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Ivan Nova‘s relatively short big league career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. He was okay during the first half of 2011 (4.12 ERA) and dominant in the second half (3.18 ERA). The 2012 season was atrocious from start to finish (5.02 ERA), and that carried over into early 2013 (5.16 ERA in April and May). But, after returning from a brief DL stint and a trip to the minors, he was again dominant and arguably the best pitcher on the staff the rest of the season (2.70 ERA). This graph tells the story:

Ivan Nova ERA

Yeah, these last three years have been pretty up and down for Nova, but that’s okay. Not every young guy comes into the league and dominates right away like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey. Most young pitchers take their lumps before learning what works for them and how to make the necessary adjustments. Heck, some guys never learn that stuff. It’s just the way it goes. Pitching is hard.

To his credit, Nova has already shown the ability to make some adjustments. That excellent second half in 2011 came after he started using his slider more often. When he was demoted to Triple-A last season, he focused on his curveball and rode that pitch to a successful second half. I don’t think anyone would question the quality of Nova’s stuff — he shows some nasty, nasty stuff when he’s on — but learning how the command it well and get by on days when one or two pitches aren’t working has been a challenge. Again, that’s part of the learning process.

Now, that said, Nova turned 27 earlier this month and he’s about to enter his fourth full season with the Yankees. He’s also earning some decent money ($3.3M in 2014) now that he’s gone through arbitration for the first time as well. The learning process never stops, but Nova is at the point where that rollercoaster ride should end and he puts together a consistent and productive season, from Opening Day through Game 162. The days of posting an ugly first half and going to Triple-A for a wake-up call before finding success down the stretch should be in the past. They have to be — Nova is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

“When I got hurt and went to Tampa [for rehabilitation], I really thought about what I want to do and what I want to be. I forgot about the past and focused on doing what I have to do,” said Nova to Ken Davidoff last September, after his complete-game shutout against the Orioles. It certainly appeared as though the figurative light bulb had turned on late last year, but I felt the same way in the second half of 2011. Maybe I’m being overly harsh, but Nova has given me some reason to doubt whether that success last year will carry over into this coming season.

At this point, three full years into his big league career, we still don’t know what Nova is. Is he the guy who’s slung to a 3.00 ERA for a half-season on two occasions? Or the guy with a 5.something ERA for the season and a half in between? Reality is probably somewhere in the middle and that’s fine. He has shown he can get ground balls and strikeouts, two skills that are a pretty good recipe for success. Chris Moran took an in-depth look at why Nova might be ready to emerge as a steady rotation presence earlier this winter, but we need to see that emergence actually happen.

The Yankees spend a boatload of money to make Masahiro Tanaka the centerpiece of their rotation going forward, and now they need Nova to shed the “enigma” label and become Tanaka’s running mate as CC Sabathia declines. I wouldn’t call this a make-or-break year, but the time has come for Nova to stop being an interesting young pitcher and become a reliable member of the rotation. This is the year for him to show the team he is a building block and not just more back-end fodder.

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(J. Meric/Getty)

(J. Meric/Getty)

By any measure, Kei Igawa was one of the biggest busts in Yankees history. The team spent a total of $46M to acquire him ($26M posting fee and then a five-year, $20M contract) during the 2006-07 offseason, and in return they received a 68 ERA+ in 71.2 big league innings. Igawa made his final appearance in pinstripes in June 2008 and spent most of those five years in the minors.

“It was a disaster. We failed,” said Brian Cashman to Bill Pennington in July 2011 when asked to evaluated the southpaw’s tenure with the team. According to NPB Tracker, Igawa told the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal that Cashman and the team’s coaching staff had to ask him what his best pitch was during their first meeting. It became clear then and is obvious now the Yankees didn’t do their homework before investing $46M in the lefty. Failed might be an understatement.

For the first time since the Igawa fiasco, the Yankees finally dipped back into the Japanese talent pool last week, signing right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract worth $155M. The $20M release fee means the total investment is $175M, or nearly four times what they put into Igawa. Tanaka is younger and has been statistically better than Igawa was when the team signed him, but, more importantly, the Yankees made sure not to repeat their mistake and actually did their homework this time.

“We started evaluating [Tanaka] back in 2007,” said Cashman to reporters (including Andy McCullough) during a conference call last week. “So clearly we’ve been scouting over in Japan for quite some time. The evaluations on him started on him back in 2007. Certainly paid attention to him back in the 2009 WBC, when we were first able to evaluate him with a Major League baseball, against Major League hitters. This year we were at 15 of his games, including the WBC, and we sent a Major League scout from the U.S. to evaluate him in the playoffs as well.”

