Yankeeist's latest season review brings us to staff ace CC Sabathia, who I touched on in the Positive Storylines from the 2010 Season post.
Since signing the richest pitching contract in baseball history a little less than two years ago, Sabathia has been everything the Yankees could have asked for. Though they received ace-caliber years from Mike Mussina in his 2008 swan song (3.37 ERA/3.32 FIP/3.47 xFIP) and strong 2006 (3.51/3.46/3.63), it never really felt like the Yankees possessed a true ace since losing the 2003 World Series. Sure, Chien-Ming Wang pitched very well for the team in 2006 (3.63/3.91/4.16) and 2007 (3.70/3.79/4.23), but he never felt like a guy you would pin your season on, probably because he failed so spectacularly to do so when he was in fact thrust into that role (see 2007 ALDS).
Sabathia came in and promptly gave the Yankees a true stopper; a horse that you could feel comfortable giving the ball to and knew that even if he didn't have his best stuff he would still be able to keep the team in the game every single time. Sabathia's 2009 was worth 6.3 fWAR; the fifth-best season in the American League. Though Sabathia's 2010 fell to 5.1 fWAR (bWAR liked Sabathia a tad more in 2010 than Fangraphs, as his 5.4 mark was tied for second-best in the AL), given the Yankee rotation's struggles in the second half of 2010 there's definitely a case to be made that CC was even more valuable to the team this season, providing stability every fifth day in a sea of rotational question marks. His 2010 pitcher triple-slash of 3.18/3.54/3.78 bested his 2009 line of 3.37/3.39/3.82 in everything but FIP, and he accumulated his 2010 line in 7 2/3 more innings.
Here's a breakdown of Sabathia's 2010. All numbers are from Fangraphs.
After struggling in his first month as a Yankee in April 2009, Sabathia kicked things off in style this season, with a sterling 3.12 April 2010 ERA. In fact, the primary reason for the 2010 Yankees' amazing April was the fact that their starters -- save Javier Vazquez -- were lights-out during the season's inaugural month, with A.J. Burnett pitching to a 2.43 ERA, Andy Pettitte a 2.12 mark and Phil Hughes an eye-popping 2.00 earned run average.
CC had his worst month in May, getting lit up to the tune of a 5.15 ERA (5.48 FIP), with the low point of his season coming in the ESPN Sunday Night Marathon Heartbreaker on May 23 against the Mets at Citi Field. Sabathia gave up five earned runs in five innings in what ended up being his shortest outing of the season. After that outing Sabathia's season ERA sat at 3.86. However, the shenanigans ended right there. Following that lost evening in May, Sabathia would go on to make 24 more starts on the year and pitch to a sterling 2.92 ERA.
CC had his strongest month of the season in June, posting a microscopic 2.19 ERA (3.02 FIP) and authoring two of his best starts of the year -- eight innings of shutout ball against the Mets on Father's Day, a game I attended with my dad (and CC probably would've picked up his only complete game shutout of the season if not for an ill-timed rain delay), and eight innings of one-run ball in Los Angeles against the Dodgers in a thrilling 2-1 Friday night victory.
Sabathia continued his run of insanely good pitching deep into the summer, with a 2.30 ERA and 2.64 FIP in July, and allowing three earned runs or less in all six of his starts during the month; and a 3.12 ERA (3.68 FIP) in August.
In the final month of the season, Sabathia has four amazing starts, including eight innings of shutout ball against the A's at home; eight innings of shutout ball against the Rays at the Trop in an epic showdown against David Price in which CC recorded his highest WPA (.573) of the season; and 8 1/3 innings of one-run ball against the Blue Jays to lock up the team's playoff spot. CC did throw two clunkers in September -- one strange game against the O's at home (which I unfortunately attended) that saw Sabathia yield three runs before recording a single out, something he may not have ever done before; and a seven-run nightmare in a rematch against Price and the Rays at home.
While CC obviously kills it regardless of what side of the plate the hitter stands on, Sabathia was absolute hell on lefties this season, with a 10.87 K/9, 2.67 FIP and 2.56 xFIP. Sabathia threw slightly fewer four-seamers this year (61.5%) than he has historically (62.4%) and threw significantly more sliders (21.5% of the time in 2010 compared to 15.6% career). Sabathia had the fifth-fastest fastball in the AL (average velocity of 93.5 mph), though it was only 18th-best in the AL in terms of runs above average (9.3). However, that slider he went to more than 1/5 of the time rated as second-best in the AL in terms of runs above average.
One other important aspect to note regarding Sabathia's game last season is that even though he posted his lowest K/9 since 2005, he became a groundballing machine in 2010, with a career-high 50.7% of his outs coming on the ground, good for 10th-best in the AL. Sabathia also experienced a decline in FB%, falling to 34.1% from 37.3% in 2009; however, despite the decrease in FB% more of his fly balls left the park in 2010 (an 8.6% HR/FB compared to 7.4% in 2009; and 0.76 HR/9 compared to 0.70 the year prior). As great as Sabathia was, he was also the beneficiary of the second-most Runs Scored per Nine Innings in the league (6.13), right behind rotation-mate Phil Hughes (7.45).
Ultimately, though Fangraphs has Sabathia's 2010 being worth $20.4, it's impossible to argue against Sabathia having been worth every penny of his $23 million salary. Between yet another awesome regular season in pinstripes, along with two postseason outings in which he wasn't at his best yet still gutted out strong performances despite pitching with a meniscus tear that was apparently present for much of the season, his 2010 campaign was nothing short of stellar, and he could be even more beastly in 2011 with a fully healed knee.