As you know, last season was the worst of CC Sabathia‘s career. By a lot. He was legitimately one of the worst pitchers in the game after being no worse than comfortably above-average for the better part of a decade. Sabathia’s ability to bounce back — not necessarily to an ace, just to something better than terrible — is pretty important to the team’s chances to contend this summer, even with Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda throwing so well early on.
Sabathia’s first four starts this year have been a mixed bag but they have gotten progressively better: six runs in six innings, four runs in six innings, four runs in seven innings, and two runs in seven innings. He has pitched very well early in his last three starts before allowing some runs in the later innings. There have definitely been multi-inning stretches where he was in total control, but we’ve yet to see an entire start like that. Hopefully it’s coming soon.
Unsurprisingly, Sabathia’s oft-discussed velocity did not bounce back this year. It never does. Once velocity goes it tends to stay gone. His four-seam fastball has averaged only 89.6 mph in his first four starts, down from 91.3 mph last year. I suspect that will tick up a little bit in the summer months as it usually does. How has Sabathia attempted to compensate for his missing heater? By simply throwing it less. He has de-emphasized his four-seamer. Look at his pitch selection courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
Sabathia has incorporated a cutter this season but he rarely uses it, only a handful of times per game. He is throwing slightly fewer sliders and slightly more changeups, but nothing crazy. That’s probably a function of the small sample size more than anything. The big difference comes with the fastballs. Sabathia is throwing way fewer four-seamers than at any other time with the Yankees and he’s throwing a ton more sinkers, basically twice as many as he threw from 2011-13. That’s a big difference.
Sabathia is not necessarily using fastballs less, but now he is cutting them and especially sinking them more often. That doesn’t make him unique either. Not even close. That is an adjustment most veteran pitchers will make later in their careers. From Chris Cwik:
The added movement is likely one of the reasons we’ve seen veteran pitchers start using the sinker more often, according to PITCHf/x guru Harry Pavlidis. “As you lose velocity you need to add something,” says Pavlidis. “Movement is a good choice. So you’ll have older pitchers who lose velocity and adjust, or guys who are fringy and realize they can get a new edge, even if their velocity is still intact.”
Former major-league pitcher Brian Bannister agrees. “As pitchers lose the capability to throw powerful four-seam fastballs they have to compensate somehow,” Bannister said. “If you look at most of the pitchers who are still around as they get older, they are throwing sinking fastballs and not power fastballs because it matches up with how their body feels.”
Sort through the list of pitchers who have used the sinker the most since 2011 and they are almost all veterans in the second half of their career. Jake Westbrook, Derek Lowe, Jason Marquis, Kyle Lohse, Hiroki Kuroda, Bronson Arroyo, guys like that. Sabathia isn’t throwing his sinker as much as those guys just yet, but don’t be surprised if he creeps closer and closer to the top of that list in the coming years. It only makes sense to shelve the straight four-seamer in favor of the sinking sinker as the radar gun readings become less impressive.
Emphasizing the sinker is not the only adjustment Sabathia has made early this year. He is also pitching inside more often. According to the truly amazing Baseball Savant, Sabathia has come inside to right-handed batters with 29.5% of his pitches this year. That is up from 25.8% last year and 24.2% from 2011-13. (He’s only faced 12 lefty batters this year so I won’t even bother with those numbers.) I remember Mike Mussina (or maybe it was David Cone) saying that you have to pitch inside more when you start to lose velocity, and Sabathia has done early in 2014.
Between the increased reliance on his sinker and busting righties inside more often, CC has changed his pitching style in a tangible way so far this year. He had to after last season. The velocity isn’t coming back and adjustments had to be made. I’m guessing this is just the start of those adjustments too. We might see more sinkers, more cutters, and more pitches inside as the season continues and he gets more comfortable. The progressively better starts might be an indication of that.
Because of who he is and his importance to the Yankees, everything Sabathia does this season will be watched closely. At least by me. I’m somewhat fascinated by the way pitchers age in general, going from hard-throwing youngsters with big stuff to savvy veterans who rely on their brains as much as their arms. Sabathia was not a “thrower” these last few years, the guy knows how to pitch, but that doesn’t mean adjusting to reduced velocity is easy. Throwing more sinkers (and cutters) and pitching inside appear to be tangible changes to his approach this year, changes he needs to make at this point of his career.
The Yankees got some very bad pitching news over the weekend. Ivan Nova left Saturday’s start with a sore elbow, and a subsequent MRI revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He will be re-evaluated in New York today and, based on how these things have gone for other pitchers around the league, it’s very likely Nova will need Tommy John surgery in the near future. The procedure would end his season and delay the start of his 2015 campaign as well.
