You either know that CC Sabathia may be on his way to the best season of his career, or you don’t follow the Yankees (and probably baseball). The purpose of this post isn’t to gush all over the screen about how awesome CC is (although I thought about it). Instead, I want to see precisely where the big guy stacks up. He is, without question, one of the best three or four pitchers in the American League. Is he the best?
He is, according to fWAR. In fact, Sabathia’s fWAR of 5.8 is the best in either league, making the Yankee Ace the best pitcher on a little planet I like to call Earth. While fWAR is an excellent all around metric for quickly assessing players, it isn’t the only stat out there. With that in mind, I wanted to cull a variety of statistics — mostly from Fangraphs, but bWAR as well — to see if CC was truly the best. I used fWAR as my initial barometer. The next three best pitchers in the AL, according to fWAR, are Justin Verlander (a beast in his own right), Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. Here’s how they stack up, with the leader in any given stat highlighted in yellow:
Before I go any further, it is worth mentioning that all four of these guys are excellent pitchers having phenomenal seasons. That said, we can immediately ding Haren from the list. He has the highest ERA, FIP and xFIP of the group. He’s also pitched the fewest innings, and while he’s made one fewer start than either Verlander or Sabathia, unless he plans on pitching at least 15 innings in his next appearance he’s off the pace of the big dogs. He’s having a great year, but he’s not the best of the class.
The next to get cut is Jered Weaver, although he’s much closer to the head of the class than Haren is. Weaver’s ERA is incredible (and probably gets a boost from the likes of the A’s and Mariners) but his FIP is less good and he has the worst xFIP of the lot. Simply put, Weaver is getting lucky. That isn’t to say that his pitching has been anything less than incredible. He’s keeping his walks down and the ball in the park, but if all were fair in baseball stats he wouldn’t be getting quite as much attention as he is.
And then there were two. Right now you have to figure that CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander will finish first and second in the AL Cy Young vote, in some order. Who’s been better so far? Their numbers are surprisingly similar. Verlander’s ERA is a bit better, but his FIP is worse and they have almost an identical xFIP. They both pitch deep into games, but Verlander goes a bit deeper (with an assist from Jim Leyland). Verlander has a tangible edge in strike outs and walks, but he gives it back with the long ball. CC is doing an amazing job of keeping the ball in the park this year, and has lapped Verlander in the at category. CC is ahead in fWAR, but Verlander crushes him in bWAR.
It pains me to write this, but Verlander is having the better season. He allows fewer runs per start (with some luck), goes deeper into games (because his manager is crazy), strikes out more batters and allows fewer walks. He gives up a lot more homers than CC, but makes up for it with his other advantages. It’s close, but I have to disagree with fWAR here and say that Verlander is putting up better stats on the year than CC, barely so. That said, the Tigers let Verlander throw way too many pitches, and the old school fan in me wants only one man on the mound in key game in October: Carsten Charles Sabathia.
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