing so; that’s impossible without great talent. It also takes great perseverance, another trait easy to root for.

Many might have called it a career after losing their stuff as much as Sabathia did, after going through the rough stretch he did from 2013-2016. CC persevered off the field, too, battling an addiction and winning. That victory is more important than anything he did on the field and he should be lauded for it, as well as his charity work and devotion to his family.

He was also–and still is–endlessly devoted to his Yankee family: his teammates first and foremost. From the minute he arrived, he undertook labors of love to both change the clubhouse culture and guide young players into becoming what they are today. If he follows through on his desire to stay with the Yankees in some capacity beyond 2019, I think he’ll make an excellent roving instructor and adviser. Nearly every player–young or old, rookie or veteran–could learn something from CC Sabathia.

Those are all big picture reasons why it’s easy to root for Sabathia, why he’s so beloved in New York and elsewhere. But I have another reason to feel a connection to him. He was on the mound when my wife and I took our son to his first baseball game. He wasn’t yet one and will not remember that game. Hell, we didn’t even spend much of our time in our assigned seats. But we were in them when CC got a strikeout to end the seventh inning. And my son smiled and made a happy noise right at that moment, joining in with the rest of the crowd.

Whether or not he grows up to like baseball, I will never forget that moment. Of all the joys I’ve experienced watching CC Sabathia pitch for my favorite team, none will top that.

Thank you, CC, for so many wonderful memories of watching you pitch. Thank you for being so easy to root for. Thank you for being you.

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CC Sabathia: A Story of Vulnerability and Courage

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It is rare for a free agent in baseball to become the heart and soul of a team. It may be just as rare for that free agent and his family to firmly take root in their new city. As we’ve learned over the last ten years, CC Sabathia wasn’t just any free agent. Yes, he was a force on the mound. More importantly, he became one of the faces of the Yankees. He did that, in part, by living out his New York career with a vulnerability not often seen from a public figure.

It is one thing to open yourself up to criticism for on field performance. It is an entirely different thing to open up your personal life to the world. This is especially true for a New York Yankee. But as we all know, CC Sabathia is a different breed. He not only survived his tenure in New York, but he thrived in it.

When you consider context and timing, there is a strong case that CC was the best and most important Yankees free agent signing in the last fifteen years. After not making the playoffs the year before and opening up a new stadium, the Yankees tagged Sabathia as the man to lead their struggling rotation. CC accepted the challenge, but hedged his bet a little: he insisted on an opt out in his contract citing concerns that his family may not feel comfortable in New York.

At the time, it made all the sense in the world. CC’s previous teams were in the midwest and in small markets. He had a young family that he wanted to protect. We all know how tough New York can be for a family first entering this intense environment. But at CC’s lowest moment, New York became the perfect place for him and his family.

On the last Sunday of the regular season in 2015, CC Sabathia walked into Joe Girardi’s office in Baltimore and told him that he needed help. A couple of nights before, CC cleaned out the hotel minibar. While recovering from the binge, Sabathia knew he needed immediate help. This is a quote from his Player’s Tribune article:

Honestly, it would have been easier in a lot of ways if I had waited — I would have drawn much less attention to myself. But if I didn’t enter rehab right away, I knew I wouldn’t go through with it. With addictions, it takes so much effort to convince yourself to do something to fix the problem, but it’s very easy to talk yourself out of going through with it.

CC SABATHIA

In a baseball sense, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The Yankees were days away from opening up their playoff run and needed one of their most important pitchers. This was no longer about baseball. CC put his life in front of his profession and did so on a grand stage. As he says later in the Player’s Tribune piece:

Of course, the timing wasn’t the best for the Yankees and the fans, but that wasn’t my main concern. When I decided to get help, I wasn’t scared anymore of what people would think of me. I was scared of drinking again. So many of the major choices in my life, going back to when I was just a kid, have been baseball decisions. But this was a life decision.

CC Sabathia

As expected, there was a small percentage of the fan base that didn’t take kindly to CC’s decision. There were some incredibly hurtful things said about him. This is the terrible side of being a professional athlete. Sabathia knew this was coming, but he put himself first. His family became the sole priority in his life. His baseball career no longer mattered at that moment. It was an incredible public act of courage, strength and vulnerability. It was a decision that could break a man.