Tanaka was an 18-year-old rookie with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2007, so the Yankees have essentially watched him grow from a just-graduated high schooler into the best pitcher in the world who wasn’t employed by a Major League team. “By 2009, the Yankees were drooling over Tanaka and imagining what it would be like to have him in their rotation,” wrote Jack Curry following the deal. Here’s some more from his post:

Across the last few seasons, the Yankees have studied Tanaka’s impressive exploits on the mound and have seen a fierce competitor, someone that reminds them of CC Sabathia. The Yankees interviewed Andruw Jones, Casey McGehee and Darrell Rasner, former Yankees who all were teammates with Tanaka, and heard superb reports about his demeanor and toughness. By the time the Yankees made their offer to Tanaka, they had 11 different scouting evaluations from members of their organization.

When that many people evaluate a player, there are bound to be differences of opinion. It’s no surprise then that we heard one unnamed team official recently say: “Just because he had great success over there doesn’t mean he’s going to be lights out here. We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not like he’s a sure-fire thing. I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced.” Those differences of opinion are a good thing. There should always be someone challenging the popular opinion and forcing them to look deeper, especially when talking about a deal of this magnitude.

(AP/Kyodo News)

(AP/Kyodo News)

“We made a determined effort to put ourselves in the position to know as much as we possibly could, in the event that he was ever posted,” added Cashman. “So this has been a long, drawn-out process, not just from the financial negotiating standpoint that’s taken since he was posted. But obviously making sure that we were in a position that in the event a talent such as his became available that we were able to make recommendations accordingly, based on the scouting assessments.”

Based on various reports, several other clubs had interest in Tanaka and were offering contracts in excess of $100M, including the pitching-wise Dodgers, White Sox and Diamondbacks. The Cubs supposedly made an offer similar to the Yankees’ but refused to include the opt-out clause after the fourth year, which is why they lost out. They aren’t ready to contend immediately and didn’t want to lose him right as their window opened. Those teams all spent time scouting Tanaka and thought enough of him to make significant offers, so the Yankees aren’t the only team to consider him an impact starter. (Just FYI: The next highest bid for Igawa was $15M by the Mets.)

It’s entirely possible Tanaka will be a bust like Igawa, just way more expensive. No one can truly know how he will handle the big leagues until he gets up on a mound in games that mean something. If Tanaka does flame out or merely settles in as a number four or five starter rather than the number two he is widely considered, it won’t be because the Yankees didn’t do their homework. They’ve been on him for years and were one of several teams to think highly of his combination or age, ability, and stuff. Igawa was a disaster, no doubt about it, but the Yankees seem to have learned from that experience. They won’t be caught with too little information again.

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(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

At some point in the next 80 hours or so, the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes will be over. He has until 5pm ET this Friday to sign with an MLB club, and that club might even be the Yankees. They reportedly made a fat nine-figure offer but so did four other clubs. There have been no serious indications about him leaning towards one team either. It’s a total mystery, amazingly.

The Yankees need Tanaka if they want to contend this coming season, but he is still only one pitcher. There are four other rotation spots to consider and one of them belongs to CC Sabathia, who, up until last year, was the sure thing. During his first four years in pinstripes, the club could count on their ace left-hander to take the ball every five days and provide a ton of high-end innings. Even his bad starts were rarely disasters.

That all changed last year. Sabathia was legitimately one of the worst starters in baseball in 2013, ranking 76th out of 81 qualified starters with a 4.78 ERA and 72nd with 0.3 bWAR. His 122 runs and 112 earned runs allowed were both the most in the game. A normal Sabathia season probably would not have been enough to get the Yankees into the postseason, but his performance was a big reason why the team was stuck home in October. It was ugly.

The list of potential reasons for CC’s sucky season is seemingly endless. He lost too much weight. He lost too much off his fastball. He had offseason elbow surgery. All the innings are catching up to him. Those are the most popular theories and I’m sure all four factor in somehow. I definitely think there is something to the idea of the elbow surgery throwing off his usual offseason routine, which Sabathia said he really noticed when his normal arm strength just wasn’t there in mid-April. That doesn’t figure to be an issue in 2014.

