New York Yankees Editorial: Placing CC Sabathia Back in the Rotation Would be Foolish


Just a few weeks ago, the Yankees were questioning whether or not CC Sabathia would pitch again in 2015. Now, his return is right on the horizon.

Wallace Matthews at ESPN reports that following a successful bullpen session in Boston on Monday, the Yankees are expecting Sabathia to re-enter the rotation after one more session on Friday.

"“I think we’ll be in a position to plug him back into the rotation [after Friday],” GM Brian Cashman said. “That’s the plan.”"

By any standard, that would be an abysmal idea. Sabathia’s replacement, the young Luis Severino, has been the Yankees’ most dominant starter as-of-late, and despite some recent struggles, there is surely no appetite to remove Ivan Nova, Nathan Eovaldi, Masahiro Tanaka, or Michael Pineda from the strting rotation.

The Yankees would agree, and counter that with an over-worked rotation, a six-man rotation, at least in the short-term, is not a bad idea. But the numbers indicate that that is simply not the case. Yankees starters are averaging 5.8 innings/start, less than the league average. And as a result, it’s the Yankees’ bullpen, not the starting rotation, that is overworked: the Yankees lead the majors with 131 relief appearances in which a reliever pitched more than one inning, and they are second in the majors in outs/relief appearance and pitches/relief appearance.

Moreover, Sabathia has been absolutely atrocious this year as a starter, plain and simple. The Yankees are just 11-13 in games he has started, and his batting average against, opposing HR%, and WAR are all by far the worst of any Yankees starter. (In fact, Brenden Ryan’s WAR as a pitcher this season is the same as Sabathia’s.)

In short, the Yankees are a worse team when Sabathia is in the rotation, and at a time in the season when every game is crucial, it would be ill-informed to start a pitcher like Sabathia every six days. While Sabathia has never appeared out of the bullpen, it’s worth a shot: perhaps his lesser durability as an older pitcher actually makes him more fit to be a reliever.

If not – and this gets to the crux of the whole issue – the Yankees need to start treating Sabathia like they would any other player. When asked in June about sending Sabathia to the bullpen, Girardi told reporters that “He’s a starter for us and that’s what he is and that’s what we are paying him to do,” in effect confirming all the suspicions that Sabathia’s contract was affording him special treatment.

There is no question that if Sabathia was not the highest paid player on the Yankees, we would not be having this discussion. His 0.1 WAR – which, by the way, is worse than Brandon Pinder’s and Chase Whitley’s, two pitchers the Yankees have had no qualms about sending down to the minors – is hardly good enough to justify keeping him in the bullpen. Placing him back into an already fragile rotation, on the other hand, would be nothing short of foolish.

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