Sabathia’s ongoing command problem

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Four earned runs in seven innings isn’t the worst start in the world but we’ve all come to expect more from CC Sabathia. The left-hander owns a 3.80 ERA with a 3.41 FIP through his first 13 starts of the season, solid numbers but hardly ace-like. “You limit the damage and try to get the team a win, but it’s frustrating when you have good stuff and can’t dominate a game,” said the southpaw after last night’s start. “I’ve been grinding all year. There hasn’t been a stretch where it has been easy.”

The most obvious problem with Sabathia has been his command, or lack thereof. His strikeout (8.97 K/9 and 23.4 K%), swing-and-miss (11.7%), walk (2.53 BB/9 and 6.6 BB%), and ground ball (47.5%) rates are more than fine and almost exactly match last season’s rates, but anecdotally he seems to miss his spot more than anytime I can remember. That’s led to Sabathia’s highest hit (8.87 H/9) and homerun (0.97 HR/9) rates as a Yankee despite a perfectly normal .309 BABIP. His 12.0% HR/FB ratio is a touch high but that’s already started to correct itself — he’s allowed just one dinger in the last three starts and 26 IP.

The first inning last night was a perfect example of Sabathia’s command issue. He fell behind in the count to three of the first four men he faced, but look at the pitch Michael Bourn hit for a leadoff single …

… and the pitch Matt Diaz hit for the bases-clearing double …

Chris Stewart set up down-and-away for both pitches — both fastballs — but Sabathia missed up both times, plus he caught too much of the plate to Bourn. Those two pitches are a microcosm of CC’s season to date; he’s missing but not by a ton, just enough for the hitter to do damage.

“It’s just at times his fastball cuts,” said Joe Girardi prior to yesterday’s game. “When that happens, he seems to get in a little bit of trouble. When he doesn’t command the down and away to right handers, he seems to get in a little bit of trouble.”

Usually when a fastball cuts unintentionally, the pitcher is dropping his arm a bit and it has to “catch up” to the rest of his body. The PitchFX data shows that for the most part, Sabathia’s release point this year (right graph) is the same as last year (left graph)…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PitchFX system uniformly records release points at 55-feet from home plate, so not precisely out of each individual pitcher’s hand. Sabathia’s right where he was last season for the most part, maybe down an inch or two but nothing drastic. I would be a much better red flag if he was off six inches or something. It’s possible that little one inch different — if it even really exists — is causing his fastball to cut, in which case the solution might just be a simple mechanical tweak. No way to know definitively, of course.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but I do wonder if Sabathia’s weight has led to his command problems early this year. Thirty-ish pounds may seem like a drop in the bucket for a guy his size, but he could be having trouble adjusting to his slimmer body and it’s throwing his delivery off a tad. CC had similar command issues early last season before gaining the weight back and getting locked in. If that’s the case, the solution isn’t to pack on some pounds obviously, he just has to figure out how to pitch with less weight on his frame. I dunno, just thinking out loud here.

Sabathia hasn’t been bad this year but he hasn’t been dominant really. He ran off a real nice six-start stretch a few weeks ago but otherwise continues to be dogged by the fastball command. Ivan Nova dealt with a similar problem earlier this year and he’s starting to get on the right track these last two times out, so hopefully Sabathia does the same and soon. The Yankees have been getting some stellar starting pitching over the last three or four weeks, and it’s very odd to see CC as the weak link right now.

Poll: Making room for David Robertson

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have received some pretty stellar pitching over the last three weeks or so, and it’s about to get a whole lot better. David Robertson aced his second minor league rehab appearances yesterday afternoon, and afterward Joe Girardi confirmed that his top setup man will rejoin the team today and be activated off the DL on Friday. Cory Wade and Boone Logan have done a superb job setting up Rafael Soriano in recent weeks, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve all missed Robertson in the late innings.

Getting Robertson back on the roster won’t be a problem but the Yankees do have some roster flexibility and a number of different options. We know Wade, Logan, and Rafael Soriano aren’t going anywhere, but there’s a case to be made that everyone else in the bullpen should be replaced. Each has their own pros and cons, of course.

Cody Eppley
Sending Eppley back to Triple-A seems like the most obvious move since he’s been the designated up-and-down guy early this season. He hasn’t pitched great but he hasn’t been ineffective either — 3.55 ERA with a 4.55 FIP and a 67.5% ground ball rate — and lately Joe Girardi has been using him as a right-handed/ground ball specialist in the sixth and seventh innings. That’s the best way to use the sidewinder, though a ROOGY isn’t exactly the most efficient use of roster space. The Yankees could send Eppley down on Friday and call him up at a later point without a problem.

