Top 100 Cleveland Indians: #25 CC Sabathia

CC Sabathia - USA TODAY Sports

Next in the countdown is a familiar left-handed pitcher.

Carsten Charles Sabathia (CC)

Starting Pitcher, 2001-2008

Height: 6'7" Weight: 290 lbs

Throws: Left; Bats: Left

How Acquired: First Round Pick, 1998 (20th overall)

Left Via: Trade, July 7, 2008: Traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley (PTBNL)

Background

The Indians had been in a drafting slump going into the 1998 draft. Their farm system, which had been one of the key reasons why they had become one of the best teams in baseball, was beginning to dry up. Between 1987 and 1991 they had drafted Albert Belle, Brian Giles, Jim Thome, Charles Nagy, and Manny Ramirez, but since then the only player drafted with that kind of impact talent was Jaret Wright, who had almost pitched the Indians to a World Series championship last fall. But there had been a lot of misses, from Daron Kirkreit (1st, 1993) to David Miller (1st, 1995) to Danny Peoples (1st, 1996). That fallow stretch meant that the payroll kept getting larger as the established young stars got closer and closer to free agency without any prospects ready to take their places.

And no area in the organization was worse off than the pitching. Although a dynamic offense and a weak division made sure the Indians made the playoffs, those playoff appearances came in spite of the starting rotation. In 1998, Baseball America ranked only three pitchers in the club's Top 10 prospects, and only one (Willie Martinez) in the top 7. In other words, after Wright and Bartolo Colon broke into the big leagues, the cupboard was completely bare, and if one of their current group of starters got hurt, there was little depth in the system.

So when the Indians made their selection in the first round of the 1998 draft, it was almost given that they'd take a pitcher. They were looking for upside, but given where they were selecting that year (20th), upside and risk came hand in hand. The best pitching prospect that year was Mark Mulder, but he had long since been selected. The Brewers selected the first high school pitcher of the draft (J.M. Gold) at pick 13, and the Indians selected the second in CC Sabathia.

Sabathia grew up in Vallejo, California, a major suburb in the Bay Area. He attended Vallejo High School, starring in baseball as well as basketball and football. When he was drafted he was headed to the University of Hawaii on a football scholarship, but his selection in the first round of the baseball draft changed those plans.

Sabathia even as a teenager was a very big man (he was already 6'7" when he was drafted), and size is a huge plus when it comes to a starting pitcher, but that size also perhaps scared some teams away. Big pitchers often struggle to repeat their delivery. There was also concerns over whether he'd be able to keep his weight in check as he got older. But the Indians looked past those concerns and saw the almost limitless potential.

The Prospect

The Indians were immediately rewarded, as Sabathia dominated the minor leagues. In his first full season, spent in Mahoning Valley (short-season A), Columbus, Georgia (Low A), and Kinston (Advanced A), he struck out 10 batters per 9 innings as an 18-year. The following season he ended the year in AA Akron, striking out 9.8 batters per 9 innings. Going into the 2001 season, Sabathia was rated the 7th-best prospect in baseball.

2001

Meanwhile the Indians were still struggling to find starting pitching. They missed the playoffs in 2000 largely because of injuries to the starting staff, and with the payroll stretched to its breaking point, the Indians couldn't just go out and sign a pitcher. With the departure of Manny Ramirez, it looked as though the run was about up. The Indians brought in Juan Gonzalez, Ellis Burks, and Marty Cordova via free agency, but they weren't able to sign a starter. So instead, manager Charlie Manuel looked at the young Sabathia as a possibility for the rotation. Sabathia had thrown just 90.1 innings at the AA level, but Manuel figured that the 20-year-old had a better shot at success than the group of retreaded veterans. So Sabathia made his major-league debut on April 8, 2001, pitching 5.2 innings against the Baltimore Orioles. Sabathia struggled at times with command, and rarely went deep into games, but with the Tribe offense that was more than enough. And in most years, Sabathia's rookie season would have been good enough to earn him the AL Rookie of the Year, but 2001 also marked the debut of Ichiro Suzuki, who not only won the Rookie of the Year award but also AL MVP.

The Indians, behind their offense as well as an improved rotation, won the AL Central but faced off against the Seattle Mariners, winners of an AL-record 116 games, in the ALDS. Even so, the Indians split the two games in Seattle, with Sabathia getting his first postseason start in Game 3. Sabathia would pitch an excellent game, holding the Mariners to 2 runs in 6 innings of work, which was more than enough for the Cleveland offense, who scored 17 runs off Mariners pitching. But the Mariners would win Game 4 and Game 5 to eliminate the Indians, ending their 2001 playoff run and overall run with that group of players.

