Sabathia’s velocity is worth watching this spring

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This past weekend, in his first outing of the spring, CC Sabathia chucked two scoreless and relatively uneventful innings against the Phillies. Uneventful unless you were watching the radar gun, of course. Sabathia topped out at 88 mph with his fastball on Saturday and sat mostly in the 86-88 mph range, which is far below what you want to see, even on March 1st. And everyone did see it thanks in no small part to the Michael Pineda velocity fiasco of 2012. The radar gun has become a focal point in Spring Training.

“My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If it’s not, it won’t. I can pitch. I’m fine. As long as I’m healthy I’ll be good,” said Sabathia to Chad Jennings after Saturday’s game because what is he supposed to say? No this is terrifying and I don’t think I’ll ever be effective again? C’mon now. It takes a lot of confidence and a certain level of arrogance to be an elite pro athlete, and part of that is never doubting your own ability despite signs of decline. Of course Sabathia is unconcerned about his fastball.

I am concerned about Sabathia’s fastball, however. Well, concerned isn’t the right word. I’m keeping my eye on it. That’s better. I wanted to go back and compare CC’s early spring velocity to past years, but there’s a bit of a problem: there isn’t any Grapefruit League pitch data out there. We’re limited to archives and the YES Network gun because there’s no PitchFX. Sabathia did not appear in a YES broadcast game until the middle of March in both 2012 and 2013, so we can’t even compare early spring velocities. We’re stuck lumping it all under a big “Spring Training velocity” umbrella. Here’s what we’re left with:

First Televised ST Game April May-Sept.
2014 86-88 (March 1st) ? ?
2013 89-90 (March 15th) 89.8 90.7
2012 89-92 (March 16th) 91.8 92.9

Sabathia did not pitch in a YES televised game in Spring Training 2011, so we can’t go back any further. I’m not sure how useful anything from pre-2012 would be anyway.

Just to give you an idea of how unprecise this is, Sabathia had one fastball clocked at 94 mph in the 2013 start and another clocked at 57 mph (!) in the 2012 game. I can buy 94 mph, but the most relevant thing is that he was consistently in that 89-90 range with a handful of 91s during the five-inning outing. I can’t buy 57 mph, but again, Sabathia was regularly in that 89-92 range with a smattering of 93s back in 2012. That’s what’s important.

Sabathia’s velocity in his first televised Spring Training game, as questionable as it may be given the source, was right in line with his PitchFX recorded April velocity in both 2012 and 2013. He held that Spring Training velocity through the season’s first month before adding another tick or two in the summer months, after the weather warmed up and he got into midseason form. That alone makes you want to see Sabathia get his heater closer to 90 mph this month.

Because of who he is and how important he is to the 2014 Yankees, Sabathia is going to be under the microscope this spring. His first outing was less than encouraging because his fastball was a little short, but it was only March 1st. I want to see how he looks after another outing or two before getting … well … concerned. I don’t think the fastball he showed on Saturday is full freakout worthy, but as much I hate Spring Training velocity watches, I don’t think we can simply sweep it under the rug just because it’s early-March either.

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  • Christ Is King

    Im not saying he let up when he got paid, could be the weight or age… But man, he doesn’t seem as hungry anymore…… well… you know what I mean.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Can you tell me exactly how “Hungry” the rest of the players on the roster are? Can we have a “Hungry” leaderboard? What about all the players on the Red Sox last year? How Hungry were they? Which team leads baseball in Hungry players?

      • I’m One

        I can’t comment on all the rest of the players, but with CC it’s obvious he’s not hungry anymore. He lost so much weight during the offseason. If he were hungry, he would have been eating more and would have gained weight.

        Or maybe it’s the opposite and he’s really hungry now since he lost weight.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          So maybe the next market inefficiency is starving players?

          • I’m One

            I’ll need to analyze that. Maybe there’s money to be made …

          • Jorge Steinbrenner

            Imagine how much faster they’ll run if you have the hot dog guy run in front of them.

