How likely was Sabathia’s leap?

If you’e reading this, you know what a star pitcher CC Sabathia is today. In each of the last 6 years, Sabathia has qualified for the ERA title with an ERA+ of at least 136. He’s the only pitcher since 1901 with a qualifying ERA+ of at least 130 in each of his 6th through 11th years. (For the rest of this post, I’ll use the term “star season” to mean a year qualified for the ERA title with ERA+ of at least 130.)

But before he became a star, Sabathia was a rotation fixture for 5 middling years, averaging a 107 ERA+ in 195 innings. His best season ERA+ was 122; the other 4 years fell in the range of 100-106. Those first 5 years were remarkably similar all-around: starts ranged from 30 to 33, IP from 180 to 210, strikeouts from 139 to 171, HRs from 17 to 20.

During his early years, many folks in Cleveland and throughout baseball thought it was only a matter of time before he became an elite pitcher. However, the studies I’ve just done studies that suggest that, after 5 years without significant improvement, it was historically quite unlikely that Sabathia would become a star.

I looked at this in three different ways, each time covering the years 1901-2005 for a pitcher’s first 5 years, and 1901-2011 thereafter.

(1) Pitchers with at least 4 qualified seasons of ERA+ at or below 115, within their first 5 years. Their were 65 such pitchers, counting Sabathia; 9 met this standard in all 5 years, the rest in 4 of 5 years.

For the rest of their careers (year 6 onward), only 13 of those 65 pitchers had even one star season, with a total of 30 such seasons from the 65 pitchers. Sabathia has 6 of them; Red Ruffing 5; Don Sutton, Catfish Hunter, Jim Perry and Chief Bender 3 each; and 7 others had 1 such year.

(2) For his first 5 years combined, Sabathia totaled 973 IP and a 107 ERA+. I looked at pitchers with 800 to 1,100 IP and ERA+ from 102 to 112 over their first 5 years. Then I looked at their performance in their 6th through 11th years combined.

Out of 113 pitchers in this group, only 8 totaled as much as 20 bWAR in their 6th-11th years. Greg Maddux was #1 with 40.9 WAR; Sabathia was 2nd at 34.8 WAR; no one else had 27. Maddux also led in ERA+ at 172; Sabathia was 2nd at 142; no one else with 200+ IP was over 133. Only 7 other pitchers had at least 800 IP and ERA+ at least 120 for years 6-11.

Comparing Sabathia’s 6th-11th year totals to the average of the rest of the group:

  • Sabathia: 1,392 IP, 142 ERA+, 34.8 WAR
  • The rest: 754 IP, 103 ERA+ (weighted), 6.4 WAR

(3) This time I started from the other end of the question. I found those who had been roughly similar to Sabathia in years 6-11, then looked at what they’d done in years 1-5. The results here are a bit different from the other two studies.

There are just 20 pitchers with at least 4 star seasons in their 6th through 11th years. Only Sabathia has 6; 10 pitchers have 5 (most recently Johan Santana); 9 pitchers have 4 such years.

Of those 20 pitchers, 8 had no star seasons in their first 5 years:

Another 5 from the original 20 had just 1 star season in their first 5:

The group totaled just 26 star seasons in their first 5. Jim Palmer and Pete Alexander had 2 each; Roger Clemens, Walter Johnson and Ed Walsh had 3; Lefty Grove and Christy Mathewson had 4.

So the first two studies suggest that it’s very uncommon for a pretty good pitcher to become a star after 5 years and 800 IP. Yet the third study shows that those who are
stars in their 6th-11th years generally weren’t stars in their first 5 years. This seeming disjunction suggested one last study.

(4) What happens to those pitchers who are stars in their first 5 years? I looked at pitchers with at least 2 star seasons in their first 5, then looked at their 6th-11th years. Out of 110 such pitchers:

  • Almost half had no star seasons in years 6-11 (53 of 110).
  • The median was 1 star season, the average 1.1.
  • Three had 5 star seasons in their 6th-11th years; four had 4; 14 had 3; and 36 had 1.

So what does it all add up to? If young stars are unlikely to remain stars in mid-career; if mid-career stars mostly weren’t young stars; and if pretty good young pitchers are unlikely to become stars — does it just mean that a pitching career is even more of a crapshoot than we already think?

131 thoughts on “How likely was Sabathia’s leap?

  1. 1
    Ed says:

    I wonder if the difference with Sabathia is that he started so young. His 5 “middling” seasons began at age 20, a time when most pitchers are still in the minors.

    • 2
      John Autin says:

      Ed, I looked at that, too.

      I took all pitchers from 1901-2005 with at least 800 IP and ERA+ from 100-114 thru age 24, then looked at their seasons age 25-30.

      Those 40 pitchers combined for just 31 “star seasons” from age 25-30 — and 6 of those are by Sabathia. Besides CC, just 6 others had 2 star seasons age 25-30.

  2. 3
    Ed says:

    One issue, particularly with #3, is that it seems to be counting something as a season, even if a guy just pitched briefly. It’s counting Pedro Martinez’s 1992 season, in which he pitched 8 innings, as his first season. Similarly, it’s counting Greg Maddux’s 1986 season, in which he pitched 31 innings, as a season.

    Another issue I see is with the specificity of the definition of a star season. I understand it has to be that way, but I think certain things get missed as a result. For example, Greg Maddux’s 1988 season in which he started the All-star game isn’t considered a star season. (he was 15-3, 2.14 ERA in the first half; 3-4, 4.92 ERA in the second). It was his second full season in the majors and he was already starting the All-Star game. If that’s not a star season (or at least a season indicative of future success), then I don’t know what is. It similarly misses his 1989 season in which he had an ERA+ of 129, missing the cutoff by 1 point. Johan Santana had ERA+ of 150 and 148 in his 3rd and 4th seasons but didn’t qualify for the ERA title (just missed it in his 4th season). John Smoltz had an ERA+ of 124 in his first full season. Again he fell short of the criteria but that’s pretty good for a 1st full season. These are just a few examples of how specific criteria miss some pretty darn seasons.

    Now all that being said, I’m not sure that any of this would change the results of John’s study.

    • 4
      John Autin says:

      Mostly good points, although I’m not terribly concerned about anyone’s 1st-half/2nd-half splits, nor about omitting All-Star starters — Claude Passeau, the NL starter in 1946, finished the year with 129 IP, a 106 ERA+ and a 9-8 record; Walt Masterson was the AL starter in ’48 and finished 8-15 with a 113 ERA+ in 188 IP. There’s a lot of chaff in that group.

      But the main issue, as you know, is that it’s just not practical for me to do a study without using hard-and-fast thresholds.

  3. 5
    Ed says:

    Odd that you and I seem to be the only two interested in this thread. I certainly thought it included several well-thought out analyses and some interesting results. I’ve run out of things to say though unless other commenters chime in.

  4. 6
    Tmckelv says:

    I have always been under the (anecdotal) impression that it takes lefties a little longer to get going. I am sure statistically it would be disproved, but I always think of guys like Koufax, Randy Johnson and Ron Guidry. I remember being surprised that Steve Avery was so good at a young age.

    • 7
      John Autin says:

      A quick way to check your theory would be to compare the RH/LH breakdown of total qualified seasons to that of a certain performance level under a certain age.

      Total ERA-qualified seasons: RH 72.9%, LH 27.1%
      2-WAR years through age 24: RH 70.1%, LH 29.9%
      3-WAR years through age 25: RH 71.1%, LH 28.9%
      5-WAR years through age 27: RH 70.4%, LH 29.6%

      If anything, these numbers suggest that lefties either develop sooner than righties, or that they’re simply better on average.

      • 9
        Tmckelv says:

        My instinct is to choose the “they’re simply better on average” theory…but then again, lefties are in such high demand (with so few of them in the league) that a high percentage of stinkers would be in there early. So that doesn’t make sense either.

        • 92
          Hartvig says:

          I can tell you that the wisdom that it took lefties longer to develop than right handed pitchers was pretty much accepted as gospel in the ’60’s, in large part I suspect because of Koufax.

    • 8
      Voomo Zanzibar says:

      For all of the lefties on this thread, their star-uptick follows an extreme drop in BB.

      Just an honorable mention to Walter Johnson:
      posted at least a 147 era+ from seasons 4-13, except for season 11, where he dipped to 120.

      And Maddux managed at least a 146 from seasons 7 – 17, except for one hiccup at 126.

