2014 Season Review: The Ex-Ace

The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new review format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

By just about any measure, last season was the worst of CC Sabathia‘s career. He did manage to soak up 211 innings and that’s worth something, but he ranked 76th with a 4.78 ERA and 72nd with 0.3 bWAR out of 81 qualified starters. Sabathia led baseball with 112 earned runs allowed and his 2.69 K/BB fell off big time from the 4.48 K/BB ratio he put up in 2012. It was an awful season and everyone and their mother had theories why CC dropped off so much.

Despite the terrible year, there were some reasons to believe Sabathia would rebound this year, specifically that he was a year out from elbow surgery and would have a normal offseason. He was also working to add a cutter. I, personally, also thought he couldn’t possibly be any worse. Maybe he wouldn’t get back to being an ace but he would be a serviceable mid-rotation horse, someone who soaked up a boatload of innings and was league average or better at preventing runs. I would have taken that in a heartbeat.

Instead, Sabathia did get worse in 2014. He got worse and he got hurt. Sabathia made just eight starts for the Yankees this summer and threw only 46 innings — he failed to complete six full innings of work three times, equaling his total from 2011-12 combined — with a 5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP. It all started in the first inning of the first game of the season too. The Astros (!) tagged Sabathia for four runs in the first inning on Opening Day and only twice in those eight starts did he allowed fewer than four runs.

There were flashes of Sabathia figuring it out but one of the ways we cope with Ace Sucking Syndrome (ASS) is over-analyzing the hell out of every little thing. I did it. More than once. But none of the positive signs — the times he’s retired 12 in a row in the middle of a start, stuff like that — meant anything in the end. Sabathia was getting bombed on the regular, allowing ten homers in those 46 innings (1.96 HR/9 and 23.3 HR/FB%). Hit Tracker says those ten homers averaged 403.1 feet, so they weren’t wall-scrapers.

Sabathia’s season came to an end following his May 10th start against the Brewers, when the Yankees placed him on the disabled list with fluid in his twice-surgically repaired right knee. He was expected to return in June or July and he actually did go out on a minor league rehab assignment at one point — I completely forgot about that — but Sabathia eventually suffered a setback. It was feared he would need career-threatening microfracture surgery after a stem cell treatment didn’t work, but additional tests showed he only needed the knee cleaned out. Either way, his season was over.

If you’re looking for a silver lining in Sabathia’s season, it’s that both his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%) and walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) rates were stellar. He also got a lot of ground balls (48.0%). That’s all well and good, it’s better than having crappy peripherals, but Sabathia’s struggles are rooted in the type of contact he allowed, which was routinely hard. Unfortunately there is no publicly available data measuring this stuff. Line drive rates are fickle — his 22.1% liner rate was in line with the last four or five years anyway — because of scorer bias. All we have is anecdotal evidence and that sucks.

What we do know is that Sabathia’s velocity continued to trend downward — he averaged 90.76 mph in 2014, down from 92.36 in 2013 and 93.31 in 2013 according to Brooks Baseball — and that’s completely expected since he’s a 34-year-old with nearly 3,000 regular season innings on his arm. Velocity loss is inevitable and not reversible. That’s life. It happens to everyone. Sabathia’s location was ever so slightly worse than it had been, particularly when it came to grooving pitches over the plate (via Brooks):

CC Sabathia 2009-14 Grooved Pitches

You can get away with grooving ~6.5% of your fastballs like Sabathia did from 2011-13 when you’re throwing 93+. In his limited time this year he grooved 7.3% of his fastballs while averaging just north of 90 mph and that’s a big difference. Since 2010, opponent’s slugging percentage against Sabathia’s fastball has steadily reason from .373 to .447 to .479 to .486 to .722 (!) this year. Obviously there’s some sample size noise in there, but the point stands. Hitters are getting mighty comfortable in the box against CC.

The location issues — it seemed like whenever Sabathia missed, he missed up in the zone and/or right out over the plate — could stem from lots of stuff. There’s a million variables here. He could be overthrowing to compensate for lost velocity, his landings could have been sloppy because his knee was unstable, his mechanics could have been out of what for whatever reason. I’m sure all of that and more have contributed to his problems. Sabathia’s release point has been steadily dropping over the years (via Brooks) …

CC Sabathia 2009-14 Release Point

… which, again, is fairly common among pitchers his age, especially with that workload. At some point your shoulder just isn’t strong enough to maintain your arm slot. Sabathia’s dropped his arm over time and that at least partially explains the extra cut we see on his pitches from time to time. Extra cut that usually took the pitch over the plate and into the happy zone for hitters. We saw plenty of that last year and we saw plenty of it again this year. He had the same issues as last season only worse.

