Sabathia’s rebound starts between starts



CC Sabathia‘s season came to unceremonious and positively 2013 Yankees-esque end earlier this week when the team announced he had a Grade II left hamstring strain. He supposedly suffered the injury in the second inning of his start last Friday, but he pitched through it and still held the Giants to one run in seven innings. That is pretty damn remarkable when you think about it.

Even though he eclipsed the 200-inning plateau for the seventh straight season — only Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, Jamie Shields, and Justin Verlander can make that claim — Sabathia had the very worst season of his 12-year-old career in 2013. He posted a 4.78 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 211 innings across 32 starts, and according to runs allowed-based value metrics like bWAR (0.3) and RA9 (0.7), he was damn near replacement level. If you prefer FIP-based value, he was still at a career-low 2.7 fWAR. There’s no getting around it, CC was huge disappointment.

“It was a bad year,” admitted Sabathia to Fred Kerber yesterday. “It is frustrating and it’s tough. You feel like you let your teammates down. Everybody knows how much I care about winning and wanting to be there for the guys. Not to be able to be there this last week is going to be tough.”

There are a million possible reasons why Sabathia’s performance declined so much in one year. The workload caught up to him. The offseason elbow surgery had a bigger impact than expected. His fastball lost too much velocity. His fastball lost too much velocity and that made his changeup worse. He lost too much weight. Who knows the real answer? It’s probably all of the above to some degree. At his age, it’s hard to believe CC can get back to being the guy he was just last season, nevermind 2009-2011.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to be that same guy again,” added Sabathia. “I am 33 this year. Pitching [Friday] I felt back to myself, more so than any other start. It wasn’t velocity because I was 90-93, but just pitching inside, being aggressive, throwing fastballs in hitters’ counts — just going out there and being a bully.”

Now, just because Sabathia is unlikely to turn back into the 2009-2011 version of himself doesn’t mean he can’t be effective. He just has to go about being effective in a different way. CC will have to adjust the way he pitches and, just as importantly, adjust the way he prepares for starts. The days of dominating hitters with a fastball/slider/changeup mix on the quality of the individual pitches alone are over.

“I’ve always been a guy that never watched video,” said Sabathia. “That’s something that I need to change. Just my preparation for games probably has to get a little better … Me and [pitching coach Larry Rothschild] did a lot of work lately that got me back on the right track and I felt like we were headed in the right direction and stuff was going better and [the hamstring] happens.”

I always find it amazing whenever I hear about a veteran player not watching video. It’s not unheard of, but it is rare. Most players obsess over mechanics or scouting reports or whatever, others prefer to keep it simple and leave it to the coaching staff. Considering how effective Sabathia was over such a long period of time, we can’t say the “no video” approach didn’t work for him. It obviously did.

That probably isn’t the case anymore though. At this point of his career, with a diminished fastball and command that seems to come and go, Sabathia will have to put in more preparation time between starts. This isn’t so much about watching video and dissecting his mechanics, it’s about learning hitters’ weakness and developing a personalized scouting report. A lot of guys will watch how similar pitchers attack hitters — when I interviewed Al Leiter last year, he said he watched video of Andy Pettitte and David Wells to see how they approached certain hitters — and use that as a building block.

Sabathia’s stuff is what it is at this point. He averaged 91.3 mph with his fastball this summer — less earlier in the season, more later in the season — and that is plenty good enough for a left-hander with three (really four since he throws both a four-seam fastball and a sinker) pitches. He’s got the slider for lefties and the changeup for righties. The stuff is fine, it’s just not what it once was. Sabathia is going to have to adjust his preparation and between-starts routine as much as anything if he wants to bounce back and return to being an effective pitcher next year, something he is confident he can do.

“I’ll be back to myself,” said CC. “I know a lot of people have written me off and said I’ve thrown too many innings and whatever, but I’ll still be here and still be accountable and still be the guy that signed up in 2009.”

