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CC Sabathia could still make the Hall of Fame, but he's probably a longshot

Sporting News logo Sporting News 10/6/2017 Graham Womack

CC Sabathia © (Getty Images) CC Sabathia After nine seasons in New York, CC Sabathia could soon be unattached.

The 37-year-old former Yankees ace is due to complete the massive deal he signed in December 2008 and later extended, setting the stage for him to finally hit free agency again. After a resurgent 2017 season, whe he went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, 122 ERA+ and 2.8 WAR, he should have at least a few prospective suitors.

A lot hinges on Sabathia’s next deal. Among the possible concerns could be Sabathia’s lingering -- though surprisingly difficult to extinguish — Hall of Fame chances.

Sabathia’s had a meandering road toward Cooperstown. As recently as perhaps 2013, he looked like he maybe had the best chance of any current pitcher to reach 300 wins. He offered remarkable consistency and an ability to chew innings, averaging 213 over his first 13 seasons while he made six All-Star teams and won the 2007 American League Cy Young Award.

Then came three dreadful years during which Sabathia went 18-26 with a 4.42 ERA, missing the 2015 postseason so he could check into alcohol rehab. He looked a little better in the last of those three years, 2016, when his 9-12 record seemed worse than it was, with Sabatha offering a 110 ERA+ and 3 WAR. Still, even just in August, Sabathia told reporters he’d considered retirement after a spate of arm trouble.

Sabathia still has a chance at the Hall of Fame. But it remains far from a sure thing.

Cooperstown chances: 30 percent

Why: At the beginning of this season, in assessing the most likely Hall of Famer on each team, I gave Sabathia 15 percent odds of eventually making Cooperstown. Sabathia’s maybe doubled his chances with a season good enough to get him a new deal — if not for the Bombers then at least for some halfway decent team.

That said, baseball history suggests Sabathia still faces long odds of nabbing a Hall of Fame plaque.

Sabathia is 237-146 with a 3.70 ERA, 60.7 Wins Above Replacement and 29.6 Wins Above Average through his age-36 season. These numbers likely leave Sabathia short of Cooperstown at this point. It’s unclear how much he can add to them.

MORE: Jim Kaat on the Hall of Fame: ‘I get a little cynical about it’

With his ERA, Sabathia will benefit with Hall of Fame voters the closer he gets to 300 wins. While 32 pitchers have won at least 63 games from their age-37 season through the end of their careers, it seems foolish to project Sabathia doing this. He hasn’t won 63 games in the past six years, partly due to personal problems he’s dealt with admirably.

At this point, Sabathia seems like a safer bet to land somewhere in the range of 250 to 275 lifetime wins. This won’t guarantee him a plaque, as Tommy John, Jim Kaat or Jack Morris could attest, though it should keep him on the Baseball Writers' Association of America’s ballot for Cooperstown the full 10 years he’s eligible. It might even help set Sabathia up to be a veterans’ candidate down the road.

MORE: Tommy John on the Hall of Fame: ‘I’m being held back’

In terms of sabermetrics, there’s no hard and fast total for what Sabathia would need for enshrinement, though he’d be a much better bet with 80 WAR or 40 WAA. Either of these stats, while within the realm of possibility, are fairly rare historically for a pitcher to hit from the point Sabathia is at now.

Nineteen pitchers in baseball history have had at least 20 WAR from their age-37 season through the end of their careers, according to the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index tool. Eighteen pitchers have had at least 10 WAA in that span.

Of course, just because players have done this doesn’t mean that Sabathia can automatically be put down for 20 WAR. Pitchers such as Phil Niekro and Nolan Ryan did it pitching well into their 40s. Randy Johnson did it with staggeringly good age-37 and 38 seasons.

MORE: Back Where He Belonged: The story of Phil Niekro’s last game

Don’t expect Sabathia to morph into the next Randy Johnson. If he becomes the next Phil Niekro or Nolan Ryan (or someone he’s inevitably bound to draw comparisons with, Bartolo Colon), that’s awesome. But don’t bank on 20 more WAR from Sabathia.

A more realistic number for Sabathia could be 10 WAR. Even that’s fairly rare historically, with 54 pitchers having done it. It’s worth noting, though, that the trend could be picking up, with 16 pitchers having done it since 2000.

Another 10 WAR for Sabathia would be averaging 2-3 WAR through age 40. That’s doable if he stays healthy and lands on a decent team. It will be curious to see which suitors come out of the woodwork for him.

The best thing Sabathia can do for his Hall of Fame case is tap into whatever the Niekros, Ryans and Colons have and keep pitching for many years to come. If he were to retire this winter, he might struggle to get even 10 or 20 percent of the vote.

Sabathia’s case just feels incomplete, at least for now, with little beyond cumulative stats to bolster it. He’s never transcended the game or established himself as a postseason ace. For lack of a better word, Sabathia is a compiler, with more numbers needed to be compiled before he can mount a serious challenge for Cooperstown.

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Justin Turner (10) of the Dodgers hits a three-run walk-off home run in the ninth inning to defeat the Cubs 4-1 of the NLCS on Oct. 15 in Los Angeles, California. Best images of 2017 MLB playoffs

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