      • 10
        John Autin says:

        “For all of the lefties on this thread, their star-uptick follows an extreme drop in BB.”

        Good point, though I wonder if that’s significantly more true of the lefties than the righties.

        One lefty mentioned above whose “leap” did not coincide with a drop in walks is Tom Glavine. In his first 4 seasons, he averaged an 89 ERA+ and 3.0 BB/9. In his last 12 years with ATL, he averaged a 134 ERA+ and 3.1 BB/9.

    • 11
      Ed says:

      Tmckelv: That was certainly “common wisdom” pre-Bill James/SABR. Not sure what SABR studies have shown.

      Anyway, one pitcher who I thought of when you mentioned this was Geoff Zahn. He made the majors at age 27, but mostly struggled until age 32, after which he had 4 seasons of ERA+ between 122-129 and another of 109.

      • 41
        birtelcom says:

        A quick study, for what it’s worth:

        There have been 19 seasons of 6 or more WAR by pitchers in their age 22 season (since 1901): 13 by righties and 6 by lefties (32% lefties).

        There have been 53 seasons of 6 or more WAR by pitchers in their age 27 season (since 1901): 36 by righties and 17 by lefties (32% lefties).

        There have been 28 seasons of 6 or more WAR by pitchers in their age 32 season (since 1901): 22 by righties and 6 by lefties (21% lefties).

        There have been 8 seasons of 6 or more WAR by pitchers in their age 37 season (since 1901): 6 by righties and 2 by lefties (25% lefties).

    • 12
      Dr. Remulak says:

      …and tall lefties (Johnson, Sabathia) take even longer to find thier mechanics, so the cliche goes…

  5. 13
    Doug says:

    I’m guessing the reason Sabathia has done better than most of his comps is that the comparison group is based on season sequence numbers rather than age.
    – Generally, younger guys will ramp up more slowly than older guys, before arriving at peak level. The guys who start younger will take longer to get to their peak, but the peak will be higher.
    – Since Sabathia started young, I expect most of his comparison group will be older.
    – Since we’re looking at a group that was just “okay” in the first 5 years, we’re probably seeing guys older than CC who hadn’t “ramped up” to a higer peak level within 5 years. These are probably guys who will have a lower peak and a shorter career, which is probably what we’re seeing here.

    Related to this point is something I remember from one of Bill James’ abstracts. James was doing his matched pair analysis, looked at two impressive rookies with very similar rookie season stats, except that one guy was a year older than the other. If I recall correcttly, James’ analysis, for two guys aged 21 and 22, showed that career value for the 21 year-old is expected to be at least 50% more than the 22 year-old.

    Would be interesting to do a similar study where the comparison group is age-based, rather than season-based.

    • 14
      Ed says:

      Doug check out my initial comment to this thread and John’s response. That may answer your question.

      • 15
        Doug says:

        Right. Thanks, Ed.

        I suppose that if, as most would concur, CC is a very elite pitcher, then we shouldn’t be too surprised that it’s hard to find many good comps.

        Despite being a different type of pitcher, Glavine has a similar kind of ramp-up to CC. Glavine was below 100 ERA+ his first 4 seasons (age 21-24), then had star seasons 6 of his next 8 years, and 8 of the next 12.

        If guys have the ability, they can become dominant pretty quickly, once they’ve figured out how to use that ability.

        • 20
          John Autin says:

          It’s interesting thinking about whether CC is a “very elite pitcher.”

          On the one hand, I don’t think he has yet produced a “very elite” season — well, maybe 2008; but even there, he didn’t reach a 160 ERA+ or 7 WAR. The former has been done 27 times (with 200+ IP) during CC’s career (3 each by Santana and R.Johnson), the latter 17 times (3 each by Halladay and Johnson).

          He has one season with ERA+ 150 or better. During his career, 32 pitchers have at least one such season (with 200 IP); 8 have 2 or more (Halladay 5, Santana 4, Johnson 3; Wainwright, Hernandez, Lincecum, Lee and Webb 2 each).

          And he’s never led his league in strikeouts, WHIP, ERA or ERA+.

          On the other hand, he’s been a top-5 pitcher each of the last 5 years. He’s now as consistently excellent as he was consistently so-so in his first 5 years.

          Is there another pitcher whose prime is like Sabathia’s? I thought of Robin Roberts, but he was even more of a horse with a less dazzling ERA+. Ditto Jack Morris.

          Maybe Roy Oswalt fits the bill. Not at this exact moment, of course, but looking at their prime 5-7 years. Of course, we don’t know when CC’s prime might end.

          • 21
            Ed says:

            John – one correction. Sabathia did have a 7.1 WAR in 2008. Also, if you lower the criteria to 6.8, then Sabathia has 3 of the 24 6.8+ WAR seasons during his career. Granted that’s “setting the criteria for Sabathia” and it means that all 3 of his “elite” seasons are at the bottom of the list.

          • 24
            John Autin says:

            Ed — Thanks for the correction on Sabathia’s 7.1 WAR in 2008.

            I’m going to blame my error on B-R’s method of presenting WAR for “traded” seasons by giving the number with each team, but not giving a total (as they do in the main stats part of the player page). I’ve made this mistake a dozen times and will probably do it a dozen more before I learn never to trust a sorting of those numbers.

            On your second point — yeah, and if we set the bar at 6.5 WAR, we find that Clemens and Matty had 10 such years, Big Train and Grove 9, Big Unit and Alexander 7; Halladay, Niekro and Seaver 6; Pedro and six others had 5….

            I know CC’s career is only at the midpoint, but as good as he is now, he’s not looking like a first-tier HOFer. (First-ballot, sure.)

          • 25
            birtelcom says:

            How about Bob Gibson through age 30? Similarly to CC, he was consistently one of the top pitchers in the league age 25 to 30, producing WAR seasons around 6 with regularity, but Gibson did not have his breakthrough to superstar-level (or better!) until age 32-33. Both Gibson and CC are each among the few pitchers with 5 seasons of WAR between 4 and 7 over ages 25 to 30, and they had similar total WAR over that age period, 34.8 for Sabathia, 32.3 for Gibson.

            Sabathia’s current 49.2 career WAR is one of the great career totals through an age 30 season — only the greats have achieved that level at that age.

            And this from a Mets fan whose idea of a satisfying day is one of those rare ones when the Mets win and the Yankees lose.

          • 26
            John Autin says:

            birtelcom @25 — Thanks, Gibson is an interesting comp. His pattern somewhat fits CC’s if you focus on age, but not if you focus on years in the league. Gibby produced “star seasons” in both his 3rd and 4th years (ERA+ 137 and 151, both over 200 IP).

            Simmilarly, CC’s all-time WAR ranking differs a lot depending on whether you count through age 30 (16th since 1893), or through 11 seasons (30th).

          • 27
            Fireworks says:

            Yeah but he did lead both leagues in shutouts in the same year, JA. 🙂

          • 29
            Ed says:

            John – I agree that the term “very elite” doesn’t quite fit Sabathia. Clearly his peak doesn’t match some of the other greats in history. On the other hand, he did lead the AL in pitching WAR in 2007, was 2nd in 2011, and his combined AL/NL total for 2008 was 2nd in the majors (pretty remarkable given that he era was 13.50 through his first 4 starts). Combine that with his ability to always stay healthy and produce positive results (see Doug’s comment at #17), and I don’t think it’s the worst use of the term.

            In my opinion, the biggest black mark in Sabathia’s career has been his playoff pitching, which outside of 2009 his been quite dreadful.

          • 31
            bstar says:

            It seems the only time he was “truly elite” was his half season in Milwaukee:

            11-2, 1.65ERA, 7 CG, 3 SHO in 17 starts, 255 ERA+

            Still, I’m one of those old-timers who appreciate accumulators and consistency (almost) as much as truly elite peaks. I think CC has a great shot to post a very impressive career win and WAR total, especially given his ability to avoid injury and playing long-term for the Yanks. I’ll be rooting for him to have a Hall of Fame career, that’s for sure.

    • 16
      Lawrence Azrin says:


      I think the fact that C.C. was young AND had his first five complete seasons be full years, this combination is what makes him difficult to compare to other pitchers. Most other pitchers’ first five seasons involve one partial season (often more) before they establish themselves.

      A 107 ERA+ in 195 innings is better than “middling” or ordinary. While not an elite pitcher then, he provided a fair amount of value and real stability in the Indians rotation.

