When CC Sabathia joined the New York Yankees via free agency in 2009, expectations were high for the former American League Cy Young Award winner. Sabathia promptly delivered, helping the Yankees win the World Series in his first season with the team.
Expectations for Sabathia might not be as high now as the lefty begins the final year of his contract, but his value to the team might never be greater. Here I give you 10 reasons why Sabathia will have a big year in 2017.
1. Sabathia is a leader.
Leaders lead from the front. Leaders lead by example. Leaders do what they say and say what they mean. Leaders take responsibility when they make a mistake. They even take responsibility when other members of the team make a mistake. When they do well, they give credit to the team.
CC Sabathia is an exceptional leader. He does all those things and much more. Sabathia mentors the younger pitchers. He takes players under his wing, making them feel important to the team and welcome in the clubhouse.
Sabathia had already been the leader of the pitching staff, but with the departure of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, he has now become an important leader of the team overall. He takes his leadership responsibilities seriously, and I believe that this will contribute to increased success on the mound for him.
2. Sabathia is healthy.
Sabathia had arthroscopic surgery in October 2016 on his right knee, which was described as "routine cleanup." He was expected to be ready for spring training, and he was. It was expected that there would be no issues with the knee during the 2017 season, and so far there haven’t been.
Sabathia is now several years removed from major knee surgery, and the expectation is that he will be stronger and healthier this season. He has also reported feeling much more comfortable pitching with his knee brace.
It is now 18 months since Sabathia entered rehab for alcoholism treatment. Alcoholism is a disease that adversely affects a person's physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. It takes time to recover from its devastating effects. Now 18 months into recovery, Sabathia has likely seen positive effects throughout his life. Look for this to also contribute to increased performance on the mound.
3. Sabathia is a gamer.
Sabathia's competitiveness is apparent to anyone who has ever watched him pitch. He plays to win. He understands the role of the starting pitcher well, and takes this job seriously. He is always aware of the game situation, and he does everything he can to keep the team in the game and to give it a chance to win. Look for this to continue -- if not increase -- particularly with the Yankees currently in first place in the AL East.
4. Sabathia has adjusted his style.
CC Sabathia has successfully adjusted his pitching style and repertoire to compensate for decreased velocity. There was some doubt as to whether or not he would be able to do it, but he has. He has sought and received help from Andy Pettitte to accomplish this. Look for CC to continue to make adjustments as needed and to seek help as needed.
5. Sabathia will build on 2016.
CC Sabathia had a bounce-back year in 2016. He pitched 179 2/3 innings with a 3.91 ERA, good for 17th in the AL. He made 30 starts, the first time he hit this mark since 2013 when he made 32. He was a top-tier number-two starter last season. Could he take a step backwards and head towards decline? Sure, but I don't think he will. Look for him to build on the year he had last year.
6. It's a contract year for Sabathia.
Unless the Yankees sign him to a contract extension, Sabathia will enter free agency following this season. He has already stated that he intends to continue pitching next year. His performance in 2017 will likely have a very large impact on the quality and quantity of contract offers that he receives.
Successful people are rarely motivated solely by money. Sabathia is one of those people. Prior to signing with the Yankees, he spent a lot of time investigating the schools that his children could possibly go to. His family's happiness is obviously important to him. CC will be extra motivated to have a good year so that he receives desirable offers in the offseason.
7. This could be Sabathia's final year as a Yankee.
Sabathia has stated that he wants to continue playing for the Yankees next year. The Yankees have not yet given any public indication as to whether this feeling is mutual, and we don't know if they will make any attempt to keep him. CC is a proud pinstriper and will look to go out on top if this is indeed his final year with the franchise.
8. Sabathia is a crafty veteran.
CC knows how to make adjustments during a game and throughout the season to remain effective. Not all veterans possess this quality. The fact that Sabathia does gives him a big advantage. He will use this advantage.
9. Sabathia is smart.
CC is an intelligent man. He studies the game and he knows the game. He puts his knowledge to good use. He works hard and is not one to rest on his laurels. He knows how to stay sharp and focused.
10. Sabathia is an ace.
CC Sabathia entered spring training of the 2016 season competing for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. He ended up out-performing more than one pitcher who had been designated as their team's ace.
CC has an ace mentality. He hasn't been the Opening Day pitcher for the Yankees in a while, and he may not be their most effective pitcher anymore, but he is still is an ace at heart.
Expect a big year from CC Sabathia in 2017. Will he win the Cy Young Award? I will not make that prediction. But I do think he will improve upon last year's results. I think he will have his best year since 2012, when he went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA and was an All-Star.
What do you think? What do you expect to see from CC Sabathia in 2017?