Sunday, April 26, 2015

Boom! One-Time Workhorse CC Sabathia Now A Pack Mule Loaded With Dynamite

By Barry Millman

The Yankees' struggling backend rotation innings-eater CC Sabathia facing the MLB-best Mets' ace Matt Harvey?

Yeah, this game had danger stamped on it when the matchup was announced, no matter how hopeful you might've been after CC's eight-inning start against Detroit last Monday.

But even the biggest homers among us weren't fooled by that game. That outing was jam-packed  with hard-hit balls and laser shots, and only defensive gems aplenty and some luck kept that CC start from resembling this one.

About the best thing you could say about his Detroit start was that -- with more than a little help from his friends behind him in the field -- he managed to perform  his primary job description this season for the first time, which is to go deep into a game, save the pen  and give the team a chance to win. 

But his margin for error is tiny and when he can't locate or keep the ball down, his stuff arrives at the plate like the Hindenburg docking at Lakehurst.

I have no desire or stomach today to relive either CC's Detroit game or his Mets game here with blow-by-blow descriptions. The changeup he appeared to show glimmers of commanding in Detroit was nowhere to be seen in the Mets game -- except flying through the air in the opposite direction from which it was thrown.

Instead I'll just make two observations.

The first is that his final line yesterday against the Mets of 5 IP 7 ER 9H 2K 3 HR was remarkably similar to that of  Jacob deGrom, the Met's reigning NL Rookie of the Year and losing pitcher the night before, who left a line of  5IP 6ER 8H 2K 3HR.

The difference is deGrom's game was an aberration. He came into it riding a streak of 18 scoreless innings and an ERA of 0.93 after three starts, and even after such a shelling his ERA is still an impressive 2.96. 

CC's meltdown put his ERA at 5.96 -- not far off at all from his pre-Detroit 5.68 ERA.

In other words, to put it bluntly, last night's 7-run CC is the real CC. The eight-inning 2-run Detroit CC  is a mirage.

My second observation is that when I looked at some quick glance numbers comparing MLB starting pitchers, it confirmed my suspicions that the real CC isn't going to last long in this rotation if he doesn't become a different CC quickly.

Among 78 starting pitchers in MLB with at least 20 innings through last night, CC ranks:

* 76th in hits allowed: 31

* 74th in batting average against: .313

* 72nd in ERA: 5.96

* 66th in OPS: against: .814

* 61st in groundball to flyball ratio: 1.23

* 55th  in WHIP: 1.36

If he was any other pitcher at any other salary -- on this team or any other --  how long do you think he'd last?

I've always loved CC. When he had his fastball he was dominant, and even as he gradually lost it he remained a workhorse who would battle and fight to keep the team in games.

But  now he's neither dominant nor a workhorse,  and if manager Joe Girardi keeps leaving him in to be shelled when he's clearly lost his command instead of pulling him like he does when it happens to the likes of Adam Warren, then he's just a $23 million pack mule loaded with dynamite likely to detonate every game he starts. 

There's hope on the horizon though. Ivan Nova's coming back soon and there's some hot young arms tearing it up down on the farm, which means CC won't be absolutely essential to the rotation before very long. 

If pitching coach  Larry Rothschild can't help him turn it around by then, the front office can conjure up some  mysterious post-operative complication that will send him to the disabled list followed by some extended rehab time in the minors.

Maybe there,  CC can finally find the workhorse he rode in on.

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanforever.