Harold Reynolds on CC

I’m fixated on Harold Reynolds and what I perceive as his idiocy. I can’t imagine how intelligent co-hosts stand him and how Brian Kenney manages to host a show with him without lighting his hair on fire. Most recently, I was zoning out to an MLB winter meeting show that had Harold as one of the talking heads. He said something along these lines:

“CC Sabathia’s best years are ahead. His next five will be better then his last five.”

I immediately texted my friend Marc with this gem, expecting confirmation that Harold was insane. Yet, and this may have been the inaccuracy of texting, Marc seemed to agree with Harold. I value Marc’s opinion – he likes the analytics but many times he will have a Harold Reynolds gut moment.  Was this one of those, I wondered? Off to Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs I went.

First thing – CC will turn 34 during the 2014 season, so Harold is saying that from age 33-37 CC will have his best years. Without looking at anything other then his age, I say “Bu#$*&it.”

A little financial/contract background on CC. He was signed by the Yankees as a free agent in 2009. The deal was for 7 years and 161 million dollars with, importantly, an opt out clause in 2011. In October 2011, just hours before CC could have exercised his opt out clause, the Yankees and CC agree to extend the contract. The parties agreed to add on a one year extension at 25 million for 2016 with a vesting option for 2017 worth another 25 million based on some health clauses or a 5 million dollar buyout. The odds are good that CC will be a Yankee through 2017, his age 36 season.

CC started his Yankee run, conveniently, five years ago.  How has that gone?

Year Tm W L ERA IP H R ER HR ERA+ WHIP SO/BB
2009 NYY 19 8 3.37 230.0 197 96 86 18 137 1.148 2.94
2010 NYY 21 7 3.18 237.2 209 92 84 20 136 1.191 2.66
2011 NYY 19 8 3.00 237.1 230 87 79 17 143 1.226 3.77
2012 NYY 15 6 3.38 200.0 184 89 75 22 125 1.140 4.48
2013 NYY 14 13 4.78 211.0 224 122 112 28 85 1.370 2.69
NYY (5 yrs) 88 42 3.52 1116.0 1044 486 436 105 122 1.214 3.20

His WAR over that 5 year period has been 6.2, 4.6, 7.5, 3.5 and 0.3 for a total of 22.1 WAR over the first five years of his contract or about 110 million dollars. Per his contract, the Yankees have paid CC about 110 million. So far, a fair deal. I tend to doubt the Yankees will get anywhere near the possible 96 million (about 19 WAR in player performance) they could owe CC through 2017.

Harold suggests that CC will be worth more then 22 WAR over the next five years, his age 33-37 seasons. Let’s see which starting pitchers have managed that feat since integration in 1947.

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/15/2013.

CC has been a pretty durable pitcher over the years. How has he matched up with other pitchers of similar durability and quality? Here is the criteria I set up – WAR 50+, IP 2700+, GS 400+, during a pitchers career up to age 32. That turns out to be a pretty select group of five players: Don Drysdale, Robin Roberts, Bert Blyleven, Steve Carlton and CC.

All but CC are in the HOF. How did this group do after their age 32 season?

  •  Drysdale was done at age 32.
  • Roberts pitched until he was 39.  From 33-37:
    • ERA+ was 97, 69, 133, 104, 124.
    • IP totals: 237, 117, 191, 251 and 204.
    • His WAR for that period was 13.7.
  • Bert Blyleven pitched until he was 41. From 33-37:
    • ERA+ was 144, 134, 107, 115, 75.
    • IP totals: 245, 293, 271, 267, 207.
    • His WAR for that period was 21.9.
  •  Steve Carlton pitched until he was 43. From 33-37:
    • ERA+ was 126, 106, 162, 151, 119.
    • IP totals: 247, 251, 304,190, 295.
    • His WAR for that period was 26.4.

Even if we give CC this impressive company, he most likely, unless he is Steve Carltonesque, will not meet the 22.1 WAR of his last five years. This company does suggest, however, that he has a decent chance to pitch pretty well over the next five years. I’d expect one down year, one or two strong  years with an ERA+ over 120 and two medium years with ERA+ in the 105-115 range.

Verdict? Harold is a bit optimistic when it comes to CC, but not as far off base as I first thought. I don’t think CC is going to be better then his last five years, but CC might come pretty close.  Interesting.

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