CC Sabathia Is Turning Back the Clock in October
October baseball can truly be an escape from the distractions of real life. With the country mired in a housing crisis and an economic recession, President Barack Obama has a lot on his plate here in his first term in office, and it's nice that the New York Yankees and CC Sabathia are providing that distraction with outstanding pitching during the MLB postseason.
Wait a minute -- this isn't 2009?
You could be forgiven if you thought you had entered a time warp while watching Game 3 of the American League Championship Series as the veteran Sabathia dominated the Houston Astros in an 8-1 win that gave New York their first victory in this series.
Houston still leads 2-1, but Sabathia was outstanding in Game 3, lasting six innings and giving up no runs on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts. It was the type of pitching performance he used to give when he was helping the Yankees win the World Series back when he was a perennial Cy Young candidate in 2009.
The last pitcher 37 or older with at least six shutout IP in a playoff game, like CC Sabathia tonight? Pedro Martinez for Phillies in 2009.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 17, 2017
Sabathia is not the ace pitcher he once was, although he did have a nice year this season, going 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts, striking out 120 batters and walking 50 in 148 2/3 innings pitched. His WAR of 2.9 was just slightly lower than the 3.0 he put up last year, but he was the team's "stopper" this season, going 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts following a Yankees loss, including the postseason.
Such was the case last night, with the Yanks in basically a must-win affair after dropping two close games in Houston.
Sabathia, who won the 2009 ALCS MVP Award, came into last night having made 20 career postseason starts (21 appearances in all) and had an October ERA of 4.46, but he's been excellent so far this postseason.
He pitched Game 2 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians and went 5 1/3 innings, giving up four runs (two earned) on three hits, three walks and five strikeouts. He then pitched in Game 5, going 4 1/3 innings and allowing two earned runs on five hits with no walks and nine strikeouts, helping the Yankees win three straight to shock the team with the best regular season record in the American League.
Yankees with 7 straight postseason home starts of 2 ER or fewer:
CC Sabathia (2009-17)
Whitey Ford (1955-62)
— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) October 17, 2017
Baseball executives have good reason to fret over handing out long-term, big-money deals to free agent starting pitchers in their 30s, because, in many cases, those contracts mostly become albatrosses for the teams that signed them. But Sabathia has been the exception to the rule. He was signed to a seven-year, $161 million deal before the start of the 2009 season, and although things looked bleak in from 2013 to 2015 -- Sabathia went 23-27 with a 4.81 ERA in 69 starts in that three-year span -- he has closed the deal on a relatively high note.
Over the last two seasons, Sabathia recovered much of his value, going 23-17 with a 3.81 ERA in 57 starts. He doesn't pitch deep into games anymore (he lasted into the seventh inning in just five of his 27 starts this season), but he's remained healthy these past two years and helped get the Yankees back to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
Sabathia's strikeout rate fell from 23.7% in 2013 to 19.3% the following year, and it has remained under 20% in each of the last three seasons. In '09, his fastball averaged 94.2 miles per hour (MPH), but he has seen that velocity decrease over the years -- now averaging 90.9 MPH this season. That's forced CC to become a different pitcher.
Sabathia has compensated by throwing breaking balls more often, hurling his fastball just 23.5% of the time. Among 90 MLB starters with at least 140 innings pitched this season, only R.A. Dickey threw his fastball with less frequency than Sabathia. Instead, CC relies on his slider (31.1%) and cutter (30%) to get by, with his changeup (15.3%) thrown in the mix, too.
In the postseason, his junk-ball repertoire has done the trick, silencing two potent lineups in the Indians and Astros. And thanks in part to his effort in Game 3, the Yanks' stopper has pulled the Bombers back into the series.
Just as he's done all season long.
Our models still have Houston as clear favorites, giving them a 69.41% chance to win the series, but Sabathia's Game 3 gem sets up the Yankees with a chance to knot the series at 2-2 if they can win today's Game 5.