New York Yankees

CC Sabathia solidifies Hall of Fame case with 3,000th strikeout

New York Yankees LHP CC Sabathia became just the 17th pitcher in baseball history to record 3,000 career strikeouts on Tuesday night in Arizona

It took just two innings on Tuesday night for New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia to join one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

When Sabathia struck out John Ryan Murphy of the Arizona Diamondbacks on an 84 m.p.h. changeup to end the bottom of the second inning, the Yankees’ left-hander became just the 17th pitcher in baseball history to collect 3,000 career strikeouts. He’s only the third left-hander to reach that milestone, joining Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton.

Sabathia is in the final year of his 19-year career that also includes stops in Cleveland and Milwaukee. The 38-year-old announced back in February that he would retire after the 2019 season. When he does hang up his Yankees pinstripes, Sabathia should have a strong case for his next stop to be in Cooperstown as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sabathia’s credentials are impeccable. A six-time All-Star, he won the Cy Young Award in 2007 while with Cleveland and leads all active pitchers with 247 wins. He’s twice led the American League in wins, including in 2009 when he helped New York win the World Series. Of the other 16 members of the 3,000 strikeout club, only Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling aren’t already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, and both of those arguably for reasons that have nothing to do with their play on the mound.

The argument against Sabathia’s candidacy comes down to his career ERA. At 3.69, only Red Ruffing and Jack Morris have higher ERAs among Hall of Famers. But Sabathia’s numbers look better when considering only the years when he was among the most dominant starters in the league. Between 2006-10, Sabathia was 14th in ERA and led all pitchers in WAR, ahead even of Hall of Famer and contemporary Roy Halladay. In the Yankees’ World Series run in 2009, he had a 1.99 ERA in five starts.

Sabathia is no longer the overpowering pitcher he once has. While in his prime he could throw his fastball in the mid-90s, now he averages just 88 m.p.h. He’s also changed his approach on the mound, throwing his fastball 17 percent of the time in 2018; three years earlier 56 percent of his pitches were fastballs. At the same time, he’s come to rely more on his cutter, throwing it 49 percent of the time this year after just three percent in 2015. Injuries have taken a toll on his massive frame. This past offseason was the third straight year he needed to undergo knee surgery. That made Sabathia realize now is the time to call it a career.

“It’s been a great ride,” he said at his retirement announcement in February. One person present at that ceremony is sure that he’s destined for Cooperstown when his career is over.

“I think he’s a Hall of Famer,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I think the years of dominance, the years of being completely relevant, 18 years in and still being a really good pitcher in this league. To have racked up the numbers that he has, I think he is a Hall of Famer, and I think he will get in.”

After striking out Murphy on Tuesday, Sabathia’s Yankee teammates came out of the dugout to congratulate him on the capstone to a remarkable career. With one strikeout, he all but ensured that career will end with a bronze plaque that will forever hang in Cooperstown.

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