CC Sabathia, weight loss, and release points

Kuroda carries Rivera-less Yankees to series opening win over Halos
The future needs to be now behind the plate

Outside of a major arm injury, I’m not sure things could be going any worse for CC Sabathia this year. The big left-hander is sitting on a yucky 4.73 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 160 innings across 24 starts, thanks in large part to a sudden Hughesian affinity for the long ball — Sabathia has already allowed a career-high 25 homeruns (1.41 HR/9 and 14.5% HR/FB) this year, and that includes a 1.63 HR/9 (16.9% HR/FB) away from homer happy Yankee Stadium. In the second season of his five-year extension, CC is having the worst year of his 13-year-career.

Early on, back in April, fastball velocity was believed to be the root cause of his problems. Sabathia came out of the gate sitting in the 88-89 mph range, occasionally hitting 91 or 92, but his heater has picked up some oomph as the weather warmed up and the season progressed. Here, look:

Sabathia velocity

Sabathia’s fastball isn’t what it was even two years ago, but it has been trending upward in recent months. In his most recent start, he averaged 92.6 mph and topped out at 94.0 mph. That’s plenty. Velocity, the pure radar gun reading, is not the reason the Yankees nominal ace has been pitching like a number five starter.

One possible (and suddenly popular) explanation has been his weight loss. Sabathia is a big dude with broad shoulders and a big ass, he’s built to carry a lot of weight, but he’s shed upwards of 30 pounds in each of the last two offseasons. Losing weight is a good thing, especially when you’re talking about a pitcher with a twice surgically repairing landing knee. That doesn’t mean pitching with fewer pounds is easy though, it requires an adjustment.

“The weight loss has created a balance problem for him,“ said one evaluator to Nick Cafardo recently. “He’s all over the place. He’s learning how to pitch in that body, a body he’s really never had. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him other than that. Sometimes you pitch at a certain weight all your life and then someone has the brilliant idea that you should lose weight because it’s putting stress on your knees, you do it, and then you’re dealing with something else.”

According to PitchFX, Sabathia’s average release point has dropped 1.68 inches from 2012 to 2013 after dropping 2.04 inches from 2011 to 2012. His release point has also drifted an additional 1.8 inches towards first base from last year to this year. Think about the hands on a clock; his release point was sitting at one o’clock last year but has slid down and further out towards two o’clock. That slight change in arm slot seems small but it can make a huge difference, especially when you’re talking about the bite on a slider or the ability to drive a fastball downhill.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

“The consistent problem is the command,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Andy McCullough two weeks ago. “Even though his strike percentages are okay, it’s what’s going on in the strike zone. A lot of his fastballs and changeups are cutting. Which is a major problem for him.”

That cutting action hasn’t really shown up in PitchFX — Sabathia’s fastball has an extra half-inch or so of horizontal movement this year, which is nothing — but is something Rothschild has mentioned as a problem for several weeks now. It also seems like something that could be attributed to the lower release point. Dropping the arm creates more movement, it’s just the physics of this whole pitching thing. That’s why sidearmers and submariners always have those ridiculous fall off the table sinkers and frisbee sliders.

So the question now is why has his release point (and his arm slot) dropped? Is it because of the weight loss? Is it the toll of over 2,800 career regular season and postseason innings? Is it the result of his offseason elbow surgery? Is Sabathia muscling up in an effort to create the velocity he’s lost over the years? I don’t know. It could be none of those things or it could be all of those things. Pitching mechanics and deliveries are weird like that. They’re these fine-tuned yet never quite perfect unnatural acts, and sometimes stuff goes wrong for no apparent reason.

If the problem is Sabathia’s recent weight loss, then it’s probably a good thing because it should be easily correctable. I’m not talking about gaining the weight back, that’s kinda silly. The weight loss is healthy and he should keep it off. It’s a good thing because it’s something he can adjust to and iron out with enough reps. It’s been a challenge so far, but no one said it would be easy. I suspect Sabathia’s career workload and offseason elbow surgery are playing a part in his awful season though, and although I have faith in the big guy to figure it out, I can’t say for certain that he will.

Kuroda carries Rivera-less Yankees to series opening win over Halos
The future needs to be now behind the plate
  • Eddard

    CC doesn’t even need to be an ace this year, just a #2 and he lost that battle to Ivan Nova. If the Yankees were lucky enough to make the postseason my rotation would be


    Hughes to the pen. And I only let CC start because there no better option. He either needs to get back on his Capn Crunch diet or start working with Moose and Andy on how to pitch with diminished velocity.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    You’d never hear Ken Rosenthal, or even Wally Matthews, use “big ass” in an analysis of CC Sabathia. Bravo, Axisa. This is why we come back.

