New York Yankees: CC Sabathia is Evolving into Andy Pettitte

Sunday afternoon, New York Yankees lefty CC Sabathia tossed 7.2 innings of solid baseball, surrendering just three runs to the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately for the veteran lefty, the Yankees weren’t able to provide him with run support, as they ultimately dropped the series finale, 3-1. But in every passing start and season, Sabathia is evolving and taking on the role that his former teammate, Andy Pettitte, did towards the end of his career.

This season, Sabathia has been a staple in the Yankees starting rotation. In 13 starts, the big left-hander has recorded a 3.30 ERA (which is the lowest ERA he’s owned since 2011), 57 strikeouts, and walked just 19 batters. And while it’s not a superb statistic, Sabathia’s 1.21 WHIP is the lowest one he’s owned since 2012. While he’s putting runners on base and perhaps making the Yankees sweat a bit in doing so, Sabathia has been able to prevail, working in and out of trouble. With Jordan Montgomery and Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list and Sonny Gray being a mystery whenever he takes the hill, Sabathia has been manager Aaron Boone‘s most reliable starter behind Luis Severino. Without him, the Yankees would likely be forced to entertain acquiring at least two starting pitchers at the trade deadline. Plus, Sabathia has been able to show up and execute in the playoffs in the past and just this past season.

When Yankees fans think of Sabathia’s postseason heroics, they think of him dominating the Los Angeles Angels in the 2009 American League Championship Series and taking the hill twice in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies two weeks later. Throughout it all, Sabathia pitched on three-days rest. Now, while his success in recent memory doesn’t quite match what he did in 2009, the workload today equals what it was nine years ago. Pitchers are babied way more today than they were 10 years ago, as the reliance has shifted towards building deep bullpens and getting starting pitchers out of games early. Based on that formula, Sabathia was very efficient and impressive in the Yankees’ surprising 2017 playoff run.

Outside of a shaky Game 7 ALCS outing versus the Houston Astros — where he surrendered eight baserunners in 3 1/3 innings — Sabathia showed up in the postseason. In the Yankees’ first round matchup with the Cleveland Indians, he surrendered just two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings pitched in Game 2 and did enough in 4 1/3 innings in Game 5 at Progressive Field, including recording nine strikeouts. One week later, Sabathia took the hill with the Yankees down 2-0 in a must-win scenario and delivered. Pitching six shutout innings, Sabathia helped get the Yankees back in the series, where they’d end up pushing the Astros to seven games.

Similar to revered @Yankees world champion Andy Pettitte, @CC_Sabathia is staying competitive and useful into his later years.Click To Tweet

Sabathia is old reliable, yet he’s been doubted going into every season since his 2014 knee surgery. But the last two seasons, this one in particular, he has taken the hill every fifth day and been a productive top-of-the-rotation arm. He doesn’t have the intimating heater he once had, but Sabathia is becoming adept at catching hitters off-guard with his breaking pitches — and it’s working. Isn’t that exactly what Pettitte did towards the end of his career?

Source: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images North America

To this day, Pettitte is regarded as one of the best left-handers and pitchers in Yankees history — the same way Sabathia will one day be looked back on as. In his three stints with the Bronx Bombers (1995-2003, 2007-10, 2012-13), Pettitte was held in high esteem, and rightfully so. He had one of the best curveballs in the game, was a true competitor, and never really endured a severe decline. In fact, you could make the case that the last few years of his career were the most impressive seasons put forth by the lefty.

After helping the Yankees win the World Series in 2009, Pettitte began to pitch at a higher level in the ensuing years. Recording a 3.28 ERA in 2010, he was able to limit teams’ offensive firepower, and, just like he did in 2009, answered the call in the postseason. Taking the hill twice and surrendering just four runs in 14 innings, the then-38-year-old was the Yankees’ most reliable arm when it mattered most even though they couldn’t get past the Texas Rangers in the ALCS. Sure, he put a lot of runners on base — like Sabathia — but Pettitte was able to work through trouble. He also pitched and won in back-to-back elimination games in 2009 versus the Angels and Phillies. And for what it’s worth, Pettitte has the most career playoff wins in MLB history (19).

Then, after taking a year off and starting just 12 games in his 2012 return, Pettitte bounced back and capped off a memorable career in style. Starting 30 games, and recording a 3.74 ERA, the lefty was able to serve as a reliable arm in the team’s rotation in the 2013 season. And in his final start, Pettitte pitched a complete game and surrendered just one run on the road against the Houston Astros.

Pettitte was never unhittable towards the end of his career, but the Yankees could always rely on him to pitch in the big moment and keep them in games. Fast forward five years and Sabathia is literally doing just that. This isn’t the dominant flamethrower that came up with the Cleveland Indians in 2001, or the overpowering lefty that helped lead the Yankees to the World Series in 2009; it’s an evolved, efficient, and productive veteran pitcher who has embraced his revised role and is playing a pivotal role in the Yankees’ potential title pursuit.

CC Sabathia continues to instill confidence into Boone and the Yankees that he can be relied on to give them valiant outings — which is all they could ever ask for at this stage of the 37-year-old’s career.

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