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Yankees 2014 Roster Report Card: CC Sabathia

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Where have you gone, CC Sabathia?

Mike McGinnis

Grade: D-

2014 Statistics: 8 GS, 46.0 IP, 5.28 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 4.78 FIP, 4.80 K:BB, 0.1 fWAR

2015 Contract Status: Signed for $25 million. Two years and $53 million remaining with a $25 million vesting option for 2017.

I remember CC Sabathia. You probably do, too. The Cy Young winner, the ALCS MVP, the guy who went 74-29 with a 3.28 FIP across more than 900 innings in his first four seasons as a Yankee and gobbled up 22.2 fWAR, which was sixth among starting pitchers over that stretch. 2009-2012 Sabathia struck out 8.16 hitters per nine innings and walked only 2.45. His home run rate was a slick 0.77, even pitching half his games at hitter-hugging Yankee Stadium and his ERA- was a stellar 75.

At the start of this season, even after a disappointing 2013 that witnessed his first over 4.00 FIP in a decade and the worst ERA and fWAR of his career, there was room to hope that the old CC would return. Sure, he was a few pounds lighter, his fastball had lost a lot of its zip and he would turn 34 in July, but Sabathia's always been known as a consummate pro, a diligent worker and a student of the game. Why couldn't he follow the path of many who came before him and transition successfully from a power arm into a crafty finesse lefty?

It wasn't long, though, before most of those hopes were dashed. Sabathia was rocked for six runs on eight hits, two of them homers, in his opening day start against the Astros. Over the next six weeks, his velocity abandoning him even more so than last year as his average fastball clocked a career-low 88.8 mph, CC allowed four runs or more in six of eight starts and recorded an out in the seventh inning only twice. In 46 innings, he gave up 10 home runs and opposing hitters slashed .301/.346/.528, good for an .874 OPS, which would have ranked 12th, just below Adrian Beltre on this year's MLB charts.

As Sabathia's stuff failed him, his health soon did, too. After his May 10th start, he was placed on the 15-day DL with knee inflammation and soon transferred to the 60-day shelf. A fluid drain and a stem cell injection both proved ineffective during a brief rehab attempt in July and talk began to escalate about microfracture surgery - a potentially career-ending operation from which very few pro athletes have successfully returned. In the end, Sabathia managed to avoid that procedure in favor of the less invasive alternative of arthroscopic repair. While his 2014 campaign was aborted, he left with expectations of a comeback at full force in 2015.

Of course, that's easier said than done. The Yankees are committed to Sabathia for a minimum of $53 million over the next two years and it's likely that his 2017 vesting option worth $25 million will kick in, too, since it can only be voided in the case of a left shoulder injury - something he's avoided thus far. When the Yankees signed Sabathia to a reworked $122 million deal on November 1st, 2011 to buy out the opt-out clause in his original contract, they probably didn't give much thought to the idea that only one of the five or six seasons included would be anything CC-like. Now, three years in, that's exactly the reality they're staring down.

There aren't a lot of reasons for optimism about Sabathia's future, but a few strands of hope are still worth clinging on to. Despite his disastrous results early this season, CC's peripherals were actually quite good. He struck out 9.39 batters per nine in 2014 and walked only 1.96. He kept the ball on the ground at a rate of 48.3 percent, topping his career standard of 45.4. Even without much of a fastball to work with, he notched a respectable 10.5 percent swinging strike rate, and enticed hitters to chase 34.4 percent of his pitches outside the strike zone. Some portion of his poor stats can be attributed to brutal numbers in luck-based categories. CC was victimized for an unsustainable 23.3 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate and opposing batters hit .350 on balls in play, a mark .57 higher than what they've hit over his long career. This all comes from a very small sample, of course, but Sabathia's xFIP in 2014 was a hopeful 3.11.

As can be said for far too many of his teammates as well, the Yankees should view anything they get from CC Sabathia in 2015 as icing on the cake. If they count on him for a major contribution, they're asking for trouble. Still, if he can take the mound next year in a healthy state, keep the ball on the ground more and supplement his vanishing fastball with a slider that was still highly effective as recently as 2013, Sabathia could prove a useful fourth or fifth starter behind Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and whomever else the Yankees come away with this off-season just by recreating his performance from a year ago. Back-end reliability isn't exactly what you want for $25 million per year, but the sad truth about the kinds of contracts the Yankees are known for handing out is that if you're getting anything at all in the final few years, you're not doing all that badly.