David Phelps
Do you know how long it’s been since Phelps has appeared in a game? Eleven days now. He hasn’t pitched since game two of the Tigers series in Detroit, when he started the bottom of the ninth inning in the eventual walk-off loss. Phelps has made two appearances totaling five outs in the last 20 days, and his brief warm-up session last night was the first time he’s even done that much since the Tigers’ game. The Yankees don’t need to carry two long-men and although Phelps has done nothing to lose his job — 2.94 ERA and 4.50 FIP — they could opt to send him to Triple-A to make sure he gets regulars innings as a starting pitcher. Winning is always the number one goal, but the Yankees could send him down to focus on his development without weakening the big league club.

(REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

Freddy Garcia
Since being banished to the bullpen, Sweaty Freddy has worked sparingly in mop-up duty. He missed a few days following the death of his grandfather but has otherwise appeared in just six of the club’s last 41 games, and only once in those six games was the score separated by fewer than three runs. It’s been pure mop-up work and is totally redundant with Phelps on the roster. Freddy has no trade value so the Yankees would have to just cut ties with him, a legitimate option but probably not the smartest thing in the world. Pitching depth has a way of disappearing quickly and Garcia can do a lot of different things if needed, particularly start.

Clay Rapada
Cutting Rapada was unlikely even before his recent stretch of solid pitching (despite a heavy workload). The Yankees obviously place some value on having two left-handers out in the bullpen given how much money they’ve spent on those guys in recent years, and for the most part Rapada has done the job. He is out of minor league options, so the Yankees wouldn’t be able to send him to the minors without first passing him through waivers. Rapada ain’t clearing waivers, I can promise you that.

* * *

The Yankees have enough bullpen depth that there’s no obvious candidate to go once Robertson is healthy. They’re going to shed one solid bullpen arm in favor of an elite reliever, and that’s pretty awesome. Since we polled you folks about replacing Brett Gardner internally yesterday, we might as well do the same for getting Robertson back on the roster.

How should the Yankees get Robertson back onto the active roster?
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A-Rod & Swisher bail out Sabathia in come from behind win over Braves

The Yankees didn’t just extend their winning streak to five on Tuesday night, they did it with a dramatic come-from-behind win in the late innings. Other than the 15-9 game at Fenway Park, I’m having a hard time coming up with a better win this season.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

ClutchBall

More on this in a bit, but for the first seven innings the Yankees had absolutely no answer for Mike Minor. They were down four-zip heading into the eighth and it’s not just that they were unable to put together rallies, they weren’t even putting together quality at-bats or making hard contact. The young southpaw started the eighth with a pitch count in the 90s and left at exactly 100 after Derek Jeter sneaked a one-out single through the right side. It seemed like an innocent hit, another runner to be stranded at the later time.

That’s when Jonny Venters came in to put gas on the fire. To appreciate the magnitude of this meltdown, you have to understand that Venters came into this season as one of most dominant relievers in baseball. He’d pitched to 1.89 ERA with 9.95 K/9 and a 70.5% ground ball rate (!!!) in 171 innings over the previous two seasons, allowing just three homers total. Just insane numbers. Venters faced four Yankees on Tuesday and all four managed to reach base. Curtis Granderson singled, Mark Teixeira walked, and then Alex Rodriguez worked the count full before unloading on a sinker that didn’t sink for a game-tying grand slam.

It wasn’t a true big-fly, it was more a line drive that zoomed right over the left field wall. A Yankees fan caught it with his hat, which was pretty neat. Robinson Cano followed that up with a single to knock Venters out of the game, and two pitches later the Bombers had a two-run lead when Nick Swisher well, bombed a Cory Gearrin fastball out over the right-center field wall for a two-run dinger. After putting seven total runners on base in 7+ innings against Minor, seven consecutive batters reached base as soon as he was out of the game — Andruw Jones was hit by a pitch immediately after Swisher’s homer.