      • 17
        Doug says:

        Point well take, Lawrence.

        Sabathia, Seaver and Eddie Plank are only pitchers since 1901 to start a career with 11 straight seasons of 180+ IP and ERA+ >= 100.
        – 10 times in 11 years: Larry French (!), Pete Alexander, Walter Johnson
        – 9 times in 11 years: Maddux, Radke, Stieb, Blyleven, Jenkins, Ford, Lemon, Spahn, Passeau, Hubbell, Root, Grove, Coveleski, Mathewson, Mordecai Brown

      • 18
        John Autin says:

        Lawrence, I respectfully disagree. Being middling — or average, or ordinary — isn’t inconsistent with providing a fair amount of value. Obviously, if you’re average, there are many who are worse than you.

        But Sabathia’s 2001-05 average of a 107 ERA+ and 195 innings was the epitome of middling, in comparison with other full-time rotation starters.

        In those years, there were 443 qualifying pitcher-seasons. The median ERA+ was 107, and the median IP was 200. That’s Sabathia.

        • 36
          Lawrence Azrin says:

          John A.,

          I think that we are arguing about semantics. You state that Sabathia’s first five years are the definition of ordinary, compared to FULL-TIME starters those years. My counterpoint is -almost every team every year gives a fair amount of pitcher starts to _less than_ full-time starters, who simply aren’t good enough to pitch full-time.

          If you compared Sabathia’s ERA+ those years to all starters, instead of just full-time starters, he would indeed be above-average.

      • 19
        John Autin says:

        On your first point — that qualifying for the ERA title in each of his first 5 years makes Sabathia very unusual — I agree, but I don’t think it interfered with finding a reasonable cohort for Sabathia.

        Of my 3 little studies, only #1 required a certain number of qualified seasons among their first 5 years. And although Sabathia went 5-for-5 in that regard, only 4 of those years met the further criterion of ERA+ no more than 115. In that sense, he might just as well have been a September call-up in the season that didn’t fit the criteria.

        BTW, the reason I looked at that specific angle, in addition to the totals for the first 5 years, is because I think that the more often a pitcher repeats a certain level of performance, the more likely it is that that’s his true level of ability, at that point in his career.

        So I wanted pitchers who produced several seasons at a so-so level — in contrast to, say, Greg Maddux, whose totals for years 1-5 were very similar to Sabathia’s (106 ERA+, 911 IP), but who got there with 1 partial bad season, 1 full bad season, and then 3 good seasons (ERA+ from 114-129).

        I wound up with 65 pitchers who, like Sabathia, had at least 4 qualifying seasons with ERA+ of 115 or less in their first 5; 56 of those had 4 such years, like Sabathia, while 9 had 5. Why isn’t that a good, sound group?

  6. 22
    bstar says:


    Good study. I won’t go so far as to call your arbitrary pick of ‘6th thru 11th seasons’ as cherry-picking because it was a great study and a fun read. I just have a little problem with the way it paints Sabathia in such a historically great light. I love CC, don’t get me wrong, but suggesting he’s had a better peak than anyone since 1901 is misleading.

    I would bet you are familiar with the seven consecutive immortal years of Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez. ERA+ wise, their 7-year run far surpasses anyone in recent memory.

    Pedro(1997-2003): 213 ERA+ lowest-163
    Maddog(1992-1998): 191 ERA+ lowest-162

    I dont really care exactly what season of their career this happened, just that their peaks between the twoare so similar and way, way better than that of CC Sabathia.

    • 23
      John Autin says:

      bstar — Thanks … but you’re refuting a claim that I never made. I did not, and never would, liken CC’s peak to that of Maddux, Pedro, Big Unit, Clemens, or dozens of other pitchers throughout history.

      What I said was that, comparing him to 2 different groups of pitchers whose first 5 years were similar to his, his subsequent performance in years 6-11 is at the very top of those groups. I never said it was near the top of anything else.

    • 34
      Michael E Sullivan says:

      I don’t think John is claiming that CC is in that company. But he has been remarkably consistent in giving excellent seasons for somebody who will not be an inner circle all-time great.

      Consider Roy Halladay, a guy I think most would agree is at least as good as CC (fan ELO has roy at #28, and CC at #128). But Doc has not yet had 5 seasons in a row let alone 6 at john’s “star” level (he has 7 total out of 14 to CC’s 6 out of 11).

      He’s had an 11 year peak, that is on average about as good as CC’s 6 star years in a row peak, but had 4 down (for Roy) or limited years sprinkled in. Those are balanced by more ERA+ 150+ years than CC has.

  7. 30
    bstar says:

    OK, John, thanks for the reply but you did state, in your third sentence, “He’s the only pitcher since 1901 with a qualifying ERA+ of at least 130 in each of his 6th through 11th years”. This was before you mentioned the two groups of pitchers you were comparing him to; this is what I found misleading, that you pretty much led off with that statement.

    • 38
      John Autin says:

      OK, bstar, I get it now. I actually intended that distinction only as a sort of “by the way,” but after reading the passage in the light of your comments, it does seem to be making a claim of all-time greatness.

      I’m aware that there’s no meaningful difference (in terms of overall quality) between one pitcher who posts 6 straight years over 130 ERA+, and another who has, say, 4 years over 140 and 2 around 125. I meant for that line to stress CC’s consistency, but I didn’t make that clear enough.

      • 75
        bstar says:

        And what I didn’t convey was that I agree Sabathia has been unerringly consistent for quite some time and is not getting enough credit for it. I know wins isn’t a great stat anymore but it’s fun to see and project how many CC might get, especially if he stays healthy and continues to pitch for an elite team.

  8. 32
    Michael E Sullivan says:

    I think Ed has got what’s going on here with the specificity of a “star” season.

    What’s really going on IMO, is how unlikely it is even for great, hall of fame pitchers to put together strings of consecutive, or even 4 of 5, 6 of 7, etc. “star” seasons by your definition. 130+ ERA qualifying is a level of season that you have to be pretty good to achieve even once or twice. Turns out, even all-time great pitchers in their prime almost never go 5 seasons in a row without either some injury cutting their innings to less than qualifying, or something (minor injury, mechanical or mental issues, poor defense behind) dropping their ERA+ below this high standard.

    Also, as others have mentioned, it’s not as though CC looked like a mediocre pitcher in his first 5 seasons. He just didn’t look like the future hall of famer he looks like now.

    • 40
      John Autin says:

      OK … but “star seasons” wasn’t the only angle in the post. What about the 2nd study, which had nothing to do with star seasons? That one defined the cohort by combined performance in years 1-5, then looked at combined performance in years 6-11 — and found that CC’s ERA+ and WAR for years 6-11 were 2nd only to Maddux.

      Also, “years 6-11” weren’t the only “after” period looked at. In study #1, I counted all star seasons after year 5.

    • 46
      John Autin says:

      I’m puzzled by the objections to calling CC’s first 5 years “middling.”

      2001 — CC had a 102 ERA+. The median for AL qualifiers was 111.
      2002 — CC 100, AL median 112.
      2003 — CC 122, AL median 107.
      2004 — CC 106, AL median 101.
      2005 — CC 104, AL median 109.

      Yes, that’s based on a comparison to others who were good enough to qualify for the ERA title. But what other group should I compare him to? — everyone who got 10 starts? or 1 start? or all professional baseball players?

      I think it’s fair to call Jon Garland or Jason Marquis a mediocre starting pitcher. I think it’s understood that such evaluation is not in comparison to all human beings, or all professional ballplayers.

      I wonder if the perception of CC’s first 5 years isn’t somewhat colored by his W-L record of 69-45, a .605 W% that is far out of line with his 107 ERA+. The other SPs with 50+ decisions and a 106-108 ERA+ in those years had an average .546 W%, which would have given CC a 62-52 record.

      In particular, his rookie mark of 17-5, with a high 8.5 SO/9 and league-best 7.4 H/9, gave a patina of future stardom. Yet his ERA+ was only 102 that year, and his SO rate sank to 6.7 or below for the next 3 years.

      I just don’t see anything special in those first 5 years, beyond that one year of high SO rate, which was not sustained. Just about all aspects of his stat lines for those years were consistently so-so.

