Yanks have 99 problems and Sabathia is just one

Thoughts following Monday's loss to the Rays
Is it time to panic?
(J. Meric/Getty)

The Yankees lost Monday afternoon’s game to the Rays for a number of reasons, one of which was CC Sabathia pitching merely pretty well rather than exceptionally. Three runs in seven innings hardly qualifies as a disaster start, but with the offense struggling — three runs or less in eight of the last twelve games — and a shaky bullpen corps, the club could have used a little more from their ace. Simply matching Jamie Shields wasn’t enough.

I’ve already written about Sabathia’s bout with pitching mortality earlier this month. The 32-year-old’s 3.42 ERA (3.36 FIP) would be his highest since 2005, the last time he was a 4.00+ ERA pitcher. Coincidentally enough, his performance looks an awful lot like what he did during his first season in pinstripes, when he pitched to a 3.37 ERA (3.39 FIP). The issue with that is the overall drop in offense around the league — a 3.37 ERA in 2009 was 37% better than league average whereas 3.42 this year is only 23% better than average.

Sabathia has been on the DL twice this summer, the first time with a groin issue and the second with elbow stiffness. Obviously the latter is a much greater concern, but in his three starts back he’s pitched to a 2.53 ERA (3.39 FIP) with 21 strikeouts and three walks in 21.1 innings, so a touch more than seven frames per start. The three unearned runs allowed against the Blue Jays last week should certainly be note — I’ve never felt an error by the defense completely absolved the pitcher of all blame. Maybe it does in some instances, but not last week when Jayson Nix bobbled a no-out ground and Sabathia went on to allow three straight two-out, run-scoring hits in the inning.

Despite his strikeout total since the DL and excellent overall season strikeout rate (8.89 K/9 and 23.5 K%), Sabathia’s inability to get a swing-and-miss yesterday was very noticeable. He only got eight whiffs out of 116 total pitches (6.9%), well below his 11.6% season average and 10.8% career average. Only two of those swings and misses came on the slider (out of 27 thrown, so 7.4%), a pitch that has otherwise generated 18.6% swings and misses this year. Against the Jays a week ago, it was 18 whiffs overall (99 pitches, so 18.2%) and a dozen on the slider (out of 37, so 32.4%). That lack of swing-throughs really stood out to me yesterday.

Buster Olney said “there continue to be rumblings around the sport that the [elbow] discomfort that has nagged (Sabathia) most of this season still lingers” in today’s Insider-only blog post, going so far as to speculate that there may be loose bodies or a bone spur involved. He notes that Sabathia has thrown a fewer percentage of fastballs of late and tries to use that as evidence for a lingering problem, but that doesn’t make much sense. If his elbow is bothering him, he’d be throwing more fastballs and fewer breaking balls, not the other way around. A fastball is the most basic of pitches, there’s no wrist snap or turn-over, nothing that like.

Anyway, that said, I do think it’s fair to wonder if the elbow is still an issue somehow. That doesn’t necessarily mean Sabathia is still hurt, but perhaps he’s just a little tentative at the moment and hasn’t really cut it loose following the first arm injury of his life. The general rule of thumb is that elbow issues show in a pitcher’s command (or lack thereof), and Sabathia’s has been off all season is seems. When he does get hit, it’s because he misses up in the zone or catches too much of the plate. That’s true for every pitcher obviously, but great pitchers like CC just do it less frequently. Anecdotally, I feel like he’s gotten burned by more mistake pitches this season than at any other time of his Yankees tenure.

“He can win with what he’s got, and on most days, he’ll find a way to get the job done,” said a scout to Olney, a pretty apt description of Sabathia’s season. He hasn’t been terrible, not by any means, but he hasn’t had that prolonged stretch of dominance at any point. “[He’s] not going to dominate anybody right now … You can get some good swings against him,” added the scout, sure enough. The Yankees have a number of problems contributing to this second half downward spiral, and having Sabathia pitch at a level below his usual production is one of those problems.

Thoughts following Monday's loss to the Rays
Is it time to panic?
  • Bartolo’s Colon


  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    Still injured?

  • JonS

    As long as it’s not a Bitch….phew.

  • CS Yankee

    3 runs over the 7 against the Rays is a bad outing for CC.

    The pen seems to be of little help (less So), bats are still thawing out.

  • Steve

    Sabathia’s FIP yesterday was 4.68 and his xFIP was 4.71. I know we all love CC but let’s not sugarcoat his bad outings. Even 3 runs in 7 innings against the Rays offense is not good. It certainly isn’t ace like. There is no need to pretend that he pitched well when he clearly didn’t. It happens. Qualifying it with “he pitched pretty well rather than exceptional” is kind of disingenuous.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Single game FIP and xFIP? Come on now.

