Sabathia’s ongoing command problem

Poll: Making room for David Robertson
Girardi asks for, and receives, better work from Martin
(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Four earned runs in seven innings isn’t the worst start in the world but we’ve all come to expect more from CC Sabathia. The left-hander owns a 3.80 ERA with a 3.41 FIP through his first 13 starts of the season, solid numbers but hardly ace-like. “You limit the damage and try to get the team a win, but it’s frustrating when you have good stuff and can’t dominate a game,” said the southpaw after last night’s start. “I’ve been grinding all year. There hasn’t been a stretch where it has been easy.”

The most obvious problem with Sabathia has been his command, or lack thereof. His strikeout (8.97 K/9 and 23.4 K%), swing-and-miss (11.7%), walk (2.53 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%), and ground ball (47.5%) rates are more than fine and almost exactly match last season’s rates, but anecdotally he seems to miss his spot more than anytime I can remember. That’s led to Sabathia’s highest hit (8.87 H/9) and homerun (0.97 HR/9) rates as a Yankee despite a perfectly normal .309 BABIP. His 12.0% HR/FB ratio is a touch high but that’s already started to correct itself — he’s allowed just one dinger in the last three starts and 26 IP.

The first inning last night was a perfect example of Sabathia’s command issue. He fell behind in the count to three of the first four men he faced, but look at the pitch Michael Bourn hit for a leadoff single …

… and the pitch Matt Diaz hit for the bases-clearing double …

Chris Stewart set up down-and-away for both pitches — both fastballs — but Sabathia missed up both times, plus he caught too much of the plate to Bourn. Those two pitches are a microcosm of CC’s season to date; he’s missing but not by a ton, just enough for the hitter to do damage.

“It’s just at times his fastball cuts,” said Joe Girardi prior to yesterday’s game. “When that happens, he seems to get in a little bit of trouble. When he doesn’t command the down and away to right handers, he seems to get in a little bit of trouble.”

Usually when a fastball cuts unintentionally, the pitcher is dropping his arm a bit and it has to “catch up” to the rest of his body. The PitchFX data shows that for the most part, Sabathia’s release point this year (right graph) is the same as last year (left graph)…







The PitchFX system uniformly records release points at 55-feet from home plate, so not precisely out of each individual pitcher’s hand. Sabathia’s right where he was last season for the most part, maybe down an inch or two but nothing drastic. I would be a much better red flag if he was off six inches or something. It’s possible that little one inch different — if it even really exists — is causing his fastball to cut, in which case the solution might just be a simple mechanical tweak. No way to know definitively, of course.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but I do wonder if Sabathia’s weight has led to his command problems early this year. Thirty-ish pounds may seem like a drop in the bucket for a guy his size, but he could be having trouble adjusting to his slimmer body and it’s throwing his delivery off a tad. CC had similar command issues early last season before gaining the weight back and getting locked in. If that’s the case, the solution isn’t to pack on some pounds obviously, he just has to figure out how to pitch with less weight on his frame. I dunno, just thinking out loud here.

Sabathia hasn’t been bad this year but he hasn’t been dominant really. He ran off a real nice six-start stretch a few weeks ago but otherwise continues to be dogged by the fastball command. Ivan Nova dealt with a similar problem earlier this year and he’s starting to get on the right track these last two times out, so hopefully Sabathia does the same and soon. The Yankees have been getting some stellar starting pitching over the last three or four weeks, and it’s very odd to see CC as the weak link right now.

Poll: Making room for David Robertson
Girardi asks for, and receives, better work from Martin
  • Sarah

    The weight is an interesting variable. On a much “smaller” scale, Lincecum also lost some weight in the off season, and his command is way off. I wonder how much impact that has for a pitcher?

    • Ro

      Clay Buchholz too. He’d give any runway model a run for their money. Point being after giving up 127 runs in his first 6 or 7 starts, he’s made some adjustments and is actually pitching much better as of late. I definitely think Mike is on to something stating that CC’s weight could be a factor with his command.

      • MannyGeee

        agreed. baseball is a game of inches, and any “adjustment” on either size could have an effect on the outcome of an activity.

        Now that Nova & hughes appear “fixed” (holding breath), its time to adjust skinny CC to pitch like fat CC.

    • DrJLD

      Weight changes interfere with the body’s natural balancing act. Balance requires split-second bodily changes, instantaneously, coordinated from the braion and involving musles, tendons, and ligaments. Interference from significant weight changes can make the fine adjustments required more difficult by increasing the time it takes it to make the changes. Consequently, something like the finer mechanisms required for pin-point control, can be negatively impacted by weight changes.

  • Pounder

    I predict. He’s going to pitch a no hitter this year.

  • Greg


    Great point made about his weight. It makes perfect sense. He could be over compensating on his pitches a bit because he was used to carrying around that extra weight. In that case, he should work with Rothschild during his throw day to recalibrate his mechanics.

    • Smart Guy

      i think he needs help from the guy recalibrating dellin betances mechanics

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Or, shall we say, the guy calibrating Betances’ mechanics needs help from a calibrating calibrater.

  • Dan

    Someone get CC to McDonald’s STAT!

  • Kosmo

    I dunno about the weight issue ?? Since Sabathia`s been with NY he seems to bring it up a notch middle of June into August except for 2009 when he was great from mid season on. He´s about due.

