More cutters and fewer four-seam fastballs have helped Sabathia regain some effectiveness in 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Seven months ago CC Sabathia left Camden Yards and entered an alcohol treatment center. Last night Sabathia pitched in Camden Yards for the first time since rehab and he had his best start of the season, holding the Orioles scoreless over seven innings. Sabathia has been through it all as a baseball player. I’m sure last night’s game was as special as any win in his career.

“It’s a big contrast from me standing in this locker room last time. To be able to go out and get us a win felt great,” said Sabathia to Chad Jennings after the game. Joe Girardi added, “I’m sure it meant a lot. I kind of thought about it as we came into the ballpark and it was his day to pitch. The circumstances were a little bit different (last time). I’m sure it meant a lot. It meant a lot to this club.”

Through five full rotation turns Sabathia has been New York’s second best starting pitcher behind Masahiro Tanaka. Only Tanaka has a better ERA (2.87 to 3.81) and a better FIP (2.78 to 3.53) among the team’s five starters. That’s pretty surprising considering the Yankees made Sabathia compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training, or at least they said Sabathia had to compete for a rotation spot.

The changeup was Sabathia’s best pitch last night — the O’s missed eight times on 13 swings against the change — but it’s another pitch that has allowed him to have this success early on: the cutter. Sabathia has been toying with a cutter on and off for years now, and for most part it was just talk. He would say he was working on it and then throw maybe one or two per start. Now he’s committed to it. From Brooks Baseball:

CC Sabathia pitch selection

Notice the cutter has more or less replaced the four-seam fastball in Sabathia’s arsenal. In fact, PitchFX says he’s thrown 13 four-seam fastballs all season. He threw 27 cutters just last night. It’s for the best too. Last season opponents hit .300 with a .167 ISO against Sabathia’s four-seamer. The league averages were .269 and .175 last year, respectively. “Stop throwing an ineffective pitch” is a good strategy as long as you have a way to compensate.

The cutter has given Sabathia a way to compensate. He doesn’t throw hard anymore — Sabathia hasn’t thrown a pitch over 92.4 mph all season — so the extra movement is crucial. So is the location. More than ever before, Sabathia has to disrupt the hitter’s timing and keep them guessing. “That’s exactly what happened,” said Girardi after last night’s game. “Just kind of keep guys off balance. Try to out-think them and make some good pitches.”

Once again per Brooks Baseball, here is the strike zone heat map of Sabathia’s cutter location this season. This is from the catcher’s point of view and, in a nutshell, the brighter the red, the more cutters in that location. The brighter the blue, the fewer cutters in that spot.

CC Sabathia cutter locations

Sabathia is getting the cutter right in on the hands of right-handed batters to jam them and even back them off the plate. He did that last night and it set up all those swings and misses on changeups away. The O’s had seven right-handed hitters in their starting lineup and it played right into Sabathia’s cutter/changeup plan. It’s might not be a coincidence that in the other two starts in which he completed six innings, the Tigers and Rangers had eight and seven righties in the lineup, respectively.

Last year right-handed hitters meant bad news for Sabathia. They hit .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) against him in 2015, so Sabathia essentially turned every righty hitter he faced into Manny Machado (.286/.359/.502/.370). That’s bad. So far this season CC has not been great against righties, but he has been a bit better.

AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% Hard% Soft%
2015 vs. RHB .304/.363/.502 .370 16.2% 7.5% 47.0% 30.9% 15.3%
2016 vs. RHB .290/.350/.391 .328 16.8% 6.9% 47.3% 26.3% 26.3%

A .290 average and a .350 OBP still isn’t good, obviously, but righties haven’t hit for the same extra base power. The big increase in soft contact rate is most encouraging. Righties haven’t been squaring up as many pitches against Sabathia so far this season and that’s because he is now pounding them inside with cutters. He’s jamming them and missing the sweet spot. That wasn’t happening with the four-seamer.