Sabathia had his knee cleaned out in August and soon thereafter had a second stem cell treatment (as planned). We recently learned he has started throwing and will soon get back up on a mound before shutting it down for the winter and going through his usual offseason routine. I love CC, he’s one of the my favorite Yankees of all-time, but I learned my lesson last year and I’m not expecting a bounce back next year. I’m not expecting anything. If he comes back and dominates with a healthy knee, that would be awesome. If he comes back and is a league average inning eater, great. If he comes back and stinks again, well that’ll stink, but that’s sorta what I’m expecting at this point.

The Yankees are stuck with Sabathia for another two years and possibly a third — his 2017 vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, not his knee — so they have to hope this knee surgery helps him get back to being a useful pitcher. Sabathia is a tough dude who has pitched through knee problems and a bone spur in his elbow these last few years and I have not doubt that if he fails and is again one of the worst pitchers in baseball, it won’t be for a lack of effort on his part. The Yankees have a lot of uncertainty in their rotation heading into next season and, after both this year and last, Sabathia is a huge part of that uncertainty.

Update: Hardy agrees to three-year extension with Orioles

1:34pm: According to Roch Kubatko, Hardy and the Orioles have agreed to a three-year extension worth $40M or so. Scratch him of the list.

12:00pm: Via Dan Martin: Orioles shortstop and impending free agent J.J. Hardy said he will listen to the Yankees if they come calling this offseason. “It’s not something I can look into the future and see what’s going to happen. I’ve just got to focus on helping our team right now and obviously the playoff this year. But if it comes to it, I’ll have to think about it more,” he said. “This is my fourth year here and I feel like this organization, we’re going in the right direction. It’s a good group of guys here. It’s something if they came to me, I would listen, also.”

Hardy, 32, hit .268/.309/.372 (90 wRC+) with nine homers in 141 games this year while missing time with lower back problems. He hit 20+ homers every year from 2011-13 as well as in 2007-08, plus he’s a very good defender despite an unconventional over-the-top throwing motion that makes you wonder if the ball will make it to first base on the fly. There will be a bunch of quality shortstops on the market this winter and Hardy is probably the best two-way player, though the back trouble dates back to last year and that’s kinda scary. Jhonny Peralta signed a four-year, $52M contract last winter and I suspect Hardy will get something similar even though he’ll cost a draft pick to sign.

The Five Shortest Yankees’ Homers of 2014

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Earlier this week we looked back at the five longest homeruns of the 2014 Yankees’ season, and now it’s time to flip the script. We’re now going to look at the shortest homers of the season. This post is made possible first by Hit Tracker and all its wonderful and freely available data, and also by the new Yankee Stadium and it’s cozy right field post. I honestly look more forward to writing this post than the longest homers post each year because these cheap homers make me laugh.

The shortest homer in baseball this year was, of course, an inside the parker. Brandon Barnes hit it and it only traveled 304 feet. Yes, there was a missed dive involved. Here’s the video. Usually there are a few 200-something-foot inside the parkers that bloop in and take a weird bounce by an outfielder, but not this year apparently. The shortest homerun to actually leave the yard this season was this David Ortiz blast that wrapped out the Pesky Pole, which traveled only 318 feet. Only two other dingers traveled less than 330 feet this year. Here are the 2012 and 2013 shortest homeruns posts. Now for the 2014 edition.

5. July 2nd: Brian McCann vs. Jake Odorizzi

As you might suspect, Yankee Stadium will be featured prominently in this post. The fifth shortest homer of the Yankees’ season was a cheapie to right field, the kind of homer that McCann was never able to hit in Turner Field all those years with the Braves. Odorizzi left a 90 mph heater up in the zone, McCann flicked his wrists, and hit a high fly ball that landed just beyond the wall in the field field corner. This one had a nice big arch to it. Hit Tracker says it traveled 342 feet, which is hard to believe. Doesn’t look like it went much farther than the 314 on the wall, but whatever. The dinger left McCann’s bat at 94.5 mph.