“I’ve been working out 100 percent, doing all my lifting and everything. I’ve felt fine,” said Sabathia to Bryan Hoch recently, referring to his season-ending hamstring injury. “I’ve been able to throw the whole winter. Last year, I had the surgery, so I wasn’t able to throw. I lost a bunch of weight all at one time. This year, it’s all about just getting stronger, building my strength back up and keeping my arm loose.”

Of course Sabathia was at his worst at midseason, after his velocity returned. His four-seam fastball averaged 92.3 mph during his disastrous nine-start run following the All-Star break (7.33 ERA and 4.80 FIP in 50.1 innings), velocity that was on par with his strong 2012 season (92.4 mph). There’s a lot more to pitching life than fastball velocity, and this seems like a good spot to mention Sabathia’s continually dropping release point (via Brooks):

Brooksbaseball-Chart

That’s scary but also completely normal. Pitchers tend to drop their arms as they age because of all the wear and tear — the shoulder just isn’t strong enough to maintain a high release point after a couple thousand innings. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild mentioned several times last year that Sabathia would lose his release point and his pitches would start to cut (right out over the plate, unfortunately), and the PitchFX data backs that up. I’m not sure anything can be done to reverse this trend at this point. The solution might not involve raising his arm slot, but learning how to pitch with a lower arm slot.

Anyway, Sabathia has had a normal offseason this winter, a normal offseason that will hopefully boost his velocity and maybe help a bunch of other stuff. You can tell he’s been working hard these last few weeks because, well, look:

Holy crap!

That photo is from former teammate Rickie Weeks’ wedding this past weekend. We’ve seen “CC is getting skinnier!” photos for like, three offseasons in a row now, but I think that one is the most startling. Not a bad way, just … wow. Sabathia told Ken Rosenthal he is “actually the same weight as I was last year, just a little more toned and a lot more strong,” so it wasn’t so much losing weight as it was turning bad weight (fat) into good weight (muscle). Still, you can’t look at the photo and tell me he doesn’t look way slimmer. Good for him.

“He’s been going full speed since before Halloween,” said trainer T.J. Lopez to Mike Puma. “This year he’s going to go into Spring Training in the best shape of his life … Having the year he had last year, he’s coming back really with a vengeance and he wants to prove something now, that he can do it.”

That’s a good thing. Everyone should want Sabathia to go out there with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to show last season was a bump in the road and not the start of a harsh decline. The Yankees need that Sabathia because the 2014 rotation will be full of question marks, with or without Tanaka. How will Tanaka or a similar pitcher handle the move into the AL East? Will Hiroki Kuroda shake off his rough finish? Will Ivan Nova find some consistency? What will David Phelps and various back-end arms contribute? It’s unlikely Sabathia can get back to his dominant, Cy Young caliber form from 2007-11, but a healthy and productive above-average starter will go a long way towards improving the Yankees this summer. It’s a necessity if they hope to contend.

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(Rob Carr/Getty)

The Yankees came into the offseason needing at least two starting pitchers and so far they’ve added just one, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year contract. He was the team’s best pitcher in each of the last two seasons and makes perfect sense on a one-year deal, but he is also the second oldest starter in the AL behind R.A. Dickey. Age brings a bevy of concerns.

Chief among those concerns is injury … well, both injury and recovery time. Older players tend to take longer to heal, that’s just the way the human body works. The Yankees have had a lot of health problems in recent years (both injuries and setbacks) thanks in part to their older roster. They’ve made their bed and have had to sleep in it when it comes to players getting hurt, and given their moves this winter, they’re content with rolling the dice again in 2014.

Last week, Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs published his annual starting pitcher DL projections, which have been shockingly accurate over the years. It’s not a specific injury projection (so and so will have a shoulder problem, etc.), just a projection of who will visit the DL next season based on their age and workload, as well as other factors like breaking ball usage and strike-throwing ability. It’s complicated, so click the link for the full explanation.

The Yankees only have three starters locked into spots next season: CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Kuroda. A bunch of young kids will compete for the fifth spot and that fourth spot figures to go to a pitcher to be acquired later. Not only are Sabathia (career-worst year in 2013), Kuroda (crashed hard late in 2013), and Nova (erratic has hell) performance concerns heading into next season, but they’re also DL risks according to Zimmerman’s data.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Sabathia: 47% chance of landing on DL
It wasn’t too long ago that Sabathia was baseball’s preeminent workhorse, and in some ways he still is — he is one of four pitchers to throw at least 200 innings in each of the last seven seasons (Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle, and James Shields are the others). Over the last 26 months, however, CC has dealt with a torn knee menisicus, a groin strain, elbow stiffness, a bone spur in his elbow, and a hamstring strain. He has finished each of the last three seasons either injured or in need of offseason surgery. Sabathia is getting up there in years and he’s thrown a frickin’ ton of innings in his career, and he compounds the problem by not telling anyone he’s banged up until it gets really bad (he pitched through the knee, elbow, and hamstring problems). It’s no surprise his risk of landing on the DL is so high, 16th highest among the 128 projected pitchers.

