What Went Wrong: CC Sabathia

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Another crappy start at the Trop, probably. ( J. Meric/Getty Images)
Another crappy start at the Trop, probably. ( J. Meric/Getty Images)

CC Sabathia was in the best shape of his life. Following a season in which he was twice placed on the disabled list, and after which he underwent offseason elbow surgery, Sabathia decided the time had come to shed some of his excess weight. It wasn’t the first time; he had come to camp a bit slimmer in 2011 as well, but gained back much of that weight during the season. This time, the weight loss was here to stay.

The result: the worst year of his 13-year career, by no small measure.

We can start with the obvious, that Sabathia’s 4.78 ERA (85 ERA+) ranked 35th out of 37 qualified AL pitchers. All of his peripherals declined from his 2011 to 2012 levels. Watching his starts you could see the points at which he’d start to unravel. In 28 of his starts he made it to the sixth inning, and during those sixth frames opponents hit .339/.419/.550 against him. The list goes on.

Did Sabathia’s troubles stem from the weight loss? After all, he did turn in a very good 2012 season despite the injuries. While causation is always difficult to prove, there are some indicators that Sabathia did not adjust to his new body type. If that is the reason for Sabathia’s poor 2013, there is certainly hope for 2014 and beyond; mechanics are correctable.

Sabathia has started his off-season a bit early, going on the DL with a Grade 2 hamstring strain just a few days after turning in one of his best performances of the season (albeit against the hapless Giants). He should be fine for Spring Training, and thanks to the necessary rehab from the injury he might come into camp a bit stronger. Perhaps with some more repetitions, he’ll iron out his mechanics. But this represents the optimistic scenario for last year. We’re still here to discuss what went wrong in 2013.

While his weight loss might have played a role in his poor 2013, it’s hard to ignore another possible factor: past workload. Sabathia pitched a full season, 33 starts, at age 20, and has made at least 28 starts in each following season. Before he signed his first contract with the Yankees he had thrown 1659.1 innings. Heading into the 2013 season he had thrown 2564.1. He has now thrown the 139th most innings in MLB history, at age 33. That can be a good thing as well as a bad thing, of course. Tim Hudson has lasted through more innings than Sabathia, and is about five years older. There are cases where players can throw lots of innings and hold up.

In reading the last three paragraphs, you might have noticed the same thing I did while writing it: that each paragraph ends on an optimistic note. It is difficult to write about such an obviously disappointing season from a guy expected to anchor the rotation, hence the “things could be better” follow-up to every negative point. Instead of continuing in this fashion, perhaps it’s best to list the final few factors in his poor 2013 and let that be that.

  • Sabathia’s tERA, which accounts for batted ball types, stood at 4.87, the worst of his career and a full run worse than 2012.*
  • His average velocity was down a mile per hour from 2012, and nearly 3mph from 2009 — though his velocity did rise as the season progressed.
  • Then again, there was a drop-off after a steady rise sometime in August. Perhaps that was a turning point?
  • He used his changeup more often than any year since 2010, but according to weighted values it was worth negative runs. Chances are that has to do both with the drop in fastball velocity and with his command issues; hanging changeups go a long way.

*Not that I buy totally into the value of tERA, but it is one tool with which we have to measure pitchers. Just like all other stats mentioned.

Honestly, after 2013 there’s nothing to do but hope that Sabathia gets stronger while rehabbing his hamstring, gets in as many reps as he needs in Spring Training, and starts 2014 fresh. Otherwise the last three to four year of his contract are going to hurt.

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  • HectorLopez

    CC will develop into a pitcher not just a thrower and he will be a solid #2, Don’t know who will be #1 but ?????, sabathia, nova, phelpsa pineada may not be terrible. Maybe this guy Tanaka becomes our darvish and not another Igawa. we may have to face a couple of down years before the “Evil Empire” returns to glory!!!

    • RetroRob

      CC has been a pitcher and not a thrower, which makes his collapse all that more surprising. He’s a lefty, still throws hard, had multiple pitches. His decline from one season to the next is one of the more surprising falls I’ve seen in well over 30 years of watching baseball.

      Hopeful for a return in 2014.

  • qwerty

    I was against his initial signing due to how many innings he had pitched for Cleveland and Milwaukee. After 5 straight seasons and postseasons of averaging 250 innings and one season of “just” 218 innings, I am finally vindicated. I’ll give this for CC, I honestly never thought he’d go this long with some major decline or arm injury. Many pitchers will have some sort of decline or arm injury after one or two seasons of near 250 innings. One or two might have gone as far as 3 seasons, but never five. What he has done is unprecedented, ditto for Halladay, who went 4 years, but reality catches up with everyone. Now he’s a shell. That is why I was against the signing in 2009 and the new extension.

    • WhittakerWalt

      So… other than the part where you were completely wrong about how long he could keep it up, you’ve been “totally vindicated?” Based on one terrible season? Why don’t you wait and see what the rest of his career looks like before you break your arm with back-patting.

      • qwerty

        I was not “wrong.” CC defied all the odds. I was perfectly justified in my conclusions based on history. No pitcher in the modern era had gone more than 3 straight seasons of 240+ innings or more without injury or major decline the following year or two, and three years was tops at that point, not the average. I think only two other pitchers had actually made to 3 seasons before eventually succumbing.

        • WhittakerWalt

          What are you going to say if CC re-tools and has 3-4 more great years for us? Are you going to admit you jumped the gun on this “vindication” narrative? Or will you just qualify it somehow, so you can continue working the “I told you so” angle?

