Sabathia’s Strikeout Surge

Sabathia, Grandy get Yanks back in win column
When in doubt, pull A.J. out

The decline in CC Sabathia‘s strikeout rate was noticeable earlier this year. His 6.63 K/9 through his first 16 starts was his lowest since 2003 and marked the third straight year of decline. That’s not to say Sabathia was struggling, he certainly wasn’t, but strikeouts are a pretty good indicator of future success and no team wants to see its ace trending in the wrong direction. Three starts and 33 whiffs in 22.2 IP later, suddenly CC’s strikeout rate sits at 7.70 K/9, better than last year’s rate and identical to his 2009 showing.

Where have all these strikeouts come from? I don’t think there’s one thing we can to point to, but we might as well start with his fastball. After sitting comfortably in the low-90’s (somewhere around 92-94) all season, Sabathia has averaged 95 mph over his last three starts, topping out at high as 97-98. Here’s the velocity plot with a very noticeable spike …

His last three starts have been played in two different parks, so that decreases the chances of a PitchFX glitch somewhat. Sabathia chalks the increased velocity up to the heat, saying after last night’s game that “I’ve been able to stay loose … That’s a big thing for me. In between innings trying to stay loose and make sure I can keep sweating, and I think that’s a big part of my velocity.” Dave Pinto mused that it might have to do with his offseason knee surgery and weight loss; maybe it just took him some time to get used to his new body and now he’s finding his groove. His pitch selection tells another story…

Sabathia’s been fastball-slider heavy these last three starts, which is not a total surprise when you consider that the other teams rolled out lineups with an usual amount of left-handed batters. Three of the nine opposing starters in each game were lefty bats, and three pinch-hitters also swung from that side of the plate. Usually Sabathia will see about 21% left-handed batters, but it’s been more than one-third over the last two weeks. That plays right to his strengths.

It’s also worth noting that two of those last three starts came against National League teams in Yankee Stadium, the Rockies and Brewers. Both teams strike out more than the average club, a little more than once for every five at-bats. Add in one strikeout prone (Jason Giambi) and one rookie (Mat Gamel) designated hitter, and that strikeout rate probably goes up a notch. The Indians are the fifth most strikeout happy team in baseball at 22.6%. At risk of jinxing it, I’m going to note that Sabathia will face the Rays on Sunday, the final game before the All-Star break. Tampa has the second most strikeouts against left-handed pitchers in the AL despite the third fewest plate appearances.

“Milwaukee is still my best,” said Sabathia after last night’s game, referring to the most dominant stretch of his career. “I don’t even know what happened. It was just one of those things … That was two and a half months. This has been three or four starts.” It has been just three starts, three very fun starts against teams that can reasonably be called contenders. Sabathia is known to go on some major runs in the second half of the season, and it looks like 2011’s streak is just beginning.

Sabathia, Grandy get Yanks back in win column
When in doubt, pull A.J. out
  • B-Rando

    Keep it rollin’ big guy. I think if CC can put a Milwaukee-esque run together, he might be able to carry the Yanks on his back to the AL East title.

    • Hester Prynne

      The good news is we won’t need him to carry us alone. We have the best offense in the league and Bartolo Colon as a great #2. The wildcards are the other 3 starters as it’s unclear what we’ll get from them in the 2nd half.

      • Stuckey

        I kind of think Freddy Garcia has earned the benefit of the doubt at this point.

        No reason to think he’s going to lose the stuff he currently has or his command.

        • jsbrendog

          agreed. although i do think that it is fair to believe that freddy will eventually regress back into a 4-5 era, which i will gladly take.

          at this point and based on last yrs performance we can expect him to be league average for the rest of the year and maybe even a little better. i doubt he will keep up his 130 era+.

          sidenote – if i bet you in the beginning of the yr that freddy garcia would have a better first half than aj burnett and phil hughes by a mile you wouldve laughed at me.

  • Matt :: Sec110

    Not one duece in the last 3, that kinda neat.

  • nsalem

    “summertime and the livin’ is easy”

    • boogie down

      Fantastic song.

  • jon

    I feel like this happens every year

    sometime after the allstar break CC starts to strike out the world

    • jon

      2010: first half 7.1 SO/9 second half 7.8 SO/9
      2009: first half 6.7 SO/9 second half 9.0 SO/9

      in his career he strikes out almost a whole batter more in the 2nd half (7.2 vs 8.1)

      • Sayid J

        Yea. I think people have forgotten this season that CC is normally a 2nd half pitcher because of how good he was in the first half. The past few seasons we’ve become accustomed to the bad April and dominant second half, but this year the domination started a little earlier.

        • Rob

          cashman and the front office should be very scared about the offseason.

          • jon

            eh i think CC is a pretty good guy, he moved his family to NJ and lives here fulltime. Hes not going anywhere they will just have to tack a few years onto his contract and call it a day

            • Rob

              i’m not saying that he will leave or wants to leave, just that he will have a shit ton of leverage if keeps up on this pace. the yankees need cc and everyone knows it

          • j

            I’d let him walk. He’s going to want 6+ years and he’s too old for that.