Kuroda: 43% chance of landing on DL
Kuroda has avoided the DL since arriving in New York but he has dealt with fatigue late in each of the last two seasons, so much so that he stopped throwing his usual between-starts bullpen session in September. He had a shoulder problem in 2008, an oblique problem in 2009, and a concussion (hit by a line drive) in 2010. Kuroda has topped 195 innings in each of the last four seasons and 180 innings in five of his six seasons in MLB. His DL projection is the 34th highest thanks mostly to his age.

Nova: 41% chance of landing on DL
Coming up through the minors, Nova was a workhorse who rarely missed a start. He has been hurt in each of the last three seasons though, missing time with a forearm strain (2011), shoulder tightness (2012), and triceps inflammation (2013). That’s three arm-related injuries in the last three years, albeit minor non-structural injuries that shelved him no more than a few weeks at a time. Nova has youth on his side, but his DL projection is still the 45th highest out of the 128 projected pitchers.

* * *

Now, obviously, every pitcher is an injury risk. It comes with the territory. Some are riskier than others for a variety of reasons. The pitcher most likely to land on the DL next season according to Zimmerman is Bartolo Colon (64%), which makes sense given his age, injury history, and general portliness. He’s the only active pitcher over 60% (retired Andy Pettitte is at 63%). The pitcher least at risk is Madison Bumgarner (26%). The top free agent hurlers rank anywhere from not that risky (Ervin Santana, 34%) to moderately risky (Ubaldo Jimenez, 38%) to very risky (Matt Garza, 51%).

As for the Yankees, they have three of the 45 starters most at risk of visiting the DL next season, and that’s on top of their performance concerns. The team does have some nice back-end depth in David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno, but three of those four guys spent at least a few months on the DL this past season themselves. Only Warren made it through the entire year healthy. The Bombers not only need to add a starter, they need to add a durable innings guy they can count on to take the ball every fifth day.

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Via Andrew Marchand: The Yankees are planning to hold a competition between David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno in Spring Training for the fifth starter’s job. This isn’t much of a surprise — Brian Cashman said the team is looking to add two starters even though they lost three to free agency (Hiroki Kuroda has since returned, so they only need one more starter now). I was hoping they’d bring in some veteran competition, but alas.

The Yankees have a knack for holding rigged competitions in camp (Phil Hughes as fifth starter in 2010, the catcher situation in 2013) but I do think this one is wide open. Phelps might have a leg up because he has the most big league experience of the group, but if Pineda shows up to Tampa and blows everyone away, I bet he’d get the job. Same with Warren and Nuno. Either way, the odds are strongly in favor of all four of these guys being needed in the rotation at some point next summer. Getting through the year using only five starters isn’t something you can reasonably expect.

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(Newsday)

(Newsday)

It has now been two full seasons since the trade, and Michael Pineda has yet to throw a single meaningful pitch for the Yankees. A torn labrum required surgery in May 2012 and sidelined him until July 2013, when he was activated off the DL and optioned to Triple-A for more seasoning. He was sidelined with shoulder stiffness a handful of starts later and was shut down for the year. That labrum injury is a career-changer.

“Michael Pineda finished healthy,” said Brian Cashman during his end-of-season press conference. “The biggest and most important thing [was] to allow Michael after, say, a 13-month rehab — or between rehab and pitching and stuff for well over a year straight plus — that the rest was the biggest thing that he’d benefit from. So obviously we shut him down as a healthy player in the end.”

Pineda will turn 25 in January and at this point, the Yankees have absolutely no idea what he can provide at the big league level. Andy McCullough spoke to a scout who saw Pineda in the minors this year and labeled him a “back-end” starter with a “sluggish demeanor” and “unreliable command and mechanics.” Was that the result of being exhausted after pitching and rehabbing for a year straight? I hope so, but I’m not very optimistic he will be able to get back to the form that allowed him post historically great strikeout and walk rates for a rookie pitcher in 2011.

“I was very happy with everything he did, so I certainly see him being able to [contribute in 2014],” said minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson, who watched over Pineda’s rehab this summer, to McCullough. “I was happy with the way he located his fastball, with some life on it. He threw some good, sharp breaking balls. [He threw his] changeup with good depth and hand speed.”

