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Yankees 2015 Roster Report Card: CC Sabathia

From home runs to knee braces to rehab, 2015 was a long and winding road for the Yankees' hefty lefty. Will the old CC ever come back?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: D-

2015 Statistics: 29 GS, 167.1 IP, 6-10 W-L, 4.73 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 1.42 WHIP, 7.37 K:9, 2.69 BB:9, 1.2 fWAR

2016 Contract Status: Signed for $25 million with a $25 million vesting option for 2017. The 2017 option becomes guaranteed if Sabathia does not miss 45 games, pitch six times out of the bullpen or end the season on the DL due to a left shoulder injury.

Some day when CC Sabathia tells his grandkids about his great career, he probably won't include much from this past season. After a pedestrian 2013 and a disastrous and injury-addled 2014, the towering lefty showed up at spring training looking more like his old hefty self, hoping the weight he put back on would help reclaim his stature as a premier power pitcher. That didn't happen. With his surgically repaired right knee still barking, Sabathia, who turned 35 in July, put up arguably his worst year yet. He ranked sixth worst among qualifying MLB starters in ERA, fifth worst in FIP and third worst in home runs per nine innings at 1.51. His velocity did not return - his 90.1 mph average fastball was his slowest in a full season - and his stuff was less sharp and deceptive than ever. CC struggled with a 9.1 swinging strike rate and allowed an 80.1 percent contact rate, both personal worsts since his very early days in Cleveland. He wasn't even able to eat up innings the way he was in 2013. He averaged just 5.77 per start and consistently blew up after 75 pitches, allowing an opponent OPS of .994.

Sabathia's 2015 troubles didn't end when games did. He found himself at the center of a pair of bizarre stories on gossip sites - first when he got involved in a street fight in Toronto, then when he was photographed smoking something on an Atlanta hotel balcony. On October 5th, the day before the American League Wildcard game, CC announced that he was leaving the Yankees and checking into a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism, a disease he's now admitted suffering from since 2012. In a statement, he said:

"I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player."

Unequivocally, CC did the right thing by putting himself and his family first. He's now completed his in-patient program and is making progress, according to his recent interview with ABC's Good Morning America, though he still has a long road to recovery ahead. That he's getting his personal life under control should give the Yankees some hope for a bounce-back campaign in 2016. What might also buoy their expectations is that he allowed one earned run or less in four of his final five starts after returning from the disabled list on September 9th. Sabathia's 2.17 ERA, 1.28 WHIP final month, in which he held hitters to a .222/.320/.327 line, has been credited to the protective knee brace he started wearing. The brace supposedly allowed him to plant his right knee with less pain, letting him finish his delivery stronger and release pitches with more authority.

It would be awesome if the knee brace was some magical solution that'll bring back the CC of old, but that seems like a bit of a fairy tale. While his results were better in September, his stuff wasn't necessarily. According to Brooks Baseball, Sabathia's velocity actually decreased in his final few starts, compared with where it was in July and August, and his hard contact rate, at 28.6 percent, was right around where it had been all year. He didn't appear to be commanding his pitches any better either as his September walks-per-nine rate was an unusually high 4.03. CC's late-season success, unfortunately, seems more attributable to BABIP and homer-to-fly-ball luck that finally turned in his favor. He managed season-bests of .268 and 8.0 percent respectively.

There's always the chance that with his mind in a cleaner state and his knee farther removed from surgery, CC will find enough in the tank next year to at least be reliable. There were some, if hard to find, positive notes in 2015, particularly his .186/.235/.283 slash against left-handed hitters. You can't go through a season pitching every fifth day and avoid righty-centric lineups, especially when you share a division with the Toronto Blue Jays, but the drastic splits are a sign that Sabathia might be an effective reliever if he can't stay in the rotation for two more years.

While some fans might prefer it, the Yankees are not going to "cut their losses" and release CC or eat all his money to trade him. Still they need to be prepared for the non-unlikely outcome that he's physically done and that 2015 is what he is now. He's going to have a rotation spot when the 2016 season begins, but he shouldn't automatically get to keep it all year again simply because of what he's making, his status in the clubhouse and what's on the back of his baseball card. The Yankees can't pass on the top pitching that's available to them this winter because they're penciling Sabathia in for 200 quality innings. Odds are that's not what they'll get.