4. August 23rd: Carlos Beltran vs. Scott Carroll

This homerun a) came on Joe Torre Day at Yankee Stadium, and b) was so short that White Sox manager Robin Ventura had it reviewed to make sure a fan didn’t reach over the wall to grab it. The replay confirmed the initial call though, that it left the yard for a sixth inning solo homerun. Beltran had just received a cortisone shot in his troublesome elbow, and even though it barely snuck over the wall, it was a sign he was feeling good enough to swing the bat. The ball traveled only 339 feet with an exit velocity of 94.4 mph.

3. September 24th: Mark Teixeira vs. Brad Brach

Technically, this homer didn’t go over the fence. It was stopped short by the foul pole. This Teixeira blast was the team’s third shortest homer of the year, clanking off the bottom of the pole in right field. I’d say no more than 10-15 feet up the pole from the top of the wall. In a park with a normal sized right field, it would have continued to slice foul and that would be that. The at-bat would have continued. Instead, the Yankees walked away with a pair of runs. Yankee Stadium giveth and Yankees Stadium taketh, I guess. Teixeira’s dinger traveled only 335 feet and left his bat at 98.5 mph.

2. September 14th: Brian McCann vs. Darren O’Day

Believe it or not, this short dinger was not hit at Yankee Stadium. It was hit at Camden Yards and it was kind of a big deal for a few minutes. The Yankees were barely hanging on in the wildcard race at the time and they were tied 1-1 with the Orioles in the ninth inning on Sunday Night Baseball. O’Day’s sinker stayed out over the plate and didn’t sink, a pitch that is more or less a batting practice fastball coming from an opposite hand sidearmer. McCann hammered it to right and just over the big wall with the scoreboard. The Yankees eventually lost the game in walk-off fashion but, for at least a little while, McCann gave the team some hope. This homer went 333 feet with a 97.7 mph exit velocity.

1. June 17th: Brett Gardner vs. Marcus Stroman

I’m disappointed Gardner hit the shortest homer of the season because it’s almost cliche. The scrappy little speed guy willing the ball just over the fence, that sorta thing. Lame. Anyway, this was nothing more than a hanging slider that Gardner tomahawked down the right field line and off the Yankee Stadium foul ball. Teixeira’s ball clanked 10-15 up the pole, right? This one hit about six feet up the pole, that’s all. It was barely high enough and it would have sailed foul had right feet been 315 feet away from home plate instead of 314 feet away. At 331 feet and 98.9 mph off the bat, this was the shortest homer hit by a Yankee and fourth shortest outside the park homerun in baseball overall this past season. Though I guess it really didn’t leave the park. You know what I mean.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Got some bad news to pass along: Bill Madden and Filip Bondy report the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State was broken into last night and several pieces of memorabilia from Yogi’s career were stolen. The thieves were described as a “team of professionals” who targeted very specific pieces. The investigation is ongoing. Hopefully they catch these guys and Yogi’s stuff is returned. People are the worst.

Here is your open thread for the night. There’s no baseball tonight — the ALCS and NLCS begin Friday and Saturday, respectively — but hockey seasons starts, so that’s cool. NBC Sports Network is showing a few games though none of the Rangers, Islanders, or Devils are playing. The Knicks are also playing a preseason game. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Forbes: Yankees, YES Network among most valuable brands in sports

Forbes published their #brand value rankings yesterday, and, unsurprisingly, both the Yankees and the YES Network rate very highly. Despite a second straight postseason-less year, the Yankees saw their brand value increase from $443M to $531M in 2014, the highest among all pro sports teams. Real Madrid is second at $484M. YES was the seventh highest business brand, going from $625M to $680M. It’s behind companies like Nike and Adidas, among others.

According to the write-up, the team’s brand value “captures the name recognition and incremental earnings power that comes with winning 27 World Series. But it omits the portion of the team’s media, ticket and concession revenue that any team playing in the Bronx would get, and also excludes the $26 million that each of the 30 MLB teams took in from broadcasters Fox , TBS and ESPN in 2013.” Earlier this year Forbes valued the Yankees at an estimated $2.5 billion, making them the fourth most valuable sports franchise in the world.