Nova was the team’s least effective pitcher so far this season — that could be the result of the injury, of course — so the Yankees will only have to replace their fifth starter. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a big loss or anything like that, but there’s a difference between losing Nova and losing one of the other starters. This blow is easier to absorb. What can the Yankees do to replace Nova? Several things, actually. Let’s look at this two different ways.
The Yankees have already placed Nova on the 15-day DL, so even if today’s re-evaluation brings best case scenario news, he’s going to miss a minimum of two starts. (Off-days could help the team out a bit.) Vidal Nuno pitched well in yesterday’s spot start (five scoreless innings) and today’s off-day allows him to step right into Nova’s rotation spot, if the team decides to go that way. I have to think they will based on yesterday’s work.
The other options on the big league roster are Adam Warren and David Phelps, both of whom competed for the fifth starter’s job in camp. Warren has settled into a one-inning setup role and even though the season is barely three weeks old, I think he’s there to stay. Even with David Robertson due to come off the DL tomorrow. Phelps has become more of a multi-inning, multi-purpose reliever. He works the middle innings, the late innings, whatever is needed. Kinda like 2009 Al Aceves. Both Warren and Phelps would need to be stretched back out, unlike Nuno.
The Triple-A options aren’t very good. The RailRiders have a mostly veteran retread rotation, and the only guy on the staff with any kind of big league success is, well, Al Aceves. He was last effective in 2011. I can’t imagine others like Brian Gordon, Bruce Billings, and Chris Leroux will get serious rotation consideration. Same with Manny Banuelos. (Billings has been quite good actually, with a 2.74 ERA and 2.67 FIP in 23 innings.) I can’t see any of these guys getting the nod over Nuno or Phelps right now. If anything, Aceves could be called up to fill a bullpen job, but that’s probably it. Nuno seems like the guy right now.
If Nova does indeed go down for the rest of the season — even avoiding surgery and successfully rehabbing the injury will sideline him for weeks if not months — I think the Yankees have to consider making a trade to bolster their rotation. Remember, Michael Pineda is going to have his workload monitored closely following shoulder surgery, plus we don’t really know what to expect out of Masahiro Tanaka late in the season now that he’s starting every fifth day for the first time in his life. Plus Hiroki Kuroda has shown a tendency to wear down late in the year. Adding some rotation help is never a bad idea.
When looking for trade candidates, the easiest thing to do is find impending free agents on non-contenders. There are fewer sellers at the deadline these days because of the second wildcard spot, so the pool of available players really shrinks. Teams like the Diamondbacks (Brandon McCarthy?), Astros (Jerome Williams?), and Cubs (Jason Hammel?) seem like safe bets to be terrible. The Marlins (Kevin Slowey?), Rockies (Jorge De La Rosa?), and Padres (Eric Stults?) are other potential sellers.
The big rotation trade candidate is the same guy it’s been for about three years now: Cliff Lee. We know the Yankees love him, he remains among the game’s truly elite pitchers, and at this point there is only ~$45M left on his contract through next year. It’s not a huge long-term commitment. (His deal does include a vesting option for 2016.) Lee is someone any team would love to add to their staff and he’d be ultra-overqualified to replace Nova. Even if the Phillies decide to sell, do the Yankees have the prospects to compete against offers from clubs like the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers?
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The upcoming rotation situation would have been much murkier had Nuno gotten bombed yesterday. But, because he pitched well, he’ll likely get another chance or three to fill-in for Nova. And who knows? Maybe Nuno is the long-term solution. If not, the Yankees can try Phelps. A trade is something I think they should consider no matter how well those two perform, but that can wait. It’s early in the season and the Yankees can afford to be patient with their internal options. Nova did not pitch well in his first four starts this year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be easy to replace.
As expected, the Yankees have sent right-hander Bryan Mitchell back to Double-A Trenton, the team announced. The move clears a roster spot for David Robertson, who will be activated off the 15-day DL prior to tomorrow night’s series opener against the Red Sox. Mitchell did not pitch during his one day in the show and was only up as an emergency long man. · (13) ·
Record Last Week: 4-2 (26 RS, 30 RA)
Season Record: 11-8 (75 RS, 84 RA, 8-11 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Red Sox (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Angels (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week started with an off-day on Monday, then Tuesday’s series opener against the Cubs was rained out. They played a doubleheader on Wednesday and the Yankees won both games via shutouts.
