Sabathia worth every penny

Sabathia worth every penny

CC Sabathia is overwhelmingly human. He cannot help himself from stopping to talk to kids in the stands; from being front and center, from the clubhouse teammate moments; from being what Yankees skipper Joe Girardi calls "the most reliable pitcher I've ever managed;" from being "just about the best guy I've ever coached," according to Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux; from every season being happy to spend an hour with a bunch of inner-city kids in Boston because it helps raise non-profit money that helps kids in the "rival" town. It's why he'll be at P.S. 152 in the Bronx this week at 9 a.m. ET, handing out back-to-school backpacks.

This is not a Cy Young Award statement. I get the "WAR" argument. I understand that Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has thrown more innings, has a higher quality-start ratio and plays for a team that is not very good offensively and even worse defensively.

As I do every Sunday, I check Lee Sinins' leaders in RSAA (runs saved above average) and see Hernandez and Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz leading the American League at 33 and Sabathia next with 32, ahead Texas' C.J. Wilson (25) and Oakland's Trevor Cahill (24). I get all that. I understand that wins can be overrated, such as Bob Welch's 27-7 season in comparison to Roger Clemens' best years.

But there is a human difference between pitching in New York and pitching in Seattle or Kansas City. Ask the Red Sox if they're relieved that the Braves turned down their offer for Javier Vazquez last fall.

"The fact is that CC accepts every responsibility," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.

Indeed. Sabathia got $161 million over seven years and was introduced as the man who would front the Yankees' starting rotation. He is 38-13 since he signed the contract. He pitched the Yankees into the World Series, which they won.

From Aug. 2 to Wednesday -- when no one other than CC and A.J. Burnett got more than 22 outs, New York's bullpen averaged three innings per game and the Tampa Bay Rays were in the passing lane -- Sabathia won six straight, albeit mostly against mid- or second-tier teams. The Yankees were 9-10 in the games he didn't start.

"When we were making our run [in Milwaukee in 2008] and much was made of him pitching on three days' rest because of his impending free agency, I'd ask him if it was OK," said Maddux. "He'd wave his arm and say, 'Don't listen to what anyone says. I'm pitching.'"

Sabathia made his last four starts that year on three days' rest, and the Brewers made the postseason for the first time since 2002.

One season out of his 10-year career, Sabathia hasn't made 30 starts; he made 28 in 2006 after suffering an oblique injury in the rain in Chicago on Opening Night. In those 10 years, Sabathia leads the Majors in wins with 155 (eight more than Roy Halladay) and is third in innings pitched behind Mark Buehrle and Livan Hernandez. And remember -- he was 20 years old when he opened the 2001 season, younger than Stephen Strasburg when he made his debut with the Nationals in June.

From the time the Indians became competitive in 2005, Sabathia leads the Majors in wins with 101 -- seven more than Halladay -- and innings pitched.

Sabathia pitched the Indians to the final weekend of the 2005 regular season before they lost to the eventual World Series champion White Sox. Two years later, he led the Majors in innings pitched (241), won the AL Cy Young Award and pitched Cleveland to the seventh game of the AL Championship Series in Boston before he and Fausto Carmona ran out of gas at Fenway Park.

There's no way the Brewers would have made it to the playoffs against the Phillies in 2008 without Sabathia. He went 11-2 down the stretch for the Yankees in their 2009 run.

"CC is durable, he's fearless and he's always accountable," said Maddux.

We do not know how pitchers raised and groomed in Seattle and Kansas City would pitch in the glare of New York, or how they'd bear the constant crush of the AL East. We know how Halladay held up. Watching Hernandez blow away the Yankees and Red Sox in New York and Boston recently makes one think he'd be no different in the AL East than the offensively-challenged AL West.

But this not about Sabathia v. Hernandez or Buchholz. It's about what Sabathia has meant to the Yankees and how he has responded to the $161 million contract, and given the races against Tampa Bay and Boston the last two years, he may well be the most valuable pitcher in the American League.

Peter Gammons is a columnist for and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.