Revisiting the Sabathia contract

Posted by Steve

Since the only Brewers-based topic worth writing about now is the baffling fact that Casey McGehee still has a spot in the lineup, and since I just can’t bring myself to write about that anymore, I thought I’d change things up and go back three years to look at the contract CC Sabathia got from the Yankees. Seems timely with the Brewers facing him this afternoon.

After an otherwordly run leading the Brewers to the playoffs, the team tried everything they could to retain him. In the end, it was no contest, as the Yankees’ offer blew them out of the water by $60 million or so.

Basically, I wanted to take a look at whether Sabathia has been worth the money so far, and whether he’s likely to be worth his huge contract going forward.

In 2008, between Cleveland and Milwaukee, Sabathia put up a 7.6 WAR. His K/9 was 8.93, and his BB/9 was 2.1. He threw an incredible 253 innings.

Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t approached that performance in New York (it was such a good year that it was very unlikely to be duplicated). He’s still been very good, especially in 2009, but overall, he’s been a very good pitcher, not an elite one.

xFIP, K/9, BB/9

2008: 8.93 K/9, 2.1 BB/9

2009: 7.71 K/9, 2.62 BB/9

2010: 7.46 K/9, 2.80 BB/9

2011: 6.86 K/9, 2.21 BB/9

Basically, his peripheral stats have declined in each year since leaving the Brewers (except his walk rate has been very good this season). Normally, that would be an alarming trend and a warning sign that he’s in decline. Sabathia is a unique case, though, because of his incredible durability.

Those numbers alone aren’t great, but when they come over the amount of innings he provides, they end up being very valuable. Let’s take a look now at his innings total and how it affects his total value.

Innings total, WAR, Fangraphs Dollar Value (Ranks in baseball)

2008: 253 innings (1st), 7.6 WAR (1st), $34.4 million (1st)

2009: 230 innings (6th), 6.3 WAR (8th), $28.4 million (8th)

2010: 237.2 innings (3rd), 5.1 WAR (13th), $20.4 million (13th)

2011: 122 innings(7th), 3.4 WAR (6th)

Cumulative rankings from 2009-2011

Sabathia ranks 4th in innings pitched, 7th in WAR and has been worth $62.5 million, meaning he’s actually outperformed his contract to this point.

He’s really an incredible pitcher in the sense that he repeatedly logs huge inning totals and never gets injured.

Of course, we’re only halfway through year 3 in a 7-year contract. Here’s where I think the difference between the Yankees and Brewers comes into play.

It’s easy to sit here in hindsight and say the Brewers should have matched the Yankees’ offer, because Sabathia has outperformed his contract to this point. Even if he falls off a cliff, it’s very difficult to see him accumulating anything less than $100 million in value over the seven years unless he gets injured.

For the Yankees, paying $160 million for $100 million worth of production is no big deal. They have the assets to make that possible. For the Brewers, that would be a franchise killer. If they pay $160 million, they need very close to $160 million in production, because that amounts to a much higher percentage of payroll than New York. The Brewers simply couldn’t take the risk of 7/$160, while the Yankees could afford to.

Sabathia should have been expected to outperform his contract over three years. I don’t expect him to over seven years, however, and that’s just fine for the Yankees. It was a good move for both teams–a good signing by the Yankees given their situation, and a good non-signing by the Brewers given theirs. It will be interesting to see whether CC opts out of his contract after this season, which he has the right to do. He may think he can get a better deal than 4 years, $92 million he’ll have remaining on his contract. I think he probably could (most likely from the Yankees, a la A-Rod a few years back). Either way, it was a colossal move that the Brewers were right not to match.

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3 responses to “Revisiting the Sabathia contract

  1. It was obviously a huge pickup by the Brewers, but what was the reasoning behind CC signing with that team at that time? Obviously he wanted to play for a contender, but why the Brewers? It wasn’t even a lock that they were going to make the playoffs; the Brewers were obviously in a better situation than the Indians but I guess looking back it’s kind of a head-scratcher for me. It certainly turned out well with them winning the Wild Card but they could have just as easily gone in the opposite direction. Was it just because he knew at the end of the year he’d be getting some huge offers so it didn’t really matter where he spent the second half of the season?

  2. Shawn, CC had no say in where he went. He was traded in his final year with the Indians for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, and a couple other players. The reason he got so much credit is he was willing to pitch a ton of innings on short rest even though it was pretty clear he wouldn’t be here long term.

  3. Ohhhhh-kay, he was traded, that makes sense. Yet again your baseball knowledge has humbled me to little league levels.

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