    • Kosmo

      I should say from mid-June on.

    • Havok9120

      The thing is that, every year since he’s signed, he’s dropped weight in the offseason and put it back on during the summer. 2009 may be an exception to that, but I don’t think we really know since he was a FA at the time.

      The fact that he’s picked it up every year about 40% of the way through the season almost plays into this theory because, well, he’s usually packing on the pounds at the same time.

  • Bartolo’s Colon

    Quick everyone send a box of captain crunch to the yankee stadium clubhouse

  • Mike E

    As Mike mentioned, Nova dealt with similar problems with his fastball command in the beginning of the year, but so has Hughes. I haven’t looked directly at Sabathia’s mechanical differences yet, but the problem for Hughes was rushing his legs and losing balance. Here’s the gif showing the difference in his legs. While I realize there are probably dozens of other pitchers with similar problems, it’s very odd to see 3/5 Yankee starters suffer from the same fastball command issues. If it’s indeed balance issues for all three, something questionable is going on in with their pitching coaches.

    • Kosmo

      or what´s between the ears

      • Jim Is Bored

        What’s between the ears frequently manifests itself physically, which is infinitely easier to diagnose/correct.

        If what’s between the ears isn’t affecting mechanics, good luck figuring out how to correct it.

        • Havok9120


  • Smart Guy

    here is a novel idea but it probably could be that say a fat guy with a lot of torque on his fastball may be getting some sort of decline after years of pitching, this may conclude that his bodyfat ratio and his xCaptainCrunchIntake WAR is down bringing his sPM+ through the roof

    It could also be a glimpse of more things to come. Its not like we are all getting younger and healthier, power pitchers rarely are great command pitchers. I say you get what you pay for and thats the price to pay for a fat guy. unless you are david wells cause david wells rocks

    • Kosmo

      let´s pay homage to the fat pitchers !
      David Wells
      Mickey Lolich have a donut Mick
      Early Wynn

      • Robinson Tilapia

        All hail post-Yankee Bob Wickman.

        • Kosmo

          good one !

          • Smart Guy

            shut up bastards, never ever put David Wells name next to those losers

            David Wells

            cc sabathia

            the rest

            sidney ponson

            • Kosmo

              Ponson another good one !

              • Smart Guy

                they cant all be chris britton

                • Thomas

                  Rich Garces

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    Old-school Brian Bruney, of course.

    • Bo Knows

      Age affects a lot of things, command isn’t one of them. This is a mechanical problem for CC

  • Monterowasdinero

    Stop nibbling CC! Weight loss or not, take bigger bites of the inside corner. Batters are not fearing you and they should.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Excellent write-up. CC has definitely labored more this year and appears more prone to mistake pitches, although it doesn’t surprise me that the numbers line up as usual.

    The good news, of course? As evidenced last night, CC has an uncanny ability to pitch through these rough spots and give you the seven/eight solid innings you expect from him, giving his team a chance to win. We talk so much about five inning starters, but it’s always eyebrow-raising to see CC come out the game before the seventh or eighth inning.

    • Kosmo

      he has an uncanny knack to grind it out for at least 7. I´m sure he´s due for a stretch that´s more typical of what we expect from him.

    • Smart Guy

      maybe hes injured and hiding it, i say put him on the DL with command tendinitis

      • Kosmo

        or bad colesterol.

      • Mick Foley


      • Havok9120

        And give him Tommy John, too. Just to be safe.

  • UNCC Josh

    I was at the game last night, it was insane. The one thing I can take from being there is that ATL may have the worst fans in baseball. They have a good team and still can’t sellout any games, they gave Andruw Jones a pathetic ovation, and they have to blast the Tomahawk chop song all over the stadium so it appears as if the fans are being loud. Great night, great win. Go Yanks

    • Bartolo’s Colon

      i was really surprised to see such a strong yankee presence down there, but to be fair regarding sellouts, the yanks rarely sell out their games and for the few weekday games that i went to this year, the place had a whole lot of empty seats. i know yankee attendance is a bit down in 2012, but up around the league. not sure what it is in Atlanta though.

  • Betty Lizard

    Just 30 pounds? That’s almost half a Romanian gymnast! No wonder he’s having command problems.

  • RetroRob

    His velocity is down about 1.5 mph from the past recent seasons, although at little less than that at comparable points in the season. His velocity generally continues to peak second half.

    Yet his velocity is down, and his command is slightly off, and the fastball is cutting. All three are related. It’s mechanical. Release point.

    • Jim Is Bored

      Except the article clearly shows the release point data. It’s not the release point.

      It could be something else mechanical though.

      • RetroRob

        Release point, arm slot and mechanics are all releated.

  • http://Yahoo Larry Smith

    This is pure unadulterated bs. All you people making all these “scientific” reasons for his weight being a problem remind me of some little league coach making excuses why he just ruined a 12 y/o’s arm. Anyone that’s ever seen that big cat come of the bump and make a fielding play should know better. IF his weight were the problem, does it not make sense it would be a problem the whole game instead of one or two innings. When he makes ingame adjustments, does he suddenly lose 25 lbs between innings. There is nothing wrong with CC Sabathia, except MAYBE arm slot or jerking his front shouolder just enough to alter the delivery spot. I don’t pretent to know, Rothschild would know better than anyone. Sure, it wouldn’t hurt him to drop a few pounds, I just don’t see the weight issue.