Monitoring Sabathia’s workload

Yankees claim first place in AL East with win over Red Sox
Yankees planned to demote Nova after Thursday's start

One of the selling points of CC Sabathia‘s Cy Young case is the incredible volume of innings he’s amassed this season. Fans have long grown accustomed to the bulky lefty throwing up outsized innings pitched totals, and for this reason it’s easy to gloss over his prolificity. This year, he’s thrown 176.2 innings, a number eclipsed by only Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. In the last two years, he’s thrown the third most innings in baseball, behind Halladay and Felix Hernandez. In the last five years no one in baseball has thrown more innings than Sabathia. He’s thrown 1,138.1, leading Roy Halladay by 8 innings. The next closest is Dan Haren with 1072.2. If you add in the seventy some-odd innings he’s thrown in the postseason since 2007, his lead over Halladay only widens further.

This is a cause for pride and for concern. Sabathia has earned his reputation as a durable ace, and there’s no current reason to think he’ll suddenly get injured or break down. Still one could be forgiven for wondering if he’ll be able to do this in perpetuity. If he won’t, then when exactly will the decline begin? This is a particular relevant question this season, as CC is currently on pace to threaten to eclipse his past innings pitched and total pitches thrown totals. Below is a chart detailing the past five years of work, and projecting what he might achieve if current trends hold.

As it currently stands, Sabathia is throwing around 108 pitches per start. This is a mark reminiscent of his last contract year with the Milwaukee Brewers. If he keeps up his current pace, Sabathia will pitch close to 250 innings again and throw around 3700 pitches, 100 pitches or so higher than what he did in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and, again, closer to his 2008 campaign. Of course, the postseason counts too. It doesn’t show up in Sabathia’s initial Baseball-Reference page, but the pitches he’s hurled with that left arm count just as much (if not a little more, given the stress of the event) than the ones in April.

Obviously, the 2011 totals could vary a great deal depending on how far the Yankees go into the postseason. In the scenario that minimizes the number of postseason pitches thrown for Sabathia (the worst-case scenario for the Yankees, they go home in the ALDS), Sabathia makes one start. In the scenario that maximizes the number of postseason pitches thrown, Sabathia makes 8 starts (2 in the ALDS, 3 in the ALCS and 3 in the WS – heart-attack city). Spitballing it, his 2009 numbers seem like a fair enough estimate for what he might do in this year’s postseason, but even so he averaged 7 innings and close to 110 pitches per outing that year. Scaling it back to 5 starts, 500 pitches and 30 innings is a bit more conservative. This isn’t any sort of serious projection, to be clear; no one knows how far the Yankees will go into October and how many starts Sabathia will make. There’s nothing wrong with spitballing though as long as you admit you’re spitballing it! Here’s the cumulative data on Sabathia, including the regular season and postseason.

To recap, Sabathia is likely looking at around 250 innings and 3,650-3,700 pitches in the regular season. This would be his highest mark since 2008. If he throws 5 postseason starts of six innings and 100 pitches apiece (a conservative estimate that could vary wildly), his innings pitched and pitches thrown totals will creep up to an all-time high, well past the 265.4 IP and 4,134 pitches thrown mark he set in back in 2009. It’s not inconceivable that he could crack 280 innings and 4,200 pitches. If he were to make 2 starts in the ALDS, 3 in the ALCS and 3 in the World Series, he’d easily surpass the 300 innings pitched mark.

This is all a moot point if the Yankees get bounced before the World Series, but it’s at least worth monitoring for several reasons. For one, the last time he cracked 250 innings in the regular season (after pitching on short rest for what seemed like weeks) he was ineffective in his only NLDS start with the Brewers. He looked run-down, and the Brewers went home early. It doesn’t even need to be said, but the Yankees need a sharp CC to do well this October. Secondly, Sabathia will likely opt-out of his current contract and re-up with the Yankees on another long-term deal this winter. If he’s going to be around for awhile and making big bucks, it might be a good idea to look after his long-term interests.

