Changeup, not the fastball, is key for Sabathia

Lennon: Significant changes to posting process coming soon
Logan to have elbow examined by Dr. Andrews

It’s no secret that this has been pretty much a disaster season for CC Sabathia, who owns a 4.90 ERA (4.13 FIP) in 204 innings across 31 starts. He’s going to set career worsts in several categories unless he closes out the year with an insanely strong finish. Sabathia is a big reason why the Yankees are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in with 13 games to play.

There are no shortage of theories why CC has been so terrible this year. He lost too much weight, he had offseason elbow surgery, the workload is catching up to him … all of that and more could be a factor. Here’s what a scout told Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) recently:

“More than anything, he just looks dead tired to me and, when you consider his workload since he left Cleveland and how little recovery time he has, I think that makes sense. His arm slot is lower than it has been in the past and he doesn’t keep his delivery together as well when he gets deep into the game, which are indicators that he is wearing down. There’s no denying that his fastball has lost some juice, and I think that has actually hurt his changeup more than anything else, as hitters don’t have to be so concerned with gearing up for the plus fastball. When he had a bigger fastball, hitters had to honor it, but there is less fear there now. However, he still gives it everything he’s got in every start and goes deep into ball games, he’s just not the front-line ace.”

Sabathia’s fastball as actually ticked up as the season progressed and he’s now sitting regularly in the 92-94 mph range each time out. That’s still down just a bit from the last few years, but it’s plenty good enough to succeed. Learning how to succeed with it isn’t easy though, and I think the scout’s point about the changeup is a really good one. A changeup is not a mutually exclusive pitch, so to speak. It’s thrown with the same arm action as the fastball and the difference in velocity is what does the trick. A changeup without a setup fastball is just a batting practice fastball.

Last season, Sabathia averaged 92.4 mph with his fastball and 86.0 mph with his changeup, a 6.4 mph difference. This year he’s at 91.3 mph with the fastball and 84.8 mph with the changeup, a 6.5 mph difference. Basically the same separation between the two pitches. However, it’s easier to sit back on a 91.3 mph heater than it is a 92.4 mph fastball or a 93.9 mph fastball (2011 velocity). Being able to wait a little longer on the fastball also impacts the effectiveness of the changeup. Sabathia’s changeup saved 1.94 runs per 100 thrown last year according to PitchFX. This year? Negative-1.70 runs per 100 thrown. That’s a swing of 3.64 runs saved per 100 changeups thrown. That’s a huge difference.

Unless Sabathia and pitching coach Larry Rothschild make some kind of magic mechanical adjustment, the fastball isn’t coming back. That’s not how it works for 33-year-old hurlers with nearly 3,000 innings on their arm. The solution may be working on the changeup to get even more separation from the fastball. Choke it back further in the hand, alter the grip, whatever. Something to turn that 6.5 mph separation into something like an 8-10 mph separation, which is where Andy Pettitte is living these days. Changeup masters Cole Hamels and Jamie Shields are also in that 8-10 mph range. This is much easier said than done obviously, but it’s something Sabathia will have to do to improve his performance going forward, both this year and next.

Lennon: Significant changes to posting process coming soon
Logan to have elbow examined by Dr. Andrews
  • Mick taylor

    Injuries are not the reason yanks will not make playoffs . It is the pitching of cc and Hughes. They are a combined17-26. If they were merely mediocre, at 23-23, yanks are in playoffs. I would tradrcc for Josh Hamilton . Idiot cashman as I said 2 years ago should have let c.c walk. His decline was evident by his shitty pitching in the playoffs that year.

    • Silvio

      You’re kiddin’ about the trade, right? Mediocrity for mediocrity?
      Hamilton’s sitting at .245/.304/.429, with 20 hr’s and about 70 rbi.

      On the CC : Hughes. Even with all his failings this year, it’s unjustified to mention him in the same breath with Hughes.

      • Mick taylor

        Hamilton will rebound next year. Cc is done. I would trade him for Hamilton in a flashHammilton will. Hit 30 hrs playing in Yankee stadium

        • BFDeal

          So you think Hamilton will rebound, but CC won’t?

          Oh yeah, you’re the one that begged for Hafner all last year.