      • Steve

        It certainly goes against the narrative that you started on Twitter about being “dinked and dunked to death”.

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          He was in the second inning for sure. Not so much after that.

          • Hardy

            Sure, but you have to expect your opponent to score some runs via a string of hits if you just strike out 4 over 7 innings.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        This is what happens when we let the kids play with the fancy china.

        • Steve

          This is ridiculous. I know that you’re the resident Rah-rah homer on this board, so sorry for thinking rationally. I gurantee that I’ve forgotten more about sabermetrics than you have ever known. You keep pushing this idiotic notion that he was unlucky yesterday, victimized by broken bat bloopers. So take those bloopers out of the equation and guess what. Still trash. I’m not making any long-term judgments based on one game of FIP or xFIP. I’m using fielding independent metrics to illustrate that he was bad, not unlucky. Sorry if that doesn’t fit Robinson Tilapia’s Rah Rah blind homerism.

          You say he “pitched well.” Extrapolate those numbers to a full season. Is he still pitching well? Bottom line. He pitched poorly yesterday and deserved to lose. It doesn’t make him a bad pitcher but it certainly doesn’t equal what you or Mike are presenting.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            “Extrapolate those numbers to a full season. Is he still pitching well?”

            There went my lunch.

            You’re right about one thing, though: You probably have forgotten a lot about how stats are utilized if you feel extrapolating one game over an entire season has any sort of validity to it whatsoever.

            I’d rather be wrong and a homer than right and a faux-cynic.

            • Steve

              Well then you got your wish. You are wrong and a homer. And you also ignored the point of my post to zero in one line. Kudos to you.

              • Robinson Tilapia

                Things I ignored:

                “I know that you’re the resident Rah-rah homer on this board, so sorry for thinking rationally.”

                “Sorry if that doesn’t fit Robinson Tilapia’s Rah Rah blind homerism.”

                The rest could actually be whittled down to your one gross misuse of stats.

    • Ted Nelson

      LOL. 3 Rs in 7 IP is a bad outing?

      • Dean Winters

        yes because he’s “Not an ace and no one is afraid of him” Tony Paige


  • Better off Eddard

    He’s an ace and needs to start pitching like one. 3 runs should be enough for him and I’m sick of people saying, well that’s a quality start. 7 IP 3 ER is what we’d take from Phil Hughes, not CC Sabathia. He could have shut them down after being given a 3-2 lead.

    • TomH

      He’s an ace and needs to start pitching like one.

      In the context of Axisa’s post, your point makes sense if and only if there is nothing physically wrong with CC (e.g., the alarming point about lingering elbow issues).

    • JonS

      He’s paid like an ace and needs to start pitching like one.


    • Robinson Tilapia

      “3 runs should be enough for him”

      It was enough for him. It was, however, not enough for a ground ball that fell out of Robbie Cano’s range in the 8th.

      • forensic

        CC gave up the lead and left with the game tied. How does that mean three was enough for him?

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Who really gives a shit?

          • forensic

            Alrighty then…

            • Robinson Tilapia

              You know what I mean, though. We could start going back and forth on the semantics of this, and it would mean absolutely nothing. I wasn’t trying to be crass. I was actually just stating “who gives a shit?” because, in the end, this means nothing.

  • Kosmo

    last night´s start by CC reminded me of a typical Andy Pettitte start 7 innings 8 hits and 3 runs, good but more indicative of a # 3 SP then a # 1 such as CC. Sabathia struggles against some of the worst hitters I´ve ever seen.
    To me despite all the injuries the biggest factor this season has been no one with the exception of Swisher and Jeter have lived up to expectations. By that I mean Swisher has given NY pretty much what one has come to expect from him and perhaps Jeter to some degree has exceeded expectations.
    Everyone else has fallen short in a big way. Of course Kuroda and Soriano have been great for much of the year.

    • Jose M. Vazquez

      I concur with all of your points. And I may add that all of the pitches CC has made the past 10 years have taken their toll. As you may have noted, Roy Halladay has also had his problems this year. If CC has a physical problem he does not show it except as Mike says that he is missing high on his pitches.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    If there’s something still physically bothering CC, then he’s got the offseason to work it out.

    I think he actually did get dinked and dunked to death yesterday, and still pulled in a CC-like outing. He was absolutely ace-like. To me, ace-like isn’t just being dominant, it’s being able to hold down the fort and save the bullpen when you’re less than that. We have seen a ton of that from CC last year.

    He will decline, at some point, just like any other player. This stops becoming an issue when everyone just gets signed to one-year deals. If you think that’s happening any time soon….

    • Robinson Tilapia

      “this year,” not “last year.”

