CC Sabathia reaches 3,000 strikeouts: Is the lefty eventually headed to the Hall of Fame?

New York Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia made pretty significant history Tuesday night during an interleague matchup with the Diamondbacks. Sabathia became the 17th member of the 3,000-strikeout club and only the third left-hander in the club

Here is the all-time left-handed strikeout leaderboard going into Tuesday's game:

  1. Randy Johnson: 4,875
  2. Steve Carlton: 4,136
  3. CC Sabathia: 3,000 (and counting)
  4. Mickey Lolich: 2,832
  5. Frank Tanana: 2,773

Sabathia has already announced he will retire following this season, so he has no shot at catching Carlton and moving into second place, but there's no shame in finishing third behind those two. Being only the third lefty in the 3,000-strikeout club is pretty cool. Also, Sabathia is already the American League's all-time strikeout leader among lefties.

Once he hangs up his spikes, Sabathia will wait out the five-year grace period before joining the BBWAA's Hall of Fame ballot. At worst, he will deserve serious Hall of Fame consideration from the voting body. At best, he's a first-ballot inductee as the Hall of Fame standards for starting pitchers evolve. It doesn't make sense to hold modern pitchers to the standards of 30, 40, or 50 years ago, you know?

For his career the 38-year-old Sabathia owns a 247-153 record and a 3.69 ERA that, when adjusted for era and ballpark, is 17 percent better than league average. He has a very good chance to become only the 13th pitcher in history with 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts at some point in the next few weeks. Since the question is inevitable, let's break down Sabathia's current Hall of Fame credentials, shall we?

Peak Years

MLB: New York Yankees at San Francisco Giants
CC Sabathia will be an interesting Hall of Fame case in a few years. USATSI

Was there ever a point where Sabathia stood out as the clear-cut best pitcher in baseball? Maybe during his second half run with the Brewers in 2008, but no, not really. He was always more top five than top one. Still, Sabathia's 2006-12 peak was about as good as it gets:

  • 122 wins (second behind Justin Verlander)
  • 1,591 2/3 innings (first)
  • 1,453 strikeouts (first)
  • 3.14 ERA (fourth)
  • 140 ERA+ (tied for first with Roy Halladay)
  • 38.4 WAR (second behind Halladay)

No, Sabathia did not have a Clayton Kershaw-esque peak, where he rattled off Cy Young wins and 300-strikeout seasons and near-2.00 ERAs, but those numbers above represent a seven-year stretch as one of the game's top starters. He was excellent on a rate basis and he ate up innings in bulk. Sabathia took the ball every fifth day without incident and was incredibly effective.

For what it's worth, Jay Jaffe's JAWS says Sabathia's seven-year peak (39.3 JAWS) is the below the established Hall of Fame standard for starting pitchers (49.9 JAWS). That said, the Hall of Fame standard for starters is changing, albeit slowly, and Sabathia's seven-year peak may look more favorable in five years' time.

Longevity

Sabathia's resume should satisfy Hall of Fame voters who value longevity. This is his 19th big league season and he is currently 33rd all-time in starts (541) and 73rd all-time in innings (3,485). By the end of the season he could be as high as 25th on the all-time starts list and top-65 in innings.

In the expansion era Sabathia is 20th in starts, 29th in innings, and 25th in WAR (62.5) with still some time to add to those totals. He's a top-25 starter since 1961, basically. His career numbers compare fairly well with Mike Mussina, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in his sixth year on the ballot this past winter:


W-LInningsERAERA+StrikeoutsWAR

Mussina

270-153

3,562 2/3

3.68

123

2,813

82.8

Sabathia

247-153

3,485

3.69

117

2,997

62.5

Not counting his not-yet-completed 2019 season, Sabathia threw 200 innings in eight of his 18 full seasons and 180 innings 13 times. He led the league in wins twice (2009, 2010), in innings once (2007), and in strikeout-to-walk ratio twice (2007, 2012). Otherwise there's not much "black ink" on his Baseball-Reference.com page ("black ink" indicates the player led the league in a particular category).

JAWS says Sabathia's total career value (51.2 JAWS) is below the established Hall of Fame standard for starting pitchers (61.5 JAWS), but again, the voting standards will change between now and the time Sabathia joins the ballot.

Hardware

Sabathia has accomplished quite a bit in his career. He's won a Cy Young (2007) and could have won a second Cy Young had he not split the 2008 season between the two leagues. On four other occasions Sabathia has finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting. Sabathia was the ace (and ALCS MVP) of the World Series winning 2009 Yankees, plus he's a six-time all-star and has received MVP votes in six different seasons. There's enough on the mantle here that Sabathia won't be held back a "he never won a Cy Young" or "he was never the ace of a championship team" argument. 


There is no such thing as "New York boost" with the Hall of Fame -- if there were, Jorge Posada would not have dropped off the ballot in his first year of eligibility, and Andy Pettitte would've received more than 9.9 percent of the vote last year -- so Sabathia won't benefit from being a Yankee. He benefited from playing on a good team for so long (more wins, more postseason appearances, etc.), but simply wearing pinstripes won't improve his Hall of Fame candidacy.

My hunch is Sabathia will not get into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and instead spend several years on the ballot a la Mussina and Schilling. He strikes me as a candidate for grassroots support similar to Mussina and Bert Blyleven. Hall of Fame or no Hall of Fame, Sabathia was one of the top pitchers of his era, and he is now part of the very exclusive 3,000-strikeout (and soon the 250-win) club. Finishing third all-time among lefties in strikeouts is pretty cool too.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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