According to the internet, 2016 was the worst year in human history. However, CC Sabathia might disagree. Before last season, common sense would have dictated that 2017 would be CC’s last year in pinstripes, as his contract expires after this year. However, in 2016 he made 30 starts for the first time since 2013, with an ERA of 3.91. As unlikely as it may have sounded, it might make sense to keep him around after the 2017 season.
The major part of his resurgence was his new cut-fastball. After his velocity began to drop, CC tried to reinvent himself as a sinkerballer, to little avail. Without his premium velocity, he simply couldn’t get away with pounding the strike zone, as he had less of a margin for error. Gradually and begrudgingly, he started to aim for the corner of the zone, even if it meant walking more hitters. In the second half of the 2015 season, CC had a 3.63 ERA, despite over four walks per nine innings.
Last year, he finally implemented his new cutter, which helped him generate weak contact with the best of them. Among qualified pitchers, only Cubs ace (one of them, anyway) Kyle Hendricks generated more weak contact than CC, a true testament to the trouble hitters had squaring up his cutter.
With 179.2 IP in 2016, CC was exactly one hitter away from averaging an even six innings per start. His FIP was at 4.28, but his newfound ability to generate soft contact might explain his .288 BABIP. Given the uncertainty of the Yankees’ rotation going forward, keeping CC around after 2017 starts to seem less and less crazy.
In July, CC said he has no plans to retire anytime soon. For what it’s worth, CC clearly feels comfortable in New York. His foundation helps put on a yearly basketball tournament, with proceeds going to charity. On a personal level, he has 2,726 career strikeouts. He struck out 137 and 152 batters over the last two seasons, so the pursuit of 3,000 might motivate him to stick around.
CC will be 37 at the end of the 2017 season, so it is highly unlikely that he would command more than a one-year contract. Some believe that Hal Steinbrenner is trying to get the Yankees under the luxury tax threshold after this season, with the likes of CC and A-Rod finally off the books. Re-signing him to a one-year deal does not figure to be a major impediment, assuming Hal is indeed trying to go that route.
The 2017-2018 free agent class is going to be full of top notch pitchers. Even after Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, there will be interesting options like Danny Duffy and Michael Pineda, in addition to hurlers like Johnny Cueto and Masahiro Tanaka, who can use their opt-out clauses after this season. For a team that is trying to cut costs, CC Sabathia might find himself near the top of the Yankees’ wishlist a year from now.
Data is courtesy of FanGraphs.