    • JGYank

      The pitching and injuries have both severely hurt this team. Injuries have crippled our offense for 2/3 of the year. And now apparently the playoffs are a good indicator of how a pitcher will perform in the future.

      As for Hamilton that wouldn’t make much sense considering he swings at everything and is another huge contract for a guy with off the field issues. We already have plenty of outfielders anyway.

      Get a clue.

    • WhittakerWalt

      Idiot Cashman? Would this be the same Idiot Cashman who assembled 6 Pennant Winners and 4 World Champions? I’m curious if we’re talking about the same guy. I mean, I’m sure he’s not as smart as you (obvi) but is he really an idiot?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        No one is as smart as Mick Taylor.

        His brain just keeps growing every day. He even has learned how to get his comments in at the beginning of a thread instead of the ass end, as usual.

      • Farewell Mo

        You must have Cashman confused with someone else because he inherited a team that did all that winning. He could get credit for 1 pennant and world championship as well as sitting back doing almost nothing over the last few years while the team rotted away.

        If he had his way, the Yankess wouldn’t have traded for Soriano and would have been out of the race a month ago.

        • Mike Axisa

          If he had his way, the Yankees would have Schierholtz and Martin instead of Ichiro and been about four games up on a playoff spot.

          • RetroRob


            My greatest concern about the current direction of the Yankees is other parts of the front office are overruling him. With Plan 189, they need to operate smartly, and picking up Ichiro because of his name value hurts the team and restricts Cashman.

          • Farewell Mo

            Weren’t you the one pointing out how piss poor the Yanks player development was yesterday compared to the red sox?????

            Who are you gonna blame that on, Levine or maybe Hank?

        • WhittakerWalt

          That’s right, I forget. All the good things were someone else’s doing. All the bad things fall squarely at the feet of CashWOMAN.

  • Scully

    Mike do you know if he’s throwing a straight change or a circle change? It would seem based on lack of downward movement that it’s a 3-finger straight change. I always threw a circle change because it also adds the addition of downward movement, almost like a forkball, so that even if the separation is the same the added movement helps.

    I also agree, he’s going to have to create more separation going forward if he wants to succeed. Guys like Pedro Martinez and even Johan Santana were able to continue to get swings and misses on their fastball thanks to their ever-improving changeup (although we know both of those guys had otherworldly changeups to begin with).

    • JGYank

      I’m pretty sure CC throws a straight change. I think a circle change moves down and away instead of just down. It’s kind of like the changeup version of a two seamer. I remember Santana used to have a really good circle change.

      • Scully

        Yah, if he’s a lefty pitcher it’ll move down and away to a righty and down and in to a lefty (aka never throw it to a lefty unless you can paint the outside corner with it haha)

        • JGYank

          It seems likely it’s simply a better pitch than a straight change. I don’t why more pitchers throw it. The grip is simple too. It’s also devastating if you could backdoor it like you said with painting the outside corner. The change is really important IMO. Look at the Rays and all their pitchers. They’re good for a reason. I wish our pitchers like Nova, CC etc. threw it more often but they only rely on FBs and breaking balls.

    • MD
      • Scully

        Hmm good find!

  • Jonathan

    I have been saying this all season and even more so yesterday. It’s ot slow enough and it has no movement.Also he needs a sinker and or maybe a cutter to keep righties from diving out over the plate looking fortat change up. The sinker is for when he has to go to a fastball they can get that beat it into the ground instead of his slower fastball but that’s just my opinion.

  • Nathan

    This hasn’t been a fun season for CC. I can’t wait for next season and for this season to be over. I’m hoping for CC to get some rest, work on his mechanics, work on something new or a miracle. Or any combination and/or all of the above.

  • JGYank

    I agree he needs to slow down the change. The whole point of the pitch is to throw off the hitter’s timing and there isn’t much of difference in velocity between his FB and change. Hitters can wait on his FB and hit it the other way and they would still be able to pull the change even if they didn’t recognize it since they could swing at the same time and still hit both pitches. Also the more movement on both pitches, the better. I heard CC say he has a two seamer but I’ve never really seen him throw it. He may want to work on that so he can throw it more since he needs more grounders. He’s given up way too many homers and needs to the ball on the ground as much as possible.

