Analysis

Yankees: Is CC Sabathia a Hall of Famer?

There was speculation that 2018 would be CC Sabathia’s last season, but given his effectiveness and his proximity to 3,000 strikeouts, the big lefty has decided that he will give it another go next year. 2019 will be Sabathia’s 19th, and perhaps final season and it may well be with the Yankees. But after CC hangs it up for good, how will his career be viewed?

Career Stats entering 2019:

Complete Games: 38 (Active Leader)
IP – 3470.0 (Active Leader)
Strikeouts – 2986 (Active Leader) (Career 17th needs 132 to move into 14th)
Win-Loss – 246-153
fWAR – 67.8 (51st Pitcher all time)

Led the league:

Wins – 2x
Games Started – 3x
Complete Games – 3x
Shutouts – 4x
IP – 2x
Batters Faced – 3x
Strikeouts/Walk – 2x
Hits allowed/9 – 1x

Awards

CY Young: 2007
All-Star: 6x
World Series Win in 2009
*Finished 2nd in 2001 A.L. ROY to Ichiro

Yes, CC Sabathia has had a wonderful career. He was one of the elite pitchers in the league for almost a decade and he’s had a late career resurgence as he’s figured out how to induce soft contact even as his stuff has diminished. At 38 years old, Sabathia is still putting up solid numbers, though he is no longer the workhorse he once was.

CC is only 14 strikeouts away from the magic number 3,000. If the 16 players with 3000 strikeouts, 14 are in the Hall of Fame and the other two are Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. CC will undoubtedly get widespread hall of fame support simply for his gaudy strikeout totals. If he pitches exactly the same in 2019 as he did in 2018, he could move up as high as 14th on the all-time strikeout list.

CC also owns 246 career wins, good for 51st all time. Despite wins being a stat have taken a beating in recent years in terms of value, but Hall of Fame voters will take wins into consideration and CC will not reach the magic number of 300.

However, there are not many pitchers with more wins than CC who aren’t in the Hall. Of the 28 other pitchers with 246 or more wins, but fewer than 300, 17 are in the Hall of Fame with fellow Yankee Mike Mussina still on the ballot.

Some voters focus on dominance during a career, especially one as long as CC’s. You don’t want to be considered a compiler, although many compilers have gotten into the Hall. Sabathia’s dominance should allay any compiling concerns. He won a Cy Young in 2007. He’s led the league in innings pitched, wins twice, complete games, games started, shutouts, batters faced, and strikeouts to walks multiple times each. 

Let’s not forget his unbelievable 2008 season where he probably deserved a Cy Young, but since he was traded from the A.L. to the N.L. didn’t benefit from a full season’s worth of stats in either league. In fact, he pitched 122.1 innings for the Indians and 130 for the Brewers. He was incredible for the Brewers down the stretch, when they seemingly pitched him on short rest his final four starts of the season.

CC threw three shutouts and seven complete games in total for a contending Milwaukee team, including a complete game on his final start of the season. Sabathia almost single-handedly willed the Brewers to a division series playoff berth and his performance garnered him 6th place in N.L. MVP voting, despite being a midseason acquisition.

Hall of Fame Statistics

There are a number of formulas currently being used to determine whether or not a player is Hall of Fame worthy. I’ve included CC’s chart from Baseball Reference below.
Black Ink
  Pitching – 22 (87), Average HOFer ≈ 40
Gray Ink
  Pitching – 174 (67), Average HOFer ≈ 185
Hall of Fame Monitor
  Pitching – 113 (80), Likely HOFer ≈ 100
Hall of Fame Standards
  Pitching – 46 (49), Average HOFer ≈ 50
JAWS
  Starting Pitcher (71st):
62.7 career WAR / 39.4 7yr-peak WAR / 51.0 JAWSAverage HOF P (out of 63):73.4 career WAR / 50.1 7yr-peak WAR / 61.8 JAWS

The metrics above more or less have C.C. ranked as a borderline Hall of Famer, and while I consider C.C. to be more in line with the average Hall of Fame starter (especially with the downward trend in Wins), these numbers bode well for C.C.’s Hall chances. Most of these ranking systems look at WAR and C.C. fares pretty well compared to pitchers who are already in the Hall.C.C.’s career WAR is higher than HOFers:
Juan Marichal
Don Drysdale
Rube Waddell
Hal Newhouser
Jim Bunning
Joe Mcginnity
Whitey FordWith at least one more good season C.C. could pass these members of the Hall:Stan Coveleski
Ed Walsh
Mickey Welch
Dazzy Vance and
Dennis EckersleyCC even has an outside chance at passing Bob Feller, though he would probably have to throw 200 innings.

Yes, CC certainly wouldn’t be an elite member of the Hall of Fame, but he would fit in solidly with the upper half of hall of fame pitchers.

Personal Life

I would be remiss without also pointing out that CC has struggled in his personal life and battled the disease of alcoholism. CC famously checked into rehab right before the Yankees began their 2015 playoff run. Here’s CC in his own words:

“It wasn’t until 2012 that I really thought there was something wrong. But I also learned how big the divide is between having a problem and asking for help. I didn’t seek out professional help initially for a number of reasons. One of the biggest things was pride. I thought this was something I could control. I never thought that I actually had an addiction or a disease. I figured I just needed better judgment when I drank, whether it was just sticking to beer or saying I’d only have a couple of drinks (which would turn into 10).

AsI said, I never really wanted to stop drinking. So I would start going through cycles where I’d try to stop cold turkey while knowing in the back of my mind that I’d drink again eventually. It would always be two or three months sober, then a relapse. Three more weeks sober, then another relapse. I wasn’t getting better.

“And that’s why I finally made the decision in October to get help.”

Had CC not been brave enough to seek professional help, I almost definitely would not be writing about his Hall of Fame chances today. With Hall of Fame voting, we always discuss the “character clause” when it comes to players who cheat, gamble, or are otherwise ethically compromised. I think with CC, voters should look at the content of his character and his ability to overcome such an obstacle as alcoholism to return and compete at the highest level.

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