Free-agent starting pitcher CC Sabathia (Milwaukee Brewers) has agreed to a seven-year deal worth approximately $161 million with the New York Yankees. The contract is the largest ever for a pitcher and the fourth largest in major league history. The deal is still considered preliminary but will be officially completed after Sabathia passes a physical and the remaining language issues are resolved.
Sabathia's dominance once he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the Brewers last season is well documented. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings with the Brewers. It's likely that part of the reason he was so dominant was because hitters in the National League hadn't faced him much in their careers. He struggled at times before the trade, though, going 6-8 with a 3.83 ERA with Cleveland in the first half.
After struggling with control early in his career, Sabathia saw his walks drop three years in a row before watching them rise from 37 to 59 last season. In fairness, though, he pitched a career-high 253 innings in 2008 with many of them coming on short rest. It's also worth noting that 35 of his 59 walks came with the bases empty, which shows he was more careful with his control once runners had reached base.
Sabathia has also struggled mightily in the playoffs, sporting a 1-3 mark with a 7.92 ERA and has 22 walks in 25 career playoff innings. While postseason struggles aren't of particular importance to fantasy owners, it may be an indication that Sabathia could struggle under the microscope of pitching in the American League East. Also, while it might be a moot point with a new stadium opening in 2009, Sabathia was 1-4 with an 8.61 ERA at Yankee Stadium in his career.
However, unquestionably the two biggest concerns in regards to Sabathia are his weight (officially listed at 290 pounds) and the number of innings he has pitched, particularly over the past two seasons - 513 combined including the playoffs. These are issues that may not manifest themselves in 2009, but they're something to be aware of.
The good news
Sabathia is a proven winner, averaging 14.6 wins per season during his eight-year career, and has been one of the game's most durable arms. He hasn't had an ERA higher than 3.22 since 2005 and is capable of racking up a ton of strikeouts given his workload.
Another positive item is that Sabathia doesn't have a huge gap between home and away numbers in his career. He has a 3.63 ERA at home and a 3.68 ERA on the road in 829 2/3 career innings in each split. He has been equally tough on lefties and righties as well with lefty hitters hitting .240 and righties batting .249 against him during his career.
Sabathia has handled his upcoming divisional foes well in the past. He has a 3.91 ERA against the Boston Red Sox, a 2.38 ERA against the Baltimore Orioles, a 2.44 ERA against the Tampa Bay Rays and a 3.46 ERA against the Toronto Blue Jays in his career.
His move to the AL East shouldn't be much of a detriment. In fact, one could argue that the offenses he faced throughout his career in the American League Central were more power packed than the lineups he'll face in the East, sans the Red Sox. One thing is for sure - Sabathia will get run support, which eluded him at times in Cleveland.
Fantasy baseball outlook
While one shouldn't expect to see Sabathia post the same dominant numbers he did with the Brewers, he's still in his prime as a premier fantasy starter that will be just 29 years old midway through next season. With the added run support, Sabathia could finally surpass the 20-win plateau in 2009. He probably won't repeat his 8.93 K/9 ratio last season as his career K/9 ratio is 7.56, and it was 7.81 in his Cy Young-winning 2007 season.
Sabathia's dominant second half and arrival in New York are sure to shoot him up draft boards, likely to the point of being overvalued. He should continue to be a consistent fantasy starter, but those drafting him before the late third or early fourth round are taking a risk and eschewing sound fantasy baseball strategy.
About Ryan Dodson
Dodson is a KFFL Contributor and has been with KFFL since 2002.
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