In ten minor league games this year — two with High-A Tampa, two with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton — Pineda struck out 41 (23.8%) and walked 14 (8.4%) with a 3.32 ERA (~3.75 FIP) in 40.2 innings. Promising, no doubt about it, but you can’t really take too much from minor league games for a rehabbing pitcher. As the scout said to McCullough, Pineda often had to lean on his slider quite a bit to put away minor leaguers. If you want to see what he looks like these days, here’s video of his July 6th start with the RailRiders, his first start after being activated off the DL and officially optioned to the minors:

Minor league video isn’t exactly plentiful, so that’s the best we have. Here’s the rest of his 2013 video archive if you’re interested — it’s mostly interviews and fielding plays and one-batter clips. Still better than nothing I suppose. Pineda did throw a few nice sliders in the video above, for what it’s worth. Not much really; definitely not enough to make me feel any more confident in his ability to help the big league team next season.

“He’ll compete for a job in Spring Training.” added Cashman. “He’s got options and I don’t think it’s healthy for anybody to guarantee anything, so I’m not going to sit here just because he’s Michael Pineda and we have high hopes and say ‘hey, we can pencil him into our rotation.’ He’s got to obviously show that he can stay healthy, and that he’s effective while he’s pitching. We certainly hope that’s going to be the case, but I’m not going to sit here and guarantee anything on that either. It certainly would go a long way towards solving some problems if that was the case.”

Given the injury and how he finished the season, I think the Yankees have to go into next season expecting nothing from Pineda and taking whatever he gives them as a bonus. That was pretty much the case this year — it would be nice if threw a ton of innings and was effective, but they shouldn’t count on him to provide that. It seems likely the club will have at least one rotation spot up for grabs in camp, with guys like Pineda and Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren all competing for the job. If Pineda wins it, great. But he can’t stop them from looking for pitching help or be considering any kind of solution at this point.

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(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

A little less than a year ago, CC Sabathia had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow. Apparently he had been pitching with the spur since his days with the Indians, but it wasn’t until just last season that it started to bother him. The human body is weird like that. The spur was removed with a relatively minor arthroscopic procedure and that was that.

There really is no such thing as a minor surgery though, is there? I’ve never had one, but surgery changes stuff. It changed Sabathia’s elbow last October, but it also changed something else. Something that went mostly overlooked: his offseason routine. Sabathia couldn’t throw on his usual schedule because he was rehabbing, and in fact the rehab process took so long that he was on a modified schedule in Spring Training. We’re talking about a 12-year veteran here. A guy who is presumably set in his ways.

“I didn’t really notice the difference until we got into the middle of April,” said Sabathia to Andy Martino, referring to how the change in his offseason routine affected him in actual games once the season got underway. “My arm strength just wasn’t where it needed to be. It wasn’t hurting or anything. I just didn’t have the strength … I usually start throwing in November, so I kind of never stop throwing. That keeps my arm strength, and that’s something I was really missing over the year. Being able to get back to that routine, I think it will help a lot.”

I guess this is where I insert the obligatory velocity graph, huh? Okay, fine:

2013 CC Sabathia Velocity

So yeah, Sabathia’s velocity was way down early in the season before gradually climbing back into the 92-94-ish range as the weather warmed up. You knew that already. At his age and with all those innings on his arm, I’m not even sure getting back to his typical offseason routine will help his velocity all that much. It might slow down the decline — in case you haven’t noticed: once a guy starts losing velocity, he tends to keep losing it — but it won’t stop it and it sure as hell won’t reverse it.

I’m not really interested in what a regular offseason routine will do for Sabathia’s velocity, however. I’m curious to know what it will do for his command. That seemed to be the bigger issue last season. A 90-91 mph fastball is more than enough to get hitters out, especially as a left-hander with a good changeup and knockout slider, but Sabathia really seemed to struggle with his location this season. Lots of pitches were left up the zone or out over the plate or on the inner half. In the wheelhouse, basically. That’s why batters slugged .445 (!) against him.

Does throwing all winter help Sabathia maintain his mechanics better throughout the season? I don’t think there’s any possible way to know that, at least not from a fan’s perspective. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild mentioned Sabathia was dropping his arm at times this summer and that was causing his pitches to flatten out, but is that something throwing more over the winter can correct? Arm strength doesn’t just refer to velocity, it could refer to stamina and being able to keep your arm in the proper slot for 100+ pitches instead of say, 75 pitches.