Except CC didn’t break. He experienced a renaissance that made him a better and stronger version of himself. Surviving that difficult ordeal made him a better husband, father and teammate. And the city embraced him even more. Every time CC took the mound he carried scars that are familiar to us. Every pitch he threw was an act of redemption from darker moments. He was no longer just a pitcher for the Yankees. CC Sabathia became the pitcher of the people.

It would be irresponsible to speak about CC and not mention his incredible wife Amber. It takes a real special person to manage the responsibilities of motherhood, support the community and manage the demands of a public profile. Amber has done this with aplomb. She embraced her platform to make those around her feel loved and supported. CC’s success is largely tied to his partnership with Amber. She deserves a great measure of gratitude and appreciation for being such a huge part of her husband’s life. In turn, she has been a part of our lives as well.

Back in the winter of 2008, we all felt pretty good about what CC Sabathia was going to bring to the Yankees. We were expecting multiple years of elite workhorse performance, and we got them. But it would be hard to imagine back then what we actually received after all of these years.

We got the tremendous performance, but that pales in comparison to the man we witnessed. In many ways, we grew alongside CC. Some of us went through high school and college with him. Some fans had families during CC’s run. And some overcame their own demons. CC will always be more than a Yankee. He is one of us. And we will forever love him. He is our 52. Thank you CC.

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The 2012 ALDS and the final days of peak CC Sabathia

Triumph of peak CC.

Welcome to CC Sabathia Week. We are using this week – the last home stand of the 2019 season –to honor CC Sabathia. Each day, we have a post about everyone’s favorite big man and his career. Bobby wrote his HOF case yesterday, now here’s one of his moments of glory.

Every great MLB career has a peak. That time when a player is at the top of the profession, striking fear into the heart of opponents.

You can’t always identify the beginning and end of that peak, but for CC Sabathia, the endpoint is very clear; His peak ended with the 2012 ALDS.

In 2012, the Yankees were onto the last days of a near-dynasty, having won the World Series in 2009 and followed that by coming up short in subsequent postseasons.

Derek Jeter was 38. Alex Rodriguez was 36. The team had just two everyday position players under 30 (Robinson Cano and Russell Martin) and both of them were 29. Even the deadline acquisition to add a spark (Ichiro) was elderly in baseball terms.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff was solid, though cobbled together. Mariano Rivera lost most of the season to an ACL injury while Rafael Soriano and David Robertson stepped up. The rotation had the fine collection of Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova.

Oh, and Sabathia.

We didn’t know it yet, but this was the end of peak Sabathia, the southpaw who fronted a championship-caliber roster and sparked fear in opposing teams. By the time the postseason rolled around, he had 2,564 innings on his odometer, plus another 86 in postseason innings. This was the final time he’d be blowing fastballs by hitters, good for 7-9 innings seemingly on command.

While Kuroda slightly outpitched the big man in the regular season, the right-hander pitched the final game of the regular season to get the Yankees the division title. That made Sabathia the far and away best choice to start the ALDS against the Orioles.

In Game 1, CC delivered, as he so often did. The O’s touched him up for two runs in the third inning (Lew Ford and Nate McClouth getting the big hits!), but Sabathia didn’t allow more than those two runs.

Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense was sputtering. It would for the entire postseason, but we didn’t know that right then. They scored two batters in and added just one more run before Russell Martin led off a five-run ninth inning with a home run.

Therefore, Sabathia had to keep the score tied for five innings in pursuit of a victory. He left men on base in the fifth, sixth and eighth and came within one out of a complete game, pulled 120 pitches into another workhorse outing.

You probably remember the middle of that series with The Raul Ibanez Game sandwiched between a pair of Orioles victories. A condensed postseason schedule meant the Yankees had to play Game 3-5 of the ALDS on consecutive days at home and, if they won the series, roll right into the ALCS the next day.

But the ALCS would be moot unless Sabathia could bring forth one more gem. He didn’t have to go on short rest like in 2008 with Milwaukee or the 2009 postseason. However, the Orioles had beaten him twice in the regular season and had played the Yankees to a draw in that close series.

Sabathia answered the call.

He allowed just two baserunners over the first seven innings, allowing the Yankees’ anemic offense to score first, second and third. There was a certain intensity to the left-hander, a feeling that he was determined through strength, skill and will-power to push the Yankees one round farther.