      Were there many individual games of brilliance to offset those unamazing totals? I’ll compare him only to other pitchers age 24 and under during 2001-05:
      — CC’s high in SO was 11. That was bested 30 times by 16 young pitchers.
      — CC’s high Game Score was 85. That was bested 42 times by 31 young pitchers; 9 did it twice or more.
      — CC had 3 game scores of 80+ before his 25th birthday; 12 pitchers had more.
      — CC had 6 CG (3 had more, 3 had as many) and 2 shutouts (7 had more, 10 had as many).

      What if we lower the IP threshold for the 5-year comparison, to take in some pitchers who got a shot in the rotation but couldn’t hold it? For the years 2001-05, for SPs with at least 400 total IP, the median ERA+ was 104; CC’s 107 ranked 45th-53rd, out of 129 pitchers.

      What am I missing that rebuts my characterization of CC’s first 5 years?

      • 47
        Lawrence Azrin says:

        How about calling C.C Sabathia a “league-average innings-eater” his first five years? There’s still lots of value in that.

      • 57
        MikeD says:

        John, words are emotionally charged, some carrying positive meaning, some carrying negative. Middling is not an incorrect term at all, but might leave some feeling a little, umm, flaccid. Someone used the word mediocre (not you), another ordinary, and I think you also used “so-so,” terms that

        I can see it now. Fred Wilpon turning to Sandy Alderson & Co. asking, “why can’t my high-priced front-office guys just go out find some middling or so-so starting pitcher?”, with Sandy responding, “Fred, how do you define middling?” Fred: “Well, a pitcher who has shown a consistent track record over the past five years of being an above league-average starter who can give us 200 innings.” Sandy: “Fred, can you have a seat so I can bring Peter Brand in to have a discussion.”

        Your term is not incorrect, yet I’d probably categorize Sabathia during his Cleveland years as a good pitcher, because his 107 ERA+ says he was above league average and he was delivering a good number of innings, hence his approximate 3.6 fWAR average during those years.

      • 62
        Ed says:

        John – I would guess that part of the reaction against the use of the term “middling” is that people assume that the league-wide ERA+ is 100. And in his first five seasons, Sabathia was above 100 four times (though only significantly once). Of course, it turns out that the league-wide ERA+ is higher than 100 as you’ve shown above.

        • 64
          John Autin says:

          Ed — The league ERA+ is always 100, by definition (at least if you factor out interleague games). But the median for qualifying pitchers is usually above 100.

          • 87
            birtelcom says:

            Essentially what J.A. is saying here, as I understand it, is Sabathia in his early years was at the level of a pretty good #2 guy in an average starting rotation.

            On average, over the years 2001-2005, about three pitchers a year per team got to the 162 IP needed to qualify for the ERA leadership. If you are “middling” among that group, you are neither a typical #3 guy in the rotation or an ace either. You are not the worst #2 rotation guy in the league, and not the best either, you’re more in the middle of the #2 guys. That’s what a 107 ERA+, with at least 162 IP, got you over the period 2001-2007.

            Another way to get there is to point out that there were 217 qualifying seasons of at least 107 ERA+ from 2001 through 2005. 217 pitcher seasons and 150 team-seasons (30 teams times five seasons) means just about 1.5 pitcher seasons of a qualifying ERA+ of 107 or over per team on average. So again the lowest performing pitchers in this group — right at 107 ERA+ — will on average be the number #2 guy in an average (neither great nor terrible) starting rotation.

  9. 33
    Mike L says:

    I think Sabathia is the classic Yankee ace-really good, but not absolutely among the all-time elite. Look at the lifetime ERA+ numbers for pitchers with 1000 innings or more, and with the exception of the cyborg known as Rivera, you have to go down to Whitey Ford at 29th, Spud Chandler at 32nd (only 1485 innings) and Lefty Gomez at 57th (2503 innings.) In deference to all here, I am not going to imply that they “pitched to the score”

    • 42
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      Do you think Sabathia has any chance to pass Ford and Rivera as the best Yankees pitcher ever?? It’s kind of a longshot, but if he pitches till age 40, he could pile up over 200 wins as a Yankee, plus some other impressive stats.

      I kinda doubt it, though; both Ford and Rivera pitched too well too long as Yankees. Not pitching for the Yankees till age 28, plus C.C’s body type, are the two main limiting factors.

      • 77
        bstar says:

        Lawrence, I just don’t see his body type being a factor. Think of some big guys like Rick Reuschel, David Wells, and Gaylord Perry. They all pitched well past 40. Sabathia’s a damn fine athlete despite his weight; he can even hit a little if he goes back to the NL. And people also forget that the guy is 6’7″. Sure, he’s rotund too, but if he was 6′ I don’t think as big of a deal would be made of his weight.

  10. 37
    Dave V. says:

    Many good points throughout this thread. In looking over Sabathia’s career, while his ERA+ was not especially special early in his career, his WAR totals weren’t too shabby. I see that in his first five seasons, he produced WAR’s of 2.7, 2.8, 3.8, 3.3 and 1.8 for a total of 14.4. Those first 4 seasons could be considered All-Star worthy, if we look at 2.5 WAR as a marginal All-Star season (as discussed in a prior thread, with the WAAS concept; also, Sabathia did in fact make the All-Star team in the two seasons with highest WAR just mentioned). While it may not have made him historically elite, getting to a level where you played around an All-Star level your first 4 seasons in the majors in which you started off as a 20-year old, isn’t too bad either 🙂

  11. 39
    topper009 says:

    I was actually at Sabathia’s should have been no-hitter in Pittsburgh on August 31, 2008 while carrying Milwaukee to the playoffs. Complete crap, in the 5th inning Andy LaRoche hit a little nubber right back to Sabathia and he bobbled it…and it was ruled the first (and only) hit of the game.

    You can see this “hit” at the 1:05 point in this video

    Can anyone one else find a near no-hitter that was the pitcher’s fault(1 hit in the pitchers fielding area)?

    • 48
      John Autin says:

      Topper, I can’t find one of those. But here’s a game where Dick Bosman’s throwing error turned a perfect game into a “mere” no-hitter:

    • 50
      John Autin says:

      Of course, there’s the Galarraga game:

      You might call the one “hit” his own fault — if he had better framed his catch of Cabrera’s throw for the ump’s benefit, it would have been a PG.

    • 51
      John Autin says:

      Aha (maybe) — this 1-hitter by Mat Latos describes the 1 hit as “Single to P (Ground Ball to Weak SS).”

      • 54
        topper009 says:

        Nice work, here is the hit at the 1:10 mark, sharp liner the bounced off Latos, very, very close to a 1-5-3 groundout. It looks like the ball hit his leg and not his glove, but I’m sure he makes that play sometimes. No way it could be ruled an error however. Chase Headley could have done him a favor by throwing the ball into the stands which may have resulted in an error.

        Did you find this one using the manual method?

        • 56
          John Autin says:

          I found that by searching for CG of 9 IP where H=1, BB=0, BF=28 or less. I was specifically targeting near-perfect games.

          The Hamilton/Sadecki game (see #55 below) I found by googling “bunt hit spoils no-hitter.”

          • 78
            bstar says:

            Did that search bring up the Ben Davis bunt single late in the game against Curt Schilling, a move that then-manager Bob Brenly called “chicken s**t”?

        • 79
          bstar says:

          oops, I see below you did find that one, too. My bad.

    • 52
      topper009 says:

      That hurts for Bosman, I would know who he was if he would have made that throw he had made 1000s of times since he was a little kid.

      The Galarraga perfecto is a pretty good example, although he didn’t do anything wrong and it was hit to the 1B.

      Are there any examples of a 1-hitter with the only safety being a bunt hit?

      • 55
        John Autin says:

        Here’s one from 1966 — Jack Hamilton’s no-no ruined by a 3rd-inning bunt single by opposing pitcher Ray Sadecki. (He was bunting for a hit, by the way; 2 outs, none on, trailing 5-0.)

        It happened against the Mets, of course.

        P.S. Four days later, Sadecki was traded to the Giants for Orlando Cepeda.

      • 60
        John Autin says:

        In this 2006 game, Ben Zobrist broke up Jarrod Washburn’s no-no with a 6th-inning leadoff bunt hit. But Washburn gave up 2 more hits in the 7th and then was pulled.

        And here’s one from 2001. Ben Davis broke up Curt Schilling’s no-no with a 1-out bunt single in the 8th. Many D-backs expressed indignation, even though the score was 2-0 and 25-HR man Bubba Trammell was up next. Schilling gave up 2 more hits in the 9th to finish with a 3-hit CG win.