          And how could you not have wanted to sign him before 2009? I can understand being against the extension, that looks like fairly sound advice right now. But not sign him at all? Who was supposed to lead our staff?

          • Havok9120

            If they’d just let Joba start for realz, see, and then brought Moose back, BAM, rotation.

    • MannyGeee

      So, you’ve closed the book on CC already huh? We’re all glad you feel vindicated.

    • Havok9120

      Nevermind that we’d have not had any kind of viable rotation for the first few years of the deal. Nevermind that there’s a non-zero chance he figures it out. Nevermind that there’s evidence much of the problem has to do with mechanics and not breakdown.

      You could be right, no one knows. Including you. Not to mention that I don’t get why you’d take a victory lap over the potential end of a guy’s effective career, especially when you’re talking about a guy the team you root for _needs_ to be effective.

      • WhittakerWalt


  • LarryM Fl

    CC had an off year no one will dispute those words. We can offer all if and the buts!. I believe that he has plenty in the tank. My suggestion to CC is small modifications to your style which changes would resemble Andy P. They are both big guys one had exceptional control and ability to get swings and misses. There must be a library of video to watch on Andy P. study the tapes and practice what you see. It works! Now go out and be the ace.

    • Mike HC

      Becoming Andy Pettitte is a bare minimum really.

  • TWTR

    Felix has adjusted to declining velo (at a young age); maybe CC can too: link

    (That was written in May. I’m not sure of the extent to which CC began to change his pitching pattern after that.)

    • qwerty

      It’s not just about velocity. Both Felix and CC have lost approximately 3 mph on their fastballs from 2010 to now. But Felix’s fastball is still very effective. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that he throws a great changeup. CC has negative values on just about every pitch he throws, except the slider. If he throws any other pitch, it’s getting hammered. If these figures stay true into next and CC can’t throw any other pitches then he’s toast. He can’t just live off his slider.

  • gageagainstthemachine

    It’s really sad that his worst year is still far more desirable than Phil Hughes’ season. Shows you how bad Hughes became and was by the end of 2013.
    I have faith CC will turn it around. And here’s food for thought on that point, IF it truly is an adjustment to a new body shape/weight and the mechanics that go with that, how happy will Yankees fans and the organization be if 2013 was a bit of “sacrifice” year for CC if it means that he can physically see out his contract and return to at least a #2 starter form for its duration (I know he’s getting paid to be a #1, but we all have doubts on how #1 he can be going forward). If that is the case, I would say that is a fair trade-off in the long-run as I’m not sure a stellar CC is enough to make a true difference on the 2013 season in the end. Maybe they make the playoffs, but highly doubtful on much success if they did.

  • Dr. Grenaldine

    Is this something we would have to worry about with

    Guy Smyly

  • Dick M

    It’s adjustment time for CC. He can’t keep doing what he’s been doing.

    For all of the talk about velo, the key is going to be his change up — it’s currently too flat, lacking depth and fade. If he can improve his change, with the killer slider, his fast ball would be plenty good enough at the reduced velo.

  • I hate Robinson Tilapia

    Bleeping CC. So a Yankee cant have a beard, but this overpaid obese slob can wear baggy pants and look like a little leaguer?

    After all these years I finally understand why someone could hate the Yankees.

    • Havok9120

      You must have loved David Wells.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      If this guy hates me, I know I’m doing the right thing in life.

      Glad to know I’m remembered even on days when I don’t have the time to read.


    • WhittakerWalt

      Naming yourself after another commenter is really fucking pathetic.

      Your mother must be proud.

      • Pat D

        So shouldn’t change my handle to “I Feel Sorry for I Hate Robinson Tilapia’s Mother?”

        • Havok9120

          Good call, mate.

  • UncleArgyle

    Hopefully Feces Shit-bath-ia will right the ship (barge) next year. I think the big problem was that CC mistook “not eating Cap’N’Crunch” for “Being in Shape”. Hopefully he comes to camp in “The best shape of his life”, If the Yankees have any hope of competing next year his turn around is essential.

    • Havok9120


      • UncleArgyle

        I know. I pretty much nailed it huh?

        • Havok9120

          I’m just astounded that between the incredible lack of wit and head-up-your-ass belief in your own rectitude displayed here that you still managed to come to the correct conclusion about CC’s importance to the team.

          • WhittakerWalt

            I *think* it was tongue in cheek.

            • Pat D

              It’s hard to remember what people have been shitting on Sabathia over the last year.

            • Havok9120

              I sure hope so. And if it was, I apologize profusely for the failure of my sarcasm detector and beg Argyle’s forgiveness.

              • UncleArgyle

                Lol it’s all good. Although the lack of wit comment stung a little. I shit wit my good friend.

  • Farewell Mo

    I’m hoping that he’ll bounce back and maybe the 2013 disaster had something to do with his elbow survey but I find it a little hard to believe this years shitty performance was because he LOST weight. Seems like kind of a reach to me.

    IMO, much more likely he’s getting older, has a ton of innings on that arm and that’s why his stuff isn’t what it used to be.

    • Havok9120

      Change of mechanics is change of mechanics. Doesn’t matter if the reason is weight lost or weight gained that causes it, it’s still something that takes time to get used to, and declining velocity (at least some of which was almost certainly an independent occurrence) makes the learning curve even steeper.