CC f/x


During the letdown that was Opening Day, CC Sabathia labored through 96 pitches, throwing just 50 for strikes. Of those 96 pitches, 84 were either fastballs or sliders. This is nothing new for CC, who’s worked off these two pitches for the last seven years, mixing in the occasional changeup. Let’s take a look at how his two main pitchers were looking yesterday afternoon, via the magic of Pitch f/x. You can click on any graph in this post to open up a larger view.

First up, bird’s eye view, and what you’re seeing is the average flight path of his fastball and slider:

Bird's Eye View

Here’s what Mark Teixeira was looking at from first base:

First Base View

And this is what Sabathia’s stuff was looking like from Jorge Posada‘s perspective:

Catcher's View

What’s cool about these graphs is that you can see how much his fastball and slider look alike, that is until the heater bangs a left halfway to the plate while his slider hooks a right. That’s what makes him so effective, his two main pitches look enough alike that the hitter will have already made up his mind to swing or not before they start breaking. His also got a nice amount of run on his fastball, so it’s no accident that he’s put up GB/FB rates well above 1.00 in his career.

But the story of the game was Sabathia’s fastball command, or lack thereof. He just couldn’t get it to cooperate, and when he needed to throw a strike he couldn’t. When his back was against the wall in the fifth inning, Sabathia all but abandoned his heater, throwing just one in his final eleven pitches (not counting the intentional walk to Ty Wigginton). You kinda have to give him some credit for gutting it out when he clearly didn’t trust his stuff.

Usually one of the main culprits of poor command is inconsistent mechanics, so let’s take a look at his release points. For fun, I also included the release points of his fastballs and sliders from his August 31st start last year, when he should have no-hit the Pirates if not for a bum call.

Release Points

What you’re seeing is a 13-inch tall by 15-inch wide box from which Sabathia releases his pitches. You can see how scattered his pitches were last night, especially his fastball. Frankly, he was all over the place. During the near no-no last year he had a much tighter “box” from which he released his pitches. It’s hard enough to throw the ball where you want it in the big leagues, nevermind when you’re not even sure where the ball is coming from.

An inconsistent release point could mean he was battling his delivery, or it could mean that he was trying different arm slots to see if he could find something that worked. This doesn’t mean Sabathia has a major mechanical issue to correct, sometimes you just have one of those days.

Finally, let’s look at the most important thing for any pitcher. Forget command, forget movement, forget all of it, the most important thing is velocity, because he all know a pitcher with a 91 mph fastball will never succeed in the big leagues. Here’s where Pitch f/x had Sabathia’s fastball yesterday.

Fastball Velocity

The blue line is the velocity of the pitch out of his hand, and the red line is the velocity of the pitch as it crosses the front of home plate. As you can see, he was sitting pretty much 92-94 all night, with the ball consistently crossing the plate about six miles an hour slower than that. There was no drop in velocity as the game went on, so there’s really nothing to worry about. Remember, don’t trust the TV gun, especially YES. That thing is just awful.

Can’t wait to see how Wang looks tomorrow night, hopefully it’ll go better than it did for CC yesterday.

Categories : Analysis


  1. Jim M. says:

    Can someone help me out on the pitch f/x charts? What am I looking at here? I am not getting it. Sorry.

  2. You kinda have to give him some credit for gutting it out when he clearly didn’t trust his stuff.

    I have to do no such thing. What I have to do is jump to conclusions and scream irrationally.

    The MSM

    • Peter Lacock says:

      Right! and I’m going to jump to the conclusion of the entire season. No wait, the duration of everyone’s contract. No, strike that, I’m going to select only small portions, the bad parts, of this one game and jump to the conclusion of everyone’s pitiful careers. How could Brian Cashman be so stupid! How can Joe Girardi make these stupid moves! We have no pitching! We have no hitting! We have no defense! Everyone sucks! Anyone and everyone else is great! We have to get them! Oh woe is me! Later on I’ll tell y’all how smart I am and I’ll tell you how I told you so all along.

  3. I wasn’t in the game thread (had to go to class, watched the game last night on DVR), so I don’t know if anybody mentioned this, but CC kept fiddling with his cuff on his pant leg. Like, constantly.

    He seemed physically uncomfortable all game long to me. Not like “I’m hurt” physically uncomfortable, just out of sorts. Just couldn’t find his groove/comfort level. Maybe he was just nervous.


