In 2025, CC Sabathia will appear on the Hall Of Fame Ballot, further testing the criteria for election. Sabathia can cement the new unwritten rules for pitchers…
If baseball gets it right, CC Sabathia will be a first ballot Hall Of Famer. But more significant, his name and supporting numbers on the ballot signals an opportunity for baseball to establish a recognition that baseball in the 21st Century is a far different game than in the previous one. To explain…
At 38, CC Sabathia will finish his final season with around 255 wins. Behind him (in order) Baseball Reference lists Justin Verlander (36, 212 wins), Zack Greinke (35, 193), Jon Lester (35, 180), Felix Hernandez (33, 169), and Max Scherzer (34, 161).
With the exception of Hernandez, who’s lost his sustainability, along with Sabathia these are the best pitchers of our time. Considering their age and other factors we’ll get to in a minute, it’s a stretch to think any of them will finish with more wins than CC Sabathia.
Sabathia: When Push Comes To Pull
Thus, only one of two things can happen. Either none of them will be admitted to the Hall Of Fame due to “low ” win totals (the surest way in), or the bar for the election of pitchers will need to be permanently adjusted to accommodate the reality of baseball today.
Innings limits, pitch limits, ever climbing salaries that discourage longevity, quicker “pulls” by managers with stacked bullpens, and the propensity for season-ending injury all contribute to the disappearance of the dinosaurs of yesteryear.
However, Carlton had 4,136 K’s and Johnson was knocking on the door of 5,000 K’s (4875) when he retired. And Nolan Ryan finished with 2,700 strikeouts more than Sabathia will. And yet, CC Sabathia remains in a class all by himself for his generation of pitching
How many of these pitchers, all of whom are worthy of serious Hall Of Fame consideration, will finish with more than 3,000 strikeouts?
Criteria For The HOF – Did He Dominate In His Time?
Therein lies the most sensible criteria for election to Cooperstown. Did the player dominate the game during his time in the major leagues? In spite of these low numbers, does his team have an extra step when they take the field on a day he is pitching? Does he protect a lead or give it away. Does he, as Clayton Kershaw does so well, pitch to the score, allowing only fewer runs than his team can score on a given day – keeping in mind the only thing that matters – winning?
These are the same questions asked and answered with a resounding yes when we recall the careers of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux, Tom Seaver, Pedro Martinez, et.al., all of whom dominated when pitching in a previous generation.
It’s easier to adjust upward than it is downward. 500 home runs for hitters used to be the ultimate. 40 home runs and 100 RBI used to be automatic for MVP consideration. Now, teams like the Yankees and Astros have as many as five players who can reach that plateau this season, to say nothing of the hitters currently on pace to hit 50 or more home runs in 2019 (Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Josh Bell, George Springer, and Pete Alonso).
With pitching though, and to be fair, less has to be more when considering greatness. As the pace car for the New York Yankees, CC Sabathia is pitching in his nineteenth season. He has 100 more starts than the current runner-up, Justin Verlander, who with two more years on his contract has already earned $226 million, and 200 more than Max Scherzer, who will finish out his contract with the Nationals at age 36 and $225 million earned.
By contrast, Steve Carlton pitched for 24 years, earning a total of $7 million. Warren Spahn collected $65,000 when he led the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series win over the Yankees in 1957. And Bob Gibson had to pitch 17 seasons to earn a mere $1.3 million. (All salary figures – Baseball Reference)
These guys, even when their salaries are adjusted, needed to work for a living. That’s not true today and as a result, we need to quantify the numbers of CC Sabathia and those on the cusp of retiring soon.
Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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