The New York Yankees currently find themselves in a situation that has been pretty foreign to them over the past 20 years or so: fighting for a playoff spot.
Sitting 2.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot entering play on Thursday night, the Yanks can actually hold their heads high being in this position when one considers all that they've had to overcome this year.
Lineup mainstays Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson have played just a combined 117 games this season, and now Jeter and Teixeira's company on the 60-day DL includes Brett Gardner, Kevin Youkilis, and Travis Hafner.
Yet through all that, perhaps the most disappointing season has come from someone who hasn't missed any time at all: ace starter C.C. Sabathia.
Of all the bloated salaries on the Yankees, only A-Rod at $28 million is making more than Sabathia's $25M, and yet A-Rod's strong second half has arguably made him more valuable, despite missing the first four months.
Only A-Rod is making more than Sabathia, and yet A-Rod's strong second half has arguably made him more valuable, despite missing the first four months.
That's because C.C.'s production has inexplicably fallen off of a cliff this year, as he is due to post career worsts in ERA (4.90), WHIP (1.37), WAR (2.6), and HR/9 (1.24).
Although Sabathia's peripherals indicate that he hasn't been as bad as his raw numbers suggest (4.13 FIP and 3.75 xFIP), the results have been enough to lead some to float what once seemed an unthinkable idea: benching Sabathia during this final two-week playoff push.
However, before jumping to radical conclusions, it's important to note who else the Yanks have to turn to.
The rest of the current rotation is hardly a picture of consistency, as Hiroki Kuroda, has faded down the stretch, seeing his ERA balloon from 2.33 to 3.13 over his last 6 starts; Andy Pettitte has been average all year; Ivan Nova is as inconsistent as they come; and Phil Hughes already lost his rotation spot once and got it back because there was no one else to turn to.
Who does that leave? David Phelps? Adam Warren? Vidal Nuno? David Huff? Brett Marshall? When you're thinking about benching a former Cy Young winner and staff ace, you better have a better backup plan than that.
It's also worth noting that despite Sabathia's struggles, he is still the same old horse who can throw 125 pitches without breaking a sweat. His 204 innings to date are second in the American League, and he's on pace to top 220 innings for the fourth time in five years since putting on the pinstripes.
A starter capable of handling a workload like that is invaluable to any bullpen, but even more so to that of the Yankees, which has been so overworked this season that both Mariano Rivera and David Robertson were declared unavailable two games in a row during the recent pivotal series against the Red Sox, despite the importance of the games.
When you're thinking about benching a former Cy Young winner and staff ace, you better have a backup plan.
What's happening to Sabathia is something that we've seen with most pitchers — particularly ones who throw as hard as he does — when they hit their early- to mid-30s: a drop-off in velocity, and subsequent struggles to adjust.
Over the course of his career, C.C.'s two best pitches have been the fastball and changeup. His fastball has consistently been among the hardest in the Majors, averaging 93.4 MPH since coming into the league in 2001. That average, however, has dipped down to 91.3 this season after sitting at 92.4 just a year ago.
When the fastball starts to slow down, the changeup has to slow down even more to keep that all-important difference in speeds intact. Yet the variance between the two pitches has been just 6.6 MPH this year, a full MPH less than his career average of 7.6.
Suddenly it makes sense why he's been serving up home run balls at a higher rate than ever before.
The good news for Yankee fans is that Sabathia is a good enough pitcher with enough weapons in his arsenal to adjust to his declining natural gifts. The bad news is that it will take time, and the Yanks don't have much — if any — to work with until the clock runs out on their 2013 season.
All stats compiled by FanGraphs