    • radnom says:

      Perhaps he was just uncomfortable because he couldn’t get his mechanics down. I think the release point graph is the most telling one for what happened yesterday. He has always tended to be a slow starter – some guys just need a little longer to get their shit consistent I guess. Maybe his size has something to do with that.

    • A.D. says:

      It probably compounded, he didn’t really have his stuff, so he was fiddling to find it, so he was out of sorts, so he was uncomfortable, being uncomfortable didn’t allow him find his stuff…and repeat.

    • jeremy says:

      That’s how I felt also. He was visibly cold, so when he was putting a heating pad on his rib cage it didn’t surprise me, althought Kay and crew saw it as a virtual impossibility since it was so warm in Baltimore yesterday (forgetting of course that CC is a west coast guy). But he was fidgeting all night, and had a constant grimace, like he hated every minute of it out there.

      • A.D. says:

        My favorite is when they cited how he played in Milwaukee so he should be used to the cold. Throwing out that it was for half a season, and more importantly Milwaukee has a retractable roof for when it is cold.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          Well, he pitched in Cleveland for a long time, and it’s frickin’ freezing there.

          • Peter Lacock says:

            Didn’t CC suck in the cold in Cleveland too? It wasn’t just cold it was also damp and very windy. Also, regardless of past experience there is still an adjustment period each time there’s a change in climate.

    • radnom says:

      Oh, and speaking of uncomfortable, it seemed like him and Posada wern’t exactly on the same page all night.

      I think there is going to be more of an adjustment than usual with the new pitchers and Posada, since they couldn’t get a lot of in game action together in spring training due to Posadas health concerns.

  4. radnom says:

    Based off the graph from Posada’s angle, I’m assuming this is a 2-seam fastball? Does he not also throw a cutter, or did he never really get to that yesterday since he didn’t have a feel for his other pitches.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Yeah, it looks like a two-seamer. I slacked off and just went with the Pitch f/x pitch classifications rather than try to reclassify everything myself. He also threw 11 changeups and 1 curveball. Nothing about a cutter, but supposedly he throws one.

      • radnom says:

        I remember reading in ST that his cutter was his strikeout pitch, but also the last one to come along. I didn’t really know much about what he threw before this season though.

  5. Joey says:

    Pretty cool looking at a not-so-great start from a different perspective than the usual “he just sucks” POV. I guess what I’m wondering about most after reading this (great job btw) was his release point and if he was trying something different intentionally like you said or if he’s just not at his midseason form yet of releasing pitches from a relatively same point

    • radnom says:

      I doubt he was intentionally mixing up his release points throughout the game. That is one thing all pitchers want consistent all the time, and that it wasn’t is a clear sign that his mechanics were out of wack yesterday.

  6. keith says:

    hey, quick fantasy question



    bj upton

    do you do it?

  7. AndrewYF says:

    Only if I’m the one getting Upton and Sabathia.

  8. DocBooch says:

    I don’t want to sound like a whiner and all, but I was following the game on Gameday which has the above break down and a whole lot more. There were plenty of pitches in the fourth inning that were clearly strikes but were called balls and the complete opposite for Guthrie. My man was getting pinched and was obviously upset about it when they had the meeting on the mound, I think in the fourth.

    • I personally don’t recall feeling like CC was getting jobbed on the calls.

    • Chip says:

      Does Gameday use actual pitch f/x data or whatever the half-ass system was before?

    • steve (different one) says:

      I don’t want to sound like a whiner and all, but I was following the game on Gameday which has the above break down and a whole lot more. There were plenty of pitches in the fourth inning that were clearly strikes but were called balls and the complete opposite for Guthrie.

      wait, you weren’t even watching the game and you are saying there were pitches that were “clearly strikes”??

  9. La Costco Nostra says:

    For fun, I also included the release points of his fastballs and sliders from his August 31st start last year, when he should have no-hit the Pirates if not for a bum call.

    As you can see, he was sitting pretty much 92-94 all night,

    Fangraphs did something similar.

    • From the Fangraphs article:

      Over the last three seasons, Sabathia’s average fastball velocities are 93.7, 92.9, and 93.7. Either Morgan was unaware and fabricating excuses for the Yankees’ new ace, or he simply has no idea how hard Sabathia normally throws.