      • Kosmo

        …and hardly any lights out performances. Only twice this season has he held an opponent to less than 2 runs in a start and neither start going past the 7th inning. Solid yes but not ace like IMO. I can´t remember the last time CC won a 1-0, 2-1 game. Maybe he did this season ??

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          Of the top of my head, the 1-0 shutout over Shields last year. Also, there just aren’t many 2-1 or 1-0 games in the AL anyway. The Yankees usually score a ton more than that.

          • Kosmo

            because they usually score alot and haven´t done so recently a good pitching performance, which might have been a win in the past, is now more of a 50-50 prop.

        • Gonzo

          Lucas Harrell pitched a 1-0 shutout this year. Stud.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I’m also stating that I have a broader definition of what “ace” means, and I feel I’ve still seen enough of that from him this season.

          When he, like yesterday, has a tough inning early on, doesn’t have his best stuff, but soldiers through and winds up leaving after seven full innings, that’s ace-like by my own definition. In the end, we’re all dealing with how we define that term. There’s no set definition for it.

          • mike

            an “ace ” is such a subjective label – Jack Morris, IMO, was the perfect example of the ace designation, yet Pettite, Blyleven, Sutton were never considered aces despite better careers and better seasons within the career.

            • Kosmo

              2 of those guys are in the HOF, so at least they were recognised in some way. Pettitte had maybe 3-4 ace like seasons but always seemed to get great run support hence the rather decent win totals. Pettitte did step it up in the postseason from time to time.

              • Robinson Tilapia

                We’re here talking about the subjective nature of the term “ace” and you shoot back with stating that Pettitte had “maybe 3-4 ace-like seasons” without even a description of how you chose to define them. If that’s not missing the poing, I don’t know what is.

                • Robinson Tilapia

                  and not only is it missing the poing, it’s missing the point as well. :)

                • Kosmo

                  1996, 1997 and 2005 you can chew on that for awhile. 5.3 war , 8 war ? and 6.5 war or something like that. If you want to pick a fight go do it with someone else.

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    I don’t pick fights.

                    We were discussing the subjective nature of the term “ace” on here, and you retorted with something which went completely in the opposite direction. You got called out for it. Deal with it.

                    It took until this comment for you to pull some numbers off the Google to even let the rest of us know how you were defining “ace.”

                    • Kosmo

                      presumptuous on your part. I know what an Ace is , I´ve watched more great pitchers over several decades to be able to determine what the definition is. Far far more than you have. I don´t have to listen to the resident clown (you) to call me out.
                      Sorry you need to spend so much time on here one-uping everyone.

                    • Robinson Tilapia

                      In other words, you still don’t get it.

                      Feel free to continue to believe you’re smarter because you can speak in absolutes that actually aren’t. It’s no skin off my back.

            • Gonzo

              Have you actually looked at Blyleven’s career? I don’t want to be a jerk, but he had some monster seasons where he was the best pitcher in his league.

              If that’s never been an ace, I don’t know what is.

              • Kosmo

                Blyleven suffered in the win column because of the lack of run support. He was a great pitcher and IMO deserved to be in the HOF long before his recent induction.

                • Gonzo

                  A seven year stretch of 52.4 fWAR and 45.2 rWAR. Not many pitchers can say they’ve done that. In that stretch, 1979.2 IP, 125 CG’s, and 34 SHO’s.

                  I’d say he was an ace those years.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Exactly, yet some folks will insist there’s a completely objective defintion of “ace” based entirely on only Justin Verlander’s GOOD starts.

        • http://stoogazzo@comcast.net Tom Morea

          Excellent observation, Kosmo!

          • Robinson Tilapia

            What’s the observation? That, accordinly to his unsaid metric, he meets that critera an X number of times?

  • Gonzo

    All hope abandon, ye who enter this fandom.

    • Betty Lizard


      A good time to reflect on the Nine Circles of Hell Yankees fandom:

      First Circle (Limbo)
      Second Circle (Lust)
      Third Circle (Gluttony)
      Fourth Circle (Greed)
      Fifth Circle (Anger)
      Sixth Circle (Heresy)
      Seventh Circle (Violence)
      Eighth Circle (Fraud)
      Ninth Circle (Treachery)

      • Kosmo

        well the 1st circle would most definitely be RISP fail.

        • Betty Lizard

          Good lord, yes.

          I’m currently bouncing between 5 and 6: “I’m so pissed” / “I don’t care . . .”

          • Kosmo

            we need a circle for disbelief

  • Greg

    maybe the Yanks are just not that good. They are made up of old guys who get injured a lot and are 20% or more below their prime (other than Jeter, who has clearly made a deal with the devil), and young guys who just aren’t stars. Why do we expect them to be more than they are? And why do we think that they’ll be better than this in the future without a real infusion of new, young talent?