Coming into this season Sabathia was viewed as the fifth starter and for good reason. He simply hasn’t been all that good in recent years. Tanaka has been the unquestioned staff ace, but Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi continue to be consistently inconsistent, and Luis Severino has been shockingly bad early on. Through five starts Sabathia has stepped up and been rock solid for the Yankees, thanks partly to his new knee brace and also to a new cutter, one he actually throws.

Thoughts following Alex Rodriguez’s injury

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

A few hours prior to last night’s win the Yankees placed Alex Rodriguez on the 15-day DL with a right hamstring strain. He hurt himself running out a ground ball Tuesday night. Here’s the video. The injury comes at a bad time — don’t they all? — because A-Rod was just starting to heat up and the Yankees need all the offense can get. Here are some thoughts on the injury and the roster fallout.

1. The Yankees declined to announce the severity of the injury yesterday and that was weird if not worrisome. The team usually isn’t shy about setting timetables. As it turns out, they won’t know the full extent of the injury until A-Rod visits team doctor Dr. Ahmed when they return to New York tomorrow. That’s per Bryan Hoch and Mark Feinsand. I guess the MRI only showed the injury was serious enough to require a DL stint. I dunno, I’m not a doctor. Stop looking at me for answers. Point is, we still don’t know how long Alex will be sidelined. Two weeks? Two months? Something else entirely? Even at 40, Rodriguez still has a big presence in the lineup, and the Yankees will miss him. The longer he’s out the harder it will be to climb out of this early hole in the standings.

2. Looking back, it’s pretty incredible A-Rod made it through last season completely healthy at his age and with all his relatively recent lower body surgeries. He missed the entire 2014 season due to his suspension and was healthy enough to appear in 151 games last year. That’s pretty crazy. Now a month into 2016 he’s already missed a few days with an oblique injury and now he’ll miss an undetermined length of time with a hamstring problem. That’s what you expect from a player pushing 41. Not perfect health like last year. A-Rod joins Greg Bird and Bryan Mitchell as important Yankees on the shelf right now, not to mention various shuttle relievers.

3. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi all but confirmed the plan is to give Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley more playing time in A-Rod’s absence, not call someone up and insert them into the starting lineup. In fact, Cashman told Billy Witz they won’t call up Nick Swisher because “where would we play him?” They’d rather go with Hicks and Ackley and rotate others in and out of the DH spot while Rodriguez is out. I think that’s the best way to go … for now. The Yankees should be prepared to change it up if A-Rod will be out a while and Hicks/Ackley (Hickley? Ackicks?) don’t start contributing at the plate. As I’ve been saying for a while now, I’m curious to see what Hicks can do with regular playing time, and now it looks like he’ll get it.

4. I really hope the eight-man bullpen thing is temporary. It’s overkill — Nick Goody has barely pitched as it is, and now there’s another guy in the bullpen — and they’ll end up with pitchers sitting around for a week between appearances. The Yankees are just starting this 20 games in 20 days stretch, and both the Orioles and Red Sox (their next opponent) have a lot of left-handed hitters, so keeping James Pazos through Sunday makes sense. After that though, they’d really be pushing it with a three-man bench. Eight relievers is one too many. (You can argue seven relievers is one too many.) With so many veteran position players, I’d rather have the extra bench player than the extra reliever. No doubt about it.

5. As for call-up candidates, I think Rob Refsnyder is the best fit because he can play second, third, and right. It was cool to hear he asked to play right field in Triple-A. He wants to improve his versatility because he knows it’s his best chance to get back to show. I’ve said before I think the best way for him to help the Yankees long-term is as a utility man. Refsnyder would add a righty bat to replace A-Rod, be around as a Chase Headley alternative, and provide depth at multiple spots. Ben Gamel or Slade Heathcott would be yet another lefty hitting outfielder. I’m not sure what they offer the Yankees that they don’t already have on the roster. Aaron Judge for a few weeks would be fun as hell, but he’d have to actually play. There’s no sense in calling him up one to play once or twice a week. Refsnyder’s the guy because the Yankees could play him at different positions and keep him on the bench for a few days a week with no real worry about his development.