            Scott Sizemore hasn’t had a meal since Christmas.

            • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

              The original Christmas.

            • Tanakapalooza Floozy

              I always felt that Rusty Staub was most effective when he imagined a Twinkie waiting for him at 1B.

      • The Great Gonzo

        Hunger and Grit are both SOOOOPER advanced Metrics. Like, Bill James shit.

        • lightSABR

          I’m hungry for grits…

    • Bo Knows

      Not sure what being “hungry” has to do with his body aging he’s going to be 34 with thousands of innings and tens of thousands of pitches on his arm. He can’t force velocity out of nowhere, that’s how guys get hurt, accepting that you can’t do the things you used to is not a lack of desire to win, its showing that you are aware of your own limitations and know what must be done to succeed within those new parameters

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Here we go again.

      Lebron is King.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        Felix Is King


  • Eddardo Nuney

    I don’t think he’ll ever be an ace again. He doesn’t need velocity to be an ace but he refuses to become a more finesse pitcher. It worked for Andy it worked for Moose. Get those guys in there to teach CC how to pitch.

    • Bo Knows

      How do you know that he refuses to become a finesse pitcher? His velocity only dipped into “finesse” pitcher range last year, no one is able to make those type of adjustments that quickly, doesn’t matter who you are, Moose struggled when his velocity declined, so did Andy and so has every pitcher who’s ever played long enough to see this happen. It’s a stupid to try and play armchair psychic on someone hundreds of miles away from you and that you only see on tv and read about.

      • I’m One

        It’s a stupid …

        Keep in mind who typed the comment you replied to.

        • jjyank


  • I’m One

    I’ll be concerned with his velocity when it’s proven he can’t be successful without it. Until then, I don’t care if his FB tops out at 79 if he’s keeping his ERA a good bit below 4 and winning games.

    He’s proven he’s a smart pitcher. I think he’ll adjust. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.

    • Tanakapalooza Floozy

      Not saying I disagree, but how do you feel he has proven himself to be a smart pitcher?

  • losealot101

    i wonder how much of this velocity drop is due to his weight loss. could his mechanics have suffered while adjusting to a basically different body? how much is velocity a function of those aforementioned mechanics?

    • I’m One

      He had his mechanics reviewed after the season and they compared very favorably with his mechanics earlier in his career (2003 I believe?).

      • losealot101

        i heard about the mechanics review, but there is a difference between a pitching session in front of a camera for the purpose of analytics (arm angle, release point, etc.) and actual game situations where the pitcher has to make constant adjustments.

    • Bo Knows

      His mechanics are fine, there is an earlier story about how he went and had his mechanics checked out, its all the same again. Also CC is officially an old player, he’s going to have velocity loss

    • Hawkeye

      If velocity were a function of body fat, Pedro couldn’t have broken a pane of glass. I think age and wear and tear are the factors your looking for.

  • Brandon

    I mean, it was his first outing of the spring and he’s still getting used to pitching with all the weight off and with his readjusted arm angle. If he’s still throwing around 90 closer to Opening Day I’ll be worried

    • Tanakapalooza Floozy

      Really? I think 90-91 (still around 90) is about the upside at this point. I’d love to be proven wrong.

  • The Great Gonzo

    Not worried yet. That said, if he’s without heat, he’ll need to show more with the secondary stuff. But I think he gets that.

    IS IT POSSIBLE, just maybe… that CC is NOT just throwing darts out there and is playing coy? Maybe he’s taking it easy in the spring as to ease in to the season? Speculation…

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      It’s also possible that it’s just someone disguised as CC out there and that CC is actually disguised as Masahiro Tanaka.