One easy way to do this would be to continue to roll with the six-man rotation in August. As Moshe Mandel of The Yankee Analysts noted in great detail, the six-man rotation this month would result in one less start for CC Sabathia. Hughes and Nova both pitched well in their last outings, so there doesn’t seem to be huge harm in allowing them to continue to battle it out this month, and hopefully it would result in slightly lower innings pitched and pitches thrown totals for Sabathia. He’ll still have ridiculously high numbers by the standard of mostly any other pitcher, but there’s only so much that can be done. The Yankees should do what they can to keep him fresh for October and beyond, but at some point they’ll simply have to roll the dice and hope for the best.

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Yankees claim first place in AL East with win over Red Sox
Yankees planned to demote Nova after Thursday's start
  • Guest

    Good article. Presuming the Yankees win the Angels series (big presumption, but let’s say they do), that will pretty much sew up the wild card.

    Once they do that, I think job number one is getting CC ready for that game one start in the ALDS. To that end, I think it might not be a bad idea to have him skip a start or two in early september, and then have him make a couple of starts at the end of the month to get sharp before game one.

    The 2008 experience with Milwaulkee is instructive. The Brewers rode him hard done the stretch such that he had nothing left by the time he got to the playoffs. The Yanks would be wise not to make the same mistake.

    • Nuke Ladoosh

      I wouldn’t do it that way. I’d get him 5 days rest opportunistically. If only they had a 6 man rotation.

      • smurfy

        even two weeks, he’ll come back strong and rusty on command, but that should even out by Sept. He’ll likely be stronger thru the playoff season. Look how the bahamas in AllStar break rejuvinated him, what’d he have there? a week?

    • Jorge

      They were also pitching him on three days rest several times over. While I think he can’t be this workhorse forever, that’s not the right example. That was downright abusive.

  • crawdaddie

    The Brewers rode CC hard in August and September. The Yankees won’t do that and might be giving him some extra days off by keeping six starting pitchers. Also, in September when the rosters expand, I expect to see CC pitch more 6-7 inning games than 7-8 inning ones which will reduce the amount of pitches thrown in that month alone.

  • Fin

    It just seems when you have a guy like C.C. you just keep letting him pitch and hope it works out for the best. There isnt too much you can do to limit it. Do you pull him in the 6th and tax the bullpen, when hes better than anyone in the pen, including Mo. Does skipping 1 start and saving him 8 inning, 110 pitches in August really amount to anything when you’re talking hundreds of innings and thousands of pitches? I hate to say it, but the prudent thing to do, is let him walk when he opts out. Hes going to leave his prime and become and average pitcher sooner than later, with the innings and pitches he has under his belt. How many years will the yankees have to sign him to? It may be the best move to let him go, watch him have to more great seasons and then be thankful we arent on the hook for the last 6 at 25mil per year.

    • crawdaddie

      Right then what happens to the Yankees over the next 4-5 seasons? I’ll take paying him 25M over those last two seasons if it gives me an opportunity to win a couple of WS in those first four seasons.

      • Fin

        you’re taking a huge risk with those 4-5 yrs that he will remain healthy and effective. I’m not saying that the Yankees shouldnt resign him…just food for thought. I’m not sure which way I would go if I were in charge. As it is you had one of the best pitchers in baseball for his prime seasons, and have an opportunity to bow out, without having to pay for some years that he is injured/ineffective. On the other hand, you loose, what is most likely to be one of the best pitchers in baseball for the next couple of years. I would say expecting C.C. to be anywhere near the pitcher he is now in 5 yrs, at the age of 37 is stretch, and for that matter being anywhwere near as healthy and effective as he has been during those 5 yrs.

        • hugh

          Have to say that the same thought occurred to me lately. He’s thrown a heck of a lot of innings and, though it doesn’t seem so right now, just can’t go on for ever. Clearly a bit of a physiological freak, nonetheless, his size is likely to impact on his longevity too. For me, the length of any new contract would be a really significant consideration if he opts out.

