CC Sabathia has thrown 200 innings or more in each of the last six seasons. His highest ERA in that time was 3.38; his lowest ERA+ was 123. To put that in perspective, here's a list of pitchers who have done that as often in the expansion era:
It's the names that don't show up that are more surprising. There's no Johan Santana, David Cone, or Tim Hudson on that list. Heck, there's no Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, or Sandy Koufax on that list. And that's for 200 IP/120 ERA+ seasons over a full career. Sabathia did his in a row. Yep, seems like there's no one in baseball more consistent than CC Sabathia.
Counterpoint: He's kind of bad now. Or, at least, he's having a bad season. And if you want more glum news, note that the highest ERA, lowest ERA+, and lowest innings-pitched total all came last season. There's a trend if you squint, and it's not encouraging.
The villain early in the season appeared to be reduced velocity, but he's getting that back. He's been back to his 2012 velocity over his last 10 starts, touching 93 and above several times. This has helped him complete one of the worst three-game stretches of his career. It was a nice theory, at least.
The point of all this isn't to catch you up on the comings and goings of CC Sabathia. It's to ask a question. In the grand tradition of "What kind of contract would you give Albert Pujols right now?" and "What kind of contract would you give Josh Hamilton right now?", let's turn our attention to Sabathia's deal. Just how much does he have left?
Well, that's not exactly good news for the Yankees, but it wasn't quite as bad as I thought. And I had the perfect "Cathy" panel ready for my reaction, too. But it's not a small amount, and Sabathia probably wouldn't get anything close to that kind of contract again if he were magically a free agent after the season ended. Certainly not an annual basis.
So how much would you want your team to sign him for? Before you answer, revisit that list of 25 pitchers up there. Remember the criteria for the list is over a full career, not consecutive seasons.
Juan Marichal had a bump in the road in his age-32 season, but he returned strong the following year. That was his last good season, though.
Roy Oswalt came back strong after his first down season (2009), but he faded quickly after. Kevin Brown followed the same pattern, though he was 37 when he had his first bad year.
Dave Stieb wasn't so hot in '86 and '87, but he rattled off three fantastic seasons after that. He was pretty much finished after he turned 32, though.
Roger Clemens hit a rough patch when he was 36, but he came back stronger than ever, which is weird when you think about it, him being older than the typical pitcher, but I'm sure it was just one of those things, like mechanical or whatnot, and he probably trained really hard, so he's kind of inspiring, and maybe that's someone struggling, aging pitchers can look up to, you know?
Fergie Jenkins had a few good years after his age-32 downtick. That might be a good comp.
But when you sift through a list of comparable pitchers, the trend is pretty clear: Once the pitcher has his first uncharacteristic season, he starts redefining what his characteristic season really is. That doesn't augur well for the next few years if you're Sabathia.
What you're looking for is a way to balance the risk and reward. Which is the point of every contract, I suppose. But with Sabathia, you really have to focus on that risk. The odds are pretty good that Sabathia isn't going to be the same pitcher again. But the reward is still a pitcher who is potentially well above average. Mark Buehrle got a four-year, $58-million deal at the same age with that kind of ceiling, but he didn't sign that deal after a down season. But we can still use that as the baseline.
My answer: three years, $52 million, with all sorts of performance clauses. I still believe in Sabathia. I just don't $100-million believe in him. Someone would take the chance, though. As is, he's either the Yankees' problem or not-so-secret weapon.