CC Sabathia and a normal offseason

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(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

A little less than a year ago, CC Sabathia had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow. Apparently he had been pitching with the spur since his days with the Indians, but it wasn’t until just last season that it started to bother him. The human body is weird like that. The spur was removed with a relatively minor arthroscopic procedure and that was that.

There really is no such thing as a minor surgery though, is there? I’ve never had one, but surgery changes stuff. It changed Sabathia’s elbow last October, but it also changed something else. Something that went mostly overlooked: his offseason routine. Sabathia couldn’t throw on his usual schedule because he was rehabbing, and in fact the rehab process took so long that he was on a modified schedule in Spring Training. We’re talking about a 12-year veteran here. A guy who is presumably set in his ways.

“I didn’t really notice the difference until we got into the middle of April,” said Sabathia to Andy Martino, referring to how the change in his offseason routine affected him in actual games once the season got underway. “My arm strength just wasn’t where it needed to be. It wasn’t hurting or anything. I just didn’t have the strength … I usually start throwing in November, so I kind of never stop throwing. That keeps my arm strength, and that’s something I was really missing over the year. Being able to get back to that routine, I think it will help a lot.”

I guess this is where I insert the obligatory velocity graph, huh? Okay, fine:

2013 CC Sabathia Velocity

So yeah, Sabathia’s velocity was way down early in the season before gradually climbing back into the 92-94-ish range as the weather warmed up. You knew that already. At his age and with all those innings on his arm, I’m not even sure getting back to his typical offseason routine will help his velocity all that much. It might slow down the decline — in case you haven’t noticed: once a guy starts losing velocity, he tends to keep losing it — but it won’t stop it and it sure as hell won’t reverse it.

I’m not really interested in what a regular offseason routine will do for Sabathia’s velocity, however. I’m curious to know what it will do for his command. That seemed to be the bigger issue last season. A 90-91 mph fastball is more than enough to get hitters out, especially as a left-hander with a good changeup and knockout slider, but Sabathia really seemed to struggle with his location this season. Lots of pitches were left up the zone or out over the plate or on the inner half. In the wheelhouse, basically. That’s why batters slugged .445 (!) against him.

Does throwing all winter help Sabathia maintain his mechanics better throughout the season? I don’t think there’s any possible way to know that, at least not from a fan’s perspective. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild mentioned Sabathia was dropping his arm at times this summer and that was causing his pitches to flatten out, but is that something throwing more over the winter can correct? Arm strength doesn’t just refer to velocity, it could refer to stamina and being able to keep your arm in the proper slot for 100+ pitches instead of say, 75 pitches.

“We’re going to do some stuff earlier. Next month, build into a long-toss program as soon as [the Grade II hamstring strain] heals, and then go from there,” said Rothschild. “He’s going to have to probably hit it a little bit harder than normal, where last winter he couldn’t at all. We’ve talked about it, and he’s going to do some stuff earlier, and try to build some arm strength, and correct some problems that he has had. Whether he gets back to the full velocity that he used to have or not, he is still going to be able to pitch at a pretty high rate.”

Pitchers … well, baseball players in general, really, are creatures of habit. They’ve all got their set routines during the season and that carries right over into the offseason. They like to do things a certain way. Sabathia’s offseason was disrupted by his surgery last offseason and outside of the whole arm strength/lack of velocity thing, there’s no telling how (or if) it impacted his mechanics and command. The raw stuff CC showed this year — the fastball(s), changeup, slider combination — was plenty good enough, but not without improved location. That has to be the focus going forward, not the radar gun.

DePaula makes Baseball America's South Atlantic League prospects list
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  • Darren

    That’s a great photo you picked, Mike.

    Great point about whether offseason will improve his command, rather than velocity.

    While stranger things have happened, we really are counting on CC to have a big comeback year. Hard to see how the Yanks will be truly competitive if he picthes like a #4 pitcher again. With Andy gone, CC really needs to step it up.

  • Jedile

    I think in 014′ CC will be our 2nd best Pitcher. I’m not sure if it will be behind Nova or Kuroda. Cause I have a feeling next season Nova is gonna be huge for us!

    Also it is possible for CC to model himself after Johan Santana (In his Twinkies days) and his Knock out change up!

