2016 Statistics: 30 GS, 179 2/3 IP, 3.91 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 7.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
2017 Contract Status: Owed $25 million through 2017
Entering the 2016 campaign, CC Sabathia’s contract continued to look like dead weight on the Yankees’ payroll. He was the ace of their 2009 championship team and a perennial Cy Young candidate from that year through 2012, but the past three years had been ugly. In 424 1⁄3 innings over 69 starts from 2013-15, he had a 4.81 ERA (83 ERA+), a 4.40 FIP, and a 1.40 WHIP. Sabathia also battled chronic injuries, and with a degenerative knee, the threat of career-ending microfracture surgery loomed large.
Sure, a new knee brace helped Sabathia come up big down the stretch in 2015 with a 2.17 ERA in his last five starts to help the Yankees clinch a playoff spot, but his personal demons finally caught up to him as well, as he checked himself into rehab for alcoholism on the eve of the Wild Card game. No one really knew what Sabathia had to offer for the Yankees going into spring training. Although Joe Girardi was unlikely to do it, removing him from the rotation didn’t seem like the craziest idea, either.
The big man ended up turning the tables. After a rocky first three starts, Sabathia got into a groove and lowered his ERA all the way down to 2.20 through 11 starts, which sat among the American League leaders. He was even a dark horse candidate to make the All-Star team until fading a little bit prior to the break. After long hours with former teammate Andy Pettitte, the 36-year-old Sabathia finally figured out how to pitch with limited velocity, baffling hitters despite his diminished repertoire.
Nonetheless, Sabathia continue to post steady numbers. He frequently avoided the blow-up inning that appeared to haunt almost every start of his from the past few years. He allowed three runs or fewer in 21 of his 30 starts. He had a very brief DL stint in early May for a strained left groin, but his knee held up thanks to the knee brace, only requiring a clean-up procedure at season’s end, which was just about the most optimal outcome.
It was comforting to have a figure resembling the CC of old in the rotation. He went from a fringe starter barely hanging on to the Yankees’ only consistent starter outside of Masahiro Tanaka. Most importantly for his personal life, he looks to be capably handling his battle with alcoholism. That was always the top priority, and it’s wonderful that he is doing better.
Sabathia’s numbers at the conclusion of the 2016 campaign should merit some Comeback Player of the Year recognition. Perhaps the 9-12 win/loss record will unfairly paint his season to the eyes of the voters, but his ERA and FIP were both better than league average (92 ERA- and 97 FIP-, respectively), he started 30 games, and he dealt with a very serious ordeal in addition to his 2013-15 struggles. That sounds worthy enough to me.
As crazy as it sounds now, the Yankees will have to look to Sabathia for that same consistency in 2017. Although Tanaka is still there, Nathan Eovaldi’s injured and gone, Michael Pineda’s as enigmatic as ever, and everyone else is a youngster. If they have any slight hopes of competing next year, they will probably need another good season from the veteran. If it can be anything like his 2016, they are in good shape. Here’s hoping that he continues to be strong in his personal battles, too.