Homage to CC

It has been a while since I’ve posted, but it’s never too late to come back. For all who are reading this, many thanks for sticking around in some form. I’ve been finishing my dissertation and, between that, family, and work, it is all I can do to ensure that I am properly dressed in the mornings, much less find time for blogging.  I have also mixed in stints on the radio, for I co-host the Illinois-World Labor Hour every Saturday at 11 a.m. CT on WEFT 90.1 FM, streamed online at weft.org. I have also hosted some music shows at WEFT, including a show featuring jam-band and jam-oriented artists, and another on jazz. So in all, the time away from blogging has been busy, productive, and satisfying.

I felt the urge to write after seeing that my blog is still linked at LoHud (thanks to whomever is responsible for that, Chad, Sam, or someone else), which I noticed when I was reading their typically good work on one Carsten Charles Sabathia. Primarily, my initiative to write is him, for he’s simply been outstanding this season. While he has been great in pinstripes since the beginning in 2009, and cranks it up every summer in terms of velocity and performance, there has been something even more impressive about his 2011 season than the others. Maybe it is the lower ERA, the higher strikeout totals, going 8-9 innings of late when going deep into games has always been his bailiwick, all those factors combined with trademark pitch efficiency–maybe just all of it.

For me, it is that despite previous excellence that makes me wonder if he will continue to match it, C.C. not only does, but has surpassed expectations. This year, he has done so when the team has needed it most–with a rotation that thus far has overachieved as a group, that has missed Hughes for almost the entire first half, with a bullpen that has been terrific despite missing several key parts in Joba, Soriano, Feliciano, and Marte. C.C. has been more than reliable, his dominance has been reliable. This season, he has been every bit as good, as dominant, and as vital if not more so to his team’s success as Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, or Tim Lincecum.

The numbers are gaudy: 14-4. 2.64 ERA, 1.139 WHIP, 134 K/38 BB in 153 2/3 IP and 21 starts.

Broken down further, they become even more impressive. Only three times has he not reached the 7th inning this year. He has pitched into the 8th eight times thus far, including in four of his last five starts. His recent stints have been nothing short of brilliant, with his hits allowed diminishing a hit a game from 8 to 3 despite throwing at least seven innings each time out. He has only allowed 2 earned runs in his last five starts, and has struck out 50 in 39 2/3 over that span. Additionally, until the first-inning run yesterday against Toronto, Sabathia set a career-high of 24 consecutive scoreless innings. Despite going winless in his first four starts, C.C. has amassed a major-league best 14 in a season that still began well, but has become outstanding.

By comparison to his top counterparts Verlander, Halladay, Lee and Lincecum, C.C.’s season ranks with the best of them, with only Halladay perhaps surpassing him.

Halladay: 11-3, 2.45 ERA, 1.019 WHIP, 138 K/17 BB in 143 1/3 IP and 19 starts (admittedly amazing)

Lee: 9-6, 2.82 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, 137 K/29 BB in 137 1/3 IP and 19 starts.

Lincecum: 8-7, 2.99 ERA, 1.191 WHIP, 139 K/48 BB in 129 1/3 IP and 20 starts.

Cole Hamels has surely returned to alpha status this year (11-5, 2.71 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 124 K/28 BB in 136 1/3 IP), but my larger point here is to compare C.C. to the most dominant and consistent starters of the past several years and this generation. Hamels may become that, it would surely be a frightening thought to have the Phillies with Halladay, Lee, Hamels, and a healthy Oswalt match the Braves’ stellar rotation of the 1990s. Right now, however, I’d prefer to wait to see perennial consistency.

In the AL, while a few other alpha starters stack up to C.C. this year and merit mention, I will relegate my comparison to Verlander. While James Shields is having a tremendous year, as regular reader and friend Michael Fierman has reminded me, I wouldn’t put him in among the best, most consistently dominant starters of the past several years. Nor would I include Josh Beckett, despite his return to excellence, for he has vacillated between near-greatness (2003, 2005, and 2007, with 2009 being very good) and decent to sub-par seasons (2006, 2008, 2010) in curious every-other-season fashion. Jered Weaver has steadily improved to become outstanding, but his excellence is of a far shorter span than Verlander’s or Sabathia’s.

Since a down 2008 (11-17, 4.84 ERA and 1.403 WHIP), Verlander has been a true alpha starter, annually posting single-digit losses, throwing his second career no-hitter this season, and becoming a threat to do so every time out. Even with a bad start this past week, his 2011 numbers are ridiculous–12-5, 2.25 ERA, 0.898 WHIP, 153 K/33 BB in 157 IP–and his control, like C.C.’s and the others, is tremendous for a power pitcher.

Given the number of pitchers have standout seasons–the list of which includes Jair Jurrjens, Gio Gonzales, Tommy Hanson, Justin Masterson, former Yankee Jeff Karstens (for a resurgent Pirates team whose rise has me smiling), Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain, Alexi Ogando, C.J. Wilson plus more–the temptation arises to dub 2011 “the year of the pitcher,” as a few radio hosts on WSCR in Chicago have done. I am reticent to do that, and not just because I am here–in addition to not being blessed with the time–simply doing a limited year-by-year breakdowns of pitching statistics. I will save that for another time. Plus, the season is not over and, having entered the second half and the dog days of summer, hot hitting may arrive just as easily to diminish that moniker’s validity.

However, it is not a stretch to say that there is as much if not more talented young pitching to complement the experienced greats as there has been in some time. Perhaps it is this last detail, the overall excellence of the pitching this season, that makes C.C.’s own year all the more remarkable. Amidst this, with Derek Jeter’s reaching 3,000 hits in grand fashion (going 5-5, homering for #3,000, and driving in the game-winning run in the 8th inning), with Granderson’s resurgence, and with all the team’s injuries, C.C. has emerged as the Yankees’ best player.

Since 2009, but never more than at present, it is a pleasure and privilege to watch C.C. perform. He is as good as the Yankees have had on the mound in a decade or more–and does it cleanly and without the drama of Clemens. That he seems to be so universally well-liked is the icing on the cake for a guy who has achieved greatness, and deserved every bit of it.