Sabathia stops the bleeding; Yanks snap six-game losing streak with 7-0 win over O’s

Now that’s more like it. The Yankees snapped their six-game losing streak Wednesday night with what was maybe their most complete win of the season. They had some extended rallies, they played solid defense, and the pitching was on point. The final score was 7-0 Yankees.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Stopper
It has been a long time since CC Sabathia last pitched like a true ace. For at least one night, the ace version of Sabathia returned, and he showed up at exactly the right time for the Yankees. Sabathia played the role of stopper Wednesday night and put an end to the losing streak with seven scoreless innings against the Orioles. He allowed six hits and two walks while fanning six.

Was it easy? Of course not. Sabathia’s only 1-2-3 inning was his final inning. He held the O’s to 1-for-8 with three strikeouts and one double play with runners in scoring position, and, obviously, the one hit did not even score a run. Sabathia can thank Aaron Hicks for that. Jonathan Schoop didn’t even try to score from second on Ryan Flaherty’s fifth inning single to right because Hicks has a rocket arm. Sabathia got two other double plays as well.

The changeup was Sabathia’s best pitch by far Wednesday night. He was consistently burying the change down and away to righties — he threw 28 changeups, they swung 14 times, and missed eight times — and it allowed all those fastballs he threw in on the hands to play up. Sabathia also threw some nice backdoor sliders too. This was a vintage performance from the big man. CC is still a boss.

The Offense Breaks Out
Jacoby Ellsbury started the game with a double to right field. As per 2016 Yankees tradition, he was stranded. (Actually, he got thrown out at home on the contact play.) Fifteen of the next 17 Yankees made outs against righty Tyler Wilson, and the two base-runners were walks that were quickly erased. The Yanks did not record their second hit until Ellsbury singled with one out in the sixth. For the first five innings and change, it was more of the same from the Yankees. The offense was lifeless.

Things changed in the sixth. Ellsbury pulled the single to right, stole second, moved to third on Brett Gardner‘s single to center, then scored on Carlos Beltran‘s sacrifice fly. The fly ball wasn’t terribly deep and it looked like Adam Jones had a chance for a play at the plate, but he fumbled the transfer a bit and Ellsbury scored without a throw. The Yankees took a 1-0 lead and it was like pulling teeth, I swear.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The floodgates opened after that. Mark Teixeira walked and Brian McCann drove in Gardner with a single to right. Starlin Castro hit a tapper back to the mound that looked like it would end the inning, but Wilson spiked the throw to first and it scooted on by Chris Davis for a run-scoring error. The Yankees needed something like that. They haven’t been playing well, and when you don’t play well, it seems like your opponent makes every play in the field. It was nice to see the Yankees get a break for once.

The three runs felt like 300 runs given how the Yankees have been struggling to score this season. They didn’t stop there though. Two innings later, they put up a four spot thanks mostly to McCann’s two-run double to right. Didi Gregorius also drove in a run with a single, and Gardner got an RBI the hard way: he took a pitch to the right elbow with the bases loaded. Brett took one for the team and added a (sixth) insurance run.

In the first five innings the Yankees went 1-for-15 (.067) with two walks. In the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings they went a combined 8-for-17 (.471) with six singles, two doubles, three walks, a hit-by-pitch, and a sacrifice fly. They batted around for the first time in about a month in that eighth inning. In fact, it was the first time they batted around since scoring six runs in the first inning against Collin McHugh and the Astros in the second game of the season. Crazy, right? Crazy.

Never Easy
The Yankees never do things easily these days, so of course Kirby Yates walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and forced Dellin Betances into action. I don’t have a problem with using Dellin there at all. He hadn’t pitched since Sunday and the team is struggling like hell to win. Davis was at the plate and he is very capable of turning a 7-0 game into a 7-4 game with one swing.

