Commentary

CC not worthy of King Felix's crown

Seattle's Cy Young Award winner superior to Sabathia in every way but wins

Updated: November 19, 2010, 9:12 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

CC Sabathia's value to the Yankees is nearly impossible to debate.

His 21 wins accounted for nearly a quarter of the team's victories. Ten of those 21 wins followed a Yankees loss, and even more impressive, on 17 occasions, he had to pitch the game after Javier Vazquez or A.J. Burnett -- incredibly difficult acts to follow because you simply cannot afford to bomb out.

But then, all season long Sabathia was the one Yankee who absolutely, positively, was not allowed to have a bad day, and luckily for them, he didn't have many. Without him on the staff, the Yankees simply do not get to the playoffs.

But despite leading the league in wins, Sabathia did not have a Cy Young-caliber season in 2010.

You can make a much stronger case for Sabathia as the MVP -- sorry, but he won't win that one, either -- than you can for him as the Cy Young Award winner. Maybe you can argue he should have edged out David Price for second, but really, what does that matter?

The BBWAA voters got the right winner with Felix Hernandez, and in this game nobody really cares who takes home the place or show money.

Without entering into the debate concerning the value of wins and losses over the more esoteric yardsticks such as WHIP, FIP and WAR, Hernandez was the best pitcher in the AL this year even if he has the worst won-loss record of any pitcher ever to win the award.

As plenty of other stats geeks have explained, and will continue to explain a lot better than I ever could, Sabathia was clearly second-best to King Felix in just about every category other than wins. Hernandez threw more innings than Sabathia, allowed fewer hits and walks, struck out more batters, allowed fewer home runs, held opposing hitters to a lower batting average and amassed an ERA nearly a full run lower than CC's.

And he did it all for a team that won just 61 games and finished 29 games off the pace in the weakest division in the American League.

CC Sabathia
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesCC Sabathia gutted through a lot of wins, but he wasn't nearly as consistently brilliant as Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.

Hernandez got roughly half the run support Sabathia got. In nine of his 12 losses, the Mariners scored one run or less. He found himself on the wrong end of a shutout four times.

Sabathia, on the other hand, got 10-plus runs in seven of his 21 wins and an average of six runs per game. He had the benefit of three Gold Glovers behind him in the infield (OK, so one of them was Derek Jeter), and Mariano Rivera waiting in the bullpen to shut things down for him in the ninth inning.

He pitched well all season long. He was a model of consistency and steadiness, not just a rock but a boulder the team knew it could lean on every five days, a reliance that became not just important but vital when Andy Pettitte went down with a groin injury and Vazquez and Burnett became incapable of getting anyone out.

During those dark days of August and September, when too many games were being started by Ivan Nova and Dustin Moseley and Sergio Mitre, there was always Sabathia to look forward to.

But consistency and reliability is not brilliance, and while Sabathia was nearly always the former, he was rarely the latter.

He was brilliant in his second start of the season, when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Rays in Tampa Bay, and against Oakland in September when he threw a one-hitter for eight innings, and he was at least very, very good in his last regular-season start of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays.

But there were also plenty of nights -- almost every night, it seemed -- when he had to grind it out, working always, it felt like, with men on base and the crowd holding its breath, when his manager afterward would say things like, "CC pitched well enough to keep us in the game, which is what aces do."

In every sense, Sabathia was an ace. His accomplishments are even more impressive when you consider he did at least some of it on a knee that required surgery after the season. But that doesn't make him deserving of a Cy Young Award this year.

There was no Yankee backlash involved here, no anti-New York bias, nothing but a fair and accurate reading of the performance of two pitchers for two very different teams.

There can be no argument that Sabathia's value to the Yankees was immeasurable and irreplaceable. Without him anchoring the pitching staff, the whole thing might have sunk in September without even getting to October. So far, he has been worth every cent the Yankees invested in him two years ago. He was excellent for them all season, the undisputed ace of their staff.

But by no means was he the best pitcher in baseball, or even in the American League. As good as he was, CC Sabathia owes as many of those 21 wins to the Yankees as they do to him.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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