    I have immense faith in CC to correct the ship. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take, and it doesn’t make it any easier to watch him flounder during a season where any help anyone can provide counts.

    • I’m One

      Personally, I don’t come back to hear about the players’ asses. If he were talking about Jeter’s girlfriends’ asses, well ….

  • trr

    Great article. As a former pitcher I can tell you release point, arm angle, and mechanics (including balance) are key. Some people would look at CC and say he’s not as strong because of the weight loss, but I think the article hit the nail on the head. It’s all mechanics.

    Long time fans might remember Tigers lefty Mickey Lolich. He put on quite a few pounds in his later years, describing himself as “the beer-drinker’s idol.” He eschewed running, claiming “you don’t run the ball over the plate”. He had a good, long career before retiring to own a donut shop. I’m not advocating CC stop running and start eating donuts, but it’s possible he could be just as (maybe more?) successful at a higher weight. Beer, Donuts, Mechanics… repeat when necessary.

    • I’m One

      We all know mechanics are a significant part of being a successful pitcher. I suspect CC will learn (re-learn?) the mechancis necessary and be able to repeat them at his new weight. He’ll be a Yankee for quite a few more years. I’m all for allowing him to work it out at a reduced weight, which will help him long-term. Of course if he fells differently, he certainly knows his body better than I do.

    • Lukaszek

      If there’s any way to put on extra weight, it’s by eating Lamb Over Rice at a halal stand. Someone take CC to a halal stand!

  • mt

    I will withhold final judgment until next spring training and 2014 season – due to offseason elbow spur surgery, this year I believe his throwing program was diminished vis a vis what he usually does in a typical off season. Hopefully with a regular offseason after one full season adjusting to a smaller body he can rebound in 2014 .

    But that is the final judgment – the judgment for 2013 has been very depressing – one of the worst things about this season besides the injury triage -so much of the Yankee game plan for success is built on CC being a Number 1 type ace that eats innings at very least – now you can say Kuroda has done that instead of CC this year but who has then stepped into Kuroda’s shoes and pitched like a number 2 or even a number 3 (Nova’s last month and a half has been at that level or even a little better but it’s been six weeks). Hughes, Pettite and CC have all pitched like numbers 4 and 5 (unfortunately often bad ones).

    I know some jokingly have commented that he should gain back the weight in order to pitch better but I think that is not a solution for somone who has already had 2 knee surgeries.

  • viridiana

    Excellent analytical post. Also as a former pitcher I have thought that the weight loss has affected arm slot. I would not dismiss the idea of regaining at least some of that weight.

  • http://Riveraveblues graywv

    CC also had surgery on his elbo, I know it was suppose to be minor-but people are different, and heal different-so maybe he is having a hard time letting loose(Fastball) and trouble finding the right arm slot!

  • Darren

    As a former pitcher (for one inning in summer league), I too can attest to the fact I like beer, donuts, Cap’n Crunch, grilled cheese, hamburgers, beer, hot dogs, wings, and beer.

    Wait, what were we saying?

    Oh, yeah, CC pitched a good game last time out. Let’s hope he’s righted his ship, “figure”atively speaking.

    • BigDavey88

      As a former pitcher in MLB 2K11, he’s just using the wrong pitching gestures. He should also be using a wired controller and replace himself with that years incarnation of Roy Halladay.

  • VT Yankee Fan

    If you watch the Japanese pitchers, pretty much all of them have a little pause where they get their balance over the rubber during the windup. I coach kids to pitch that way because I think it simplifies the windup. It can also minimizes the effect of things like height/weight gain, which can be significant even over just one season for kids.

  • Mikey Palmice

    He’s a big dude and he normally can muster up an extra couple MPHs with all that weight behind him. I have to believe he’ll figure it ala a Mussina who stunk up the joint in 2007 and came back with a stellar 2008. We believe in you CC! We really don’t have a choice.

  • Electric Nunez ll

    Personally, I would never advocate someone gaining weight above their most naturally optimal level due to the health risks. Maybe if he were a sumo wrestler or something…

    Hell, CC may in fact learn to become a better pitcher in time with the reduced weight, relative to the natural age-related decline in overall stuff.

    You know, its always stated how its an “unnatural act” to throw a baseball. Yes, the pitching windup is exaggerated, but its the same essential throwing motion.

