Oh Say Can You C(C)?

michael eisnerCorrespondent IApril 10, 2009

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18:  CC Sabathia talks to the media during a press conference to announce his signing to the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on December 18, 2008  in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

To the majority of New York Yankees fans, CC Sabathia looked great in Pinstripes...until last Tuesday at roughly 5pm EST.

Ah, if only we could be transported back in time to a place where Sabathia was throwing darts at opposing hitters, and registering goose eggs on the scoreboard.

Say, 4pm EST.

Baseball fans are fickle—especially those who belong to the Pinstripe persuasion. And by April 13th, nobody will know that better than Sabathia, who incidentally, had his name legally changed from "C.C." to "CC".

Must be nice to be rich and bored during the off-season.

But seriously, there should be nothing to be concerned about short-term—at least not after one paltry start, even if Sabathia walked five and didn't whiff a single hitter.

If you don't believe me, let's think back to this same time last season, where Sabathia finished April with a record of 1-5 and an ERA (7.76) that was more bloated than Jose Canseco's ego.

Statistically speaking, Sabathia suffered one of the worst opening months of any defending-Cy Young Award winner in history. But, with April showers came May flowers, as Sabathia threw two complete games, including one shutout, and posted a sparkling 2.44 ERA, despite a 2-3 record.

In June, Sabathia was lights-out, as he compiled a 3-1 record to go with a minuscule 1.89 ERA and 44 Ks in 38 innings and some change.

And with Sabathia's trade to the National League, his numbers just got stupid, as he led the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs for the first time since the Reagan administration.

In fact, Sabathia went 9-2 with a 1.56 ERA post-All-Star Break.

But what really sticks out is the fact that Sabathia completed 10 games in 2008. Go check the statistics of top-tier pitchers like Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt and Johan Santana—seven complete games between them.


The Sabathia of 2008 was a throw-back to an earlier time where guys like Nolan Ryan, Bert Blyleven, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton were throwing 15-20 complete games per season, and that's discounting the previous two generations of hurlers for whom the numbers are just off-the-charts.

It should be duly noted that pitching big innings early in a career could do more harm than good. Ask Jack McDowell and Teddy Higuera, both of whom flamed out almost as quickly as they shot to fame.

McDowell, who began his career with the White Sox and made stops with the YankeesIndians and Angels, won 17 games in 1991 and at least 20 games in both 1992 and 1993. He also threw 38 complete games in that span. In strike-shortened 1994, McDowell led the A.L. in games started. By 1996, at age 30, his ERA had ballooned to 5.11, and he was out of baseball by 1999.

Higuera, on the other hand, got a late start as he made his debut as a 26-year old with the Brewers in 1985. From 1985-1988, Higuera threw 44 complete games. He also averaged 17 wins during that span, highlighted by a lone 20-win season in 1985.

By 1990, Higuera's career had been ravaged by injuries and by 1994, at age 34, his career was over.

Is it possible that we are witnessing Sabathia's career-path move toward those of McDowell and Higuera?

To be fair, Sabathia, who will be pitching this season as a 28-year old, has only eclipsed the 200 inning mark three times in eight seasons, but over the past two he has averaged close to 245 innings per.

And it's fair to assume that the Yankees plan on pushing the envelope again in 2009 to get their money's worth.

Let's just hope that Sabathia's arm is around to finish out the contract.

The future success of the Yankees depends on it.