Much to the dismay of most Yankee fans, CC Sabathia is the team's scheduled starter for Thursday night's series finale vs. the Red Sox. Two thirds of the way through the 2015 season, it's looking more and more like the complete game masterpiece the big lefty delivered in Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS was the death rattle of a brilliant prime. Since the start of 2013, Sabathia's 5.08 ERA is second worst among MLB pitchers who've thrown 300 innings or more, trailing only the now unemployed Edwin Jackson in futility.
There has been some bad luck involved; his 16.2 percent homer to fly ball ratio is dead last in the sport for that stretch and his 68.9 percent left-on-base rate is near the bottom, too. His FIP is a less ugly 4.41 and if you believe in xFIP, it's a not-so-bad 3.65, though that assumes a league-average homer rate, and that simply doesn't describe Sabathia these days. His struggles have been quite apparent, as they are much more the result of diminished velocity (his average fastball speed has been under 90 since 2014), stuff (his current 8.8 swinging strike rate is a career worst) and longevity (hitters own a whopping 1.037 OPS this year once he passes 75 pitches).
Sabathia's 2015 numbers should come with a parental advisory warning. His ERA is 5.54, his home run rate is 1.85, the highest in the American League, and he's been worth just 0.4 fWAR, a number he achieved roughly every two games in 2011. He's allowed four or more earned runs in 11 of his 20 starts and he's only completed six full innings in nine of them, so the "keeping the team in the game" and "innings eater" defenses have pretty much gone out the window.
Why then, according to Brian Cashman, has the idea of removing a pitcher with that kind of recent record from the rotation not even been discussed? If the first word that comes to mind for you is "money" then you're not alone. Thanks to the deal the Yankees agreed to when Sabathia opted out of his previous contract post-2011, they still owe him $25 million in 2016, and most probably another $25 million in 2017. The contract allows for a $5 million buyout of that final year in the case of a left shoulder injury, but if it's anything else - elbow...knee...funny bone...lousy performance in general - then the Yankees are out of luck. It's long been suggested that the club keeps running CC out there thanks to a stubborn insistence on "getting the most" out of what they're paying him.
Obviously, if CC stood for Chris Capuano and he was signed to a one-year deal and didn't come with a 212-win resume, he'd be long gone by now. Still, the Yankees aren't keeping him in the rotation only to punish themselves for re-signing him. In their minds, every inning they get from Sabathia is one they don't need to get from someone else, and that does have some worth. Despite Sabathia's struggles, the team is a sustainable 9-11 in his starts, thanks to often compensatory performances from the offense and bullpen. As evidenced Saturday by Bryan Mitchell, a pitcher who has flashed promise but struggled with control in the minors, topping CC with "anyone...ANYONE!" isn't necessarily a given. Keeping him as an option has allowed the Yankees to stick with their goals on limiting other starters' innings. Even with Luis Severino called up and Michael Pineda due back by mid-September, their schedule features only two scheduled off-days after August 27th, so preserving that depth may still be a priority.
There's also the problem of what to actually do with Sabathia if he isn't starting. The .194/.210/.314 line he's held lefty hitters to this year suggests he might be decent as a LOOGY reliever, but an .853 OPS against along with six home runs allowed over 20 first innings casts some doubt on whether he'd be able to warm up and get going quickly. The Yankee bullpen doesn't really call for a LOOGY role anyway, since it features both Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve as lefties who face both-handed hitters. The team could simply cut its losses, release Sabathia, and eat the remaining dough, but the improbable resurgence of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez this year despite much similar talk has buoyed the resolve to not do that for a front office that's almost never cut players with multiple years left on their contracts.
During the many Yankee post-game shows, Joe Girardi and his players have spent a lot of time this season talking about the enjoyable clubhouse camaraderie. Sabathia is considered a leader in that regard, and may be the most popular Yankee, at least if the turnout at his 35th birthday party was any indication (although A-Rod only went for the free cigars). Girardi and Cashman may worry that a CC demotion would produce an acid-meets-base reaction in the chemistry they've created, particularly if his teammates feel his great career has earned the right to keep fighting through his struggles.
CC is sort of like that big bookcase you bought from Ikea a few years ago. At the time, it seemed like a great piece to house your Luis Sojo autographed baseball and your Tino Martinez bobble head. But since then you've picked up some better looking furniture and now it's just kind of taking up space in your living room, messing up your feng shui. The problem is you've got nowhere else to put it, and the thought of hauling it out to the curb isn't one you relish. Just like your fiberboard monolith, Sabathia's staying right where he is, at least for the time being.