CC Sabathia remains both an enigma and a problem for Aaron Boone as the postseason nears. What to do with the aging but still competent veteran…
CC Sabathia is pitching in his eleventh season for the New York Yankees. From 2009-2011, Sabathia won 19, 21, and 19 games. Since then, he had had one stellar season in 2017 when he finished at 14-5, the revival year when Sabathia reinvented himself from a power pitcher to an artist on the mound.
An artist is what CC Sabathia remains today. Almost laughable when you see his profile on the mound, Sabathia can still get hitters out. He does this with guile, deception, and sheer will. The trouble is he can no longer be counted on to be the “horse” he once was. The durability isn’t there anymore. Sabathia also has a propensity to surrender home runs.
Today, for instance, Sabathia pitched four semi-effective innings against the Dodgers who still maintain the best record in baseball this season. In the Box Score, his line looks like this:
The seven K’s are impressive as are the 51 strikes delivered over 78 pitches. Five hits, not so much. But most devastating and not seen in the box score is the pitch that got away from Sabathia is the two-run home run hit by Justin Turner with one out in the third inning.
“Homerunitis” is a disease most non-power pitchers suffer with. Having to be ever so fine on every pitch increases the chances that a mistake is bound to come along sooner rather than later. In Sabathia’s case, he has given up 26 home runs in 97 innings pitched, a rate of slightly more than one every four innings pitched.
CC Sabathia: Defining The Issue
If we remove the sentiment revolving around Sabathia’s pending retirement at the end of this season, together with his virtually assured election to the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 2025. Then, what is left in terms of his value as the postseason nears?
CC Sabathia will never be left off the Yankees postseason roster. Never, ever. The same will not be the fate of J.A. Happ (10-8 with a whopping 5.08 ERA and boatload of runs scored for him). Happ, who is similar to Sabathia as a so-so pitcher this year for the Yankees, might as well plan that trip in October to Maui now.
In the game today against the Dodgers, Boone used four relievers to fill out the innings following Sabathia. Except for Aaron Judge who hit another screaming line drive home run, his fifteenth of the season, the Yankee bats in contrast to last night have been eerily quiet. Sabathia stands to be the losing pitcher as the two runs he gave up are proving to be the difference in a 2-1 game.
Sabathia will continue to take his turn in the rotation barring injury to those balky knees. The question for Aaron Boone and Larry Rothschild is to define a role for Sabathia as one of thirteen pitchers the Yankees are likely to carry for the postseason.
If it were anyone but CC, the question would be moot. Telling Happ, there’s no place on the postseason roster for him is one thing. Telling the warrior who pitched the Yankees to their last World Championship is quite another thing.
There’s A Way To Make It A Win-Win
The most likely solution is to place Sabathia in the bullpen. He can have any one of several roles there. His use as a long-man in relief of a faltering starter is the most obvious. Based on the pedigree we see now, filling those three thru seven innings is a no-brainer as a way for Aaron Boone to capitalize on Sabathia’s strength.
Because of that same pedigree, Sabathia is also “The Man” to be called on for one or two batters in a situation where the game is on the line. You can’t measure heart in these situations. CC will find a way to get it done, just as David Cone got it done when Joe Torre called on him to retire a single batter, Mike Piazza, in the 2000 World Series.
All of which suggests that despite CC Sabathia’s slide backward after 3,563 innings pitched, he is still CC Sabathia and a pitcher who can be counted on to be competitive and thrifty, no matter what situation you put him in.
I’ll take that, and I believe Aaron Boone and the Yankees will too.