- The Yankees then headed to Tampa for a four-game weekend series against the Rays, and they took the opener behind CC Sabathia. The bullpen melted down the next day, then the Rays blew the Yankees out on Saturday. The Bombers escaped the series with a split thanks to yesterday’s extra-innings win.
- Injury Updates: Ivan Nova (elbow) has a partially torn UCL and will be re-evaluated today. He has been placed on the DL. Frankie Cervelli (hamstring) has a Grade II strain. David Robertson (calf) pitched in Extended Spring Training and is ready to be activated off the DL. Mark Teixeira (hamstring) was activated off the DL. David Phelps (side) is okay after being hit by a line drive. Jose Ramirez (oblique) has resumed throwing in the minors.
- The blow-outs in Tampa led to series of roster moves. First Matt Daley was called up and Cesar Cabral was designated for assignment, then Daley was designated for assignment the next day when Bryan Mitchell and Preston Claiborne were called up. John Ryan Murphy was called up to replace Cervelli and Scott Sizemore spent a few days with the team as well.
- Alfonso Soriano will retire if he has a poor year, but if not, he hopes to play until 2016. Hal Steinbrenner is “pretty content” with the current roster. Phelps is likely to qualify as a Super Two this coming offseason.
- The expansion New York City Football Club of the MLS will play their home games in Yankee Stadium from 2015-17.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
After the way things went down on Friday and Saturday, it feels like a minor miracle that the Yankees escaped this four-game series with a split. They needed 12 innings and five (really six counting Vidal Nuno) relievers to beat the Rays 5-1 on Sunday afternoon. The good news is that the Yankees do not return to Tropicana Field until the middle of August, so we don’t have to see this house of horrors for another few months.
I didn’t see any of the game because I was out visiting family for Easter, but I did watch the highlights and flip through the play-by-play. That Dean Anna walk in the 12th inning looked like one hell of an at-bat, so I pulled it up on MLB.tv and sure enough, it was one hell of an at-bat. Nine total pitches, including three foul balls after being down 1-2 in the count. Great job by Anna. I’m so happy intentionally walking the bases loaded blew up in Joe Maddon’s face. By WPA (+.325), the walk was the Yankees’ biggest offensive play of the season by frickin’ far.
Nuno gave the Yankees exactly what they needed in his spot start, twirling five shutout innings and holding Tampa to three hits and two walks. He struck out six. A parade of relievers blew the one-run lead but otherwise held the Rays to three hits and three walks in seven innings. Big ups to Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne for holding down the fort with multiple innings of work. After the last few days, this collective bullpen performance was very welcome.
From what I understand, there was some controversy on a would-be Brett Gardner triple that was ruled a ground-rule double. I guess Wil Myers trapped the ball against the wall, or something like that. I also understand the infield defense was a mess, and the three errors back that up. The Yankees fell victim to the new (and stupid) transfer rule for the first time in the seventh, when Brian Roberts bobbled the potential double play ball. The new rule says the fielder needs to catch the ball and make a clean transfer for an out. Supposedly that will soon change and go back to the way it was, as it should.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. Apologies for the lack of an in-depth recap, but family and the holiday. You know how it is. The Yankees are off on Monday — Ivan Nova‘s partially torn UCL will be re-evaluated — and will then head to Boston for a three-game series against the Red Sox. Masahiro Tanaka and Jon Lester will start that series on Tuesday night. Fun!
Here is your open thread for this lovely Sunday evening. The Orioles and Red Sox are the ESPN Sunday Night Game (Ubaldo vs. Peavy), plus there’s playoff basketball and hockey on all night. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s game, Ivan Nova’s bum elbow, or anything else right here. · (119) ·
Triple-A Scranton (9-4 loss to Lehigh Valley)
- 2B Jose Pirela: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K – seven hits in his last 18 at-bats (.389)
- LF Zoilo Almonte: 1-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 K — 13 hits in his last 33 at-bats (.394)
- RF Adonis Garcia: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
- DH Ronnie Mustelier: 1-4, 1 RBI
- RHP Caleb Cotham: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 53 of 76 pitches were strikes (70%)
- RHP Shane Greene: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 24 of 32 pitches were strikes (75%) … only his second appearance of the year after going up and down for the first few weeks
Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all had a scheduled off-day. Weird for a Sunday, even with the holiday.
These last two days have been really rough on the Yankees. The Rays blew them out twice and decimated their bullpen in the process, all leading up to today’s spot start by Vidal Nuno. He hasn’t pitched in 12 days. Joe Girardi said he will be happy if they get 75 pitches out of him this afternoon, so the bullpen will be pressed into duty again.
