Jul
27

Has CC been subpar?

By

CC SabathiaOver the weekend Tom Boorstein of SNY penned a piece about CC Sabathia’s supposed dropoff, saying that he’s pitching more like a good number two than the ace the Yankees are paying him to be. It’s an interesting read and worth your time, far better than the usual drivel you’d expect to find on such a topic. Boorstein cites plenty of evidence that Sabathia’s performance has taken a step back, but also notes that the Yanks were never going to see the CC Sabathia from last year.

One of the main points of the article is that Sabathia’s walk rate has climbed while his strikeout rate has dropped this year. Over the last two seasons with Cleveland (not going to count his stats with the Brewers at all, different league all together) he struck out 8.22 batters and walked just 1.86 batters for every nine innings pitched. This year those totals have declined to 6.51 and 2.59, respectively, Sabathia’s worst totals in nearly five years. I’m sure some will point to the difference between the AL East and pretty much everyone else, but last year non-Cleveland AL Central clubs hit .270-.332-.424, and this year non-Yankee AL East teams are hitting .266-.338-.433, a difference of just 15 OPS points.

Other than the strikeout and walk rates, the only other significant statistical difference between Sabathia now and Sabathia as an Indian is the percentage of first pitch strikes he’s throwing. Last year he threw 64.3% first pitch strikes with Cleveland, but this year it’s just 58.2%, his lowest mark since 2004 (57.1%). Overall, CC’s putting almost exactly the same percentage of pitches in the strike zone and hitters are making almost exactly the same amount of contact off of him that they had over the first eight years of his career.

The most important thing is that Sabathia’s stuff is perfectly fine. His fastball velocity is still up there and is actually a tick higher than it has been the last few years. According to the Pitch F/X data he’s getting the same kind of movement on his pitches and throwing them in roughly the same proportions, so there should be no pitch selection issues. Hell, CC’s got a 3.61 FIP this year, and last year with the Indians it was 3.41. Steve, aka The Artist, notes that Sabathia has typically been better in the second half, something that should scare the rest of the American League.

Remember what we’re doing here. We’re trying to figure out why Sabathia has only been merely very, very good this year instead of amazingly great like he was in 2007 and 2008. He’s still one of the very best starters in the game and projects to be worth approximately 5.5 wins over the full season. Last year only eight pitchers in the game were that valuable, and it translates to about $24.7M in production. Would I like to see a few more strikeouts out of Sabathia? Sure, but that’s like picking on the Mona Lisa because of her smile.

Photo Credit: Flickr user zaner2

Categories : Pitching

85 Comments»

  1. A.D. says:

    Luckily CCs age takes away a lot of fear that declining peripherals are a sign of decline.

  2. dfav says:

    Haven’t read the article yet but this seems to be an incomplete comparison. The Cleveland numbers are based on two seasons worth of pitching, while the NY stats are based on half of a season. We can’t really make those conclusions until the season is over.

    Regardless, CC is pitching well, we shouldn’t complain.

  3. I’d say we could figure out a lot if we could figure out how much the transition to the AL East has impacted him, though CC has had some of his better starts against Baltimore and I think Toronto…

  4. Drew says:

    If you go by career numbers, he’s just about right on par. One less k/9 but he makes it up in other areas that are better than his career average.

  5. Zach says:

    Let’s just wait til the end of the year and he’ll have similar numbers like he always does. It’s the same with all veteran players, you see their numbers right after they went through a slump and ah they’re declining, they’re 40 and a DH, then they get hot and end up with similar numbers like they always do.

    • jsbrendog says:

      this was never more apparent than with delgado last year. i’ve never seen anyone look so done, finished, awful, and then finish with those numbers.

      • Bo says:

        How about Mussina?

        • jsbrendog says:

          had an offseason to work it all out and being a pitcher you have a lot more to tinker with with changing speeds, grips, etc.

          • Are you outright agreeing with Bo, or are you indirectly reiterating his point?

            • jsbrendog says:

              im saying moose did look done, but not as drastically as delgado/ortiz, and that it is sidfferent for a pitcher to reinvent himself as opposed to a hitter so he isn’t really comparable here.

              plus, moose had a hwole offseason to figure stuff out, came back, got shelled again for a few games, then was a beast.

              delgaod did it right in front of our eyes in midseason after absolutely being below replacement level for almost a whole half a season and then finishing with, debatably, MVP type #s

      • I Remember Celerino Sanchez says:

        Let’s hope Ortiz doesn’t find the same elixir.

        • Charlie says:

          well, he’s been decent since the two months or so

          • jsbrendog says:

            through 90 games:

            Delgado 08: 16 hr, .246/.325/.448

            Ortiz 09: 13 hr, .227/.316/.417

            wow…

            delgado finished with 38 hr and .271/.353/.518

            looks like delgado snapped out of it a looooot sooner. right around that split stadium double header.

