In December of 2008, the Yankees signed CC Sabathia, that year's most sought-after starting pitcher on the free agent market. He had just completed one of the most dominant runs in decades and was set for a huge payday. In 16 starts with Milwaukee, Sabathia posted a 1.59 ERA in 124.2 innings and threw seven complete games, three of which were shutouts. That pitcher is long gone and an artifact from another time. What the Yankees are left with now is a pitcher who averages fewer than six innings per start and is owed roughly $40.1 million through 2017 (assuming NYY takes the buyout on his contract).
For the first four years of his contract, Sabathia was fantastic, posting a cumulative fWAR of 22.1. His strikeout rates have never been great, but his control figures have been consistently above average, even during his troubling past few years. While his ERA and FIP have climbed, his SIERA has pointed to the fact that there might be better times ahead. It's his sensational BB/9 rate that is giving fans, and possibly even the Yankees, false hope. By examining his other figures and charts, it's clear that there's no dawn approaching for the former ace.
While it would be misleading to attribute all of Sabathia's struggles to one statistic, it's impossible to look past the fact that his fWAR has plummeted as his HR/9 has risen. Even before coming to New York, CC was adept at keeping the ball from leaving the field of play. In 2012 however, he experienced a 54.6 percent increase in home runs allowed, and in 2013 that rate eclipsed one home run per nine innings. That rise also happened to coincide with his vertical release point dropping.
From 2007-2011, there were slight deviations in his release point, but in 2012 Sabathia's arm dropped and hasn't rebounded. His inability to prevent home runs has become a serious problem, and as of this writing, Sabathia's HR/9 rate is the 3rd worst in baseball, behind only Kyle Kendrick and Kyle Lohse.
Not surprisingly, CC ranks in the bottom ten of inducing what FanGraphs considers to be soft contact.
|Rubby de la Rosa||13.4 %|
|Edinson Volquez||14.1 %|
|Colby Lewis||14.2 %|
|Nick Martinez||14.3 %|
|Chase Anderson||14.4 %|
|CC Sabathia||14.6 %|
|Tim Hudson||14.6 %|
|Andrew Cashner||15.0 %|
|Kyle Kendrick||15.1 %|
|C.J. Wilson||15.3 %|
He also ranks 28th in MLB in hard hit percentage, which makes it much clearer as to why he has fallen so far in his ability to prevent home runs. Another area that shows just how bad Sabathia is now comes via his context dependent statistics; WPA and RE24.
Once again, CC ranks as one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball according to both of these metrics. In terms of WPA, he owns the 4th worst figure, and for RE24 he's 7th. Fortunately for the Yankees, Sabathia is under contract only through next season (technically 2017, but picking up his option for $25 million seems unlikely at this point), and making a decision on his future as a starter shouldn't be difficult.
For the first four years of his contract, Sabathia was more than worth the money. According to FanGraphs, he was valued at $147.1 million, while the Yankees paid him (just) $88.7 million; a total savings of $58.4 million. Since 2013, the tables have turned, and Sabathia has been overpaid by $31.7 million. Overall, the Yankees have come out on top by roughly $27 million, but nobody should expect CC to suddenly be a bargain again.
By letting him start every fifth day, New York is hurting their chances to win baseball games as clearly evidenced by his WPA and RE24. He has just one guaranteed year left on his contract, and if there are any teams that have the ability to eat $28 million (his 2016 salary plus his 2017 buyout), the Yankees would be on that list.
Sabathia isn't blocking anyone in AAA, or anyone on his own team for that matter, but with the trade deadline approaching, that could change. If Cashman is serious about upgrading his team, and doing what is best for the franchise, it's fairly obvious that they need another starter. Realistically, it's highly doubtful that the Yankees will kick Sabathia to the curb for a shiny new starter, but it's hard to argue that on a purely statistical basis it wouldn't be good for the team. If his name wasn't attached to the numbers he's put up, but they instead read as an unknown, it's difficult to imagine any team wanting that player.
He's had a fantastic career. For a stretch of 11 seasons, Sabathia was one of the most reliable pitchers in all of baseball. There's a certain taboo or shame associated with former star players quickly and somewhat suddenly losing their ability to remain elite, but there really shouldn't be. Baseball, or any professional sport for that matter, is incredibly difficult. The players are very literally competing against the very best the sport has to offer. All good things eventually come to an end, and the Yankees and Sabathia should realize that the good times are long gone.
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Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer with Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Editor at MLB Daily Dish. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.