Sabermetrics have taken a lot of the doubt out of analysis. We can continually break down performance into more and more granular elements, allowing a deeper understanding of a particular player than ever before. We’ll never know how Babe Ruth fared against curve balls, but today I can tell you how often Mike Trout swings at pitches out of the zone.
This leads to an awful lot of fun when you have a player that the metrics are confused about. Case in point: CC Sabathia. The old lefty has had a roller coaster of 2018, varying between solid, better than solid, and unwatchably bad. As we head towards the offseason one way or another, Sabathia’s on the last days of his one-year, $10mm deal, and the Yankees are going to have to make a decision about whether to bring him back. For his part, CC says he can pitch one more season, in no small part because he wants to visit London for the Yankees-Red Sox series there.
It’s pretty unclear whether CC would be worth bringing back, though. His half splits…don’t really make sense.
Neither does his contact:
It’s pretty muddy. Sabathia is striking out more batters in the second half, but also walking more. He’s been worse at raw runs allowed, but better in his process overall. He induces fewer ground balls and soft contact, but his hard contact rate has also dropped. He’s even throwing pretty much the same strike percentage, his two halves split by just 0.5%. It’s weird.
The two big drawbacks to CC have been strength of opponent and that combination of line drives with medium contact. First of all, CC’s been matched up with the bottom of the league in the second half, where seven of his 11 starts have come against Baltimore, Texas, Toronto, Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox. This could skew his results to a degree, especially when evaluating that burgeoning strikeout rate.
The second strike against Sabathia has been where his contact has clustered. Medium contact, right around 90 mph exit velocity, when combined with the launch angle of a line drive, fits into the “Goldilocks” zone of contact, with a hit probability of around 90%. These are the solid base hits that are too hard and too high for an infielder to snag, but hit soft enough that they land in front of outfielders, and they’ve become the bane of Sabathia’s existence.
Still, there’s an awful lot of value in producing 150 innings of league average run prevention. In fact, it’s probably worth right around the one-year, $10mm deal Sabathia’s on already. The trouble is, the value curve for below average run prevention is pretty steep, and if you believe that age, injury and a degenerating process will hurt CC, he doesn’t carry much value at all in the modern market.
In the end, baseball may have just passed CC by, but even that’s not in stone. He had three real suitors in the last offseason, being courted by the Toronto Blue Jays, LA Angels and of course the Yankees. That was a notoriously bearish market for older players, and Sabathia had a real choice of where to go. It’s yet to be seen if that market will exist in two months, but if a team with a hole at the bottom of the rotation – which is pretty well every team – can’t fill it with a Dallas Keuchel or Patrick Corbin, Sabathia may be able to evade Father Time for one more year at least.