The conventional wisdom is that CC Sabathia had his worst season in pinstripes in 2012. That conventional wisdom is correct, but only because Sabathia gave the Yankees just 200 innings in 2012. That’s about 30 innings fewer than he gave the Bombers in each of his first three Yankee seasons. That drop off is the equivalent of about five starts. That’s worth a win or two right there. Other than that, however, 2012 was in many ways CC’s best season as a Yankee.
The numbers bear this out. Sabathia’s K/9 ratio of 8.87 was his best since 2008 and the second best of his career. His BB/9 ratio of 1.98 was his best since his Cy Young winning 2007 season, and also the second best of his career. His ERA of 3.38 was the highest of his Yankee career, by 0.01 points, but his FIP of 3.33 and his xFIP of 3.20 were both better than his 2009 and his 2010 totals. Sabathia did give up more homers this season. His HR/9 ratio jumped up to a bloated 0.99, from 0.64 in 2011, but even taking that figure into consideration Sabathia’s rate stats were actually the second best he’s done as a Yankee, trailing only his monster 2011 season. That’s why the big guy still managed 4.8 fWAR. If he’d pitched his usual 230 innings that number would have been closer to 5.5 and would have surpassed his 2010 effort.
The only real challenge to the big guy is therefore his ability to stay healthy. That’s an odd thing to write about CC. He has literally no injury history to speak of prior to 2012, but between the surgery he had at the end of 2011 and the two stints on the DL he required in 2012 it is suddenly a question that merits examination. Is there a risk that CC will start to show the wear of the five consecutive 230+ inning seasons he pitched from 2007 to 2011?
Only CC and the Yankees know for sure, but at this point both the numbers and the anecdotal evidence suggest that it is too soon to believe that Sabathia is a true injury risk. Most pitchers who are about to wear down stop striking batters out. That is demonstrably not the case with CC. Beyond that, once he came back from his injuries he was strong down the stretch and downright dominant against the Orioles in the postseason. That strong performance may have been because he was finally well rested at the end of a season, but it certainly wasn’t the kind of effort you get from someone who is battling injuries.
Over his first three seasons with the Yankees Sabathia established himself as the team’s unequivocal Ace and re-established himself as one of the game’s dominant starters. That reputation took a hit in 2012. Hiroki Kuroda even got some ink suggesting he was the team’s true Ace (apart from innings pitched, the numbers don’t bear this out). In retrospect, the demotion was undeserved. Apart from some time lost to injury, Sabathia was his usual beastly self. For that reason alone he’s earned the benefit of the doubt for 2013. If he can come out strong in 2013 then there is every reason to believe he’ll continue to be strong into the future.