            • Clay Bellinger

              We’re all very glad that you’re not the GM.

            • jon

              if all 3 Bs were in AAA killing it, hughes comes back and has a year like the first half of last year, and AJ turns into 2008 AJ

              then maybe id think about letting CC walk

            • Esteban

              Who’s your alternative?

              • Mike Myers

                We could just use those Bartolo stem cells and make 4 more of him.

              • j

                That is a great reason to give someone 200 million. Desperation.

            • Guest

              Sometimes bad contracts are good. I agree giving six+ years to a pitcher is by definition “bad.”


              1. CC has been a horse is his whole career. Of course he could blow something out and go down for a long period of time. But his track record of health means that this is far less likely than it is for other pitchers.

              2. The Yankees have enough financial resources to carry a bad contract that is in its last legs AND still get other pieces it needs.

              3. CC’s decline years are not likely to be so bad because, despite his powerful heater, CC is a pitchability lefty. He throws four pitches with great command to both sides of the plate to righties AND lefties. So when he declines, he will likely not falll of a cliff. He will probably go from great to merely pretty good. 3 great years, 3 pretty good years ain’t bad.

              4. A-Rod. The extention was the worst contract ever. But, here we are, in the first year AFTER his initial contract would have expired, and what is A-Rod? The best 3B in the AL. My point here? When someone reaches a level as elite as CC/ARod, even when they decline
              they are likely going to be better than your other options. ESPECIALLY if they are a rare/valuable commodity, and there are few things more rare in baseball than quality lefty starting pitching. Now, again, its not ideal to overpay…but if there is any team that can afford to overpay for a rare valuable commodity, its the Yanks.

              • Klemy

                Unfortunately, we already have a few of those “bad contracts on their last legs going on already. :)

                • Klemy

                  blockquote fail.

                • Guest

                  Right, but CC will still likely be peak CC for all of those contracts except ARod’s. By the time we’re in decline phase CC, the only decline phase contracts on the books will be CC and ARod’s.

              • j

                Its not just that he’s a pitcher. It’s that he’s a pitcher on the wrong side of 30. And hes going to want 25 lol plus. And it will probaby take a contract until his age 37 season. If he opts out resigning him would be momentiously stupid. And we will regret it when hes

                • j

                  35 and sucks.

                  • Guest

                    Roy Halladay is 34 and aggressively does not suck. I find it unlikely that Halladay will suck next year.

                    I think youhave to be careful when predicting declines. I think we have seen that there are certain kinds of pitchers who don’t decline as quickly as the rest.

                    Pitchers who have been consistently healthy, throw multiple pitches, and have great command tend to decline more slowly than fireballers who get buy on the heater and little else.

                    CC has four quality pitches that he commands expertly. He will still be able to pitch well, likely very well, even after he loses a few MPH on his fastball.

                    Don’t just assume he is going to suck at 35.

                  • CG

                    Bartolo is 38 and is pretty decent. David Wells had a decent season at 39. Maybe larger pitchers age slower.

              • Anthony

                Evan Longoria is the best 3B in the AL now

                • jon

                  Arod WAR 4.1
                  Longo WAR 2.2

                  Arod wOBA .378
                  longo wOBA .340

                  Arod URZ/150 23.1
                  longo URZ/150 15.7

                  wanna try that again?

                  • Cris Pengiuci

                    Sure you’ve got those stats on your side, but Longo is still the best. Just ask the MSM. :-)

  • duzzi23

    CC could not have been a better pickup. He stops losing streaks pitches deep into games is great in the clubhouse and just a true ace. He was also dominant in our world series run in 09. U just cant say enough good things about him. One of the few Yankees who earn their money. But of course he’s not an allstar.

    • Rob

      that would be funny if cashman used him not being an all star against cc during the opt out negotiations this upcoming season. not that it means anything at all, but it would be kind of funny

      • Slugger27

        Cashman: have a heart CC and don’t opt out, my place had a fire and got hit by lightning!
        CC: fuck you, pay me

        • Guest

          Cashman: Yes, sir! Where shall we send the dump truck filled with benjamins?

          • DCBX

            Hahaha +52

      • Nick

        I don’t think Cash is stupid enough to cite an All-Star appearance as a barometer of success.

  • duzzi23

    That would be pretty funny. Who knows if cash comes back n is the guy negotiating that contract. Also the colon stem cell comment was pretty funny.

  • Peepee Hands

    Does CC need a higher velocity fastball to strikeout more guys? Yes I think he does. His fastball slider combo these last few games has been devastating… like Randy Johnson in his prime. RJ’s high velocity fastball would always perfectly set up his slider, and that’s the beauty of the slider, it comes out of the hand similarly to a fastball that then falls off the table. That’s where CC’s success has come from.

  • ItsATarp

    Looks like CC is moving away from simply pitching to contact with his sinker and change and is using his nasty slider more and thus racking up the K’s

  • a.hinds

    how much of this has to do with rothchild? i remember hearing he was a strikeout oriented pitching coach