Shutdown

Like I said, Minor completely manhandled New York for the first 7+ innings. He came into this start as one of the two worst starting pitchers in baseball statistically, but he kept the right-handed batters off balance with a healthy diet of soft stuff away and generally stayed out of the middle of the plate. His performance was eerily similar to Doug Davis’ when the Yankees visited the Cubbies last summer, when a left-hander with bad numbers frustratingly shut them right down. Here’s that box score in case you’ve swept that one under the mental rug. After stranding men on first and second in the first, the Yankees put just three of the next 22 men they sent to the plate against Minor on base. The kid was on point.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

C(an’t find) C(ommand)

CC Sabathia most certainly was not on point, at least not early on. He ran into the same command problems that have plagued him for most of the season, causing him to fall behind in the count to three of the first four men he faced. The bases were loaded with out in the first when Matt Diaz drove in three runs with a double to right, the first bases clearing double Sabathia has allowed to a right-handed batter as a Yankee. One out and five batters into the game, the ace had his team in a three-run hole.

Sabathia settled down a bit after that but still wasn’t sharp. He managed to fire off five scoreless innings after that but put six men on-base along the way, then the Braves tacked on an insurance run thanks in part to some intentional walk/weak ground ball funny business in the seventh. Four runs and ten hits in seven innings definitely isn’t a disaster start but the Yankees need CC to figure out this long-standing command issue and get back to being the guy they’re used to running out there every five days. During this recent stretch of strong play, Sabathia has been the weak link in the rotation and that is just weird.

RA! PA! DA!

Big, huge ups go out to Clay Rapada. With a short bullpen, the lefty specialist hung in to retire three of the four men he faced in a scoreless eighth, including one of two right-handers. He was pitching for the fourth — fourth! — day in a row and fifth time in six days, so give that man some serious props. Rapada went above and beyond the second lefty specialist call of duty to help secure this win. Teams need unexpected boosts like this throughout the season to win the division.

Leftovers

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Fresh off Monday night’s blister problem, Rafael Soriano threw a perfect ninth inning to nail down the win, his first true 1-2-3 inning of the season. He had come into a game in the middle of an inning to retire all three guys he faced a few weeks ago, but this was the first time this year he started and finished an inning without allowing a baserunner. He struck out a pair, including the powerful Brian McCann and Dan Uggla.

Sabathia became the first Yankees’ hurler to allow four earned runs in a start since Ivan Nova allowed five in the series finale out in Anaheim. All three starters allowed five or more earned runs in that series but the rotation had pitched to a 1.76 ERA in the ten games since.

Jeter, Granderson, and Swisher all had two hits apiece while A-Rod, Cano, and Chris Stewart chipped in one each. Mark Teixeira drew three walks and now has 19 free passes against just 15 strikeouts in his last 31 games. That, as they say, is quite good. The RISPFAIL was limited to 1-for-5 this time around, with the one being A-Rod’s grand slam.

Speaking of that, the grand slam was was the 23rd of Alex’s career, tying him with Lou Gehrig for the most in baseball history. Coincidentally enough, Tuesday was also the anniversary of the Iron Horse’s final game in pinstripes, though it was just an exhibition. Still neat though.

It’s not often that one player makes two outs in an inning, but how many do it as a pinch-hitter? Russell Martin pinch-hit for Sabathia to lead off that six-run eighth, and he flew out to start the inning before striking out to end it. How does that get scored, is he a pinch-hitter for the first at-bat and the pitcher for the second? He can’t be the pinch-hitter for both, right? Ah the quirks of baseball.

With the win, the Yankees have now won five in a row, eight of nine, ten of 12, and 15 of 19. The Mets wrecked the Rays so the Yankees have sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time since April 21st, after that big 15-9 comeback in Fenway Park.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Now that, my friends, is a WPA graph. MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the advanced stats, and ESPN the updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees will try to complete the sweep on Wednesday night, hopefully sending us all into Thursday’s scheduled day off on a high note. Hiroki Kuroda will give it a go against Tim Hudson, and both pitchers are coming off minor foot injuries — Kuroda took the comebacker off his foot last time out and Hudson received a cortisone shot for some soreness recently.

Robertson makes second rehab appearance in Triple-A win

Some notes…

  • Both LHP Manny Banuelos and RHP Jose Campos (elbows) are still in “rest mode.” Campos will begin throwing in a few weeks and Manny later than that. [Josh Norris]
  • VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed that RHP Rafael DePaula will remain in the Dominican Summer League and not pitch for Short Season Staten Island this summer. I know he has some family stuff going on and all that, but lame. Very lame. [Norris]
  • As expected, OF Tyler Austin will take his hacks in the Low-A South Atlantic League Homerun Derby according to a release. In case you missed it, the Derby will be held on the deck of an aircraft carrier this year.
  • OF Mason Williams was added to the Sally League All-Star Game as an injury replacement, possibly for Austin. He’s the sixth River Dog to be named to the game, which will be played next week.
  • Also, make sure you check this quick post on Jack Cust and Russell Branyan at Baseball Prospectus. It’s free, you don’t need a subscription.

