CC Sabathia’s bout with pitching mortality

Eric Chavez, fill-in superstar
Feliciano throws a perfect inning in latest minor league rehab game
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

There are very few things in baseball that you can consider guarantees, but CC Sabathia logging oodles of innings has been one of them for the last decade. The big left-hander has thrown at least 180 innings every season since his rookie campaign in 2001 and at least 230 innings every year since 2007. That doesn’t even count his 86 postseason innings either. That elite level of durability is one of the reasons why the Yankees made Sabathia the wealthiest pitcher in baseball history after the 2008 season.

This season has been a slightly different story, however. Sabathia is currently on the DL with elbow stiffness, his second DL stint of the season. The first was due to a groin strain that cost him the minimum 15 days. CC came into the season with just two career DL visits to his credit — oblique strains in 2005 and 2006 — but he’s already doubled that total with roughly eight weeks left in the schedule. A short-term groin strain isn’t that big of a deal, but the elbow problem is. Any arm-related injury is a big deal.

“After Seattle, I was (nervous),” said Sabathia the other day. “I woke up the next day and my arm was kind of swollen, and I didn’t have any range of motion. So I was really nervous, honestly. So we had the test, and once the MRI came back clean, I just knew it was something I’ll have to deal with. I know there’s nothing structurally wrong with my arm.”

No range of motion? That just sounds scary. Sabathia fought the team’s decision to place him on the DL and insists that he will be on the mound August 24th in Cleveland, the first day he is eligible to return. That’s all well and good, but he is at the mercy of his body. If his elbow keeps barking, he won’t be pitching. I have to think finding out that your ace pitcher who has thrown nearly 1,000 more pitches than any other pitcher since his rookie year doesn’t have range of motion in his elbow had to be terrifying for the front office, especially after giving him a five-year, $122M contract this past offseason.

In addition to the injuries, Sabathia’s performance this season is a notch below his usually high standard. His strikeout (8.89 K/9 and 23.5 K%), walk (2.22 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) and ground ball (48.5%) rates are more than fine, but his 3.56 ERA is his highest since 2005. He’s given up a few more homers than usual (0.95 HR/9 and 12.1 HR/FB%) and isn’t stranding as many baserunners as he has in recent years (70.1 LOB%). Oddly enough, left-handed hitters have hit him harder this year (.314 wOBA) than they have at any point since 2006. Sabathia usually owns same-side hitters with his slider. A 3.56 ERA (3.32 FIP) is still really really good, but it’s not what we’re used to seeing from the big guy.

Sabathia turned 32 last month, so he’s starting to get into his decline years. It’s safe to say that his best seasons are behind him, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to fall off a cliff and be a disaster going forward. He might just be really good instead of dominant. This recent elbow injury is a concern because pitching is such an unnatural act and Sabathia’s career workload is enormous. He’s been an absolute rock ever since the Yankees signed him, taking the ball every five days during the regular season and every four days in the postseason without missing a beat, and they absolutely did the right thing by playing it safe and placing him on the DL. All that wear-and-tear is likely to manifest itself at some point though, and this season may be a sign that the time to pay the piper is on the horizon.

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Eric Chavez, fill-in superstar
Feliciano throws a perfect inning in latest minor league rehab game
  • Luisergi

    Please God don’t let CC’s contract become a simil of A-Rod’s deal…

  • Mike HC

    Well, that was a realistic, depressing article.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I think there’s a parade on Sixth Ave. right now you can go pee on, Axisa.

    • your mother in law

      I thought u had to pay for that. Please move out of my basement and get a real job.

  • blake

    I will pretend this post doesnt exist and live in denial.

  • Bartolo’s Colon

    well, i hope he can pitch some meaningful postseason innings this year before he goes off for tjs. think about the crazy offer cole would’ve gotten now, can’t believe he isn’t testing fa

    • jjyank

      Let’s hold off before jumping to that conclusion, hm?

      • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

        Yeah, let’s find Colon’s doctor first and see if that works.

        • MannyGeee

          stem cells FTW!

    • Laz

      I don’t think hamels would have got much more. He signed for 24M aav, that is most he would’ve gotten.

  • vin

    ::puts fingers in ears:::

    LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU LALALA

  • DERP

    Imagine how concerned people would be if he was actually an ace.

    • RI$P FTW

      Their ace is now on the A’s.

  • Robert

    All the more reason to keep Phelps in the rotation!!!!! We must develope young pitchers,hopefully next year Banulos and Pinada can contribute to the mix!!!

    • MannyGeee

      nah, you’re right… we should totally bank on those two injured guys with a combined 171 IP to be the saviors…

      Casey Kelly anyone?

      • LiterallyFigurative

        I don’t think he meant to completely depend on Banuelos and Pineda. But it’s important to develop young pitchers (and for fans to have SOME patience).

        I’m not ready to write the young injured kids off as non-entities, not with the 189 threshold and the need to get younger.

  • Jobu

    This sucks. The whole aging superstars with eroding skills deal is pretty crappy. If only science could offer us a solution, perhaps some kind of pharmaceutical that would enhance or maintain performance as players aged. MLB needs to get on this immediately. I am pretty certain that keeping their big name players performing at the top of their game would increase the popularity of the game and help the owners realize greater returns.

    • RI$P FTW

      “The whole aging superstars with eroding skills deal is pretty crappy”

      But that’s the MO of the Yankees!

