Inside the best-pitched game of the Yankees’ 2011 season

Fan Confidence Poll: November 28th, 2011
Valuing Eduardo Nunez
(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

For my money, there are few things more thrilling in modern-day baseball than a complete-game shutout. A large part of my thirst for the complete game is that unless you’re Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, it’s a feat that’s grown rarer as baseball marches on. Last season there were 75 complete-game shutouts, or 2.5 per team, although four teams didn’t record a single one — Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, and somewhat surprisingly, San Diego.

That 2011 tally of 75 may have been up from 2010’s 59 and 2009’s 63, but even though CGSHOs seem to be coming somewhat back into vogue, it hasn’t necessarily been that way for the Yankees.

The Yankees technically authored three complete-game shutouts in 2011, although only two were of the nine-inning variety. Phil Hughes was credited for a complete-game shutout for his rain-shortened six-inning win against the White Sox on August 2nd, but that really doesn’t count.

Truly, keeping an opposing team off the board for nine full innings is a pretty herculean task. When Bartolo Colon did it on Memorial Day back at the end of May, I was exceptionally pumped, as it was the first Yankee complete-game shutout since Sabathia authored one against the Orioles on May 8, 2009, not to mention the fact that if you’d told me Colon would pitch a CGSHO at any point in the 2011 season I would’ve thought you were crazier than the National League for making pitchers hit. It was also only the third recorded by a Yankee since 2006, and if you go back over the last 10 seasons, Yankee pitchers have only recorded 17 complete-game shutouts. Admittedly the Yankees’ potential shutout tally is inherently limited by the presence of the Greatest Closer of All Time, but that only adds to the scarcity and makes the accomplishment that much more impressive in my eyes.

As great as Bartolo’s game was, if you sort by Game Score, CC Sabathia threw an even more dominating start a month-and-a-half later, which, at 87, was the top Game Score by a Yankee pitcher of the 2011 season. At the time, it represented the second-highest WPA for a starting pitcher in all of MLB after Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter. Sabathia’s CGSHO wound up finishing third overall come season’s end.

Rk Player Date Tm Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit Str GSc ? WPA
1 CC Sabathia 2011-07-10 NYY TBR W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 1 9 0 113 79 87 0.761
2 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-30 NYY OAK W 5-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 0 6 0 103 71 85 0.365
3 CC Sabathia 2011-07-26 NYY SEA W 4-1 GS-7 ,W 7.0 1 1 1 3 14 0 102 71 82 0.167
4 Bartolo Colon 2011-05-18 NYY BAL W 4-1 GS-8 8.0 3 0 0 1 7 0 87 61 82 0.629
5 CC Sabathia 2011-06-30 NYY MIL W 5-0 GS-8 ,W 7.2 6 0 0 2 13 0 118 77 78 0.317
6 CC Sabathia 2011-04-05 NYY MIN L 4-5 GS-7 7.0 2 0 0 1 6 0 104 67 78 0.278
7 CC Sabathia 2011-05-19 NYY BAL W 13-2 GS-8 ,W 8.0 7 0 0 0 9 0 109 84 77 0.097
8 CC Sabathia 2011-07-16 NYY TOR W 4-1 GS-8 ,W 8.0 3 1 1 3 8 0 110 74 77 0.339
9 Ivan Nova 2011-06-20 NYY CIN W 5-3 GS-8 ,W 8.0 4 1 1 0 7 0 105 70 77 0.289
10 CC Sabathia 2011-07-05 NYY CLE W 9-2 GS-7 ,W 7.0 5 0 0 2 11 0 100 69 76 0.162
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/17/2011.

Given Sabathia’s dominance of the Rays on July 10th, I wanted to see how exactly he attacked them that afternoon. The following is a breakdown of Sabathia’s complete-game shutout compared with his insane eight-start run from June 25nd through August 1st (62.2 innings, 78(!) strikeouts, 16 walks, .503 OPSa, 1.01 ERA), his entire season, and the league average numbers for left-handed pitchers:

Sabathia’s four-seamer was something else on July 10th, averaging 95mph, going for a strike over three-fourths of the time, coaxing a swing well over 50% of the time, and generating a well-above average percentage of whiffs. Interestingly, he increased his deployment of the slider both during the July 10th game and throughout his eight-start run, compared with how frequently he used it on the season.