    There are any number of unnatural acts one can contemplate, and not wish to contemplate, but is throwing a ball really unnatural? Is it unnatural for kids when they’re little to suddenly pick up a ball and start throwing it around? Should parents try to make them stop, lest they get stigmatized for doing these unnatural things?

    And besides, where would we all be if our cavemen ancestors didn’t engage in the unnatural act of throwing them spears at mastadons and the like for food?

    The only other thing I got out of this post is that I wish I had a “frisbee slider”, but then that has to be the sorta thing naturally proper folks don’t do…

    • VT Yankee Fan

      Watch the way a kid throws. He has his elbow down, well below the shoulder. We used to call this (before the PC police) “throwing like a girl”.

      MLB pitchers get their throwing elbow above the shoulder which changes the muscles that drive the arm forward. More importantly it changes which muscles stop the arm after the pitch is released.

      As for cavemen, watch videos online of atlatl throwing to see that that motion. It is entirely different from the pitching motion. It’s more like a catcher’s motion.

  • Greg

    “That cutting action hasn’t really shown up in PitchFX — Sabathia’s fastball has an extra half-inch or so of horizontal movement this year, which is nothing — but is something Rothschild has mentioned as a problem for several weeks now.”

    Yeah…that just means Rothschild is wrong.

    • Mike Axisa

      Just because it doesn’t happen on every single pitch doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

  • Csonk

    Take yer finger outta the socket there ‘Electric’ – its affecting your brain. Dial up videos on throwing mechanics & what it does to the tendons/muscle/cartiledge inside your shoulder/labrum. IT IS VERY UNNATURAL! How many women softball hurlers go under for labrum/rotator cuff surgery? Not many – underhand IS a more natural motion for human arm movement.
    We own a training facility and work very closely with HS/Collegiate pitcher’s. Mechanics (which includes arm slot) is CRITICAL to a pitcher. My brother is the pitching guru and he’s talked of seeing CC’s dropped arm slot all year, funny its comin’ up now (4+ mths. in). I can’t see that fine a mechanical issue, but certainly the Rothchilds of the world should – QUICKLY! CC’s got some work to do & he – being a vet – probably has some stubborn muscle memory tendencies that will take time to correct.
    As a fan its best he’s having this year at this time (when the team pretty much stinks). He’ll get it worked out over the winter.

    • VT Yankee Fan

      Ever read any of Dr. Mike Marshall’s info on mechanics? He’s either a cutting edge genius or a nut. I can’t tell which.

      • csonk

        My brother talks about him all the time – its funny how you mention him because my brother says the same thing. He knows his sh*t AND he’s a whack job! Lol But I know he believes Marshall is VERY sharp & he isn’t impressed too easily.
        I train/teach fielding at our facility. My brother’s the pitching guy. My nephew works hitting. So I don’t read much about pitching, I have too much to learn with my own deal.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Great post.

  • jjyank

    It’s been pretty tough watching CC this year, but I do think that he’s the type of pitcher that can come back from this. Maybe his days as an ace are over. Maybe he pulls a 2008 Mussina on us next year. I’m fairly confident that CC will come back to at least be a good pitcher, even if he’s never great again.

    • Manny’s BanWagon

      Since he’s owed $100 million over the next 4 years, he better be at least a #2/3 level starter and not the back of the rotation guy he’s been this year.


    Csonk, you mentioned LR should notice arm slot quickly. I agree. Not a big fan of LR. Ultimately it comes down to the guy throwing the ball but this team has so many pitching problems. When does he come under the same scrutiny that KLong has?

    CC, Andy, PH, Joba, Phelps all these guys struggle for long periods of time with little evidence of improvement. No explanation as to what the problem is, as if it’s all voodoo or something.
    The other day, even Mo said he doesn’t look at video, that’s why he has 2 pitching coaches. Heaven help you Mo if you expect those guys to figure it out.

    Kuroda and Nova are the 2 best pitchers. Kuroda probabaly doesn’t understand what Larry “The Shaggy Dod” Rothschild is saying.Nova sucked until he went to AAA and worked with Scott Aldred. In fact I doubt it’s a coincidence that both times Nova went back to AAA he came back much better.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    As I former pitcher…..who I am bullshitting. I’m not a former pitcher.

  • aluis

    IF I were his agent I would immediately get him a Captain Crunch endorsement deal – problem solved!!!

  • RetroRob

    Oh, no. I am talking about him putting weight back on. He can be healthy staring in five year!

    Really, just kidding. Sort of…

  • Ryan

    Welp, it’s settled. Bring in the Cap’n Crunch.