In C. C. Sabathia's last eighty starts, he is 49-15. That, friends, is a .765 winning percentage. And yet, since he's become a Yankee with a fat paycheck, he's never really considered an elite pitcher in the eyes of today's most popular analysts. And this is puzzling. The Fan is torn himself about the lack of respect Sabathia receives. Lee is a better pitcher...so they say. Greinke is a better pitcher. Felix Hernandez is a better pitcher. Maybe they are. Today's metrics all rate those pitchers higher (in WAR) than Sabathia. It's considered old school to talk about wins. Wins are overrated. Anyone can win with a big hitting team. Except they don't.
It might have been Mike Mussina that said a really good pitcher will win half of his starts. Sabathia has made 317 starts in his career and has won 155 of them. That's pretty close. In those 317 starts, he has averaged 6.6 innings per start. His won-loss percentage in those starts is .642. Cliff Lee, who was a teammate of Sabathia's for many years, has a .625 winning percentage in 103 less starts. What seems to set Lee apart is that he's been crazy stingy about walks since the start of the 2008 season. And this year, the walk totals for Lee are astounding.
The Fan gets the numbers. There is xFIP which is Fielding Independent Pitching. Without going into great details, this strips out fielding from the equation and tries to rate the pitcher's true earned run average. Right now, in the American League, Liriano and Felix Hernadez are one and two. If we are talking about Cy Young Award right now, it would have to be those two as the front runners. All the stats place Sabathia around 20th in effectiveness. His xFIP (before Thursday's gem against Oakland) is sitting at 3.85. Liriano's is at 3.02 and King Felix sits at 3.26. The Fan gets it. So the Fan isn't saying Sabathia is the best pitcher in the American League this year. All he's saying is that the guy just goes out there every five days, pounds you for seven or eight innings and gets the 'W."
Sabathia has only missed about three or four starts in his entire career. He's like a clock, you can set your watch by him. He'll bend here and there with a few runs, but he rarely breaks. Other than opening day, Sabathia has had only two outings all year where he's pitched less than six innings. He is practically unbeatable at home in Yankee Stadium. He's as reliable as they come and it's hard to figure out where the Yankees would be without him the last two years or where Milwaukee would have been the year before that. For that level of consistency and that level of success, he's worth every penny the Yankees are paying him.
So yeah, maybe there are better pitchers. Maybe other pitchers should win Cy Young. But Sabathia deserves more credit than he gets and there is something to be said for winning 76.5 percent of your decisions out of the last 80 starts.