I say interesting because CC appeared to be getting into some trouble later in the season due to increased slider usage, although looking at the data in this chart compared to the August data in that link we see that the slider was breaking slightly less during his rough August stint (-0.43 inches of V-break compared to -0.73 during the dominant run) and was also roughly one mph slower. Those are both such minimal changes that I don’t feel comfortable drawing any conclusions about the slider one way or another, although given how important it is to CC’s repertoire it’s possible something even as minor as 0.30 less inches of average vertical break at one mile per hour slower would have a deleterious effect.

But I digress. The other interesting thing that sticks out to me on the above chart is that CC got zero swings-and-misses on on his sinker during the eight-start beast run, despite throwing it 12% of the time. Like any good sinkerballer, it’s obviously more of a pitch-to-contact pitch for him, but I hadn’t really realized that about his sinker until I looked at the numbers.

In any event, I’ll eagerly await the next CC Sabathia shutout complete-game shutout, not to mention a few more insane 1.00-ERA runs he’d like to string together.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 28th, 2011
Valuing Eduardo Nunez
  • Sayid J.

    Larry’s addition to RAB has been tremendous. I don’t always have the time or energy to fully digest his analysis (I like to read RAB on the go), but there’s no doubt his analysis is incredibly thorough.

    • Larry Koestler

      Thanks much for the kind words. The original version of this post also had a scatter plot, but I wasn’t comfortable PhotoShopping a strike zone on the grid so I decided to leave it off.

      In any event, if anyone’s interested in seeing a plot of the horizontal and vertical break of the 113 pitches CC threw in this game, feel free to click here.

    • Mike HC

      Agreed. I think all the new writer additions have been really great as well.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Agree. I also don’t always have time to fully digest all the data presented, but I’ve enjoyed reading Larry’s stuff for some time now. This post had the perfect amount of data presented for my tastes. The lack of swings-and-misses on the sinker also stood out when I looked at the chart. Very interesting. Guess you could say it was working exactly as intended.

  • Accent Shallow

    Shields nearly matched CC there, but he has only himself to blame, as a bad pickoff throw to 3B (!!!) allowed Cano to score the game’s only run.

  • Mike HC

    I’m with you here. Love seeing pitchers go the distance. And CC is probably among the best at doing it. Also, interesting tidbit about the slider.

  • dean

    Good stuff

  • Monteroisdinero

    My favorite start was #4, Bartolo against the O’s. 87 dominant pitches in 8 innings and he didn’t come out for the 9th which pissed me off at the time.

    He was LaRussa’d but at least we won the game.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      First-half Bart-Day was always fun. I remember that game and with 87 pitches, I was also surprised he was removed. It was interesting to see 2 of his games ranked 2nd and 4th in GSc, but not surprising that they came early in the season.

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Part of the Yankee’s lack of CG’s as a whole is the presence of Rivera. The starter knows that if he makes even one mistake, or gives up a soft single, he’s out, Mo’s in. Unless the starter is so dominant, and the score isn’t close, Rivera looms large. CC might be the only guy on the team that will get leeway from Girardi.

    Good article.

  • Cuso

    And to think, that game was won because of James Shields ill-timed pick-off move to 3rd base.

    Shields matched CC pitch-for-pitch that game.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Great presentation, as usual. You have it all there for the eyes to see. Even a scout could make use of this information as well as the pitcher himself who often does not know the ratio of fastballs to breaking pitches he throws.

  • smurfy

    Larry, how does the v-break and h-break get measured? As I see his slider, he’ll throw it toward the left corner, usually just below the belt, and it will finish near the right corner, around the knees. If they measure the break on the ball from his hand, it should be -10 to 12 horizontal, and -2 to 6 vertical. Not -.73 inches, unless they have some other reference.

    • Larry Koestler

      Hey Smurfy,

      Per the inimitable Mike Fast, pfx_x, or h-break, is the horizontal movement, in inches, of the pitch between the release point and home plate, as compared to a theoretical pitch thrown at the same speed with no spin-induced movement. This parameter is measured at y=40 feet regardless of the y0 value.

      pfx_z, or v-break, is the vertical movement, in inches, of the pitch between the release point and home plate, as compared to a theoretical pitch thrown at the same speed with no spin-induced movement. This parameter is measured at y=40 feet regardless of the y0 value.