With the Major League Baseball postseason just one week away, we’re doing our best to sleep as much as possible so we can make it through the nightly 3 a.m. bedtimes baseball playoffs force upon us. And to preview the Yankees’ first postseason in two years, we’re taking a daily look at players vital to the team’s October success. Today: CC Sabathia.
Looking at CC Sabathia’s numbers from the last two postseasons, you have to wonder: Did the Yankees give him all that money despite his poor October track record, or would they have offered even more if he had, say, an ERA in the single digits in either of his last two series? We’ll never know. But it’s easy to see how they could ignore those numbers; They could look at his innings counts in those seasons (241 in 2007, and 253 in 2008), assume he was just overworked, and plan to keep his regular-season innings reasonable going forward.
This year, he’s fourth in the league in innings pitched — for what it’s worth, Justin Verlander is second — and depending on his last start, he’ll finish with somewhere around 233 innings for the season. But let’s, for a moment, assume that CC really was overworked and isn’t a postseason choke artist — after all, he beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS in 2007, and was fine in his first October back in 2001. Instead, let’s compare CC to the Yankees’ other ALDS Game 1 starters since their last World Series win, way back in 2000.
Sabathia enters this postseason with a lower ERA than the last seven Game 1 starters. And assuming he records two more strikeouts, he’ll have the most for a Game 1 starter since Roger Clemens in his 2001 Cy Young year. (And remember, strikeouts are a good indicator of postseason success.)
If recent Yankee history holds, his Game 1 start isn’t as vital as it will seem. They’ve won three of their last seven postseason openers, and gone on to lose all three of those series. Three times they’ve lost the opener and gone on to win the series. (Then there was 2007, where they lost the opener and also lost the series.)
Alex Rodriguez’s postseason shortcomings have conditioned Yankee fans to throw regular-season stats out the window if one can’t produce in October. We suspect Sabathia will be held to the same standard. In which case, we’ll only now begin to find out if that $161 million was money well spent.