Taking stock of CC's HOF credentials

February 14th, 2019

formally announced Saturday what he made public at the time he signed his latest one-year contract with the club in November: The 2019 season will be Sabathia's swan song.
It's a career that, in contrast with the e-mail and office memorandum meaning of "CC," will not be easily copied by those who follow in Sabathia's size-15 footsteps. Because in an era in which the role of the starting pitcher has generally eroded around him, the 38-year-old Sabathia has -- despite velocity decline, late-career knee woes and a recent angioplasty procedure -- been a model of durability and longevity in his 19-year career.
Furthermore, having come out of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, having turned down a football scholarship at the University of Hawaii to stick with baseball and having been an active member of the community and an accountable leader on his teams, Sabathia is one of the sport's best ambassadors.
All of the above has us thinking about CC's CCs (that's Cooperstown Credentials). Though he has one more season to round out his résumé, here's a look at where Sabathia stands today.

• Let's get the basic stuff out of the way first: Sabathia is a six-time All-Star. He was the 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner. He was a member of the '09 World Series champion Yankees.
• Sabathia's 3,470 innings and 2,986 strikeouts are the most among active pitchers, his 38 complete games are tied with for the most, and his 246 wins are one shy of Colon's leading total. CC has led his league in wins twice (2009 and 2010), innings once (2007) and strikeout-to-walk ratio twice (2007 and 2012).
• In all likelihood, Sabathia will become just the 17th pitcher to cross the 3,000-strikeout barrier early in the 2019 season. That is a smaller fraternity than the 3,000-hit club, the 500-homer club and the 300-win club. The only "3K Club" members not in the Hall of Fame are Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, both of whom, obviously, have had controversy attached to their candidacies.
• Perhaps the biggest knock on Sabathia's Hall case will be his career ERA, which stands at 3.70 -- higher than all but three Hall of Famers. However, his context-adjusted ERA+ of 117 (or 17 percent better than league average) paints him in a better light. It is tied for the 35th-best ERA+ among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings, and 22 Hall of Famers have a lower mark.
• In Sabathia's seven-season peak (2006-12), his ERA+ of 140 was tied with the newly elected Roy Halladay's for the best in baseball in that span.
• Sabathia's postseason record is perhaps too scattered to affect him immensely in either direction. He has posted a 4.31 ERA in 24 games (23 starts) and has four starts in which he has given up five or more runs in fewer than five full innings. He did, however, pitch to a 1.98 ERA across five starts in the 2009 postseason, during which he was named AL Championship Series MVP.
• Sabathia has compiled 62.7 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference's calculation. If we include pitchers whose careers predate the modern era (as, obviously, the Hall of Fame does), that mark ranks 54th all-time and is short of the 73.4 average for a Hall of Fame pitcher. However, there are 26 Hall of Fame pitchers with lower career marks than Sabathia's current mark, and he will finish his career in the general vicinity of the likes of Juan Marichal (63.0), Bob Feller (63.9) and Halladay (64.3).
• Per the JAWS metric established by FanGraphs writer Jay Jaffe, which takes a combination of career and seven-year peak WAR totals, Sabathia has a score of 51.0, which is again short of the Hall of Fame pitcher average (61.7) but higher than that of 20 Hall of Famers.

• By Bill James' Similarity Score, only two of the 10 pitchers most comparable to Sabathia are Hall of Famers -- Mike Mussina and Jack Morris. Schilling, also on the list, trended upward in this year's vote.
• For what it's worth, Sabathia was one of the greatest Trade Deadline acquisitions of all time. The Brewers acquired him from the Indians in early July 2008, and he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 games down the stretch, taking the ball on short rest in each of his last three starts and throwing 335 pitches in the last nine days of the regular season.
• Not that this really has an impact on Hall of Fame voting, but it is nevertheless worth noting that Sabathia is the rare recipient of a nine-figure contract who made good on it. There have been 23 $100 million contracts given to pitchers. Sabathia is actually on the list twice because of the 2012 extension (five years, $122 million) of his original contract with the Yankees from 2009 (seven years, $161 million, with an opt-out). For Sabathia to earn an extension and then re-sign with the Yankees in two subsequent seasons after the extension ended speaks to how well the relationship has gone. To date, none of the other $100 million pitchers has maintained a relationship with his original signing team beyond the term of that deal (though did extend his relationship with the Dodgers this winter when his opt-out clause came up).
CONCLUSION: It's going to be close. As modern-day voters are forced to recalibrate the conditions by which a starting pitcher can gain entry to the Hall because of the rate of pitcher injuries and rise in relief innings, Sabathia should stand out as a rare workhorse who had a profound peak before reinventing himself in his 30s to maintain his place in the game. But because his peak wasn't as long as, say, that of Halladay (whose peak as one of baseball's best pitchers stretched across 11 seasons), Sabathia is unlikely to get in on the first ballot in 2025, and his case could linger for multiple years, as Mussina's did.
At worst, if the Baseball Writers' Association of America doesn't vote him in, Sabathia rates as a strong case for small-committee entry, especially given the precedent of Morris' election in December 2017.