          It’s not that there are millions of obvious replacements on the market this off-season, but with his money (theoretically) and Posada’s (definitely) coming off the books in November (let’s not spend time right now reflecting on what the DH position is going to be costing us in two or three seasons’ time), and with as much talent as you want to trade away in the minors, you could really go for the blockbuster Felix trade and get someone with fewer innings, years and fat cells in his arm if you want.

          Just throwing it out there. I know there are other things to be considered, but just wondering if there might be alternative scenarios to having to offer 5 more years…

  • Nuke Ladoosh

    I’ve always loved the Big Guy. And have I mentioned his prolificity?

    • Fin

      Its amazingly hard not to love the big guy and his prolificity.

      • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

        Personally i can’t get enough of the prolificity. CANNOT GET ENOUGH.

        • Nuke Ladoosh

          But, as the article asks, do you think we can count on that prolificity in perpetuity? I’m perplexed.

          • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

            I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out. I’ll let you know if I hear anything though!

          • Fin

            I would say no..all of these pitches are going to catch with him and his weight…the legs are probably going to go on him. He may be able to pitch from his knees though,that arm might be fine until hes 130yrs old.

            • nycsportzfan

              not to mention, the guys gotten better the older hes got..We seen David Wells and his bigger stature get better with AGE… Why not CC?

              • Fin

                David Wells was never as good as C.C. and wasnt going to get an A’Rodesque contract. Where was Wells in Game 7 against the Sox? Fat old man with a bad back.

                • nycsportzfan

                  My point is the guy with some serious meat on his bones got very good with age.. I mean the guy went 61-29 from age 39-42 for godsake.. I’m just saying, CC is worth the gamble and we’ve seen incredible success outta heavy guys in there later yrs.. Sure, its not exactly the same situation, just saying its got a few things u can kinda look at and say, hmm? ya know?

                  And, just because a guy pitches a bad game in the Postseason dosen’t relinquish a enitre career.. David Wells was a fine Postseason pitcher, mostly all in his mid to late 30’s and even 40’s..

                  • Fin

                    I hear what you’re saying. I really dont know what the right answer is with C.C. I just threw the game 7 thing out there becasue it was a good quip. realisitically though, the odds are so stacked against C.C. being healthy and good. I mean even if he stays very good, the odds of him not missing significant time, seem to be slim. As a fan, for sure I would sign him, I love the guy. Hes the best Yankee pitcher I have seen in my lifetime. Signing him until he was 35 was a no brainer…The Yankees have in all probability gotten the best out of C.C. In the end though, they really have no choice but to sign him and deal with the later years of the contract when they come. Hes just too good to let walk away.

                    • https://twitter.com/TheRealJeromeS Jerome S.

                      No two pitchers are ever the same. Never.

                • nsalem

                  Where was Wells in Game 7 against the Sox. What year are you talking about?

                  • Billion$Bullpen

                    The one where the Sox were really the Marlins and it was not really game 7, and it was the 2003 World Series.

        • Jorge
  • Rick

    Good article. One minor quibble: Assuming he wouldn’t go on shorter than three days’ rest, I don’t see how The Big Fella would make three starts in both the ALCS and the World Series. Going 1-4-7 in the ALCS would likely postpone him till at least Game 2 (or, if only one day off between series, Game 3) of the World Series, right?

    I guess the TV schedule could sprinkle in extra off days and muck that up, or well-timed rain outs could make eight starts possible, but I think the realistic cap is probably seven postseason starts.

    • http://twitter.com/stephen_mr Stephen Rhoads

      Yep that’s a good point. So if he goes 1-4 and 1-4-7 in the ALDS/ALCS, he’s likely looking at only 2 starts in the World Series max. 7 is likely the upper limit.

  • Jake H

    My guess if the Yankees will do the same thing they did in 09 to limit his innings in early september then ramp it back up at the end to get him ready for the post season.

