It seems hard to believe, but this is CC Sabathia’s 18th season in the majors. It may be his final year, depending if he signs another one-year contract for the 2019 season. If he returns for 2019 (depending on how his knee holds up), that likely would be his last playing professional baseball.
Sabathia’s had an amazing career, but does he belong among the pantheon of immortals who inhabit the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? I believe he does.
Entering play Saturday, Sabathia has 243 wins and 2,945 strikeouts in his major league career. He has a chance to become just the 14th pitcher in MLB history with at least 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts. Sabathia would be just the third left-hander to accomplish the feat, joining Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton—each a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
12 of the 13 pitchers to have 250+ victories and 3,000+ strikeouts are already in Cooperstown. Roger Clemens—whose career has been shadowed by allegations of performance enhancing drug use—is the only one not in inducted.
One might argue that few starters—if any— should make the Hall of Fame without 300 victories. The truth is we may never see a pitcher win 300 games again. The last pitcher to do so was Randy Johnson in 2009 with the San Francisco Giants. Among 4,713 pitchers to make their MLB debut in the last 40 years (since the start of the 1978 season), only four have won more than 300 games—Greg Maddux (355), Roger Clemens (354), Tom Glavine (305) and Johnson (303).
Only two active pitchers have more than 200 career victories—Sabathia (243) and Bartolo Colon (246). There’s no chance either will reach 300. Don’t get me wrong. I love the win statistic, as a fan of baseball history. However, judging Hall of Famers by victories is now a null-and-void practice. Pedro Martinez (219 victories) and John Smoltz (213 victories) are recent examples of pitchers to make the Hall of Fame without 300 wins.
Sabathia is a also gamer. He—arguably by himself—led the Milwaukee Brewers to the 2008 postseason. The former CY Young winner was acquired by the Brewers on July 7 for four players—including current All-Star Michael Brantley. Milwaukee won 14 of his 17 starts with the club to finish the season. Sabathia went 11-2, with a 1.65 ERA in those outings. The Brewers were just 27-29 with all other starting pitchers following the trade for the lefty hurler. He also completed seven of his 17 starts—a feat unheard of this era of “bullpening.”
In addition to regular season accolades, Sabathia provides a postseason pedigree. He was the 2009 ALCS MVP against the Angels, having won each of his two starts and posting a 1.13 ERA for the series. He won a World Series title with the Bronx Bombers in 2009 and is among the all-time leaders in many postseason categories. Most notably, he’s tied with Whitey Ford (22) for the seventh-most postseason starts in MLB history. Should the Yankees go deep into the 2018 playoffs, he may have a chance to crack the top five.
Most Postseason Starts
Andy Pettitte 44
Tom Glavine 35
Roger Clemens 34
Greg Maddux 30
John Smoltz 27
Granted, pitchers can make more postseason starts now than in years past, due to more rounds in the playoffs. However, the names listed above are among the greats of all-time. Sabathia’s inclusion on that list should not be overlooked.
Not only can Sabathia be considered an all-time great pitcher, he may also be an all-time great Yankee. I would not be surprised if New York retired his number 52 one day. You could argue he’s one of the top ten pitchers in the history of a Yankees’ franchise that dates back to 1903!
Notable Yankee Statistics with Team Ranks
Strikeouts 1,552 4th
Starts 276 7th
Innings 1,771 12th
Wins 126 12th
Think about it this way. There have been 784 pitchers to appear in a game for the Yankees. Only three have more strikeouts than Sabathia—Andy Pettitte (2,020), Whitey Ford (1,956) and Ron Guidry (1,778). Keep in mind though, that most of the pitchers ahead of Sabathia played prior to 1969. Here’s a look at Sabathia’s ranks since the start of the 1969—also known as the start of the divisional era in MLB.
Yankee Statistics with Team Ranks since 1969
Strikeouts 1,552 3rd
Starts 276 3rd
Innings 1,771 3rd
Wins 126 3rd
So based on these rankings, Sabathia is the third-best starting pitcher in the last 50 seasons for the Yankees’ franchise.
His career isn’t over yet either. There’s a chance he could one (or even two) more World Series titles to his resume. Regardless of the end result, Sabathia has proven himself to be one of the great pitchers of this era—both in baseball history and New York lore.