Thankfully, the Yankees are off tomorrow and they will have a chance to catch their breath. These last two days have been pretty rough. Grabbing a win to earn a series split and halt the little losing streak before the off-day would make for a pretty good Sunday afternoon. Things are pretty hectic right now but they aren’t as bad as it seems. Here is the Rays lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- SS Derek Jeter
- RF Carlos Beltran
- DH Alfonso Soriano
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
- LF Brett Gardner
- 2B Brian Roberts
- C John Ryan Murphy
LHP Vidal Nuno
It’s hot and humid in the Tampa area, but there’s no rain. Doesn’t really matter though. Tropicana Field has a dome. First pitch is scheduled for 1:40pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
Roster Moves: As expected, Mark Teixeira (hamstring) was activated off the 15-day DL while both Preston Claiborne and Bryan Mitchell were called up. To make room on the roster, Ivan Nova (elbow) was placed on the 15-day DL, Scott Sizemore was optioned to Triple-A, and Matt Daley was designated for assignment.
It appears the Yankees have lost one of their starters for an extended period of time. Ivan Nova has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the Yankees announced. Yes, that is the Tommy John surgery ligament. He will be re-evaluated in New York tomorrow, during the team’s off-day.
Nova, 27, left yesterday’s start with a sore elbow and was sent for tests. He reportedly did not complain of any pain, and it wasn’t until he shook him arm following a pitch that Joe Girardi and the rest of the staff took notice. Nova tried to talk his way into remaining in the game but that wasn’t going to happen. “It’s hard. I don’t even know what to tell you guys. I’m so sad right now that I’m not going to be pitching,” he said to Erik Boland.
This is Nova’s fourth arm injury in the last four years. He suffered a forearm strain during the 2011 postseason, shoulder inflammation in August 2012, and triceps inflammation last April. Nova is a breaking ball heavy pitcher, throwing his curveball and/or slider at least 31% of the time the last three years. That’s usually bad news for the elbow.
Nova may try to rehab the injury but that rarely seems to work. Chad Billingsley and Matt Harvey both tried to rehab partially torn UCLs only to wind up having Tommy John surgery, for example. There has been a lot of talk recently — from people like Dr. James Andrews, not schmucks like me — about the elbow reconstruction rehab process being too aggressive these days. The prescribed rehab time is 12-18 months, so if the Nova does need surgery, we might not see him again until the 2015 All-Star break.
It’s unclear who will replace Nova in the rotation right now. Vidal Nuno is making a spot start today and thanks to tomorrow’s off-day, he’d line up perfectly to replace Nova. David Phelps is another option, but he isn’t stretched out. Adam Warren has settled into a one-inning setup role and it’s tough to see him moving into the rotation. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen though. Triple-A starters include veterans Bruce Billings, Al Aceves, and Chris Leroux. We’ll see. Either way, Nova probably isn’t returning anytime soon.
Does this game really need a recap? I’m not quite sure what there is to say after a beatdown like that. The Yankees got buried by the Rays on Saturday night, allowing 16 runs on 16 hits and five walks. Five of those hits were homers, including two by Wil Myers and two by Ryan Hanigan. Yes, the same Ryan Hanigan who hit four homers with a .063 ISO from 2012-13. It was that kind of night.
This game had it all. There was the ol’ intentionally walk one hitter (James Loney) and give up a homer to the next (Myers) move, which has always been a personal fave. A throwing error on the would-be third out — a throw that probably would have been scooped by an experienced first baseman — extended an inning by a whopping 22 pitches, which was fun. A position player (Dean Anna) pitched. Oh, and the Yankees were shut down by Chris Archer again. They only had three base-runners (all hits) and the final 13 men they sent to the plate made outs.
Then there’s Ivan Nova, who pitched horribly for four innings (eight runs on eight hits and a walk, including four homers) before leaving the game with a sore elbow. He went for an MRI tonight but the results are not expected to be available until tomorrow. Nova has been pretty terrible so far this year and it all seems to be control-related, and poor control is a common symptom of elbow problems. This is a hope for the best, prepare for the worst situation. Whoever replaces Nova in the rotation — I can’t remember the last time a pitcher had a sore elbow and didn’t miss at least one start — is far from a lock to perform better.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Rays have outscored the Yankees 27-2 in the last 13 innings of this series. Geez. Spot starter Vidal Nuno will look to stop the bleeding Sunday afternoon against fellow soft-tosser Cesar Ramos. Nuno vs. Ramos. AL East baseball. Get excited.