        BTW, I have no patience for anyone who thinks you shouldn’t bunt during a no-hitter even when your reaching base would bring up the tying run. No “code” should ever interfere with playing to win. (Here’s a discussion of that game on its 10-year anniversary.)

        • 63
          Ed says:

          Agree 100% John. The reaction against Davis, particularly by other baseball players, was bizarre.

        • 71
          Doug says:

          The reaction to Ben Davis reminds me of when Pete Rose had his 44-game hit streak snapped as the Reds lost to the Braves on Aug 1, 1978.

          I recall criticism that the Braves brought in their closer, junk-baller Gene Garber, to start the 7th inning with an 8-4 lead. The implication was the Braves were “cowardly” in trying to retire Rose with junk pitches rather than “being manly” and challenging Rose with hard stuff.

          Soft stuff or not, Rose lined to the 3rd baseman (shades of Joe D’s streak-breking game) in the 7th and then struck out in the 9th to end the game. The Braves ended up winning a laugher 16-4 as Garber earned his 13th save in 18 appearances since joining Atlanta in June. It was Garber’s 3rd straight appearance with a 3-inning save, and his 6th save of that length and 10th of over one inning among those 13 – how times have changed.

      • 70
        Doug says:

        Ken Hill was perfect for the Rangers in this 1996 game, but for a “Single to P (Ground Ball to P’s Left)” by Bobby Higginson in the 1st inning.

        Hill went to a 3-ball count only once in the game, on a 5th inning strikeout of Melvin Nieves. Hill also ended up in the leadoff spot in the batting order, after DH Warren Newson moved to RF in the 9th inning.

      • 74
        Richard Chester says:


        I remember reading in the Charlton Chronology that there was a game where a pitcher lost a no-hitter because he failed to cover first base on a grounder to the right side. If I can retrieve it I will post the details.

        • 76
          Richard Chester says:

          On 5/11/22 Bill Doak missed a no-hitter due to a bunt single by Dave Bancroft. It happened in the first inning.
          Later that year, on 7/13, Doak missed a no-hitter when he failed to cover first on a ground ball to the right side. This happened in the 7th inning.

          • 83
            Richard Chester says:

            Bobo Newsom missed a no-hitter on 7/10/36 because he failed to cover first.

          • 86
            John Autin says:

            Bobo Newsom tossed five 9-inning one-hitters, three of them against Detroit, but he never did get the no-no. Since 1919, only 3 pitchers have more 9-inning one-hitters — Ryan (12), Feller (11) and Carlton (6). Six others also have 5 such games.

            In Newsom’s 1938 one-hitter, he fanned Greenberg 4 times; he was the only pitcher ever to do that.

            Detroit did not get no-hit between 1922 (Charlie Robertson) and 1948 (Bob Lemon). They were one-hit eight times in that span, counting Newsom’s three.

          • 100
            nightfly says:

            John, when I saw your list of one-hitters, I immediately said “Dave Stieb.” Of course, he did eventually get the no-no, but he came so heartbreakingly close before then… three consecutive starts with no-nos broken up in the ninth, IIRC. I would have thought he had more than five, though.

          • 101
            nightfly says:

            AHA. That’s my mistake. Stieb did lose three no-no’s with one out to go, but only two were consecutive. And the third wound up being a two-hitter, hence it’s not on the career one-hitters list. Stieb does have five 1-hitters total if I’m counting correctly: three in ’88 and two in ’89.

            HHS or bbref has covered Stieb before, right?

          • 102
            Richard Chester says:

            Stieb pitched one-hitters on 9-24-88 and 9-30-88. His next start was 4-5-89 and he had 8 IP giving up 4 hits. His next start was 4-10-89 and he pitched another one-hitter giving him 3 in 4 games.
            He is one of 6 pitchers to throw two consecutive one-hitters, the others being Rube Marquard, Lon Warneke, Mort Cooper, Whitey Ford and Jack McDowell.

    • 58
      Doug says:

      Here’s the opposite.

      Bob Forsch gets the no-hitter on Apr 16, 1978, despite what should have been a clean 8th inning single into right field by Gary Maddox.

      I saw the game on TV and it was a laser shot to the 3rd baseman’s left that barely ticked off the end of his glove. To me, very clearly a homer official scoring call.

    • 59
      Richard Chester says:

      Hook Wiltse retired the first 26 men he faced on 7/4/08 and then hit the 27th batter with a pitch. He ended up with a ten-inning no-hitter. He retired the the side in order in the tenth and the Giants scored a run in the bottom of the tenth. Of course if he retired the 27th batter it does not mean he would have retired the side in order in the top of the tenth. Also there was a two-strike count on that 27th batter and the umpire called the next pitch, a close one, a ball and then later admitted that it could have been called a strike. The HBP came on the next pitch.

      • 73
        Doug says:

        Too bad for Hooks. He hit only 40 batters in more than 2000 IP in his career. In constrast, his older brother Snake Wiltse plunked 26 guys in just over 500 IP.

        • 94
          John Autin says:

          Awesome, Doug — I’d never noticed Snake Wiltse before.

          And now I see that he holds two records (since 1901):
          — Most runs allowed, 226; and
          — Worst ERA+ in a 300-IP season, 73.

          • 97
            Doug says:

            Snake Wiltse also ranks 7th among pitchers in career OPS+ (min 300 PAs) as a batter. He is one of probably a very few pitchers whose career OPS+ as a batter is better than his ERA+. Doc Crandall and Ken Brett are two others who have done this.

    • 61
      Doug says:

      One of Nolan Ryan’s one-hitters was almost another no-hitter thanks to a homer official scoring call.

      With one out in the top of the 8th, the Yankees Jim Spencer apparently broke up Ryan’s no-no with a bloop into center on which the Angels’ Rick Miller charged hard and almost made on a shoe-string catch. After a bit of a delay, the scoreboard flashed E8 and the Yankees dugout spilled onto the field in protest, with Reggie Jackson shaking his fist in the direction of the official scorer behind home plate. Reggie got his revenge, breaking up the no-hit bid with a 1-out single in the 9th.

      • 65
        Ed says:

        Wow, I thought I was the only one who remembered that Nolan Ryan game. I actually watched it on tv. Why there was a live baseball game on a Friday night in the pre-cable era, I have no idea. (I was living in Ohio at the time, so it was by no means a local game).

        Anyway, the error call on Miller was definitely a terrible call but I remember the announcers tried to justify it on the basis of Miller being a Gold Glove centerfielder.

      • 66
        John Autin says:

        Interesting game. It marked a turning point in Ryan’s season; he was 12-6, 2.54 through that game, but went 5-9, 5.59 the rest of the way, which probably sealed Buzzie Bavasi’s decision to let Ryan go free-agent after that year. (Bavasi famously quipped that all he had to do to replace Ryan was find a couple of 8-7 pitchers.)

    • 69
      Doug says:


      Here’s another one – Alex Fernandez in 1997.

      Described as “Single to P (Ground Ball to Weak 2B)”, it came with 1 out in the 9th and the Marlins leading the Cubs 1-0. The game got interesting after that with the Marlins making errors on the next two balls in play, but Fernandez got out of the jam, striking out Ryne Sandberg to end the game.

      • 103
        nightfly says:

        Rhino played in 1997?? I thought he retired after the strike.


        Sandberg hit 25 homers in 1996? Wait, did I sleep through an entire year?

  12. 43
    John Autin rocks says:

    this is Andy just testing the email notification system….

  13. 44
    John Autin rocks says:

    Another test…don’t worry—John still rocks.

