Fantasy fallout: Sabathia signs with Yankees

After signing a record-breaking contract with the Yankees, will C.C. Sabathia’s be able to justify his contract and his fantasy draft position? (Icon/SMI)

Perhaps the most anticipated and predicted signing of the off-season, C.C. Sabathia has finally agreed to join the New York Yankees. The Yanks will be dishing out at least $140 million over seven years to bring the big man to the Bronx, and they’re surely expecting to get one of the top pitchers in baseball. C.C. definitely has top-shelf skills, but the big questions is whether or not he will be able to stay healthy.

Fallout: Sabathia

For sections that are divided, the left section shows his numbers with his actual team and the right shows his numbers translated to the Yankees.
Suggestions for improving the clarity of these tables are welcome.

| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | IP    | ERA  | QERA      | K/9       | K/BB RI   | xGB%  |
| 2005 |  24 | Indians | 196.7 | 4.03 | 3.96/4.03 | 7.4 / 7.1 | 0.28/0.27 | 50/47 |
| 2006 |  25 | Indians | 192.7 | 3.22 | 3.53/3.62 | 8.0 / 7.8 | 0.64/0.60 | 45/42 |
| 2007 |  26 | Indians | 241.0 | 3.21 | 3.30/3.40 | 7.8 / 7.6 | 0.70/0.66 | 44/42 |
| 2008 |  27 | Indians | 122.3 | 3.83 | 3.38/3.46 | 9.1 / 8.8 | 0.76/0.72 | 43/41 |
| 2008 |  27 | Brewers | 130.7 | 1.65 | 2.85/2.91 | 8.8 / 7.9 | 0.85/0.79 | 53/52 |

Note: I use QERA as opposed to the usual LIPS ERA because it is much easier to compute and is similar enough to LIPS for our general purposes.

Looking at the numbers, it seems that C.C.’s numbers will decline just a bit with the Yankees. The conversion from the Indians to the Yanks is pretty similar, but the conversion from the Brewers to the Yanks is more drastic, mostly because the Brewers are in the NL. His strikeout rate, for instance, would have fallen nearly a full point had he pitched with the Yankees last year. That has a big affect on his fantasy value. In fact, his Yankee K/9 would have been above 8.0 just once in his career (last year with the Indians).

Still, though, he posted great ground ball numbers in his time with the Brewers, and his K/BB Run Impact has risen every year since 2004. His Yankee QERA would have been below 3.40 for the past two seasons, and at age 28 that will likely continue. He surely would have been better off with the Brewers — his ERA will be a bit higher and he probably won’t be an elite strikeout pitcher (though still well above average) — but the Yankee offense will add some value in the way of wins.

Nobody truly doubts Sabathia skills, and he’ll surely be one of the first five or so starters selected on Draft Day. If he throws 240 innings again, his place in the top five will be wholly justifiable. The one problem, however, is that he’s no lock to pitch another 240 innings.

The main problem with C.C. Sabathia is that we really have no way of quantifying his injury risk. Rob Neyer at ESPN (by the way, congrats on the BWAA, Rob!) called it the “unanswerable question.” It’s a short article that I’d highly recommend reading, but the most important couple of lines come at the very end:

If I were considering signing Sabathia, there’s really just one thing I would worry about: He’s the most massive great pitcher we’ve ever seen. Sabathia’s listed weight is now 290 pounds. Maybe it’s because of rank political correctness, but Sabathia’s build seems to me like the elephant in the room that everyone’s ignoring.

There isn’t another pitcher like him, and never has been. What happens to 290-pound pitchers as they move into their late 20s and into their early 30s? If it were me trying to sign Sabathia, that’s the single unanswerable question I would ask the smartest people around me to answer.

As far as baseball analysis has come over the past few years, injury risk is one field that really hasn’t seen much research yet. Even if we had research, however, and could quantify risk based on age, workload, etc., we still couldn’t entirely trust those results for C.C. As Rob said, what happens to 290-pound pitchers as they move into their late 20’s? That’s where C.C. will be next year, coming off two straight years of 240+ innings.

The skills are obviously there, and the Yanks’ offense should net him plenty of wins when he’s on the mound, but will he actually be able to stay on the mound all season? Some say that, despite his size, C.C. has a rigid workout regimen and is dedicated to keeping himself fit. Whether or not that (if true) will be enough to keep him healthy, I’m not sure.

Whether you draft him will have a lot to do with your risk preference. Personally, I think there are better bets out there, but I really couldn’t fault anyone for drafting C.C. after round five of a traditional mixed league.

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Dave Studeman
Dave Studeman

Is Sabathia riskier than the average great pitcher or not?  Great question.

Derek Carty
Derek Carty
Hey guys, One question that I’ve received numerous times over the past couple of days goes something like this: “You mention using park factors from Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees will be entering a new park in 2009?” That’s something I meant to make note of in the article.  I was talking about the old park, but because the New Yankee stadium has similar dimensions and will experience similar weather, the old figures serve as a rough approximation. The one thing I worry about is the orientation of the stadium.  If it is oriented differently, the wind would have a… Read more »