  • Kosmo

    I would like to see CC back hitters off the plate more. He never moves hitters feet and maybe I´m wrong but it does seem like he stays on the outer half of the plate way to much.

  • Rolling Doughnut

    I don’t think he needs to develop another pitch, like the circle change. He should work on what he has, get more separation on the change like Mike says. He seems to have been trying different things already. This year he has thrown more curves 4.9 % (as opposed to 1.7% last year),and fewer sliders (22.4% to 31.8%). He is transitioning from power to finesse, who knows if he can do it. But trade him for Josh Hamilton? No way.

  • RetroRob

    The fact that he has a lower arm slight might be a cause for concern because as it might indicate he is masking an injury. Pitchers can usually fine a release point where they feel more comfortable or can generate a bit more velocity, but they usually change the release point unless there is some other issue.

    Just another theory to throw onto the pile!

  • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

    Hey guys, injuries aren’t the reason we missed the playoffs because I’m pissed CC pitched bad. True story.

  • Eddard

    The key for Sabathia is that he be traded away to the National League. I’m hoping one of those west coast clubs will have some interest this offseason. AJ Burnett was run out of town for having a season this bad and now he’s flourishing for postseason bound Pittsburgh. CC needs to be run out as well and he can take Girardi and Cashman with him.

    • Rolling Doughnut

      Girardi as done pretty well with what he has I’d say although he has made some blunders mostly in his management of the pen, IMO. Cashman is of course the lightning rod, the guy who didn’t plan for the future etc but he doesn’t work in a bubble, so there is a lot of blame to go around. And comparing CC with AJ is just kind of dumb.

  • Mike HC

    Nice article. This definitely sounds like a good idea.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    So much shit written in comments section here about Sabathia not even worth repeating. Great article, Mike, and certainly something that makes perfect sense as CC adjusts to the later years of his career.

    I don’t root for him to be traded away. I don’t wish he was never here. I’m not gojng to come on here and trash him, ever. What I root for 1000% is for CC to rebound strong and be the pitcher we love and respect him as.

    • toad

      I agree.

      If I had to bet on one player to make a very strong comeback next year it would be CC.

      Smart pitchers learn how to adjust as they age. I think CC will do just that, and be very strong for some years to come.

      • Rolling Doughnut

        Especially since it’s all there. He does not have to really transform himself just has to put together what he already has. He can easily be solid with his FB sitting at 91-92. Needs the separation Mike talked about and more than anything, good control of the secondary pitches. I wonder if he ever recovered fully from the elbow surgery.

  • LarryM Fl

    From where I sit CC still has his health both body and arm. This has been a rough year but the off season should bring an evaluation. This evaluation should be with the team and CC. They will work on changes during the off season and ST. If Andy Pettitte can re-invent himself. I believe CC can make changes and win us 15 games a year til the end of his contract.

    It was a good sign his fastball sits 92-94. Now the breaking pitches for the older pitcher is the change that is needed. You can not experiment in season. It can be nightmare with where do we go from here if it does not work.

  • bperlow

    CC ought to meet with Moose this offseason. Remember how bad Moose was in 2007? In 2008 in his final year, he learned to work with diminished velocity and WON 20 games! Moose was also quite a bit older too. Moose had lots of tools in his “arsenal”. CC could make a similar comeback.

    • Rolling Doughnut

      I was just thinking the same thing. And the transition should be easier for CC. When the velo dropped, he developed the splitter and knuckle-curve, worked both corners more and changed the grip on the change and lowered the velocity on it. But Moose had to be more drastic because his FB sat in the high 80’s.

      • LarryM Fl

        Moose had excellent location and a very good breaking pitch(s). Both aspects are weaker with CC. His delivery might need a tweaking along with refining an out pitch.

  • wilcymoore27

    Pitchers have off years. If you consider almost any pitcher with five or more seasons as a front-line starter, you’ll find year-to-year variation. Sometimes it is dramatic.

    I don’t think CC’s done. I think he will come back and pitch well next year. I do wish Girardi hadn’t ridden him so hard this year, though. It’s been obvious since at least mid-season that this wasn’t going to be CC’s year. Maybe fewer innings would have benefited him.