  14. 49
    Dave V. says:

    Thinking more about Sabathia’s first 5 seasons, which went through his age 24 season, I was curious as to how his WAR through age 24 stacked up against other starting pitchers who have debuted since 1950…so here’s a just-for-fun, by-no-means comprehensive list of WAR through the age 24 season for a bunch of starting pitchers that I thought were good or interesting enough to look up:

    Blyleven – 35.1 WAR
    Tanana – 30.9
    Gooden – 30.2
    Drysdale – 29.1
    Felix – 24.4
    Fernando – 23.8
    Seaver – 21.5
    Saberhagen – 20.4
    Clemens – 20.3
    Matlack – 20.1
    D.Chance – 17.8
    Stieb – 17.3
    K.Holtzman – 17.1
    C.Kershaw – 16.9 (still has a year to go)
    Zambrano – 15.4
    H.Score – 15.0
    Candelaria – 14.7
    Appier – 14.5
    **SABATHIA – 14.4**
    Prior – 14.2
    Maddux – 13.7
    Carlton – 13.7
    Zito – 13.7
    Pedro – 13.5
    Buehrle – 12.7
    Sutton – 12.6
    V.Blue – 12.3
    J.Maloney – 12.1
    Smoltz – 12.0
    Gubicza – 11.5
    Palmer – 11.4
    Greinke – 11.4
    Peavy – 11.3
    Mussina – 10.8
    F.Garcia – 10.8
    D.McLain – 10.8
    S.Avery – 10.7
    Hamels – 10.4
    Oswalt – 10.1
    M.Stottlemyre – 9.9
    Mulder – 9.7
    R.Martinez – 9.5
    B.Turley 9.2
    F.Jenkins – 9.1
    Lincecum – 8.9
    S.Fernandez – 8.9
    K.Wood – 8.6
    Reuschel – 8.4
    Pettitte – 8.3
    Welch – 8.1
    J.Vazquez – 7.9
    B.Singer – 7.9
    Verlander – 7.7
    Jer.Weaver – 7.5
    Catfish – 7.3
    T.Hudson – 7.2
    Koufax – 6.9
    Marichal – 6.9
    Lolich – 6.9
    Johan – 6.7
    D.Martinez – 6.6
    W.Ford – 6.5
    Beckett – 6.5
    Millwood – 6.4
    J.Morris – 6.1
    S.Rogers – 5.5
    Tiant – 5.4
    Kaat – 5.1
    Soto – 5.1
    B.Webb – 4.9
    Bouton – 4.9
    T.John – 4.8
    Glavine – 4.0
    Key – 3.9
    N.Ryan – 3.7
    Rijo – 3.6
    Carpenter – 3.5
    J.McDowell – 3.4
    K.Brown – 3.1
    Viola – 2.9
    Haren – 2.6
    Halladay – 2.5
    McNally – 2.5
    B.Gibson – 1.3
    Wainwright – 1.3
    Cone – 0.9
    C.Lee – 0.9
    R.Johnson – 0.6
    D.Wells – 0.4
    Guidry – 0.2
    C.Finley – 0.2
    A.Leiter – 0.2
    JR Richard – 0.2
    W.Wood – 0.1
    Hershiser – -0.2
    Colon – -0.2
    Hough – -0.3
    Schilling – -0.3
    Koosman – -0.5
    Bunning – -0.5
    G.Perry – -1.5

    • 53
      John Autin says:

      And here’s the active leaders for SP WAR in their first 5 years:
      – 24.4, Felix Hernandez
      – 17.4, Scott Kazmir
      – 17.0, Matt Cain
      – 16.9, Clayton Kershaw
      – 15.4, Carlos Zambrano
      – 14.8, Dontrelle Willis
      – 14.4, CC Sabathia
      – 13.7, Barry Zito
      – 12.7, Mark Buehrle
      – 12.3, John Danks

    • 81
      bstar says:

      Great list, Dave, it seems that despite CC’s “mediocre”-ish start, he started early enough age-wise to compile some good pre-25 numbers. There are only 3 Hall of Famers above him(plus Clemens).

      • 84
        Dave V. says:

        Thanks and I went through numbers for another 178 pitchers on top of the 101 pitcher listed above. So of the 279 total pitchers, only 25 of them had a higher WAR through their age 24 season than Sabathia did (new additions included below):

        Blyleven – 35.1 WAR
        Tanana – 30.9
        Gooden – 30.2
        Drysdale – 29.1
        L.Dierker – 27.7 (just added to the list)
        Felix – 24.4
        Fernando – 23.8
        G.Nolan – 22.6 (just added to the list)
        Seaver – 21.5
        Saberhagen – 20.4
        Clemens – 20.3
        Matlack – 20.1
        D.Chance – 17.8
        Kazmir – 17.4 (just added to the list)
        Stieb – 17.3
        K.Holtzman – 17.1
        M.Cain – 17.0 (just added to the list)
        C.Kershaw – 16.9
        S.McDowell – 16.7 (just added to the list)
        Zambrano – 15.4
        I.Valdez – 15.4 (just added to the list)
        H.Score – 15.0
        D.Willis – 14.8 (just added to the list)
        Candelaria – 14.7
        Appier – 14.5
        **SABATHIA – 14.4**

        • 85
          John Autin says:

          Just to clarify, Dave — you’re still talking about since 1950? The Play Index finds 27 pitchers debuting after 1950 with more WAR through age 24 than Sabathia’s 14.4.

          In all, 48 pitchers have done this since 1893, 37 in the live-ball era, and 25 in the expansion era.

          • 91
            Dave V. says:

            Yup, I am. I had Eckersley noted but now see I mistakenly didn’t type him in either post. I had missed Ellsworth altogether. I wasn’t using the Play Index for a few reasons: 1.) I like manual searches when possible, as I get a better feel for players whom I may not know much about, 2.) I recently let my subscription lapse without renewing and 3.) I didn’t know the Play Index could be used in this particular way…it’s cool to know it can be used like this.

            Here’s what the career WAR’s ended up being for the top 28, including Sabathia:

            Blyleven – 90.1
            Tanana – 55.1
            Gooden – 47.6
            Drysdale – 65.7
            L.Dierker – 38.1
            Eckersley – 58.7
            Felix – 29.1 and counting
            Fernando – 38.2
            G.Nolan – 27.4
            Seaver – 105.3
            Saberhagen – 54.7
            Clemens – 128.4
            Matlack – 38.7
            Ellsworth – 23.3
            D.Chance – 31.9
            Kazmir – 17.0 and counting
            Stieb – 53.0
            K.Holtzman – 27.5
            M.Cain – 25.0 and counting
            C.Kershaw – 16.9 and counting
            S.McDowell – 41.2
            Zambrano – 31.8 and counting
            I.Valdez – 23.3
            H.Score – 14.1
            D.Willis – 13.0 and counting
            Candelaria – 37.8
            Appier – 50.4
            Sabathia – 49.2 and counting

          • 93
            Dave V. says:

            Also, just expanding it out to 1947 to include the entire integration era, it looks like two more pitchers were above Sabathia through age 24:

            R.Roberts – 20.0 (lifetime WAR 80.9)
            N.Garver – 14.5 (lifetime WAR 35.8)

            So Sabathia ends up an even 30th amongst pitchers through their age 24 season since baseball integration.

        • 95
          Lawrence Azrin says:

          Very impressive research, Dave V., in putting the start of Sabathia’s career in the proper context.

          It was interesting seeing Gary Nolan’s name – as a kid, the back of his baseball card, with his low ERA and high W/L%, fascinated me. Looking at his B-R page now, it appears that all that work at a young age (he started at age 19 and had 226/ 150/ 108/ 250 IP his 1st four years) probably wore his arm down; his last full-time year was at 28, and he was out of MLB by age 30.

          His career trajectory reminds me of Jim Maloney, another Reds pitcher who started at a young age seven years before Nolan, had a high W/L%, and whose career also ended early. They both even finished their careers with the Angels.

          • 96
            Dave V. says:

            Thanks Lawrence and for Maloney, I thought he was going to be a guy who finished ahead of Sabathia on the list (he was fairly close, at 12.1 to Sabathia’s 14.4). Maloney is a pretty fascinating pitcher to me. In addition to his two no-hitters (one being a 10-inning no-hitter), he had another game in which he pitched 10 innings of no-hit ball with 18 K’s – and lost! He gave up an 11th inning HR to lose the no-hitter and game. It’s too bad the Reds couldn’t score for him, as otherwise he’d have three official no-hitters. And wow, in looking at that game’s boxscore (, he only had 1 walk as well and the Reds had no errors. That walk was in the 2nd inning with nobody out. So he then got 27 guys out after the game had started, without allowing another hit or walk (he did allow a runner to reach via wild pitch on a strikeout, in the 4th inning but that runner was subsequently erased on a double play). That is one heck of a game!

            As for Nolan, his early career is pretty fascinating to me as well…especially his 1972 season, where he only finished in a 3-way tie for 5th in the Cy Young voting. He may have “only” had a 3.5 WAR that season but it was still a heck of a season. If only he had been able to make more than 25 starts, who knows how good it might have been…

          • 104
            bstar says:

            If you’re gonna mention Cincinnati pitchers with great W-L records who flamed out early, how about Don Gullett? In fact, he’s 7th all-time on the WP% board, with a 107-50 record.