His will was tested in the eighth inning. Baltimore pushed across the run and had the bases loaded with one out for Nate McLouth and J.J. Hardy to tie or take the lead for the O’s. CC stopped them dead in their tracks with a strikeout and weakly hit grounder to Jeter.

In the ninth, he’d sit the O’s down in order and the celebration was on.

At the time, it seemed like the Yankees might have escaped a tough test and could move on to face a beatable Tigers team. Instead, the Bombers didn’t live up to their nickname with just six runs in the ALCS.

Jeter went down with injury and that was symbolic end of an era in its own right. Sabathia would have his own end to his peak with Game 4 of the ALCS. Media and fans had called for CC to throw on short rest in Game 3 despite him tossing 121 pitches to outlast the Orioles. The Yankees resisted that call, but normal rest wasn’t enough. He got 11 outs, gave up 11 hits and the Yankees watched Detroit celebrate an AL pennant at Comerica Park.

After the season, Sabathia had surgery on his elbow to remove a bone spur. He’d be fine for Spring Training and was on the mound for Opening Day. But his performance didn’t return, not until he became a finesse pitcher two years later. In between, he’d had knee problems and issues with alcohol. He became a changed pitcher and person, trying to maximize his final few years on the mound.

Though he regained a semblance of success towards the end of his career, the end of the fearsome, no-doubt Hall-of-Fame pitcher CC Sabathia came on October 7 and 12, 2012 against Baltimore. It was a dang near perfect end to a chapter.

CC Sabathia Belongs in the Hall of Fame

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Welcome to CC Sabathia Week. We are using this week–the last home stand of the 2019 season, if you can believe that–to honor CC Sabathia. Each day, beginning today, we will have a story/essay/argument about everyone’s favorite big man. (If you love CC as much as we do, consider bidding on items in an auction supporting CC’s charitable foundation, PitCCh In. You can see the items here, which ends tonight at 9:30 pm.)

Arguments about the Hall of Fame tend to be exhausting and repetitive. I generally do my best to avoid them. However, every now and then, there is a discussion that breaks out of the tedium and gives us a chance to argue about something new and interesting. I don’t think there’s any question that we are at one of those inflection points with the baseline qualifications for a starting pitcher to be enshrined in Cooperstown. CC Sabathia is the perfect case study here.

For generations, 300 wins was considered the ultimate standard: reach that threshold and immortality was a given. The only pitcher to reach that plateau and not be enshrined is Roger Clemens (the absurdity of that is another post for another day). That standard worked for a long time, but there is no doubt that it is a relic of the past now. No active pitcher will reach it. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which another pitcher ever will again. In other words, it is time for a re-evaluation. New standards for a new era.

Once we do so, one thing becomes immediately clear: CC Sabathia pitched a Hall of Fame career. He belongs in Cooperstown. Let’s get right into it.

A Dominant 7-Year Peak

CC Sabathia debuted at age 20 with Cleveland, throwing 180 innings in his rookie year. That itself is the first sign of a Hall of Fame career: very few pitchers at that age can make their mark on the league. But the true Hall of Fame standard, the one which Jay Jaffe’s JAWS method aims to capture, is a dominant peak. And there is no doubt that Sabathia had a dominant peak.

CC became a true force in 2006, during his age 25 season. It lasted through 2012, his age 31 season, and spanned three teams and both leagues. In those 7 seasons, Sabathia finished in the Top 5 of the Cy Young voting 5 times, winning the award in 2007.

Here is his cumulative line across those 7 seasons: 122-57 (.682), 3.14 ERA (3.20 FIP), 1591.2 IP (7 inning per start average), 8.3 hits per 9, 8.2 K/9 (22% K rate), 2.2 BB/9 (6.3%), 29 complete games (10 of which were shutouts), fewer than 1 HR/9, a 140 ERA+, and 38.1 bWAR. CC Sabathia, a flame-throwing lefty pitcher, was clearly a force with which to be reckoned.

It is difficult to be better than he was. In fact, few pitchers, if any, were. Here is where CC ranks among the 51 pitchers across those 7 seasons with more than 1,000 innings pitched:

  • ERA+: 1st
  • Strikeouts: 1st
  • Innings Pitched: 1st
  • bWAR: 2nd
  • Wins: 2nd
  • ERA: 4th
  • FIP: 4th
  • Strikeout rate: 8th
  • Walk rate: 9th

In case it already wasn’t clear, CC Sabathia was, without question, one of the best pitchers in the league for an extended period. 7 years is a long time. In fact, I think you could reasonably argue that he was the single best pitcher in the league across that span. There were few pitchers you’d want on the mound from 2006-2012 more than Sabathia, and you could argue that there wasn’t one.

