2013 was an interesting season.
For instance, the Pittsburgh Pirates finally reached the postseason after posting a whopping 20 consecutive losing season. And, on the other end of the spectrum, the constant powerhouse New York Yankees missed the playoffs for just the second time over the last 19 years. It seems odd whenever you watch the playoffs and don’t see the pinstripes, but a large part of their struggles (besides injury, of course) resided on the mound.
After serving as one of the more consistent arms in all of real life and fantasy baseball, C.C. Sabathia was not himself in 2013. He posted the highest ERA of his career (4.78), fewest strikeouts since 2006 (172) and the highest WHIP of his career (1.37). The beginning of the season saw Sabathia significantly dip in velocity on his fastball for the second straight season, forcing fantasy owners to wonder how much he has left in the tank. That, for sure, is a legitimate concern. But, is it fair to assume that Sabathia, one of the top tier pitchers in the league, is just flat-out finished?
I’m not sold.
Sure, Sabathia was pretty bad last season, but let’s take a deeper look. Sabathia surrendered the most home runs of his career in 2013, coming in at strong 28. However, his HR/FB percentage was an ugly 13 percent, by far the highest of his entire career. That shows a bit of unlucky fortune for Sabathia, and I surely don’t think he’ll surrender that many long balls in 2014. During the prior five seasons in the new home run friendly Yankee Stadium, Sabathia sported a HR/FB percentage no higher than nine percent in three of them. So, I’d expect some progress in that regard, for sure. Also, he saw a strand rate of 67.4 percent, which is the only time in the last 11 (!) seasons that number was under 71 percent. Again, unlucky. He also wasn’t getting the run support he was accustomed to seeing, as the Yankees scored an average 650 runs (16th) last season. During the prior three seasons, New York has ranked second, second and first in runs scored. Meanwhile, the Yanks brought in some depth to their lineup after losing All-Star Robinson Cano.
If Sabathia improves on these numbers, which I strongly expect, he should make for a great value on draft day. Will he serve as a top-10 quality starter? No, probably not. He’s just not that pitcher anymore. However, we are talking about an absolute workhorse when he is on the mound, seeing at least 200 innings pitched in every season since 2008. He also finished second in the American League in complete games last season. Sabathia is currently coming off the board at pick 143 on ESPN drafts, making him the number 37 starting pitcher selected. I’d be very content with taking him that late as my number two or three in the fantasy rotation. A ton of young, unproven guys are being drafted well ahead of Sabathia, and if you can get him that late, it’ll end up being an absolute steal come season’s end.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.