Categories : Pitching
  • I’m One

    Maybe the Yanks can ask Moose to work with him on adjusting to his new reality and preparation ….

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Hell, have a braniac like Greg Maddux have a phone conversation or two with him.

  • mitch

    I buy it. I think he’ll bounce back and have a couple more years as a solid #2.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Fair assessment.

    I’d put my money on a different approach, and different results, in 2014. If anyone hates watching CC struggle more than Yankee fans, it’s CC Sabathia.

    • Chris in Maine

      Accountability is something that comes to mind when I think of CC.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Same here. He’s the kind of player who is not going to settle for less than being able to carry a team on his back when needed. Even if that’s past him, he’s going to try his damndest to get back there.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    this is terrifying:

    I don’t think I’m ever going to be that same guy again

    • mitch

      I disagree. I think it’s better that he accepts it now and starts learning to pitch with diminished stuff.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I think he was referring to himself.

        Same applies, though. Gotta learn to work with the stuff you’ve got. :)

      •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        I agree. While it may be scary to hear, it’s the first step towards adjusting and becoming a productive pitcher again.

  • LarryM Fl

    I believe CC. He is a responsible person. He will be back. What I’m surprised to some extent is his lack of video preparation or review after starts. I have no issue with his average 91.3 fastball. He is human and at 33 some length off the fastball is expected. All the years of relying on the fastball 94-95 have come and gone. I had commented that schooling from Andy Pettitte might be helpful.

    As far as video review is used. If you play golf and take lessons if the instructor does not have a video review of your swing as the lesson evolves. You have little or no clue to the position at various stages of the swing. So with the windup and release point position. If you are not reviewing these aspects then improvement willbe random and random success does suck. So CC as you age it will take more preparation and review for your starts but the results may put you in 300 win range.

    • Darren

      I don’t think you can really question CC’s approach up til now, considering he was one of the best in the world at what he did. It sounded like his philosphy was the pitcher’s version of “see the ball, hit the ball”. Not every player needs to prepare the same way as every other pitcher.

      • LarryM Fl

        True we all prepare differently in all aspects of our life. My contention is to fix the problem with release point which has been a problem. I would think video review would assist in consistency of release point. If in fact it has not been done. Also changing a mindset as our tools become duller is helpful.

        • Darren

          i totally agree that now that his skills have waned, he needs to explore every avenue to get better, and the good news is, it sounds like CC agrees with this as well

    • Robinson Tilapia

      We also know that MLB players rely more on instinct, feel, and superstition than anyone would ever think a bunch of millionaires would.

      • LarryM Fl

        I have no problem with feel, instinct but if a superstition has warned its comfort level then change it. The dirty underwear should not be one of his favorites. he is way too big for that one!

  • Kosmo

    CCs revelation “pitching inside“ a no brainer.

    He pitched better at Yankee Stadium than on the road, something like a 4.00 ERA at home and 5.50 ERA away. CC pitched better the first half of the season but his velocity was better the 2nd half ? Hmmm. He pitched to a 6.00 ERA the 2nd half of the season a 2 run differential from the 1st half.

    lack of preparation and what lies between the ears may have contributed to CCs 2013 downer.

  • Jonathan

    I think this was just the perfect storm. The elbow surgery and subsequent rehab and offseason preparation probably caused the velocity issues to be so extreme early on (they’re always worse at the start for him and most others but this was extreme). And then losing so much weight just changes your biomechanics. I think CC will get used to pitching at a much smaller size and learn to repeat his motion again (I got an autograph from CC in KC this May and it’s really shocking up close how much weight he’s almost to the point of he looks sick). Also, I’m not 100% sold this is a solution but if he goes back to his old body he’ll most likely gain velocity from being larger, since he’s definitely a tall and fall pitcher, and might bring his old mechanics back. All in all he just couldn’t find a consistent release point and his arm was dragging almost all year long. I would predict a 2014 season at about a 3.50-3.75 ERA and 200 innings next year. He should definitely be talking to Andy as much as possible as well since CC still has MUCH better stuff than Andy but Andy is the better pitcher. Either way, I love the guy and have faith he’ll figure it out.

