This was the track record CC Sabathia brought into 2016: Cy Young award winner, ALCS MVP, six-time All-Star, 2,574 strikeouts. Even with this accomplished resume, Sabathia still found himself fighting for a spot in the rotation during spring training. With a track record like that, one would imagine his rotation spot is locked. Unfortunately for him, in addition to his impressive resume Sabathia also brought the memories of his last few seasons with him.
On August 29th of last year, Sabathia and his 5.27 ERA went on the disabled list with right knee soreness. He returned on September 9th with hope and a shiny new knee brace. Hope for the tail end of his career. In the five starts after returning from the disabled list, Sabathia pitched to a 2.17 ERA. He proved to himself that he could still get major league players out.
Personally, his track record along with the way he ended his season was reason enough to give Sabathia a crack at the rotation right off the bat. The Yankees, however, didn't feel that comfortable just handing him the spot. They instead held a competition between Sabathia and Ivan Nova. (Once again, reason enough for me to hand the job to Sabathia).
After a pretty even spring training competition where neither player was particularly spectacularly, Sabathia "won" the rotation job. Part of me still believes that it wasn't a real competition. Sabathia would have had to completely fall apart to not get the spot. Either way, the Yankees decided to bet on their former ace over whatever Nova is at this point. Nova's past experience in the bullpen probably also helped solidify the decision.
Early on at least, it seems as though the Yankees made the right call. Even prior to Wednesday's start, I found myself not as turned off by a Sabathia start as I had been the past few seasons. Obviously a gem like Wednesday's seven-inning shutout helps his cause, but he's been far from the Yankees worst starter. That honor belongs to Michael Pineda.
The biggest knock on Sabathia's season so far has been length. However, this is a problem facing all Yankee starters not named Masahiro Tanaka. Out of his five starts, he's failed to make it out of the fifth inning twice. Although one of those two outings could be attributed to Joe Girardi being careful. During the April 22nd start against the Rays Sabathia only pitched 4.2 innings, but also only threw 80 pitches. In his other starts he's gone at least six innings, including Wednesday when he pitched seven shutout innings. So it's not like he's always leaving it up to the bullpen.
Comparatively, Ivan Nova has been exactly as expected out of the bullpen. It's hard to judge fairly because pitching out of the bullpen is not the same as starting but this is exactly the story of Ivan Nova. Ever since he made his major league debut in 2010, Nova has been one of the hardest pitchers to figure out. For every "Super Nova" outing he'll have, he'll have an equally "Rotten Nova" outing.
For example, this year Nova has appeared in six games and given up earned runs in precisely three of them. His first outing was a brilliant four inning performance against the Astros where he showed exactly how good he can be. His next outing he got torched for four runs in one inning of work. These inconsistencies are what has defined Nova's career thus far, no matter how good he thinks he is.
"If you ask me who the best pitcher in the world is, I'd say me." - Ivan Nova— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 20, 2012
Obviously, every athlete in the world should believe they're very good, possibly even the best, at what they do. Nova saying this is always amusing because he does have his flashes of being good or effective, he just hasn't shown any consistency with that in years.
To start the season Sabathia might have only had a handful of starts to prove that he should stay before possibly being demoted to the bullpen. Fortunately, however, Sabathia seems to be rewarding the Yankees' faith in him. Prior to Sabathia's outing on Wednesday, some may have argued that he wasn't making the strong case to stay in the rotation. On the other hand, the only person that could threaten his job also hasn't been making a strong case to be a part of the rotation. Let's just hope Sabathia has more outings like Wednesday's and continues making the Yankees' decision look like a good one.
For now though, praise be.