          • 112
            Dave V. says:

            @104 bstar – off the top of my head, I am going to say Gullett is at least one of the 2 or 3 = best starting pitchers with a WAR under 20, whose career is already over (Herb Score would probably be my top choice, as if it wasn’t for his freak injury, I think he would have been an all time great).

  15. 68
    MikeD says:

    Great post and good timing from my perspective as within the last week I was looking at Sabathia’s career numbers and for the first time it immediately struck me how there was a clear dividing line in his career. He had establish a consistent level of pitching over a number of years, and then raised it up, establishing a new consistent level of pitching, going from good pitcher to an elite pitcher. My gut reaction was there is probably something unique about Sabathia’s career path.

    Judging by the comments, I think people are struggling with trying to place the start of Sabathia’s career in historical context, and specifically trying to answer the question of what does it mean.

    John’s numbers are correct, meaning the exact path of Sabathia’s rise is unique. Yet getting back to the “okay, what does that really mean,” question, my take is that Sabathia is building a HOF career, and by the very nature of building a HOF career, he’s already in a unique or small compare group. The career statistics of HOFers are in some ways like fingerprints. Fingerprints look similar, sharing characteristics, but each one is quite different. I can look at Pete Rose’s individual numbers, and I can find players that have had similar seasons, but I can’t find anyone who has had a truly similar career to Pete Rose. Similarity scores try to address this, yet more times than not, similarity scores highlight just how different each player’s career truly is, and this seems to be more highlighted with HOF-caliber players.

    So while Sabathia’s numbers that create his statistical fingerprint are uniquely his, I can’t quite say I view him as being unique beyond the fact that he’s building a HOF career, which places him in a relatively small pool of players. Is he more unique than Roy Halladay, or Randy Johnson, or Sandy Koufax, or Cliff Lee, or even for that matter, Jamie Moyer, in that he established one level of pitching earlier in his career, and then got better? All of these players have established unique career statistical fingerprints, getting better as they aged, yet I’m more surprised by Cliff Lee and Jamie Moyer than I am by CC Sabathia.

    Anyway, not sure this added much to the discussion, but great post since it clearly made people think, myself included.

    • 82
      bstar says:

      I would put Curt Schilling and John Smoltz in that category too. A lot of people think Smoltzy was already good/great by his ’91 postseason heroics, but he really didn’t blossom until 1996.

  16. 88
    John Autin says:

    To expand on my statement that Sabathia is the only pitcher since 1901 with a qualifying ERA+ of at least 130 in each of his 6th through 11th seasons, here are the 12 pitchers with 6 such seasons in a row at any point of their careers (since 1893):

    8 years: Lefty Grove, years 2-9
    7 years: Addie Joss, years 2-8
    7 years: Ed Walsh, 3-9
    7 years: Miner Brown, 2-8
    7 years: Roger Clemens, 3-9
    7 years: Greg Maddux, 7-13
    6 years: Kid Nichols, 6-11
    6 years: Christy Mathewson, 9-14
    6 years: Walter Johnson, 5-10
    6 years: CC Sabathia, 6-11
    6 years: Kevin Brown, 9-14
    6 years: Randy Johnson, 10-15

    And in order of 6-year blocks of their career:
    1st-6th: None
    2-7: Grove, M.Brown, Joss
    3-8: Clemens, Grove, Walsh, M.Brown, Joss
    4-9: Clemens, Grove, W.Johnson, Walsh
    5-10: W.Johnson
    6-11: Sabathia, K.Nichols
    7-12: Maddux
    8-13: Maddux
    9-14: K.Brown, Mathewson
    10-15: R.Johnson
    11-16 and beyond: None

    (Let’s see if the Kevin Brown HOF committee will take this and run with it….)

    • 89
      bstar says:

      OK, i see now why Pedro is not on these lists at all….his 2001 season, where he only pitched ~120 innings. He’d have had a streak of 7 had he qualified that year, but I’m sure there are a few all-time greats who aren’t making these lists because of one off-year in IP. Really fun, exhaustive final look at it, John.

  17. 90
    Ed says:

    Maddux was oh so close to having an 11 year streak of 130 or above ERA plus. In 1999, his ERA+ was 126. In his final start that year, he pitched 3 innings, giving up 7 earned runs, and his ERA jumped from 3.33 to 3.57.

    No one else on John’s list was particularly close to having a longer streak.

  18. 98
    Lawrence Azrin says:

    #96/Dave V. –

    Larry Dierker also fits into this grouping with Gary Nolan and Jim Maloney, in that:

    – they started in the same decade (60s) in the NL
    – they started very young in MLB (Dierker’s debut was on his 18th birthday!)
    – they were almost entirely with only one team till the very end of their careers
    – they were worked very hard in their early years at an early age
    – they were very hard throwers
    – they pitched very well several years, but never quite seemed to fulfill the potential of their early years
    – their MLB career was basically over by age 30 (or earlier)

    I believe points 6 and 7 were closely connected to 4 and 5. Dierker wasn’t quite as good as the other two, but I always thought of those three in the same group.

    • 105
      bstar says:

      Dierker is the still the all-time leader in Astro IP.

    • 111
      Dave V. says:

      Good call on Dierker fitting in with them. He had 106 complete games by age 30 (when his career ended). Wow.

    • 129
      Hartvig says:

      Sam McDowell would fit pretty nicely into your group also.

      What made me think of that was that I was just re-reading Roger Angell’s wonderful book “Five Seasons”. It was a section where he was musing over the idea the Tom Seaver might be finished as an effective pitcher since he had had some difficult outings in the first half of the year and was sporting a losing record and McDowell was one of the pitchers who’s career he was comparing to Seaver’s.

      Seaver managed to eke out another 176 wins beyond that point.

      I guess even the best of us can look pretty silly if we try to predict the future sometimes.

  19. 106
    topper009 says:

    Sabathia’s most talented teammate ever, Ryan Braun, has WON his appeal and will not be suspended! ESPN and EVERYONE else who assumed he must have been guilty can start apologizing now!!!!

    • 107
      bstar says:

      WOW!! That is great for baseball in general. What was the short story of it, topper?

    • 108
      John Autin says:

      I understand your enthusiasm at getting your hometown star back, but I can’t imagine why you’d think anyone owed an apology for believing the reported test results. After all, this is (from what I’ve read) the first time such a suspension has been overturned.

      I’m sure we’re all curious about the details, but unfortunately nothing has come from MLB yet. The announcement was made in a statement by the MLBPA, which stated only that Braun won his grievance by a 2-1 vote of the arbitration panel.

      • 109
        Dave V. says:

        Wow indeed! It’s good to know he was cleared. Per, “Major League Baseball said Thursday in a statement that it “vehemently disagrees” with arbitrator Shyam Das’ decision to overturn Ryan Braun’s PED suspension…Das made the decision Thursday evening after hearing an appeal from Braun last month in New York City. According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “the appeal went Braun’s way not so much on contesting the result” but through “some kind of technicality.” ”

        I’m not surprised MLB is disagreeing with it, as Selig and Co. must think the reversal makes them look bad. In any case,count me as another who thinks this is great for baseball (though I too am curious to know more about the details).

      • 110
        Ed says:

        From the Milwaukee paper:

        “Someone familiar with the decision said the appeal went Braun’s way not so much on contesting the result of the test but the testing process itself, some kind of technicality. And it was arbitrator Shyam Das who decided to rule in favor on that technicality, making it a 2-1 decision by the three-man panel.”

        Hopefully more details will be forthcoming but that hardly sounds like a reason to apologize.

        • 128
          bstar says:

          Ed, someone on Fangraphs who has been in these appeal processes mentions that the decisions are always 2-1. The union rep always votes for the player, the league rep votes against. So, in reality, it was just 1-0.

      • 113
        topper009 says:

        ESPN should obviously apologize because the entire procedure was meant to be confidential until after an appeal was completed, and if they had not leaked no one would have EVER known about this entire thing.

        Everyone else should apologize because NO ONE ACTUALLY KNEW ANY FACTS. Everything was just some speculation from a “source” and people were using those “facts” to form opinions. The reporting on this story was equivalent to writing a doctoral thesis using wikipedia as the only source.

