New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia pitched his final regular season game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday as the Bombers' 39-year-old veteran southpaw finishes his final MLB season after a 19-year career.
Earlier in 2019 he joined an exclusive club when he became the 17th player in major league history to strike out 3,000 batters.
His final season has raised an interesting question: Is Sabathia a future Hall of Famer?
Sabathia is a six-time All-Star and his career numbers — 251 wins, 3,091 strikeouts, 3.74 ERA and 1.25 WHIP — are good. But wins are not held in as high regard as they used to be, and his ERA and WHIP fall more in the good-not-great range.
Yet every pitcher in the 3,000-strikeout club is in Cooperstown with the exceptions of controversial pariahs Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, both of whom are still eligible. Sabathia is also only the third left-handed pitcher to reach the club, joining Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.
Sabathia won a Cy Young Award in 2007 season and only did not win another in 2008 because he switched leagues at midseason following a trade from the Cleveland Indians to the Milwaukee Brewers. He pitched to a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts with the Brewers, carrying them to the postseason.
Sabathia finished in the top five of Cy Young Award voting just five times in his career, but at his peak he was among the best pitchers of his era. From 2006-12, he led pitchers in innings (1,591 ⅔), strikeouts (1,453) and was with Roy Halladay tied for the best ERA+ (140). He also had the second-most wins in that span (122) behind Justin Verlander and the fourth-best ERA (3.14).
Sabathia won a World Series in 2009 with the Yankees, winning the ALCS MVP that year, but his overall postseason numbers are pedestrian.
Sabathia’s case will certainly be debated for many years. He has strong arguments to get in, but it may take a few years after he first appears on the ballot.
Here are other active pitchers who have Hall of Fame cases:
Justin Verlander: The Houston Astros right-hander has been one of the best pitchers in baseball throughout his 15-year career, and has enjoyed a career renaissance in his mid-to-late 30s after a few mediocre years from 2013-15. The seven-time All-Star has a career 223-129 record with a 3.33 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He won the Cy Young Award and MVP with the Detroit Tigers in 2011, when he went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings. He has been a Cy Young runner-up three times and also has a Rookie of the Year Award. Verlander, 36, finally got his World Series ring with the Astros in 2017 and has a postseason ERA of 3.19 and WHIP of 1.02. There should be no doubt Verlander is a Hall of Famer. The question will be whether or not he gets in on the first ballot.
Clayton Kershaw: He could retire right now at the age of 31 and he likely would get into the Hall. The Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw has been the best pitcher in baseball for the majority of his career. He is a seven-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner as well as an MVP winner in 2014, when he went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 236 strikeouts in 198 ⅓ innings. Kershaw has a 167-74 career record and 2.44 ERA and 2,451 strikeouts. A first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Max Scherzer: The Washington Nationals right-hander has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 10 years. Scherzer is a six-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner (with the Detroit Tigers in 2013 and with the Nationals in 2016-17) and was runner-up to Jacob deGrom last season. The 35-year-old has a career record of 169-89 with a 3.19 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 2,682 strikeouts. He has led the league in strikeouts three times, including a 300-strikeout season in 2018. The three Cy Young Awards should be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. Only Clemens, Johnson, Carlton and Greg Maddux are the only pitchers who have won more.
Zack Greinke: The Houston Astros right-hander pitched has more of a borderline case for the Hall of Fame. He has had some great seasons. The 35-year-old won the Cy Young Award in 2008 with the Kansas City Royals, when he went 16-8 with 242 strikeouts in 229 ⅓ innings pitched. He also went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, but was runner-up to Jake Arrieta. Greinke has a 203-123 record with a 3.36 ERA and 2,609 strikeouts. If he continues to pitch well into his late-30s he has a strong case to make it to Cooperstown.