Just ask the Milwaukee Brewers, who acquired Sabathia at the 2008 deadline in what is arguably the best trade deadline move in MLB history. As the Brewers pushed for the playoffs, they lacked an ace–so they traded for Sabathia, who was in a contract year with Cleveland. His performance was simply legendary.

He threw an astounding 130.1 innings in the second half with the Brewers, making 17 starts (averaging close to 8 IP per start) with a 1.64 ERA. (That’s a 255 ERA+.) He made starts on three days rest despite it being a contract year, nearly threw a perfect game, and led the Brew Crew to the playoffs for the first time in 26 seasons.

A big part of the Hall of Fame is a certain mythology–a player needs to have moments that are truly memorable, that stand the test of time. The 2008 second half half, which was so dominant that Sabathia finished 3rd in NL Cy Young voting despite pitching only half a season in the NL, is no doubt that stretch for Sabathia.

The next season was also an extension of that mythos. In his first season with the Yankees, CC led the Bronx Bombers to their 27th World Series victory. Alongside Alex Rodriguez, CC was the guiding star of that championship season, winning ALCS MVP by pitching to a 1.13 ERA in 16 IP in 2 starts and providing the Yankees with an ace they so desperately needed. He did not log a World Series win, though that was more the fault of Cliff Lee than it was the fault of his performance.

To wrap this part up, let’s summarize: CC was clearly one of the league’s most dominant pitchers for a 7-year period. He won a Cy Young Award. He had a truly legendary second half with Milwaukee, which made him, in my opinion at least, the best trade deadline acquisition in history. And he led a team to a World Series. He checked every box.

CC Sabathia Reborn

As we all know, though, a dominant peak alone is not enough to earn Hall of Fame enshrinement–longevity, especially for a starting pitcher, is critical. There’s no doubt CC has that. He debuted in 2001 and is concluding his career in 2019. But the story of CC’s career isn’t straightforward. There are several phases, and one of them was not like the others.

After his 2012 season, which concluded his peak above, Sabathia’s performance fell off. Here is Sabathia’s adjusted ERA, relative to the league, in the following three seasons:

  • 2013: 84 ERA+
  • 2014: 73 ERA+
  • 2015: 86 ERA+
  • Cumulative: 83 ERA+

Those seasons were riddled with injuries and were associated with a decline in velocity. It was fair to wonder, when Sabathia checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse before the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, if his days as a serviceable MLB arm were behind him. Well, it’s safe to say that seems foolish in hindsight. (It also may have been foolish at the time, as there were signs in the end of 2015 that he was righting the ship.)

CC truly turned his career around after 2015 and effectively revitalized his Hall of Fame candidacy. He added a cutter thanks to Andy Pettitte, compensated for lower velocity, and became a soft contact extraordinaire. He went from being borderline unusable to perhaps the best 5th starter in baseball. Remember those ugly ERA+ figures from above? Here are those same figures for the next three seasons:

  • 2016: 110 ERA+
  • 2017: 122 ERA+
  • 2018: 115 ERA+
  • Cumulative: 115 ERA+

Those were his age 36, 37, and 38 seasons, respectively. Now, he averaged about 150 IP each season, which is a far cry from the dominance of his early career, but those are damn impressive numbers. Sabathia’s career was so long because it deserved to be so long. He rebuilt himself into an entirely new pitcher in his twilight and found success–that’s true regardless of a disappointing 2019 campaign.

He also did it in the context of a contending team that was relying on him to give effective innings. CC’s best year came during the rebirth of the Yankees themselves (the symbolism is there again, another part of that Cooperstown mythos) and he was the starting pitcher in Game 5 of the 2017 ALDS. He wasn’t rebuilding himself on a team in the cellar, but instead under the brightest lights in the brightest city.

That is not easy to do. How many pitchers can you name who experienced a late-career renaissance like Sabathia’s? How many are even afforded the opportunity? His rebuild was remarkable and serves as a complement to his mid-career dominance. Without it, this post would not have been possible. With it, Sabathia’s place among baseball’s legends is all but ensured.

