Is CC Sabathia Back on the Hall of Fame Track After Resurgent 2016?


New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia will need to finish his career strong if he wants to end up in Cooperstown.

After three seasons as one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball from 2013-2015, New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia’s Hall of Fame chances appeared all but sunk. Through age 31, Sabathia had accumulated 54.2 WAR according to Baseball-Reference, which is ahead of where 44 of the 62 pitchers in the Hall were at that age.

Like his teammate Mark Teixeira, CC looked like a solid bet for Cooperstown coming into 2013. That season Tex suffered the first of several serious injuries that would plague him the last few years of his career and eventually force him to retire at age 36. The reasons for Sabathia’s sudden decline were less clear.

In 2013, Sabathia lost more than a mile per hour on his fastball for the second consecutive season, averaging a then-career-low 91.3. He missed most of 2014 due to a knee injury, and then lost another mph each of the last two years as well, down to 89.4 this year.

Sabathia also later revealed that the end of the 2012 season was truly the beginning of his battle with alcoholism. While it’s difficult to quantify how that issue affected his performance on the field, it is worth noting that after getting sober last offseason, CC came back and had his best season since his struggle with drinking began.

Whether it was getting clean, a new knee brace to halt the degenerative condition in his knee, or learning how to pitch more effectively with diminished velocity (or some combination of all three), Sabathia restored himself as an above average starting pitcher in 2016.

The 36-year-old lefty recently announced that he plans to continue pitching even after his current contract with the Yankees expires following the 2017 season. Now that he’s apparently adjusted to life without a premium heater, there’s no reason he can’t pitch another two or three years as long as he stays healthy.

Would three more seasons like the one he had in 2016 get him back on the path to the Hall of Fame? At the moment, Sabathia sits at 57.9 career rWAR with a JAWS of 49.5. The average HOF pitcher has 73.9 career rWAR and a 62.1 JAWS.

That’s a steep hill to climb, especially when you consider that Sabathia is undergoing knee surgery this winter just as routine maintenance to be able to keep pitching. It’s not clear how long his body is going to allow him to do this.

So what would it take to get CC into the Hall? It’s hard to imagine him topping the three WAR season he put up this year going into his late 30’s. To approach the 70 WAR mark that generally ensures induction, he would need four more seasons at his current pace. Impossible? No, but extremely unlikely given everything we’ve seen from him the last few years.

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It definitely works in Sabathia’s favor that he’s one of the most respected and well-liked players in the game. He’s loved by the media, his teammates, and the fans. If he’s on the cusp of Hall-worthy, that may be enough to push him in, but he’s going to need to do some compiling over the next few seasons to get real consideration.