At their respective best, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte didn't really have too much in common, beyond both being southpaws.
Sabathia was a full two years younger than Pettitte when he reached the big leagues. While Pettitte's best season eclipses Sabathia's best (2005 in Houston when he went 17-9 over 222 IP, 1.03 WHIP and 177 ERA+), by every other measure, Sabathia comes out ahead. Sabathia has the higher five-year and seven-year peaks, the better career numbers, more All-Star selections and more Cy Young votes (including a win in 2007).
But as the big lefty mounts his latest comeback, he's got plenty to learn from the former Yankee ace. And at least in his postgame press conference the other night, he said the right things about learning from Andy:
"Changeup has got to be up there for me, just because it’s a big pitch for me," he said. "I want to be able to throw it in any count, at any time. When I got here, that’s how it was, and I want to get back to that."
Sabathia said he wants to focus on his changeup in the bullpen before his next start. Tonight he got one strikeout on a cutter, and he got the other on a two-seam fastball.
"That’s the Andy pitch," Sabathia said. "I think if you look at the way I pitch right now, past five years, a lot reflects what me and Andy (Pettitte) have talked about: moving the ball in and out, throwing my two-seamer in to righties. He’s had a huge influence on me."
Obviously, at this stage of their careers, there are more comparisons to make. It's easy to get nostalgic about Pettitte's second tour in pinstripes, because he ended on such a high note: his 2013 saw him throw 180+ innings at league average ERA. After the last couple years, Sabathia would certainly sign up for that. But it's important to remember that Pettitte was injured for significant stretches of 2010 and 2012, and sat out all of 2011.
We've all talked about Sabathia needing to learn to pitch with diminished "stuff." It's about moving the two-seamer in and out, and developing a backup plan for the days when the change isn't working. But it's also about health. He's had a couple rough years, but if he wants to have a Pettitte-like second act in his career, then he needs to figure out how to stay healthy, too.
The most impressive part of Pettitte's second act was his consistency. Aside from Hiroki Kuroda, I can't think of another pitcher who so rarely failed to live up to my expectations. Look at his 2013: 22 of 30 starts with at least 6 innings pitched, and only 5 starts with less than 5. 23 starts with 3 runs or fewer. If Sabathia could find that sort of consistency, and keep the team in the game every time or nearly every time he takes the hill, then I'll start to buy into the talk that this team has playoff aspirations.
How good do you think Sabathia can be this year?