  • Nuke Ladoosh

    Speaking of CC, but off topic, would like to see him put Papi on his ass in his first AB.

    /Junereprised

  • JFH

    Is this type of analysis necessary? After all, didn’t we learn last night that baseball is all about momentum?

    • nycsportzfan

      what the Fuck are u talking about? Because there was a couple momentum turning plays(at least 3articles i’ve read mentioned logan at bat to gonzo as momentum turning), means it was all about momentum? Some of u are mentally challenged.. Just because it was blatently obvious how big a change in momentum happened after that Logan at bat and for the redsox after we squandered our opp’s in the 2nd inning, dosen’t mean it was all about momentum.. Obviously, there was a couple momentum turning sequences, so what????

      Who cares???

      • Guest

        I believe the original comment was meant in jest…

        • nycsportzfan

          i made the original comment, and for some reason its been a big deal on here ever since.. I felt blatent momentum was swung a couple times in the ball game last night, and mentioned it and debated it back and fourth.. I mean, both times conincidently the sox and yanks scored right after the momentum seemed to of swung.. Every game dosen’t have momentum, as u can kill a team right outta the gates, but last night there was in my opinion a couple momentum turning swings on both clubs.. The sox struck first off what i felt was gained momentum and then the yanks got there scores off a momentum swing that Boone gave them..

          WHO CARES! GO ROCK THOSE SOX TODAY!!!!!!!!

          • CMP

            Momentum plays a big role in the NFL but in baseball I think it’s pretty much nonsense.

            In baseball, momentum=who is on the mound and how well he’s pitchng.

            • JFH

              Momentum in baseball is nonsense. Agreed.

          • Fin

            hmm, not sure momentm works that way in baseball. I’m pretty sure the air was let out of the room with Cano’s GDP, even though they tied it. Your best hitter up with bases loadedm no one out and he grounds into DP? It may have tied the game but it was about the worst outcome possible for that at bat. Next guy roooooopes a double down the line to somewhat erase that double play. Seems Swish didnt notice the loss of Momentum.

  • nycsportzfan

    I woulden’t worry to much about it.. I mean, alot of those Innings are stress free innings with the Yanks up a ton, and what not.. I’d start worrying when the Inning levels start to dwindle.. The more innings CC has, the better hes pitching..

    • hugh

      So let’s start using him on short rest, then. The more innings, the better, right? And good practice for the playoffs.

      It can only improve his chances of pitching strongly for the next five years, too. Win, win.

  • CMP

    Since the Yanks unfortunately aren’t gonna pull Burnett , I’d like to see them go with the 6 man rotation for as long as Nova and Hughes continue to pitch well.

  • JB

    if AJ continues to pitch the way he has, I don’t see him having any role in the post-season (unless its long relief in a blowout).

    He’ll get his starts til the end of the season, but then he’s done (and I’ll be happy).

  • Mark D.

    I don’t think the Yankees need to worry that much about CC’s workload. They should be a little concerned because he still is a pitcher, but he has shown that he could handle the workloads that he has been given each year especially since the start of the 2007 season. His pitches per inning has gone down each year, and if you watch his games his pitch count is usually below 100 after 7. His pitches per game this year has gone up 3 pitches, but he is throwing more innings a game decreasing the amount of pitches he needs to get three outs. His pitches per plate appearance has gone down as expected.

    I think the Yankees should be more concerned if he was throwing more pitches per game without going deeper into games which has not been the case. He won’t be pitching on 3 days rest either so there is less of a health risk involved. His frame creates less torque on his arm which has allowed him to be a workhorse everywhere that he has pitched, and it continues to show with the amount innings he has accumulated since 2007. He has gotten better each year he has been with the Yankees and I believe this is one pitcher they don’t have to be concerned with in this rotation. The team should keep an eye on Colon and Garcia rather than CC.

    • hugh

      No-one is about to offer Colon or Garcia a five year contract therefore that’s a moot consideration if we’re thinking long term. (I’d agree if you’re talking about the next few weeks but your comment didn ‘t read that way.)