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        Mo won’t be back this year, quit bringing it up…

  • JScott

    Because of the juxtaposition of the two, I can’t help thinking that the elbow issue was an outgrowth, of sorts, of the groin issue. No actual evidence but…

    • Jobu

      So what you are pointing out is that CC engaged in some kind of “unnatural activity” that resulted in a sore groin and when he continued he ended up with a sore elbow? It does sound like those injuries could be connected.

      • Laz

        It must be all those lonely nights on the road.

  • Brian S.

    He’s throwing his slider 27% of the time this year (which is a career high) and easily his most as a Yankee. Do you think that has something to do with his elbow?

    • LK

      I’m not sure where to find the pitch selection data broken down by catcher, but it seems to me like Stewart calls for CC’s slider ALL THE TIME.

      • MannyGeee

        which is why Girardi had Stewart catch Nova on Saturday, if you believe what JOhn Sterling tells you

  • JLC 776

    Well this is terrifying. It also shows how vulnerable teams are with some of these gigantic contracts – I wonder if fewer years will become the norm again if a few more go tits up.

    • RetroRob

      Nah. Teams are fully aware that when they sign players to longterm contracts that there is a fail rate. On a seven-year deal, teams hope to get a couple years still at peak, a couple more on slight decline, a couple of average, and maybe one total bust year somewhere during the contato injury. Teams build this into their payroll and planning. Certainly a team like the Yankees do.

      It’s all a product of the CBA. Young players are bargains, veteran players are expensive. Teams understand this. It seems many fans don’t.

      • MannyGeee

        Victory Lap Theory. or so some smart guys have told me before…

      • JLC 776

        I don’t think anybody doesn’t understand the relative costs of young vs veteran players, so I’m not sure why you brought that up! But I was implying more on the bulky 7+ year contracts granted to aging players which seem (empirically at least – although I may be anchored by the ARod contract) to be growing in popularity. It almost feels lke a greater number of teams have these time bomb contracts that may hurt them salary-wise down the road. I’m mostly speaking out of my ass though because I really don’t feel like researching.

  • Strat

    When did Axisa start trafficking in troll bait? I’m gonna have freakin’ nightmares!

    • RI$P FTW

      More traffic = more money. Some people still don’t get it. RAB LOVES trolls!

  • RI$P FTW

    I called this. Just sayin’.

    • Jim Is Bored

      Congratulations.

      • RetroRob

        He’s a troll on the RAB payroll. Just sayin’.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Send him along to Kabak’s other site. He can troll about the C train, which really deserves it.

        • Jim Is Bored

          I know, I can’t resist sometimes.

    • MannyGeee

      really? Nostra-fucking-Domus over here “predicted” that a guy who’s thrown as many innings as CC might eventually go on the DL?

      wow, homie

  • RetroRob

    I’m not quite convinced he’s entered his decline phase yet. His peripherals are fine. Lower strand rates and higher HR rate can just as easily fall under randomness when looked at in conjunction with his peripherals. The one stat that would support decline is average and peak fastball velocity. Both had declined, especially peak this year. Could simply be related to some of the injuries. His peak fastball velocity usually occurs as the season progresses, so the groin and elbow issues could be impacting that.

    He will of course start to decline, but I was less concerned when they signed him because he’s a lefthanded pitcher who has shown to be quite durable and he’s a pitcher. Even as his fastball declines he should remain effective well into his 30s. CC should remain effective even when his average fastball sits at 88-90, and he’s a long way off from that still.

  • hogsmog

    Though him losing all that weight probably does save his knees for a few more years, I can’t help but think that this rapid change in weight over the last two seasons has done something to mess up his mechanics. I wouldn’t be surprised if Lincecum were in the same boat.

  • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

    So this article put me from 12-6 quick.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Not I have a face to match that visual with but, really, thank you regardless.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I have no idea what “no range of motion in my elbow” means in relation to severity of injury, and I doubt any of us do. It sounds scary, but you’re going to abscribe whatever meaning you want to it according to your individual level of concern.

    CC Sabathia will have a noticeable decline, and I don’t think it’s a revelation to say that it will happen in pinstripes. The extension-that-was-the-extention-of-the-contract-he-signed-in-the-first-place was signed knowing that. Yes, Victory Lap Theory (TM.) We’re not going to be able to say if what we’re seeing now is that until later…much later. There’s time for declines. There’s time for second acts, third acts, and everything else under the sun in this contract.

    Of course the elbow concerns me. If the MRI is clean, what can you do, other than what they’re doing? We’re not going to now doubt every MRI because Michael Pineda and Brett Gardner had them, then proceeded to get extra-special-injured. That won’t stop some from doubting that, but those folks doubt their own shadow.

    The same folks bellyaching about anyone’s big contract will turn around and say some other guy is worth a big contract.

    Like I said, diamond stud the fuck out of that World Series trophy this year. We’ll have earned it, and then some.

  • Rev. Maximus

    I mean, a few days ago there was zero confidence in Phelps and Lowe, Ichiro was topped out and today, CC is diminishing. Be postive RAB.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    There was nothing structurally wrong with Gardner’s elbow. He’ll play 9 games this year. Hopefully CC’s examination is spot on and the rest will assist the healing.

    It is a wakeup to use him in a manner that saves his arm as opposed to some underused bullpen arms.

  • Rocky Road Redemption

    I don’t think it’s safe to say CC’s entering his decline years; as others have pointed out we have no idea what this injury actually means, and this year his peripherals are perfectly fine.

    32 is not the “starting your decline” year, it’s your “in your prime” year, and I think unless he suffers a shattering injury or a massive sudden drop in performance we can’t really say he’s reached his decline years until around 35.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he was in the running for the Cy Young next year.