  • RetroRob

    Agreed. Velocity is not the issue. Yes, it’s down, but CC has plenty of velocity for a lefty. He also has an assortment of pitches and understands how to pitch. He’s wasn’t a throw-as-hard-as-you-can pitcher who just was out there to blow away batters. That’s why his decline was so spectacular. The stuff was there; the results were not.

    Command was the issue. Why is the question. I just hope it’s not a sign he was masking some other injury or arm ache. Pitchers can usually find an arm slot where they feel comfortable to generate the best velocity. Maybe CC was dropping his arm. He may not have even realized it himself. His normal arm slot was uncomfortable, causing him to drop it slightly.

    All guesses. I’m pretty confident he’ll have a bounceback year.

    • Slu

      Me too. It would actually surprise me if CC didn’t “return to form” next year.

  • LarryM Fl

    I can buy the aspect of the interrupted off season routine interfering with his arm strengthening etc. after the surgery. I look forward to a bounce back year. CC, Nova, Phelps look to be 60% of the rotation. I believe the Yanks will give Warren, Pineda and any unknown signings to bolster the rotation.

    Kuroda is many posters favorite for a repeat. I believe the melt down in August and September is par for the course with Kuroda and I would look for a younger alternative first.

    • RetroRob

      Pineda could be the wildcard here. If his progression back is similar to Anibal Sanchez, he might provide some quality pitching in 2014, although in limited innings.

      I’m not convinced Phelps is not cut out to be more than a swing man. That’s still valuable, but I remain unconvinced he can hold down a rotation spot for a full season. Warren might be the better of the two.

      • LarryM Fl

        Good point about Phelps as full time rotation guy. Also, I liked Warren’s last start against the lowly Astros. It shall be interesting. We need 7 to 8 deep to be relevant for the playoffs at starter depth.

  • FLYER7

    I like the idea of Phelpsie in the 3rd spot with Pineda #4 and some look from ManBan, Nuno, Warren at #5

  • Pseudoyanks

    I bet CC will come to Spring Training in “the best shape of his life” and will be ready for a rebound year. Maybe not a true Ace any more but a top flight #2 starter.

  • rl1856

    Well you can point to a steady increase in velocity during the season indicating that maybe offseason conditioning was a factor. There is a track record of mid career pitchers adopting a more strenuous offseason training program and increasing velocity as a result. A loss of velocity can also impact secondary pitches. Lower velocity decreases the spread between a FB and a CU. Lower velocity also decreases the break of a curve and slider. If CC remains a 91-94mph pitcher he can still be a top of the rotation starter, IF he changes how he pitches. He may no longer be a typical power pitcher, rather he will have to become a control/finese pitcher. Given his dedication and athletic ability, I have no doubt that he can reinvent himself. He will have a strong ’14.

  • Shittyshittybangbang

    CC’s going to be integral, but I really liked what I saw out of Warren. Especially in the second half. Warren could definitely be a 3rd, 4th type if his development continues.

  • W.B. Mason Williams

    I don’t know what you have to do. Pump his arm full of enriched platelets or whatever Colon had done that one time.

    Here’s hoping it’s business as usual for CC next season.

  • Guest

    Put the bone spur back in. He’s not the same without it.

  • csonk

    “Does throwing all winter help Sabathia maintain his mechanics better throughout the season?”
    It CERTAINLY does Mike. Pitcher’s mechanics are based on muscle memory, consistent repetition. At the beginning of the year CC’s arm angle dipped, causing his pitches to flatten out. Maybe because of his weight loss? Arm angle can drop when a pitcher tries to overcompensate in his belief he needs to throw harder or get a little more on his pitches. Maybe he felt less ‘powerful/strong’? …speculation. He over compensated in a few games late May-early June and got his arm slot back up but quite inconsistently and his command was diminished. Then it ‘can’ become a psychological influence and the mechanics – though tough to notice – are erratic. CC will get things straightened out over the Winter. He won’t ever be 2010 CC again but he will be MUCH more affective next year, I’d all but guarantee it. He works hard and believe it or not mechanics are a VERY difficult thing to correct in-season, no matter how much side work you can get in between starts, ‘IF’ your’e even trying to correct the right thing. Thats a whole ‘nuther bag o’ beans…there are so many ‘little’ things that can be a little off with mechanics & you may work to correct something that doesn’t need correction and affect another aspect or overcompensate. Fine lines. He’ll get it figured out…consumate Pro.

  • Scully

    This is all good news. He can easily sit at 92-94 and blow buy guys, especially if he improves his change-up MPH separation as well.