Growing Pains

For the Indians were an old and expensive team. Sabathia was the only regular (rotation and starting lineup) under the age of 28, and given the payroll limitations, it was just a matter of time until the team was broken. That happened in June and July of 2002, with first Bartolo Colon getting traded, then Chuck Finley, then Paul Shuey, then Ricardo Rincon. After the season Jim Thome left for Philadelphia via free agency.

What was left of the club was a collection of veterans that the Indians couldn't trade along with prospects gotten from trades and a small group of young core players. Sabathia headed that group, along with Danys Baez, Milton Bradley, and Jody Gerut. And there were some serious growing pains. Sabathia, after his fantastic rookie season, struggled to take the step from a thrower (and a very effective one at that) to a pitcher. For the next several seasons, Sabathia would have good stretches and bad stretches, although he was a very durable pitcher. And at the time there was a lot of concern over whether that workload would lead to arm troubles.

Breakthrough

In baseball you rarely you see bright dividing line between stages in a pitcher's career, but I think one of those occurred in Sabathia's career on July 25th, 2005. The Indians were in Oakland, a place the Bay Area-native had always struggled, and this game was no exception. Sabathia was knocked out of the game in the third inning, and although I have no evidence to back this up, I think something clicked for Sabathia afterwards. Sometimes failure is a better teacher than success, and I think in this case it was for CC, for after that game he seemed a different pitcher. Over his next 12 starts he dropped his ERA from 5.24 to 4.03, quite an accomplishment that late in the year, and if the Indians had made the playoffs in 2005, he would have been the reason why.

No longer throwing in the upper 90s, Sabathia now sat in the mid-90s but was able to command the fastball. That lead to longer outings, and that was what propelled into the top echelon of MLB pitchers. He had a career-best 139 ERA+ in 2006, but the best was yet to come.

Cy Young

The Indians had been on cusp of contention for several years when the 2007 season began, but a near-miss in 2005 and an awful 2006 season had people thinking that they'd miss their window of opportunity. In 2007, though, they put it all together, dominating down the stretch and winning the AL Central comfortably. And Sabathia was the main cog in that machine. He threw an AL-best 241 innings, posted a career-best 141 ERA+, and won the AL Cy Young Award, the first time a Cleveland pitcher had won the award in almost three decades.

But in the postseason Sabathia struggled. He walked six batters in Game 1 of the ALDS, but kept the Yankees to just three runs, and the Indians would end up winning the game in extra innings. However, he wasn't so lucky in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. He was bombed for 8 runs in 4.1 innings in Game 1, and he was outpitched by Josh Beckett in crucial Game 5.

The Trade

Unlike the mid-90s clubs, the Indians' window of contention lasted only a couple seasons. In 2008 the Indians would quickly fall out of contention, and attention immediately turned to Sabathia, who was a pending free agent. The Indians had discussed an extension with Sabathia, but that didn't work out, so instead they chose to lock up Jake Westbrook and Travis Hafner. Sabathia was dominant again in 2008, so there was no shortage of interested clubs when the Indians started shopping him.

On July 7, 2008, the Indians traded Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson, and a Player to be Named Later. The headliner in the deal was LaPorta, one of the best prospects in baseball, but the best player from the deal turned out to be Michael Brantley, who was the PTBNL. LaPorta, who will probably sign a minor-league contract with someone else this winter, has been a bust, and Bryson, who hasn't yet pitched in the majors, is also a minor-league free agent. Only Brantley will be with the club next spring.

Afterwards

Sabathia almost single-handedly carried the Brewers to playoffs, but Milwaukee lost in the NLDS to the Philadelphia Phillies. After the season, Sabathia signed a record-breaking contract with the New York Yankees. The deal, which at that time was the largest contract ever signed by a pitcher, was worth $161M over 7 years. In 2011, Sabathia signed an extension with the Yankees rather than exercise an opt-out clause in his original deal. His amazing streak of 12 consecutive seasons with at least a 100 ERA+ ended in 2013, but his