            • jsbrendog says:

              before his 2hr break out at YS last yr, delgado:

              as of June 26th 11 hr, .229/.306/.396

              worse then ortiz. delgado just came out of it a lot sooner and was basically one of the worst offensive players in mlb for 75 games, and then probably top 5 the final 87 games.

        • Chris says:

          Ortiz OPS by month:

          April: .623
          May: .520
          June: 1.062
          July: .789

      • Zach says:

        or um that arod dude

        • jsbrendog says:

          never looked as bad as delgado did. i watched a good amount of mets games cause my gf and her whole family (3 sibs and both parents) are huge fans, and he looked like a tim wakefield fastball was too much for him and any break was destorying him.

          conclusion: i saw it with my own eyes.

  6. Wizzle says:

    yea i don’t think we need to worry about CC. the only thing we need to worry about is his weight problem. i saw him eating 3 big macs at a Mcdonalds 2 weeks ago. I’m not kidding.

  7. MikeD says:

    CC’s H/9 IP is the second best of his career, and below his career average, and even playing in the new Yankee Stadium, his HR/9 is also down. Velocity is fine and recent history says he gets stronger as the season progresses. So, yes, he hasn’t been quite as good as his very best, but he’s been quite good, and well within statistical norm.

  8. Bo says:

    This topic only gets answered by how well he pitches against Boston and in the playoffs. it’s not answered by games vs Balt or Toronto or Det.

  9. Lefty says:

    first of all, who names their son Bo. thats just mean. and if CC makes one bad start in the playoff, that doesn’t mean he’s worthless, BOOO.

  10. gxpanos says:

    He’s fine. I expect him to get better, he’s a second half pitcher, and he battled through two tough starts: one where he was strong due to being on 9 days rest, and the other that started 2 and half hours later than scheduled. I think we’ll see 7 strong tomorrow against a great hitting team, and that he’ll be on a roll the rest of the way.

  11. jim p says:

    Wouldn’t the proper comparison be with the 1st halves through his career? IIRC, he is typically much much better in the second half, historically.

  12. Simon B. says:

    Part of it is probably the stadium.

    Yeah, he’s been a little bit of a disappointment, but I’m not going to let one half change my perception of him too much. He was still the best pitcher in all of baseball in both 2007 and 2008.

  13. Salty Buggah says:

    He has been a bit lucky as his batter hit .292 off of in his career coming into this year. This year, they are hitting .275 off of him. This is usually luck.

    I know CC said he learned a 2-seamer last year, could that help his BABIP?

  14. Chris says:

    His swing rate on pitches out of the zone is his lowest since 2005 and his contact rate on those pitches is the highest of his career. Those changes explain the increase in BBs and a corresponding decrease in Ks.

    • Interesting. What do we think could reverse that trend? `

    • Tank Foster says:

      Right. We have lot’s of neato things being counted. But how much more does it tell us? Until someone can establish why people do or do not swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and whether or not they hit them, the numbers are meaningless. I suspect that for any pitcher who is walking more and striking out fewer batters, the contact rate on pitches out of the zone will be less. Less strikeouts, after all, HAS to mean less swings and misses, since a pitcher never has 100% of his strikes as called strikes…

      • Until someone can establish why people do or do not swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and whether or not they hit them, the numbers are meaningless.

        No, they’re not. Not remotely.

      • whozat says:

        “But how much more does it tell us? ”

        It tells us that it’s not that he’s missing the zone more. It tells us that guys are fouling off pitches out of the zone more. Coupled with the fact that it seems his stuff is still breaking like it used it, that tells us that he’s probably becoming more predictable. Or that something else is happening that’s allowing guys to recognize the pitch early enough that they can foul it off instead of swinging an missing.

  15. CountryClub says:

    Most star players struggle when they 1st come to NY (Yankees and Mets). It looks like CC, AJ and Tex have avoided that for the most part. But maybe CC is pressing a little bit. I’d assume he’ll get better as the year progresses. But I think he’ll be even better next year.

  16. Tank Foster says:

    That article is weak; it’s a poor use of statistics.

    His walk rate going up 0.5/9 IP is, I suspect, a meaningless difference based on normal variance, or perhaps in part reflecting his pitching against superior hitters in the AL east. It’s also the dreaded “small sample size.”

    His K rate is a bit disconcerting, maybe, but the same things which apply to the BB rate apply to the K.

    The main theme, from the first paragraph, is, to me, a big stretch. Athletes have variation in performance from year to year. If we are to expect almost no variation from year to year before giving a big contract, then we’ll never sign any star players. He’s been excellent this year. The fact that he has, occasionally, been better in the past doesn’t necessarily signal that he’s in a true “decline” now or that there’s any reason to worry.

    He pitched alot of innings and complete games last season. It’s not unexpected that he might drop off a little this year while he recovers.

  17. [...] July 27, 2009, 4:26 pm A piece on CC Sabathia by Tom Boorstein at SNY has been making the rounds on the blogging circuit today. In it, Boorstein cites CC’s rising BB/9 and K/9 as a cause for [...]