Triple-A Empire State (9-7 win over Louisville)
RF Kevin Russo: 2-5, 3 R, 1 2B — ten game hit streak
2B Corban Joseph & DH Jack Cust: both 1-4, 1 R — CoJo drove in a run and struck out … Cust walked and whiffed
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 2-5, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 SB — 15 hits in his last 45 at-bats (.333)
1B Russell Branyan: 3-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 1 BB — 11 hits in his last 25 at-bats (.440) with three doubles, five homers, seven walks, and six strikeouts
3B Brandon Laird: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 E (fielding)
C Gus Molina: 0-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
SS Doug Bernier: 0-2, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB
RHP David Robertson: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — nine of 14 pitches were strikes (64.3%) … had a little bit more on him earlier
RHP John Maine: 3 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 2/3 GB/FB — 37 of 65 pitches were strikes (56.9%) … signed a minor league deal about three weeks ago
RHP Nelson Figueroa: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/6 GB/FB — 23 of 30 pitches were strikes (76.7%) … shifting to the bullpen with Maine now in the rotation
RHP Chase Whitley: 1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 1/2 GB/FB — 11 of 14 pitches were strikes
LHP Justin Thomas: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 11 pitches, nine strikes

[Read more…]

2012 Draft: Yankees sign 14th rounder Andrew Benak

Via Jim Callis, the Yankees have signed 14th round pick Andrew Benak for the full $100k slot value. The deal has zero impact on the club’s draft pool for the top ten rounds. You can see all of New York’s draft picks at Baseball America.

Callis says the right-hander from Rice can run his fastball up to 93 mph with good slider at times, and this Joseph Duarte article explains the series of arm problems Benak has endured. He had Tommy John surgery in high school and has had multiple procedures to remove bone chips from his elbow in college. Benak struck out 72 and walk 18 in 66.2 innings across 14 starts and two relief appearances this spring.

Game 61: Trap

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won four in a row and seem poised for number five tonight, when ace CC Sabathia takes on arguably the least effective pitcher in baseball in Mike Minor. Opposing hitters have hit .283/.352/.521 with a league-leading 14 homers off the 24-year-old southpaw this season, who owns the highest ERA (6.57) and sixth highest FIP (5.52) among qualified pitchers this year. On paper, this one is in the bag. In reality, it’s a trap game. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nick Swisher
LF Andruw Jonesgotta think he’ll get a pretty nice hand, no?
C  Chris Stewart
LHP CC Sabathia

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. There’s a little bit of rain in the forecast but nothing that will force a postponement or anything. Enjoy.

Brett Gardner Update: Gardner (elbow) was a surprise visitor in the clubhouse today, cryptically saying “I believe I’m going to play (again this year) … hopefully relatively soon.” He wouldn’t reveal any details about yesterday’s visit to Dr. Andrews, though Joe Girardi did confirm that the injury is not ligament related. That means no Tommy John surgery. “I really, legitimately, thought I was there,” said the frustrated outfielder about his rehab.

Mariano Rivera Update: Rivera (knee) had surgery to repair his torn right ACL today and everything went well. The typical rehab schedule will have him ready for Spring Training.

Chavez says every day is “a huge hurdle to climb physically”

The Yankees brought Eric Chavez back late in the offseason to help fill out their bench, and so far he’s performed well enough — 91 wRC+ in 99 PA — in more playing time than anticipated due to various injuries. Things seem to be going fine on the surface, but Chavez told Ken Rosenthal that just getting ready to play every day is a chore following years of back, neck, and shoulder injuries.

“(Each day is) a huge hurdle to climb physically,” he said. “Once I get to the park, I’m constantly going until the end of the game. If I sit down for 15-20 minutes, it takes me that much longer (to get loose again). It’s non-stop. You’ll never see me in the dugout for more than one inning. I’ve got to keep moving. I’ll go to the cage, keep the blood going as much as I can.”

Chavez also said only two teams — the Yankees and White Sox — expressed interest in him this offseason, and he would have been content to retire if things didn’t work out with New York. We know he’s an injury risk and all that, but it’s pretty crazy to hear what he has to go through every day just to prepare for a game. Not being able to sit on the bench for 15 minutes because it’ll take too long to warm back up is … unnerving.