      • Angelo


  • MB923

    I posted this already in another thread and on MLBTR and I”ll re-post it here for those who missed it

    CC’s Sabathia’s fastball stats the past 3 season (2011-2013)

    wRC Against His Fastball – 128, 125, 126
    BA against his fastball – .285, .289, .293
    OPS against his fastball – .815/.805/.804

    Now let’s check his changeup stats the past 3 seasons in the same categories

    wRC against his Changeup – 82, 35, 144
    BA against his changeup – .273, .181, .314
    OPS against his changeup – .655, .483, .872

    There are other pitches besides fastballs. Ask Greg Maddux (not that I’m comparing them though). Ask Cliff Lee (who’s FB velocity dropped more than CC’s from the year before and who’s average fastball speed was just above 90). Or ask King Felix who’s fastball speed was exactly the same as CC’s last year (91.3).

    The problem was not his fastball, the problem was his changeup (Slider stats were still good last year though a Tad worse than what they were the previous year. I didn’t bother posting them)

    Sure the changeup can lose effectiveness when the FB declines, but the most important thing for CC will be Location, not Velocity.

    Check out the spray chart in the top right and the one underneath it. As you can see, his changup landed inside the middle of the plate much more than it did in 2012

    For CC (and every pitcher obviously) with his velocity declining, is going to have to rely more on location now. Last year, it sucked, especially the changeup. Slow changeup and fastball down the middle of the plate = disaster. His changeup will have to hit the plate more low and more inside to RHH going forward.

    • I’m One

      The issue with his changeup may have more to do with the lack of differing velocities between it and his FB. If his FB has declined in velocity his changeup must also change correspondingly. Do you have those stats for the past 3 years? Don’t have the time to look it up. Thanks.

      • MB923

        Yes I already mentioned that the FB declining could certainly cause the effect of a changeup

        Velocity the past 3 years



        I really don’t think a 1.2 MPH velocity is going to change you from having a pretty good year (2012) to a disastrous year

        Sooner or later (maybe starting this year obviously), CC is going to be relying on movement and command. Why do you think Andy P still had some good years? The last time his velocity was above 90 was in 2007.

        • Gonzo

          I couldn’t find the study, but don’t be so sure that a MPH or two couldn’t spell disaster. I’ve read it can be disaster. I think Eno Sarris often sites the study on his podcast. Big adjustment period for pitchers. I’m not sure that can be overstated.

          • Tanakapalooza Floozy

            +all of this

  • TWTR

    I happened to catch a little of Kay with Flaherty in the car yesterday. FWIW, Flaherty said that CC was at 86 in his first ST game last year, so he viewed this year’s 88 as an improvement.

  • Frank

    Just FYI, I specifically remember CC sitting at 88 his first spring game last year (and threw a few 86’s as well).

    Does anyone else remember this? If he was 89-90 his first spring game last year, no one would’ve said anything about his velocity.

  • The Other Matt

    Good article Mike. I, too, was a bit unsettled with CC’s velocity on Saturday, as I was paying full attention to the radar readings on the screen after just about every pitch. Albeit though it was nice to see him a have a good performance, as I think there would be a tremendous amount of attention being paid to this situation had he been touched up a bit.

    Seeing him not touch 90 was a bit concerning on my end, even if just a little bit. But to me what was more concerning was there was a few pitches, if I remember correctly, where he hit about 83-84 mph. To me it was concerning because I couldn’t exactly differentiate if he was throwing a fastball or a change (I assume and hope that it was a changeup). I remember last year watching the broadcast on YES and David Cone saying that another possible hinderance with CC’s velocity dropping is the difference in mph between his fastball and change. He said there should be about an 8-10 mph difference between both pitches (I think at the time CC was throwing his change at about 86 and fastball at 91-92). Which does make sense, you would like to have a variance in speed between your fastball and change.

    It will definitely be something to watch as time moves forward, just not his fastball velocity, but his change as well. Hopefully by the end of the spring he can have his fastball velocity up to about 90-91, and then creep up to 93, maybe 94 as the season grows on. Thus allowing his offspeed stuff to play more, as CC does have a pretty good slider, as well as a decent to above average change from time to time. But as of right now 93 does seem like a far cry from 88, even if it is only the first week of March.