      I like how both of their possible rationales for why Morgan would needlessly be making a big stink about Sabathia’s velocity are basically the same thing.

      Morgan is either unaware of how hard Sabathia normally throws, or he has no idea of how hard Sabathia normally throws.

      Normally I’d make fun of Fangraphs for saying the same thing twice in different ways, but when you think about it… that’s probably a pretty damn accurate way to describe the different interpretations of Joe Morgan’s mind.

  10. MikeyMet says:

    Can someone help me out? For some reason I can’t find the cheeseburger and large fries on CC’s graph.

  11. MJ says:

    I’m just surprised by the fact that there were no ‘Errors’ given to either side in that ballgame.

  12. Simon B. says:

    Of all the Pitch F/x graphs I’ve seen, you guys have the prettiest girl at the ball.

    What software was used to generate them?

    • Mike Axisa says:

      It’s just Excel.

      • Simon B. says:

        How exactly did you generate each of the views (IE bird’s eye view and side view?

        Did you feed a median pitch into a physics engine to plot all the points, and then let Excel graph it?

        I’m curious since I’m thinking of putting together Pitch F/x database of my own since Josh Kalk took down all his public info.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          Pitch f/x gives you three components of each pitch (and a whole bunch more, but these are the important ones):

          1. starting point, x0
          2. initial velocity, vx0
          3. acceleration, ax

          You have these in all three directions (x, y, z), so you have nine components total. I took average values of the components of each pitch, and used that to calculate the trajectory of the ball at any point of time using some fancy physics equations.

          I didn’t build an entire database yet, I just crudely analyzed the one game’s worth of data. If you google “build a pitch f/x database” you’ll find lots of info on how to do it.

          • If you were to make a list of the things Bill Plaschke has never, ever, ever thought about doing (and would equate with torture), googleing “build a pitch f/x database” would definitely be towards the top of that list.

            He’s following me now on Twitter. His auto DM reply:

            “Hey there: Unlike LA Times or ATH, I can’t be muted or muzzled here. No Reali, all reality. Should be, um, interesting.

            Bill Plaschke @ LAT / BillPlaschke”

          • Mike Axisa says:

            It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. It took me a while to understand the output and what it was telling me, but once I figured it out it was cake. I could put together another set of graphs like this in about 30 minutes now.

            • Simon B. says:

              If I’m understanding this right, you had to plot each of the points with an equation by hand. That seems like an awful lot of work to do considering I count over 40 points on each graph.

              I hope there’s an easier way. I’m sure you could probably plug in the Pitch F/x data into some kind of physics engine to relieve some of the grunt work.

              • Mike Axisa says:

                It’s the same equation for each component in each direction, and there’s only three terms in it. I used Excel to calculate the location of the ball in 0.01 second intervals, which is what you see in the graph.

                Seriously, it’s a piece of cake. Excel does all the work. All I do is import the data and tell it what pitches to generate.

            • southernyankeefan says:

              I would like to see one made for mo and see how his cutter moves from a birds eye view etc.

          • Zach Sanders says:

            It’s actually not all that easy to build a database. I used Mike Fast’s instructions and code, and have encountered errors. Not knowing any coding has made it impossible for me to fix it.

            Beside Fast’s method, I have yet to see a complete instruction put together on how to build one. If you know of one, please, let me know about it.

  13. dkidd says:

    i was (pleasantly) surprised that cc has a decent curveball

  14. [...] 88-89, the true numbers provided to us by MLB.com’s Pitch f/x system tell otherwise. Mike explored this in depth yesterday, but it’s a point worth repeating. Pitch f/x had Joba’s average fastball velocity as 93 [...]

  15. [...] It wasn’t what we all expected when the season started, but it is what it is. When I took a look at CC Sabathia’s start using Pitch f/x, we found that his velocity was fine but he struggled to find a consistent release point, likely [...]

  16. [...] CC Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang are both fastball-slider guys, so the first base view wasn’t all that exciting. Burnett’s a fastball-curveball pitcher though, so this angle becomes a little more useful. Check out the hump in that curve, cool stuff, no? It also looks like his slider might be more of a slurve, that is a curveball thrown harder than usual, but not as hard as a typical slider. [...]

Leave a Reply

You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> in your comment.

If this is your first time commenting on River Ave. Blues, please review the RAB Commenter Guidelines. Login for commenting features. Register for RAB.