  • blake

    Sabathia’s velocity is down almost 2 mph from 2011…..hes gone from averaging close to 94 to closer to 92 so its no surprise that hes not getting away with as many mistakes in location…..whether its due to the elbow or just that hes thrown a zillion innings in his career we dont know…..doesnt mean he cant dominate again….but if hes not going to average 94 and touch the upper 90s anymore then hes going to have to locate better than in the past to compensate.

  • http://stoogazzo@comcast.net Tom Morea

    Excellent objective comment. Sabathia had the lead yesterday in the sixth inning. He is regarded as the ace of the staff. Lately, he has not pitched as the ace of the staff. He opted out of his contract and signed a lucrative extension. Don’t you think he should pitch like an ace and earn his salary?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      The only “objective” thing here is your need to learn the defintion of “objective.”

    • Rookie

      Shouldn’t Sabathia pitch like an ace and earn his salary?

      Nope. If he never had another season like the Sabathia of old again, that’s not his fault — any more than it’s A-Rod’s — that someone agreed to pay him like he could. That’s on the Yankees, not him.

  • Rocky Road Redemption

    Stolen from DT:

    CC in 2009: 3.37 ERA 3.39 FIP 3.77 xFIP = ACE

    CC in 2012: 3.40 ERA 3.30 FIP 3.13 xFIP = NOT AN ACE

    And he’ll finish at nearly 200 innings this year DESPITE the injuries.

    This “not an Ace” stuff is, to put it bluntly, bullshit.

    CC had a good game yesterday that should have been EASILY enough for us to win. He is in NO way, shape or form responsible for the position we’re in now. He’s one of the reasons we’re still in first place, actually.

    • Hardy

      AL in 2009: 4.82 R/G

      AL in 2012: 4.45 R/G

      CC in 2009: 0.37 UERA

      CC in 2012: 0.77 UERA

      From 2009 to 2012 CC has lost 0.8 R/G relative to the league average.

      • DT

        It’s one season. Last year he pitched to a 3 ERA and a 2.88 FIP. For all we know this could be a blip on the radar for CC who is having injury problems. And despite that he is still a well above average pitcher. And if you broke it down by month, it’s basically his slow start in April have has kept his ERA high. His 81 ERA- is still in the top 10 (11th in ERA) in the AL and has the 4th best FIP- (4th best FIP which is as good or better than Sales,Weaver and Kuroda. And only slightly behind Price, Felix and Verlander…who are all cy young contenders). So it’s not as if he is bad comparative to the other guys in the AL.

        • Hardy

          I agree with your entire post. CC is still a very good pitcher and he might be both injured and unlucky. If everybody on the team had performed like him, they would lead the divison by double digits.
          However, some people want to argue that 2012CC=2009CC. And that is just not correct: His results in 2012 (very good) are a lot worse than in 2009 (really great).

  • rogue

    Since no one has said it here, I’ll say it.

    TJS anyone?

    I mentioned several times that Cashman needs to go. A specific reason isn’t the Montero trade, though that’s close, it’s re-upping CC after the piss-poor performance in the ALDS. I blame CC for that series loss. The team paid him for the exact polar opposite of what was expected in the playoffs. CC then opts out. What does Cashman do? He rubber stamps his pay increase. When a GM rewards a player after that wretched display, he needs to be removed before he does any more harm. Alas, a few months later he trades a needed offensive asset for a wrecked shoulder.

    Go Giants!!!

    • Robinson Tilapia

      *releases trap door*

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      So you would have liked for them to remove Sabathia after last season?

      You’re a full blown idiot.

    • DT

      You are fucking idiot. You rather have no rotation than have CC because a shitty Postseason performance?

  • Ziggy Barone

    The problems all started with the A-Rod contract…I didn’t like it then…hate it now…I have said it a million times…we had A-Rod over a barrel…granted the steriod news had not come out yet…and the Steinbrenners wanted to have the HR champ in pinstripes again…That being said a 10 yr contract was insane…The max they should have given him was 3 years to finish at the same time the original Texas contract would finish = after 2012 season…Also the Yanks had to take the pipe ’cause they lost the money Texas was sending after A-Rod opted out…I think the net cost to the Yanks was 15-18m. They should have said 20m a yr 4 3 yrs take it or leave it. Now we have that white elephant….Tex’s contract and to a lesser degree CC’s contract…we are hamstrung until 2017 unless Yanks want to break the 2014 189m cap…Are Cano, Granderson or Swisher worth long term contracts especially considering the aforementioned white elephants? So the bottom line fellow Yankee fans is Yankee mgmt is to blame…the 10yr A-Rod contract is untenable.

  • Ziggy Barone

    Correction…the original A-Rod Texas Ranger contract would have been finished after the 2010 season.