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm ERA GS CG SHO IP ER HR BB SO ERA+ H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB Awards
2001 20 CLE 4.39 33 0 0 180.1 88 19 95 171 102 7.4 0.9 4.7 8.5 1.80 RoY-2
2002 21 CLE 4.37 33 2 0 210.0 102 17 88 149 100 8.5 0.7 3.8 6.4 1.69
2003 22 CLE 3.60 30 2 1 197.2 79 19 66 141 122 8.7 0.9 3.0 6.4 2.14 AS
2004 23 CLE 4.12 30 1 1 188.0 86 20 72 139 106 8.4 1.0 3.4 6.7 1.93 AS
2005 24 CLE 4.03 31 1 0 196.2 88 19 62 161 104 8.5 0.9 2.8 7.4 2.60
2006 25 CLE 3.22 28 6 2 192.2 69 17 44 172 139 8.5 0.8 2.1 8.0 3.91
2007 26 CLE 3.21 34 4 1 241.0 86 20 37 209 141 8.9 0.7 1.4 7.8 5.65 AS,CYA-1,MVP-14
2008 27 CLE 3.83 18 3 2 122.1 52 13 34 123 111 8.6 1.0 2.5 9.0 3.62
CLE (8 yrs) 3.83 237 19 7 1528.2 650 144 498 1265 115 8.4 0.8 2.9 7.4 2.54
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/4/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL All-Star: 2003, 2004, 2007
  • AL MVP: 2007-14th
  • AL Cy Young: 2007-1st
  • AL WAR: 7th, 2007-6.4
  • AL WAR Pitchers: 2nd, 2007-6.3; 9th, 2006-4.6
  • AL ERA: 3rd, 2006-3.22; 5th, 2007-3.21; 10th, 2003-3.66
  • AL Wins: 2nd, 2007-19; 6th, 2001-17; 8th, 2005-14
  • AL W/L Percentage: 3rd, 2001-.773; 3rd, 2007-.731
  • AL WHIP: 4th, 2006-1.173; 5th, 2007-1.141
  • AL Hits/9 IP: 1st, 2001-7.436; 6th, 2006-8.502; 8th, 2005-8.466; 9th, 2004-8.426
  • AL Bases on Balls/9 IP: 2nd, 2007-1.382
  • AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 4th, 2001-8.534; 6th, 2005-7.368; 6th, 2006-8.035; 9th, 2007-7.805
  • AL Innings: 1st, 2005-241.0
  • AL Strikeouts: 5th, 2007-209; 7th, 2001-171; 7th, 2005-161; 8th, 2006-172; 10th, 2002-149
  • AL Games Started: 1st, 2007-34; 7th, 2002-33
  • AL Complete Games: 1st, 2006-6; 2nd, 2007-4; 3rd, 2008-3
  • AL Shutouts: 1st, 2006-2; 1st, 2008-2; 4th, 2004-1; 5th, 2007-1; 6th, 2003-1
  • AL Bases on Balls: 2nd, 2001-95; 2nd, 2002-88
  • AL Hits: 3rd, 2007-238
  • AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 1st, 2007-5.649; 5th, 2006-3.909
  • AL Home Runs/9: 7th, 2002-0.729; 8th, 2005-0.870; 8th, 2006-0.794; 9th, 2007-0.747
  • AL Earned Runs: 7th, 2002-102
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 10th, 2007-8
  • AL Adjusted Era+: 3rd, 2006-139; 5th, 2007-141; 10th, 2003-122
  • AL Win Probability Added: 7th, 2007-3.7
  • AL Errors as P: 4th, 2006-3
  • AL Fielding Percentage as P: 1st, 2004-1.000

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 14th WAR Pitchers (27.5)
  • 50th ERA (3.83)
  • 13th Wins (106)
  • 17th W/L Percentage (.599)
  • t-23rd WHIP (1.265)
  • 30th Hits/9 IP (8.449)
  • 34th Bases on Balls/9 IP (2.932)
  • 6th Strikeouts/9 IP (7.448)
  • t-31st Games Pitched (237)
  • 15th Innings Pitched (1528.2)
  • 5th Strikeouts (1265)
  • 12th Games Started (237)
  • t-40th Shutouts (7)
  • 8th Home Runs (144)
  • 16th Bases on Balls (498)
  • 15th Bases on Balls (1435)
  • 4th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (2.540)
  • 19th Losses (71)
  • 12th Earned Runs (650)
  • t-25th Wild Pitches (30)
  • t-14th Hit By Pitch (46)
  • t-22nd ERA+ (115)
  • 5th WPA (13.7)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-37th Pitching WAR (6.3; 2007)
  • t-12th W/L Percentage (.773; 2001)
  • t-25th W/L Percentage (.731; 2007)
  • 13th Bases on Balls/9 IP (1.382, 2007)
  • 15th Strikeouts/9 IP (9.049, 2008)
  • 15th Strikeouts/9 IP (8.534, 2001)
  • 34th Strikeouts/9 IP (8.035, 2006)
  • 37th Strikeouts/9 IP (7.805, 2007)
  • 20th Strikeouts (209, 2007)
  • 40th Strikeouts (172, 2006)
  • 41st Strikeouts (171, 2001)
  • 1st Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (5.649, 2007)
  • 10th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (3.909, 2006)
  • 15th Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (3.618, 2008)
  • t-29th WPA (3.7, 2007)

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