CC Sabathia is undoubtedly the Yankees best starting pitcher. Barring any do-or-die regular season scenarios or injury, CC will open the first game of the Yankees’ playoff run (if they make it) and they will need him if they want to win another World Series. He is the Yankees’ unanimous ace; but is he pitching like one in 2011?
The numbers are solid: 9 wins with a 3.39 ERA. He has been stable all season and continues to give the Yankees’ quality innings, leading the team with 114 IP and second only to Verlander in the AL. However, when you look closer and think about some of his performances, you realize he is not quite pitching like the ace the Yankees will need him to be in order to win another World Series title.
CC’s WHIP in 2011 is above his career mark, and .067 above his 2+ year career as a Yankee. He is giving up more hits and striking out fewer batters per nine innings than he has in any of his last four seasons while allowing a batting average against of .255, ten points higher than his career average. Most concerning, CC has allowed a .324 average with men on base and a .280 average with runners in scoring position— 67 and 27 points higher than his career averages, respectfully. He is 0-3 with a 6.16 ERA in three starts versus Boston. This is especially concerning because the Red Sox are susceptible to left-handed pitching but seem to have figured CC out.
The good news for the Yankees is that CC tends to get stronger as the year progresses, a trait that makes him one of the best pitchers in Baseball. As the weather gets warmer and pitchers break-down, CC will maintain stamina and continue to give the Yankees quality innings.
If his numbers do not improve however, it will be interesting to see how the Yankees negotiate with him when he uses his opt-out clause—assuming he will—at the end of the season. I expect the Yankees to give him a two or three year extension to his four remaining years at about the same average annual value, taking him through his thirty-eighth birthday. When it is all said-and-done, the Yankees will have signed CC to nine or ten years for over $200 million. Sabathia has the Yankees by the throat (the irony is all signs indicate CC does not want to go anywhere, but Cliff Lee has set a standard for 30+ year old pitchers). Nevertheless, the Yankees will overpay and overextend themselves to keep Sabathia in the Bronx.