        The day this came out Braun said it was BS and he would be vindicated and ESPN and every other idiot with a “source” reported different things about no one ever winning an appeal before to some herpes related stories and now onto this “technicality”

        Maybe you should wait until all the facts are out to form an opinion. Braun will be having a press conference tomorrow

        • 115
          Dr. Doom says:

          Sorry, Topper, forgot to refresh my browser before I posted. But you’re spot-on. We didn’t know the facts, and the process is closed for a reason. We should’ve never known about this, and now poor Brauny will be stigmatized the rest of his career as a “user.”

          My instinct is that, even if it was a “technicality,” the arbiter probably would not have sided with him unless there was compelling evidence. But that’s an instinct, and not a fact.

        • 123
          Ed says:

          Topper: When you say “Maybe you should wait until all the facts are out to form an opinion” I’m guessing you’re directing your comment towards me since your comment immediately follows mine. Two points:

          1) I’m agnostic on whether or not Braun used PEDs. I’ve taken no position.

          2) It’s pretty clear that you’ve formed an opinion without knowing all the facts. To which all I can say is pot, kettle, black.

          • 126
            topper009 says:

            No that wasn’t to directed at you Ed, I was using the general “you” in the above rant.

            Also, I have not formed an opinion without knowing all the facts, Braun said this was BS, he had been tested dozens of times in his short career and never failed including several times during 2011, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt while this painfully long process dragged out. I never said I know he is not guilty until he was exonerated.

            Now, I have formed the opinion that people owe him an apology since he WAS EXONERATED and some people assumed he was guilty and had ridiculous reasons such as: no player has won an appeal so he must be guilty. Well I guess if you just saw 5 reds on the roulette wheel the next one must be black.

            An independent arbiter ruled on Braun’s side so the people that assumed that was impossible should be acknowledge their error, which really just means ESPN.

        • 124
          John Autin says:

          “the entire procedure was meant to be confidential until after an appeal was completed (emphasis added)

          Are you sure of that, Topper? I ask because I don’t know of any prior grievance hearings on this subject, so I don’t know if it’s normal to keep it confidential all the way.

          I don’t think most (non-baseball) grievance processes go that way, but that may have no bearing.

      • 114
        Dr. Doom says:

        It’s not so much that people should apologize for believing them. It’s partly that the test results shouldn’t have been reported in the first place. It was irresponsible to report it in the first place. Had it not been reported, we wouldn’t know about any of this, and it all would’ve been no big deal. Those results are supposed to remain confidential until the end of the appeals process, and it is so for a reason. Namely, players shouldn’t undergo character assassination in the media, especially if they’re not guilty. We shouldn’t have known about this at all, and that merits an apology.

  20. 116
    topper009 says:

    Another important distinction is that it was originally reported Braun tested positive for a “Performance Enhancing Drug” and later on reports suggested it just a banned substance that was not a masking agent, so ESPN was incorrect in their original report that most people still want to believe.

  21. 117
    Mike L says:

    Four things on Braun, and they probably aren’t going to be very popular here. First, the initial testing result was supposed to be confidential-it wasn’t because someone leaked it. If the leaker was either from the testing lab (an agent of MLB) someone in the chain of custody, or MLB, that should have ended the process-no suspension, no hearing, unless Braun wanted a information-only no-penalty hearing to clear his name-there has to be a penalty for leaking. Second, once it’s leaked, the news organizations, including ESPN have a duty to report it-they have a duty to get all their facts right, but if the reporting is “Ryan Braun has failed a drug test and is appealing” that was factually correct. It isn’t the media’s job to sit on a story once they come into possession of it (assuming no laws were broken) and it isn’t their job to determine actual guilt. Third, winning on a technicality is not necessarily the same as winning on the merits. I hope Ryan Braun didn’t use PEDS or a banned substance, but this isn’t the equivalent of a TKO. And finally, it’s up to Braun to decide how much additional information he wants out there, but it’s not going to do him any good to selectively release information. If he’s comfortable, and all the info exonerates him-great. How he handles the questions from this point forward is something he’s going to have to think about.

    • 118
      topper009 says:

      “Third, winning on a technicality is not necessarily the same as winning on the merits…but this isn’t the equivalent of a TKO”

      Considering neither you, nor any other human on the planet save probably about 10 people deeply involved in the appeal process, actually know the details of what this “technically” is do NOT assume that there must be something here that is not a TKO for Braun.

    • 119
      topper009 says:

      So I guess if the New York Times had a “source” in the Allied headquarters in early June 1944 they had a “duty” to report that D-Day was on June 6th.

      Now that may be an extreme example, but just because you have some information does mean you are obliged to report it. Stop pretending like ESPN broke this because of their strong journalistic integrity and sense of duty instead of their desire for ratings.

      The information ESPN had was meant to be confidential, if anything it was their duty to keep it quiet.

      • 120
        Mike L says:

        I respect your passion. I did say people would disagree. Two points. The first is, I don’t have to pretend that ESPN was operating with journalistic integrity. There is no duty by news organizations to keep embarrassing info private, and most of the time, that’s a good thing, because in a democracy, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

        The second is, I don’t pretend to know what went on in that room, I was merely making a lawyer’s observation that “not guilty” is not the same as “didn’t do it”.

        The report the Times just posted included the following: “The person with knowledge of the appeal said that the test was given on Saturday, Oct. 1, the Brewers’ first game of the postseason, in which Braun got three hits in four at-bats in leading Milwaukee to a 4-1 victory.’ The test was given after the game, and by then, the tester claimed, there was no open FedEx center to drop off the sample, the person said. Instead, the tester said, he took the sample home and stored it in a refrigerator until he could bring it to an open FedEx center on Monday.”

        Based just on that, I think the arbitrator was correct in throwing out the sample, and so I think the appeal was correctly decided. The test result itself wasn’t challenged-how it got tainted is something no one can say with certainty until someone fesses up.

        • 122
          bstar says:

          There are also reports that Braun’s camp think they could have won despite this technicality; there are reports that he was taking a medication for an STD which may have caused his testosterone to spike; there are also claims that the testosterone level was so high it was almost impossible to be a correct result.

        • 125
          topper009 says:

          I am just getting sick of all of this “person with knowledge of the appeal”

          What person, who is this, what is this guys name and job title? What was his exact involvement in the process? Then I hear things like it is supposed to be confidential so the source cannot be revealed, well if it is supposed to be confidential then why isn’t this source being investigated and charged for breaking the confidentiality agreement?

          On top of all this BS by ESPN trying to cover their tails, it is infuriating that MLB has not spoken at all about the leak, apologized for it and stated how they plan on finding and firing the person that leaked this info in the first place.

      • 121
        John Autin says:

        I don’t think the D-Day analogy works at all, but I actually agree that there was no compelling reason for ESPN to report the leaked test results. Nobody but ESPN is better off because of their reporting that story when they did, instead of when (if ever) MLB would have announced it. And while I agree with most of Mike L’s remarks @117/120, I don’t see the need for ESPN as a “disinfectant” in this particular situation. There’s no reason to think that MLB was planning to bury the test results, or that they were not going to take appropriate action if not for ESPN’s breaking the story.

        Further, if we’re never going to get a clear explanation of what the hell happened, either with the tests or with the hearing, then I wish I’d never heard anything about it.

        Still, no matter how the information got into my head, it’s there. Whether or not anyone else has treated Braun unfairly in this whole process, it’s not unfair of me to let the reported test results color my view of him. And that view can only change with more information, not by pretending that I never got the original information.

  22. 130
    Mike L says:

    One last point on Braun. If The Times report is correct that the arbitration turned on the sample not making FedEx, then the entire testing program is going to be in trouble. You will only be able to test at times and in places where you can drop off at FedEx right after. That means no evenings, no national holidays, (in many places) no Sundays, etc. etc. Further, if the reason you throw out the test is because of the time-lag, then you must be assuming that the sample itself isn’t otherwise sealed. MLB is probably livid because the whole protocol is going to have to be re-worked.

    • 131
      Dr. Doom says:

      Nah. MLB teams all play in major cities. There are 24-hour FedEx spots in (I would guess) all MLB cities. There is a 24-hour FedEx less than ten miles from Miller Park. I just found that it, and it took me less than a minute to do so. I actually don’t like how much blame some people (not on this site) are laying on the courier. Frankly, his instructions should have been better. And it’s also MLB’s (or the testing agency’s) job to know that, if FedEx in Milwaukee (or Cincinnati or wherever) isn’t open on Saturday, you shouldn’t test on Saturday. It seems like the workaround would be pretty easy, actually. If MLB is not instructing their couriers well enough, that’s their problem.

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