    • LarryM Fl

      He lost the weight for health reasons which is a good thing but adjustment may have to be made to pitch at his former level.

      • Jonathan

        Oh, I know why he lost the weight and if it’s a healthy life or being an ace or #2 for 2 or 3 more years he should stay skinny. I think he can be well above average at 90 MPH if he regains his former command of his breaking pitches and his change up slows down for a larger velocity discrepancy.

  • Darren

    Off topic, but I have one extra FREE ticket to tonight’s game, if anyone wants to meet up, let me know, Sec 415, Row 5. No charge! I’m not drinking tonight, so I can’t even pull the old, “Hey just buy me a couple of beers” scam, where the beers end up costing more than the ticket! :)

    According to Cool Standings, the Yankees have <.01 chance of making it, which really means they have a greater than 0% of making it, which means THEY HAVE A CHANCE!!

    • Robinson Tilapia

      You have to tell us if someone took you up on it here, plus what the experience was like…

      …then we have the other person do the same.

      I am the least sick person in my home today, and I stayed home from work, so I’m afraid to say I won’t take you up on this. :)

      •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

        I agree. I’d like to see the review on this too lol.

        A blind bro-date. I like goin to the park so much that if I were in the city today I’d have taken you up on this.

        • BFDeal

          I would sit with Eddard for a free ticket.

          • I’m One

            I’d pay to read about that experience.

            I was going to see if my daughter was interested in going tonight, but then I thought “Would I really trust anyone on here with my daughter?!?!?”. :-0

            • I’m One

              And when I brought it to her attention, she thought better of it too. Smart girl. (No offense intended, Darren).

              • Darren

                None taken! Although she’s gonna regret it when Hughes pitches a no-hitter.

                BFDeal, I’m not Eddard, but you’re welcome to the ticket. Have a little of that Lewis & Clark spirit! :)

      • Darren

        Well, so far no takers, but I guess there’s another hour or two left. I am trusting of humanity and RAB and that if someone did take me up on it, they wouldn’t be some crazed Jeter hater who would knife me with an Edurdo Nunez commeroative shank. :)

  • Nathan

    I think CC is genuine about what he said and I think he’ll have a better year next year. I think he’s right in that his best is behind him but I think he’ll be a good pitcher.

    If he were to have another bad year, I think he would be the type to walk. I can’t see him hanging around just to hang around.

    •!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      I can because he wouldn’t be hanging around just to hang around. He’d be hanging around for the extra two (potentially three) years left on is contract and the $50+ mil that come with them.

  • Hassey

    Short of Ian Kennedy level stupidity,

    I don’t care about accountability…just give me results and we’re cool

  • Hassey

    How dumb is it for MLB to continue with the playoffs without the Yankees in it? It’s just a charade…we ARE baseball

    • LarryM Fl

      I believe you may have to accept a transition away from the playoffs for a short period. I had the Horace Clark years. Poor Horace got blamed for everything. You younger guys may now the Nunez ( Mr. Scissor Hands) years. Probably one of the best handles attached to a player. To his credit he has been playing better at third base. Teix. at first base would make him look a whole bunch better. Reynolds makes a scoop look cumbersome.

  • Kiko Jones

    We got your back, Big Man. Here’s to you being on-point in 2014.

  • ialien

    amazing how nobody has seen the magic coincidence of the yankee drug kingpin arod getting busted & CC’s mysterious drop in performance. is it really that big a leap to take?

    • BFDeal

      eye roll

    • I’m One

      Yes. Yes it is.

    • jjyank

      Um, yeah, it is. Idiot.

  • jim p

    Are there charts showing how much he pitched inside enough to make the batter uncomfortable? Compared to other years? I don’t think he was doing much of that this year. I suspect that might account for a big chunk of his loss of effectiveness.