Does the Sabathia Saga Have a Plot Twist Ahead

David Malinsky

Thursday, July 27, 2017 2:35 PM UTC

Thursday, Jul. 27, 2017 2:35 PM UTC

Point Blank – July 27, 2017

Does the Sabathia Saga have a plot twist ahead…On the upcoming Darvish dilemma (good power ratings require a little Freud)…

I sentimentally root for CC Sabathia when he is on the mound and I don’t have an investment in a Yankee game. I will not let it distract me from watching the game with the impartiality that is necessary to best gauge the various outcomes, but for someone his age to be getting the results he is getting this season, especially having overcome some personal demons, is something that I have enjoyed. Yes, I am a fan of sport, as well as one that appreciates the vagaries of the human condition, so there is much more than the bankroll in play as the games unfold each day.

But the realities of sport are telling us that Sabathia’s ride to this stage of the 2017 season has been a generous one; a novelist might call it baseball showing some heart to an older statesman. The sport has no such heart, of course, so we go beyond the fairy dust to search for realities, and they bring a different portrait into view.

Let’s set the stage with the basics:

                       W/L      ERA

2014-16     18-26     4.42

2017             9-3        3.44

It is a rather heart-warming tale, isn’t it, for someone that turns 37 on his next birthday, and already has well over 3,000 MLB innings from that durable frame, which has often fluctuated to over 300 pounds. Has there been a fountain of youth found somewhere? No. While Sabathia has indeed accrued the savvy from both being good, and experienced, much of his 2017 run has also been Baseball Being Baseball.

Let’s go to the base rate stats that take away how the geometry of batted balls influence outcomes -

Sabathia    2014-16     2017

K/9                7.7        7.2

BB/9             2.9       3.5

GB%             48.0       50.2

SWS%           9.6       8.7

This begins to tell the tale; Sabathia hasn’t really thrown better pitchers at all. He is striking out fewer batters and walking more, getting fewer swings and misses, and working around that with only one positive – slightly more ground balls.

But the 2017 numbers require even more perspective. That K/9 rate? His worst since 2004. BB/9 is his worst since 2002. And the SWS% rate is a career worst. What looks like a potential crowning achievement near the final act of an outstanding career may be a pendulum that has run about as far as it can in a positive direction, given what is physically left in the Sabathia tank. Hence a prime part of the story here is not just some baseball regression, but what physically happens to someone his age as the innings add up.

Sabathia has taken the mound three times in July, and those “Last 3 Starts” charts in your morning newspaper (some of you still read those, don’t you?) will show a 2-1/3.29 that looks like he has been right on track. Take a deeper look – Sabathia has had more walks (11) than strikeouts (9) across those games, which FIP collectively reads at 4.47, and xFIP at 6.30. It has mostly been a .225 BABIP that has helped generate what have looked like positive outcomes.

The Thursday markets have set up the value trigger to get in play. The Yankees have taken a run from -105 up to -120 in the early trading, and that opens up a First Five Innings ticket for #913 Tampa Bay and Chris Archer. Archer’s 7-6/3.77 looks lesser than the Sabathia outcomes, but check the metrics – he has been 1.09 runs-per-9 better in FIP, 1.07 in xFIP and 1.19 in SIERA. A notion of a Sabathia regression works at this price point, and by focusing mostly on the starter vs. starter aspects the New York bullpen edges are taken out of play.

About Last Night – What next for Yu Darvish

Last week there was a focus on how the trading deadline, and the rumors attached, can bring an impact on the psyche of the players, especially in the social media age. Yu Darvish was brought into play as a prime example, and even though his English skills are still just developing, with most of his public communication done through an interpreter, it would be difficult for him to not have come across yesterday’s Dallas Morning News headline of “Is tonight Yu Darvish’s last start for the Texas Rangers?”

The start was a disaster, Darvish leaving down 11-1 in the top of the fourth inning, after what will likely end up being the worst outing of his career, no matter how many more games he pitches (his 31st birthday comes up in three weeks, so there will be a lot of innings across the seasons ahead). Now comes the difficult part for the handicapper.

How much of this can be attributed to the distractions, and how much should go to a concern that Darvish might be off his game? There has been an intriguing eye test the last two starts that indicate he may have been trying to showcase himself a little too much for a contender, striking out 17 of the 53 batters he faced, yet in doing so perhaps being vulnerable because of that aggressiveness - five of those batters hit home runs, as many HRs as he had allowed across his previous eight outings (202 batters).

I believe a big part of adjusting the Darvish power rating may come down to where he pitches next. If that was indeed his last walk from the mound in Arlington in a Rangers uniform, there is the opportunity to erase the bitter memory quickly, a fresh start with a contender. His post-game takes, through his interpreter, showed some of the acerbic humor that he has become known for –

“It’s not going to be easy, but tomorrow’s going to come. I’m going to make excuses because of all the trade talks that's going on and forget about it. And then maybe it didn't happen. Now as a pitcher, you don't give up 10 runs so often but it happens. So sometimes you got to make an excuse and make it up and just go with it."

Darvish could indeed shake it off if he is wearing a different uniform for his next outing. But what if it doesn’t happen, and instead he is sitting on a 6-9/4.01 tag for a team that is under .500, and only in the Wild Card race because others haven’t pulled away, and not because they have shown much upside. Should Darvish not get the spark of a realistic chance to turn his season around, will he be able to light the fire himself?

A case could be made that trade/no trade decision could impact my power rating on him by 15-20 cents for his next outing, which is an acceptance of the impact the psyche can have on performers. As is almost always the case the stats are just numbers, waiting to be interpreted through the methods we bring to the table, and in the Darvish files I will be writing mostly in pencil, an eraser at hand, between now and his next start.


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