Contextualizing His Career

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Sabathia reached two key milestones this year. He earned 250 wins and passed 3,000 career strikeouts. Those are notable achievements in and of themselves, but even more when placed into the relevant context. Only 14 pitchers in baseball history have survived in this brutal game long enough to achieve those two specific milestones, and only 3 of them have been left-handed. Sabathia was the first pitcher to reach them in a decade, since Randy Johnson did so in 2009. (The next player with a shot is Justin Verlander, who still needs 28 wins.)

These achievements speak to a longevity in the game and also to the changing standards of the Hall of Fame. Is 250 the next 300? I’m not sure, but it does feel like it. It is very difficult to win baseball games in the current era of pitch counts, innings limits, and super-bullpens. That same phenomenon also reduces a pitcher’s WAR (Sabathia’s is quite a bit lower than others on this list) and hurts their overall case in a vacuum. That’s why, if you poke around on Sabathia’s Baseball-Reference page, you’ll see that he falls a bit short of most traditional Hall of Fame signifiers toward the bottom.

But those are externalities outside of Sabathia’s control. He did not choose to be born when he was; he did not choose the league in which he pitched. All he could do is control his pitching. If it’s not clear by now, Sabathia did that quite well. To make the case that a recalibration of pitching qualifiers is required, I am going to position Sabathia’s career within the context of the league.

Now, this next exercise is slightly unfair, but bear with me. I set the search terms to be exactly Sabathia’s career (2001-2019), which favors some of his counting stats. However, when we consider a Hall of Fame candidacy, there is inherent value in comparing that player to the peers with whom he directly competed. Here is Sabathia’s rankings in some key areas during that period:

  • Wins: 251 (1st, next closest is Verlander with 222)
  • Innings Pitched: 3573.2 (1st, next closest is Mark Buerhle with 3232)
  • Strikeouts: 3,087 (1st)
  • Complete Games: 38 (2nd)
  • Complete Game Shutouts: 12 (3rd)
  • WAR: 62.5 (5th)

Very few pitchers have been as durable, effective, and reliable as CC Sabathia has been. He ranks in the top 5 in many key areas. Those in which he does not (which include, to be fair, both ERA and ERA+) can largely be explained away by those 3 bad seasons from 2013-2015.

Sabathia will retire without 300 wins. So will, I think, every single pitcher who retires after him. But, when you look at his performance against his own peers, you can see that he was a truly elite pitcher in his environment–and that’s all he could control.

Summarizing his Case

To summarize, you can see four distinct phases to Sabathia’s career.

First, there was his above-average start to his career, which lasted from 2001-2005 (107 ERA+). Then came his dominant peak from 2006-2012 (140 ERA+). Then came his struggles in 2013-2015 (83 ERA+) and his late career resurgence (115 ERA+). This year, his last, is more like the struggle phase but is the final year of his career. I’m fine with writing that one off, especially given the fact that our man has literally no cartilage in his knee.

Add that all up and you get a pitcher who thrived in the steroid era, the post-steroid era, struggled as he aged, and rose again from the ashes of personal and professional struggles, all while maintaining his trademark smile.

I suspect this is an argument we’ll be revisiting a few years from now, but I think the ultimate resolution is clear: CC Sabathia is a pitcher worthy of the Hall of Fame. See you in Cooperstown, CC.

Coming next week to Views from 314ft: CC Sabathia Week

We are in the ever-darkening twilight of CC Sabathia’s time in pinstripes and his career as a whole. The last 11 seasons have been a combination of triumph, failure, rebirth and lasting positive impact, one that puts Sabathia in a prominent spot within the annals of Yankees and baseball history.

Therefore, we figured we’d get a headstart on his pending retirement and do a CC Sabathia Week starting Monday. We’ll have at least one CC-centric article a day, trying to articulate what he’s accomplished on the field and meant to the organization and fanbase in New York.

We’ll still have all our normal content with series previews, recaps and articles on the Yankees’ pending postseason run (and hopefully less injury content). But Sabathia deserves extra attention with just a few games left in his illustrious career.

A playoff hero, a pillar in the community and an all-around great dude, Sabathia means a lot to us and likely to most, if not all, of our readers. Whether shutting down the Orioles, starting a World Series or cursing at the Rays, he’s been a constant source of joy, awe and entertainment. We hope to capture that in the week and future to come.

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