      No matter what shape you are, what your physiology is like or how well you look after yourself, you only have so many pitches in your arm. Those factors do make a difference, though. Perhaps CC scores well on the second one and perhaps he’s just got lucky in his career so far, not sold on the first – the third is nothing but a big red flag. As a matter of cold probability, the chance of him throwing as effectively as he has this season for five more years is practically zero. In the short term, I’d also be stunned if a bit of rest now didn’t help keep him fresher for October.

      Workhorses are capable of doing more than other horses, but their capabilities are not without limit. And when they do break down, it’s usually straight to the knacker’s yard.

      • Mark D.

        The last statement is referring to this season since Colon hasn’t pitched this deep into a season since 2005 and is 38 years old, and Garcia doesn’t have overpowering stuff. My point was the Yankees worry more about these pitchers than CC who has been doing this since 2007.

        • Mark D.

          There is less wear and tear on CC’s arm because he is 6’7″ and has a body frame that can distribute the effort that is required to throw a pitch. He won’t be as effective as he has been this year because currently he is on a tear that I haven’t seen from a Yankee pitcher since I started watching in 1995. Sabathia’s injury history has been pretty much nonexistent with the exception of the knee surgery he had this year. His pitches per game is up, as well as is innings pitched, but I would be more worried that in order to pitch this amount of innings that his total pitches per inning increased, but every year with the Yankees that number has gone down.

          2009: P/PA 3.82, P/IP 15.6
          2010: P/PA 3.69, P/IP 15.1
          2011: P/PA 3.62, P/IP 14.7

          My opinion is that he is putting less of a workload on his arm this year than last year since he is getting out of innings quicker with less pitches, allowing him to retain his stamina at a better rate than the last 2 years. The P/IP is a important stat because the pitchers with a high number pitch less innings while throwing the same amount of pitches which should be considered more dangerous to a pitcher’s health than what CC is currently doing because he may be throwing 3 more pitches a game, but he is going deeper into games this season than any other season allowing him to spread the amount of work that he has to do to get hitters out.

          • hugh

            I’m not sure I’m getting the stamina retention point. i think you mean to say that he’s spreading out his pitches over more innings and therefore getting more rest while he’s pitching. On the figures you cite, that would seem to be a very marginal difference from last year.

            Nonetheless, I would still suggest that if we could get him some rest between now and the playoffs, it could not be a bad idea.

            Distribution of pitching effort would come more from the mechanics of throwing rather than body shape or size, I would suggest. Based on his injury history, CC’s mechanics are probably pretty amazing because, 6’7″ or not, his weight is not an asset in any way and is very likely to catch up on him – knees/ hips/ back/ ankles rather than arm perhaps – sooner than with someone with a lower bmi. That, notwithstanding his amazingly durable career to date, is why I would be hesitant about re-upping him in the off-season for too many years.

            • Mark D.

              He is going to get rest though between now and the playoffs since they currently hold a 9 game lead for a playoff spot if they don’t win the division.

              His frame has to do with the workload he has because of his frame he puts less torque on his arm, preventing the same amount of wear and tear that a smaller pitcher would endure. His pitching mechanics is also a factor in his workload which you pointed out, but knowing how to pitch decreases the amount of pitches he needs to get hitters out thus decreasing the amount of effort he puts on his arm as well. Any pitcher getting too many years is always a concern since there is a long list of names of pitchers who don’t live up to their contracts, but CC has shown no reason for the Yankees to worry about him as much as any other pitcher because he has been doing this for years.

              This offseason contract negotiation is going to get very interesting and it is expected that the Yankees are going to have to overpay to retain CC. I just believe the article written overlooks some information that give the Yankees a reason to believe that CC will not break down as the season continues. It remains to be seen what will happen after this season but right now I have little to no concern with CC, as opposed to Burnett, Garcia, Colon, and Hughes for various reasons.