CC Sabathia: Could He Be the Best Yankees Starter of the Last 40 Years?

After signing CC Sabathia, the left-handed ace has given the Yankees everything they could have dreamed of, including a World Series ring to go along with elite production in every sense of the word. During his Yankees career, Sabathia has accumulated 18.8 fWAR, the fourth most among pitchers over the last three seasons.

While perusing the fangraphs leader boards, I noticed that Sabathia has already accumulated the eighth most fWAR as a Yankees pitcher going back to 1974, when fangraphs begins keeping track of pitcher WAR. This made me realize that Sabathia has been really good over the last three seasons, but also that the Yankees haven't had many pitchers make their mark on Yankee history over the last four decades, as the list features Ramiro Mendoza and Randy Johnson among the top 20.

Anyway, now that Sabathia will be a Yankee through 2016, and probably 2017, I thought it would be interesting to examine his chances at claiming the top spot on that leader board by the time his career has finished.

To get an understanding of Sabathia's current talent level, let's take a look at some of his numbers from the last three seasons.

Season Innings Pitched K/9 BB/9 HR/9 GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
2009 230.0 7.71 2.62 0.70 0.43 3.37 3.39 3.77 6.4
2010 237.2 7.46 2.80 0.76 0.51 3.18 3.54 3.63 5.2
2011 237.1 8.72 2.31 0.64 0.47 3.00 2.88 3.02 7.1
Average 234.8 7.96 2.58 0.70 0.47 3.18 3.27 3.47 6.2

As you can see, Sabathia has been remarkably consistent over the last three seasons, and even improved during his age 30/31 season. He posted his highest WAR total since his dominant 2008 campaign while also experiencing a major uptick in his K/9 of more than a strikeout per inning. He also posted the lowest pitching triple slash line of his Yankees career.

Taking a look at his Yankee averages, and considering he will be turning 32 by the time late July rolls around, it seems as if we still have some time to watch Sabathia in his prime. Another 7-WAR season or two doesn't seem out of the question, but expecting more as Sabathia reaches his mid-30's doesn't make sense on a lot of levels.

To answer the question of the title of the article, it depends upon if Sabathia remains healthy over the next six seasons. Part of what makes Sabathia so valuable is that he is not only exceptionally talented, but he consistently throws well over 200 innings in a given season. The only way for him to approach Andy Pettitte as the current Yankee leader in pitcher WAR is if continues to throw a lot of innings at a high level.

Additionally, even if Sabathia stays healthy over the course of his contract, we still need to expect some deteriorated performance due to age. Remembering conversations I have had with Sky Kalkman of Beyond the Boxscore, he recommends using a half-win drop per season when predicting future performance.

Assuming Sabathia stays on par with his current performance for one more prime season, we can expect 7 WAR in 2012, 6.5 WAR in 2013, 6 WAR in 2014, 5.5 WAR in 2015, 5 WAR in 2016, and 4.5 WAR in 2017. That leads to 34.5 WAR over the next six seasons, and added to the 18.8 WAR he's already accumulated, Sabathia would have accumulated 53.3 WAR as a Yankee. If that's the scenario, he would trail only Andy Pettitte by just 2.6 WAR.

If Sabathia signs a short deal after his current deal expires, or if he exceeds expectations in any of the above mentioned years, Sabathia has a legitimate shot at earning the title of the best Yankees pitcher over the last forty years, assuming health, of course.

It would take a lot of luck, as his should or his elbow could give out in the blink of an eye, but Sabathia has shown he has the talent and durability to become the next 'greatest' Yankees starter.

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