News broke yesterday that CC Sabathia may not pitch again this season (note: we've since learned that Sabathia may only be out for fifteen days and does not require surgery on his knee, but it remains to be seen if that will remain the case). He left his start over the weekend in the third inning, and an MRI revealed inflammation in his right knee. He's been placed on the DL and Joe Girardi told reporters without being prompted to do so that we may have seen the last of Sabathia in 2015. The news is a mixed bag for the Yankees in that CC has actually pitched fairly well this month (3.80 ERA in 21.1 innings), but has been largely ineffective over the course of the whole season. He's also a massive presence in the dugout and clubhouse, and while CC will likely still be around the team if he doesn't take the mound again this year, there's something to be said for seeing the emotional leader of the staff go out to pitch.
However, there's also another matter to be considered in this case. CC's right knee is the one that has been giving him so much trouble of late. He considered having micro-fracture surgery on it this winter, which is an operation that can quickly derail a career if not end it altogether. There's no telling what this latest injury well end up resulting in, but one has to wonder just how much poking and prodding Sabathia's knee can take before he has to hang up his spikes. He won't be doing so in vain if that comes to pass.
Sabathia has had a rough few seasons, and they've overshadowed what's been a brilliant career and a solid stint in pinstripes. He leads all active pitchers with 60.1 fWAR, and has contributed to 25.3 wins to the Yankees. He also leads all active pitchers in strikeouts (2550) and trails only Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson in innings pitched. He trails only David Cone and Roger Clemens among Yankees starters in strikeouts per nine innings. His 230 innings of 3.37 ERA ball lead the Yankees to a World Series title, and worked a 1.98 ERA in the postseason that year. He has been a workhorse in every sense of the word, and carried the team on his left arm for quite some time. The Yankees are known for their bats, and rightfully so, but CC Sabathia was as integral as any position player to those teams.
We all know how the last few years have gone. Sabathia's age and immense workload have caught up with him. The heat of his fastball is nearly gone, and more and more of his offerings are sailing over the outfield wall. The raw frustration with him in the media and among fans is unrelenting at times. The calls for Sabathia to be moved to the bullpen reached a fever pitch this season. They were not without merit. Even with his recent resurgence, right-handed hitters can still lay claim to a .319/.374/.532 line against him along with 23 home runs. Their .388 wOBA against him is just a hair over what Andrew McCutchen has accomplished this season. That, in short, is not good.
Every now and then we caught a glimpse of the old Sabathia. His velocity had ticked up slightly this month, and perhaps that extra strain is what set his knee off again. This is what the end of high-workload starters' careers look like unless they are made of titanium like Buehrle. Not all pitchers can be Mark Buehrle, but CC has had a better overall career. In fact, he's had a better overall career than any other active starting pitcher. He's been in the league since 2001 and has won 212 games in that time. Only the ageless Bartolo Colon and Tim Hudson have more. This may not be the end of CC Sabathia, but the end looks awfully close. We'll always have the good times, and some of those good times happened so recently.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.