  18. pete says:

    to me, as of right now, there is too great a chance that this is a sample-size effect to make anything of it. By his standards, his pitching has been, thus far, mediocre overall, but this is in only half a season. By the end of the season i do believe his numbers should right themselves more into his career average lines, but we also shouldn’t be expecting him to repeat his dominance with the brewers, as few have ever sustained that level of dominance even over half a season.

    I think it would be more reasonable to say that his overall season numbers for 2007 represent what we should expect his peak seasons to look like with the yankees. That is to say, it would be reasonably optimistic to expect him to have four of seven years here look something like that, and given that his contract expires when he is only 35 i believe, there is no reason to believe that without injury his lesser years should be too far below that. They may end up looking more like this year to this point.

    But i think it is a little too reactionary to claim that he has been “more of a very good number two” thus far. You can’t expect to find that any random half-season of a “true ace” career will be in line with the pitcher’s career averages – there will always be ups and downs. What makes a pitcher a “true ace,” if you’re talking about sample sizes of half a season or so, is that you can expect not to find many, if any stretches that long below a still very high level, such as the one Sabathia is entrenched in right now. I personally believe that acehood is defined by what reasonable and knowledgeable fans generally expect of you (or perhaps the rightfulness of their expectations – whichever floats your boat). And given that after half a season of excellent pitching, it would be more than reasonable to expect his performance to, in general, be better over the next few years, an ace he remains.
    Ok i know that probably sounds like i’m saying “what i expect him to do is what he will do and therefore he isn’t what he currently is, but rather what he will be when he does what i think he is going to do,” but thats not really what i mean. I’m just saying, through extensive, wandering prose, that i think these peripherals are more explanatory of his performance so far this season, than indicative of the current state of his overall abilities as a pitcher.
    Congratulations and thanks to anybody who read all of this, you have increased my worth as a human being.

  19. yankees09 says:

    CC has done what is expected. He has been the ACE and the horse for the team. Also it is the American League East where it is probably the toughest to pitch to in the majors. I really believe CC Strike out totals are down because of Posada. In fact AJ’s and Joba’s K totals are all down and i believe it has to do with Posada’s pitch sequencing/calling. I don’t have anything to back it up because this is just a personal observation but when the starters pitch to other cathers, it seems they have more K’s.

    • jsbrendog says:

      seriously? come on

      • Tank Foster says:

        I don’t agree with the statement, but only because I think it’s something you can never prove–I could see that it’s possible, though. You can never prove this sort of thing because there are too many co-variables in a pitcher’s strikout rate such that it’s gotta be impossible to statistically isolate the effect of the catcher.

        I remember reading something earlier this year which said that Yankee pitching staffs have had, over the last several years, middling to poor K rates in the league. Considering they usually have at least league average to above average pitching, you would wonder why they had low K rates.

        And maybe they don’t have low K rates…I don’t have the time to check the last 10 years and see. But if they did, well, Posada has been the main catcher, so it isn’t far fetched to wonder if he has something to do with it.

    • Lanny says:

      Yea, Posada is worse than Jason Kendall and Vic Martinez. Hilarious.

  20. Lanny says:

    Subpar compared to what? His all time second half last yr? It beats seeing Rasner, Ponson, Wright, Clippard, Wright, Pavano, etc out there.

  21. GG says:

    This is going to be judged in the playoffs, if he gets wins he will have been worth it, if he doesn’t he will be a bust regardless of how many innings he eats during the regular seasons. Fair or not, it’s the way it is.

  22. Jake H says:

    CC has been very good. Great at times. I do wonder if he is using his 2 seamer more to get quicker outs.

  23. Joseph M says:

    I agree with the posted who stated the post season will tell the tale. Looking at his first half, I noticed 7 of his 8 wins were against clubs with losing first half records. His one win against an above .500 club was Minnesota which finished the first half 45-44. Up to this point he has not been a stud number 1 starter, hopefully he can get it done when it really counts.

    • handtius says:

      Hopefully, someday, you’ll understand that a pitcher’s win total means nothing.

      • Joseph M says:

        I examined each start for the first half, I suggest you do the same. His record was very reflective of how he pitched and how he pitcher was not reflective of a top shelf number one starter.

  24. The Artist says:

    Thanks for the link, Mike!

  25. Mac says:

    After CC lost to the Angels, I griped he was really a #2 starter. I pointed to his post season era of 7.92 and expressed my concern as to how much he has left by October.

    I felt that the Yanks had to get him and Burnett b\c they had zero starting pitching. CC’s biggest plus to me was he eats alot of innings (and apparently Big Mac’s) and he’d be a big part in getting the Yanks to October.

    I hope CC gets the chance to turn it around this year in October. Regardless of what he really is – an bonafide Ace, the best #2 starter in mlb or maybe an Ace who isn’t quite as good as 3 or 4 other pitchers in the game, the Yanks needed him and he’s more than earned his $ this year.

    Lastly, I still think Dave Robertson has sub par stuff and will get killed if Girardi ever puts him in a high leverage situation against the few other teams that have a chance to beat us in October ;-)

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