By Barry Millman
By now, the lead of a CC Sabathia game story almost writes itself. The Yankees gave him an early lead and he gave it right back -- with interest.
A 3-1 lead when he walked out to the mound for the fourth inning became a 6-3 deficit two outs later for MLB's favorite batting practice pitcher and he was done for the evening. His final line: six earned runs on eight hits, including two home runs, to the lowly Phillies.
He faced 25 batters from the 25th- ranked hitting Phillies and they hit a collective .320 against him -- and for the first time after this game, team beat writers were finally asking manager Joe Girardi and writing about what this writer has been writing and saying for over a month; namely, why is CC in the rotation when better options are available?
Of 54 qualified starting pitchers in the league, his 5.65 ERA and .836 OPS are ranked 51st; his .306 batting average against is 52nd; his .500 slugging percentage against is 53rd; and his 17 home runs allowed leads all AL pitchers. According to Bill James' Average Game Score which measures a pitcher's overall effectiveness, he's the second least effective pitcher in the league.
As a back-end rotation starter where his only potential value is as an innings-eater, he only burns up the pen with abbreviated starts and the negative impact of his decaying skills are compounded by Joe's reluctance to yank him when he implodes in the futile hope each time he will right himself and save the pen, resulting in even larger leads to overcome for the struggling offense.
As a reliever, there would be no reason to hesitate giving him a quick hook when he lost his stuff. In the pen he would be able to continue working on his location issues without detonating 20 percent of the team's games and possibly rebuild his value for himself as well as the team. And for the pitcher with the third most innings on his arm in the game, fewer innings couldn't hurt.
He's shown he can still produce some quality innings for the team three, four and occasionally even five innings at a stretch. But so-called quality starts by even the most primitive definition have been too few to even refer to him as a starting pitcher with a straight face at this point.
With Ivan Nova back in the rotation, Adam Warren outdistancing CC and continuing to progress as a starter, and with the bullpen still desperate for a long reliever, the logic of sticking CC there is inescapable.
It could wind up providing the pen with the long man it needs, allow Warren to become the young gun he was always meant to be instead of returning to his role as a permanent bandaid destined to be traded or allowed to go free agent, and save the rest of the pen from becoming burnt toast. It might even allow CC the time and space he needs to fix his problems while being useful for a change in a new role that might make him tradeable down the road.
It's not like such a move would set some kind of precedent. The Giants, who have won three world championships in the last five years based on pitching and defense and face a similar rotation logjam, routinely have sent two-time Cy Young winner (that's twice as many as CC) Tim Lincecum to the bullpen to work out his problems when he has struggled. And Lincecum, gamer that he is and the team's highest paid pitcher, never complains and only says he doesn't merit a starter's role when they do.
Sending Warren to the pen would just be committing potential Jobacide on a perfectly competent starting pitcher who keeps the ball in the yard and gives the team a chance to win every start -- while leaving behind one who does precisely the opposite every fifth game.
You can email Barry Millman at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.