In that segment, Harold Reynolds cites CC Sabathia as an example of a pitcher who pitches to the score, noting that he performs differently when the game is on the line than when he’s just trying to get outs and has some runs to give up. While one will never be able to definitively prove or disprove the intent of a pitcher, given that we are left to only measure what they do rather than what they are thinking, Reynolds’ claim is testable. If Sabathia pitched dramatically better in close games than with a big lead, it would show up in the data.
It does not.
...And, it’s probably worth noting that this split is somewhat counter to the idea of pitching to the score. The general notion that Reynolds puts forth is that we need to look at pitcher wins because metrics like ERA penalize pitchers who give up more runs when they have a cushion, so we need an adjustment for the fact that their numbers are worse when they have the lead. In reality, pitchers pitch better when they have the lead, so that adjustment isn’t even necessary.
There is no evidence here that CC Sabathia’s ERA has been artificially inflated because of the fact that he allows meaningless runs to score when the situation makes those runs less harmful. There is evidence that Sabathia, like most pitchers, allows fewer home runs in close situations by pitching to the corners of the strike zone, but it doesn’t change the batters overall results much. From what we can tell, CC Sabathia pitches like CC Sabathia, whether the game is 10-0 or 1-0.