Anyway, Betances came in, struck out Davis with three straight curveballs — he definitely got a favorable call for strike three, but that’s cool with me — and got Mark Trumbo to pop up weakly in foul territory to end the threat. I officially declare What’s Wrong With Dellin Week™ over. Yates has actually been pretty good as a low-leverage middle innings guy so far, but he needed a hand Wednesday, and Betances came through.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
The top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 8-for-18 (.444) with three doubles, five walks, a hit-by-pitch, and two strikeouts. Teixeira had three of those walks and is now hitting .224/.365/.341 (109 wRC+) on the season. Feel free to mix in an extra base hit, Mark. Ellsbury went 3-for-3 with two walks to raise his season batting line from .247/.293/.366 (83 wRC+) to .271/.327/.396 (104 wRC+).

Castro took an 0-for-5 and Hicks, who is in the lineup due to Alex Rodriguez‘s injury, went 0-for-4. It sure sounds like he’s going to play a lot while A-Rod is on the shelf, so hopefully getting to relax and play every day gets his bat going. His defense is an asset either way. Hicks stopped a runner from scoring from second without even making a throw.

Gardner was lifted in the ninth and x-rays on his elbow were negative. Dustin Ackley took over in right and Hicks slid over to left, which is completely backwards based on their arms. That said, I think Joe Girardi put Hicks in left because the O’s were sending up a bunch of right-handed hitters. Didn’t matter either way. Whatevs.

And finally, Chasen Shreve came out of the bullpen to record the final three outs without incident. A nice and easy 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts. Feels good. Love this team, you guys.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score, MLB.com for the video highlights, and ESPN again for the updated standings. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Now here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This three-game series comes to end with the rubber game Thursday night. It’ll be right-handers Masahiro Tanaka and Kevin Gausman on the mound. After that, the Yankees will head home for a ten-game homestand. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to boo the team in person instead of from your couch.

X-rays negative after Brett Gardner takes pitch to elbow

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following tonight’s win, Joe Girardi announced x-rays on Brett Gardner‘s right elbow were negative after he was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning. Here’s the play. Gardner did remain in the game at first, but was eventually replaced in the outfield in the ninth inning.

Girardi did admit to being concerned because Gardner is pretty sore. The Yankees are already without Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) and they can’t afford to lose another one of their top hitters. That said, the Yankees do have plenty of outfield depth, with Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley in MLB and Slade Heathcott, Ben Gamel, and Aaron Judge in Triple-A.

Hopefully this is nothing more than a nasty bruise and Gardner and return to the lineup in a day or two, if not tomorrow. The Yankees currently have a three-man bench and an eight-man bullpen, so if Gardner does need to miss more than a few days, the team will have no choice but to call up another position player.

DotF: Judge, Sanchez, and Refsnyder continue hot streaks in Scranton’s win

Some notes:

  • RHP Matt Wotherspoon has been promoted from Double-A to Triple-A, reports Shane Hennigan. He’s from the Scranton area, so that’s cool. Wotherspoon has emerged as a sleeper because he’s throwing 94 mph with both a curveball and a slider. So far this season he has a 1.06 ERA (1.85 FIP) with a 33.3% strikeout rate in 17 innings with Trenton. RHP Vinnie Pestano was placed on the DL to clear a roster spot. I’m not sure what the actual injury is.
  • Also going to Triple-A is RHP Mark Montgomery, so says Matt Kardos. LHP Dan Camarena has been sent down to Double-A in a corresponding move. Montgomery has a 2.25 ERA (2.56 FIP) in eight innings with Trenton this year. He’s struck out eleven and walked six. Montgomery has split the last three seasons between Double-A and Triple-A.
  • To replace Wotherspoon in Trenton, the Yankees signed RHP David Kubiak out of an independent league and assigned him to Double-A, per Kardos. Kubiak, 26, threw 25.1 innings in rookie ball with the Rays in 2011. He’s been bouncing around indy leagues since. Kubiak allowed four runs with 20 strikeouts and two walks in 11.1 innings with Bridgeport Bluefish this year.