  • Frank

    ^TWTR, yes this is what I remembered as well. I’m not that worried. especially considering that his first game last year was two weeks ahead of where he is now.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Excellent write-up. Something to watch. That’s it.

    Like CC said, if this is where it is, this is where it is. He just will need to do a better job at working with what he’s got.

    Yanks may go into Opening Day with five starters with crazy upside for 2014. Not all of them are going to hit it.

  • Dicka24

    No matter how you slice it, the loss in velocity should concern everyone. CC is being counted on to be an ace, and the Yankees really need him to anchor the staff. Hopefully it’s just a slow start to what will be an eventual uptick as we move into April. I remember his first season with the Yankees, he opened the season with what seemed to be a slower FB, and everyone was wondering what was wrong. After a few starts, he was back to normal, and had a good year. Hopefully he’ll be tossing 90+ a month or so from now.

    I can’t help but wonder if the dramatic weight loss has taken away from his zip. Maybe the weight behind him, helped him throw harder. Who knows. I just hope he bounces back from last year.

    • I’m One

      Tossing 90+ doesn’t ensure he’ll be an ace (or not be an ace). Regardless of velocity, he needs to execute his pitches. Placement and control as well as pitch selection will be the key to his season, not velocity.

  • Nathan

    Concerning, no doubt but something that can’t really be changed. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed, really.

  • stuckey

    Regardless of the outcome of this issue (and I’m more the happy to wait for more info before wringing my hands) this generally brings to mind the issue of LONG contracts in MLB, which I see as more of a threat to long-term team building than escalating salaries.

    We’ve come to accept the truism that if you want to compete in the free agent marketplace you have to accept the last 2 years (or more) of contracts greater than 5 years will be sunk costs. But it’s NOT just the money and the luxury tax implications that’s at issue.

    There are 25 and 40 man roster implications, as well as (though of much lesser concern, of course) the attention issues like these wind up receiving.

    Maybe the NYY should give some serious thought to redefining the marketplace and perhaps approximating the market rate for 7 year deals in 4 … no more than 5 years deals.

    ‘Here, we’ll pay you market rate for the full length of the deal, but we’re going to pay it to you in 4 years instead of 7.’

    Now, of course, they may have the effect of simply escalating the yearly rate and teams could trump those offers by adding the extra years. But it’s an idea worth examining.

    If the players are MAKING the same money, and get return to free agency again younger, it’s ALL upside to them.

    Again, the question becomes, would it be a short-term gimmick, and just exasperate the issue in short order?

    • jjyank

      I think you’d see a whole lot of teams suddenly get real concerned with the luxury tax. I doubt it could happen.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        It’s true but it could indicate a potential benefit to teams that can afford to go over. Pile 6 years of value into 4, the FA gets one last chance to make some extra money once the current deal ends.

        • Tanakapalooza Floozy

          I’ve not posted the thought in a lawng time but this is a drum I’ve beaten for years.

  • sjb23

    Just a guess on my part but I would think that C.C. would not be trying to achieve maximum velocity in his first spring outing – he has nothing to gain and a lot to lose by straining himself. I doubt he’d publicly admit that either. In fact my guess is he’s a bit sensitive about the whole velocity subject. Right now I think he should totally be concentrating on downward motion and command of both sides of the plate and let everything else work itself out. I’ll be watching closer for increased velocity after the 15h of March.

    He and a lot of other guys on this club would probably be better off if their first couple of weeks there’s no cable, satellite, internet hookups or speed guns available. Maybe then they could relax a little.

  • The Great Gonzo
  • Greg c

    So he’s around Mussina’s 2008 velocity and will probably add 1-2 MPH no matter what.

    CC’s a pretty good pitcher, right? He can figure it out. I’m not saying he WILL, but it doesn’t make sense to count him out.

  • Dirk Diggler

    CC wants what Bartolo Colon’s been having.

    Colon’s 40 years old, can still touch mid-90s and has some of the sickest movement on his 2-seamer that I’ve ever seen.

    • losealot101

      what? PEDs?