If It Wasn’t For That One Bad Inning…
CC Sabathia is a former Cy Young award winner. He has been a 20 game winner. He played on five All-Star teams. He has a World Championship ring. He has had a stellar career. However, he is currently a 33-year-old shell of his former self. In 14 years in the majors he has logged over 2900 innings including the postseason. All that wear and tear may have finally caught up to him. He no longer has the giddy up on his fastball. He breaking stuff is often flat. However, he has consistently pitched well enough except for one inning per start. The problem with this, of course, is that all the innings count. Not just the ones Sabathia pitches well in. Sabathia does not get a pass for his “One Bad Inning Disease.” The same malady affected his 2009 World Series Champion rotation mate, A.J. Burnett.
Before we demonize a guy like CC, who has come up big so many times for the Yankees and is 33 not 39 like his current maligned rotation mate Hiroki Kuroda, we need to remember that CC’s strikeout rate is up. We need to remember he is an innings eater, having thrown 200+ innings every year since 2006. And we need to remember that even though the days of CC as a Cy Young contender or even an All-Star may be over, he can still be a good, if no longer great pitcher.
In 2003, Mike Mussina was a 17-game winner for the American League champion Yankees. Over the next few years he saw his ERA go up and his win total drop, bottoming out in 2007 with an 11-10 record and 5.15 ERA. That’s when Hank Steinbrenner uttered his famous phrase telling Moose to pitch more like the ageless wonder Jamie Moyer. Moose would do exactly that winning 20 games in 2008, his final year in the majors.
Another Yankee whose career bears resemblance to Sabathia is David Cone. Like CC, Cone came up a flame throwing pitcher with the Mets and won the Cy Young in 1994 with the Royals. Then arm injuries and age robbed him of his best fastball. He responded by increasing the number of pitches he threw. He changed speeds and arm angles. He even developed a side arm pitch, The Laredo. He adjusted and made it work and while no longer the dominant ace he once was, he was still a key contributor on four championship teams.
Sabathia has already started to convert from hard thrower to a pitcher. He began working with Andy Pettitte in spring training on developing a cutter. He has spent more time in the video room analyzing hitter tendencies. It is still a work in progress. Sabathia has not quite figured out what to do when he gets in trouble and no longer has an overpowering fastball. But that will come. He is also a notoriously slow starter. As the weather warms up, I expect so will Sabathia. He may have been eclipsed by Masahiro Tanaka as the ace of the staff, but he can certainly pitch well enough to be the number 2 or 3 guy and contribute to another postseason run by the Yankees. And that ladies and gentlemen, are your Bomber Bites for May 5th!