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 win over Buffalo)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 2 RBI, 1 K
  • DH Aaron Judge: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB — 8-for-23 (.348) with three doubles, two homers, four walks, and three strikeouts in his last six games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 3-5, 1 SB — 15-for-45 (.333) with six doubles and a homer in his last eleven games
  • LF Slade Heathcott: 2-4, 1 R
  • RF Rob Refsnyder: 3-5, 2 RBI, 1 SB — 14-for-36 (.389) during his nine-game hitting streak … second straight game in right field, and Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings it was Refsnyder’s idea to spend some time in the outfield
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 11/1 GB/FB — 65 of 92 pitches were strikes (71%)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 15 pitches were strikes (60%)
  • LHP Phil Coke: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63%) … back into a relief role after making a spot start a few days ago
  • RHP Conor Mullee: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 14 of 21 pitches were strikes … 19/3 K/BB in 13 innings for the three-time Tommy John surgery guy

[Read more…]

Game 25: Stage Three

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve reached the third stage of grief over the Yankees being so unwatchably bad. I’ve already gone through denial (“It’s just a slump, they’ll be fine”) and anger (“Blow this crapfest up”), and now I’m in the bargaining phase. Just win a game, please? Score some runs, get good pitching, that’s all I ask. I’m a simple man. I guess depression and acceptance can’t be too far away now. Sigh.

Anyway, the Yankees could really use a win! They have 138 games remaining including tonight, and eventually they need to win one (or, preferably, 80) of them. Even by accident. You’d think they would luck into some hits with men on base or get a random great pitching performance one of these days. Hasn’t happened yet though. Each game is better than the next. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Chase Headley
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s cool and cloudy in Baltimore tonight, though there is no rain in the forecast. That’s good. I think. Today’s game is going to start a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Try to enjoy.

Injury Update: In case you missed it earlier, Alex Rodriguez was placed on the 15-day DL with a hamstring strain. Lefty James Pazos was called up to fill the roster spot.

TiqIQ: Fresh Off Series Sweep, Yankees Look to Avoid Brooms Against Red Sox Again This Weekend

The downward spiral continued for the New York Yankees on Tuesday, as they dropped their sixth straight game, and will crawl to the end of a nine-game road stint in Baltimore on Thursday. The Bombers will return to the Bronx for a ten-game stretch of their own beginning this Friday, hoping to jump start the homestand with a big weekend against the red-hot Boston Red Sox.

Sure, there are more desirable teams the Yankees would rather face given their sluggish start, but the basement dwellers have a chance to right the ship with a good showing at the Stadium this weekend. And for fans who remain optimistic about the team’s early-season woes, plenty of deals still exist for Yankees tickets for this weekend’s series.

The Red Sox make the first of three trips to Yankee Stadium this season looking to regain the divisional lead in the AL East. They did so last week after sweeping the Yankees at Fenway Park, where they decimated Yankees pitching and scored 20 runs during the three-game series. Friday night’s series opener will see Michael Pineda start for the Yankees against Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello. While the bleacher sections are sold out, upper deck seating starts from just $21.

On Saturday, Nathan Eovaldi will take the mound in search of his second win of the season against newly-signed Red Sox ace David Price. Price has been hit early and often this season but a formidable offense has allowed him to start the season 4-0 despite his 6.14 ERA. There is limited ticket inventory available for the matinee game, however, and the cheapest seats are listed from $53 in Section 231.

ESPN’s Baseball Tonight will broadcast the final game of the series on Sunday night. Luis Severino will be in search of his first win of the year after starting the season 0-4. The Braves will give the nod to Steven Wright, who sits at 2-3 and is coming off a loss against the Chicago White Sox. It will be the cheapest game of the series, with outfield bleacher seats starting from just $17.

While the Yankees have struggled to find any sense of balance through the first month of play, there is plenty of excitement surrounding Aroldis Chapman’s debut in pinstripes next week. Chapman is nearing the end of a 30-game suspension and will provide a boost to a bullpen that already features Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Miller has been sensational thus far, allowing just four hits in 10 innings of work. However, the Miller-Chapman tandem can only go as far the offense takes them, and the bats will need to wake up beginning this weekend if the Yankees hope to curb a streaking Red Sox team.