“We’re going to do some stuff earlier. Next month, build into a long-toss program as soon as [the Grade II hamstring strain] heals, and then go from there,” said Rothschild. “He’s going to have to probably hit it a little bit harder than normal, where last winter he couldn’t at all. We’ve talked about it, and he’s going to do some stuff earlier, and try to build some arm strength, and correct some problems that he has had. Whether he gets back to the full velocity that he used to have or not, he is still going to be able to pitch at a pretty high rate.”

Pitchers … well, baseball players in general, really, are creatures of habit. They’ve all got their set routines during the season and that carries right over into the offseason. They like to do things a certain way. Sabathia’s offseason was disrupted by his surgery last offseason and outside of the whole arm strength/lack of velocity thing, there’s no telling how (or if) it impacted his mechanics and command. The raw stuff CC showed this year — the fastball(s), changeup, slider combination — was plenty good enough, but not without improved location. That has to be the focus going forward, not the radar gun.

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Adam Warren will start tonight’s game, the Yankees announced. I can’t imagine he’ll go more than three, maybe four innings, so expect to see a lot of bullpen. Andy Pettitte will pitch tomorrow and Sunday’s starter is still listed as TBA. Hiroki Kuroda is lined up to pitch that game, but I guess the Yankees are considering shutting him down. Not a bad idea considering how gassed he’s look of late. Brett Marshall or a bullpen game could be in store for Sunday.

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(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

CC Sabathia‘s season came to unceremonious and positively 2013 Yankees-esque end earlier this week when the team announced he had a Grade II left hamstring strain. He supposedly suffered the injury in the second inning of his start last Friday, but he pitched through it and still held the Giants to one run in seven innings. That is pretty damn remarkable when you think about it.

Even though he eclipsed the 200-inning plateau for the seventh straight season — only Sabathia, Mark Buehrle, Jamie Shields, and Justin Verlander can make that claim — Sabathia had the very worst season of his 12-year-old career in 2013. He posted a 4.78 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 211 innings across 32 starts, and according to runs allowed-based value metrics like bWAR (0.3) and RA9 (0.7), he was damn near replacement level. If you prefer FIP-based value, he was still at a career-low 2.7 fWAR. There’s no getting around it, CC was huge disappointment.

“It was a bad year,” admitted Sabathia to Fred Kerber yesterday. “It is frustrating and it’s tough. You feel like you let your teammates down. Everybody knows how much I care about winning and wanting to be there for the guys. Not to be able to be there this last week is going to be tough.”

There are a million possible reasons why Sabathia’s performance declined so much in one year. The workload caught up to him. The offseason elbow surgery had a bigger impact than expected. His fastball lost too much velocity. His fastball lost too much velocity and that made his changeup worse. He lost too much weight. Who knows the real answer? It’s probably all of the above to some degree. At his age, it’s hard to believe CC can get back to being the guy he was just last season, nevermind 2009-2011.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to be that same guy again,” added Sabathia. “I am 33 this year. Pitching [Friday] I felt back to myself, more so than any other start. It wasn’t velocity because I was 90-93, but just pitching inside, being aggressive, throwing fastballs in hitters’ counts — just going out there and being a bully.”

Now, just because Sabathia is unlikely to turn back into the 2009-2011 version of himself doesn’t mean he can’t be effective. He just has to go about being effective in a different way. CC will have to adjust the way he pitches and, just as importantly, adjust the way he prepares for starts. The days of dominating hitters with a fastball/slider/changeup mix on the quality of the individual pitches alone are over.

“I’ve always been a guy that never watched video,” said Sabathia. “That’s something that I need to change. Just my preparation for games probably has to get a little better … Me and [pitching coach Larry Rothschild] did a lot of work lately that got me back on the right track and I felt like we were headed in the right direction and stuff was going better and [the hamstring] happens.”

I always find it amazing whenever I hear about a veteran player not watching video. It’s not unheard of, but it is rare. Most players obsess over mechanics or scouting reports or whatever, others prefer to keep it simple and leave it to the coaching staff. Considering how effective Sabathia was over such a long period of time, we can’t say the “no video” approach didn’t work for him. It obviously did.

That probably isn’t the case anymore though. At this point of his career, with a diminished fastball and command that seems to come and go, Sabathia will have to put in more preparation time between starts. This isn’t so much about watching video and dissecting his mechanics, it’s about learning hitters’ weakness and developing a personalized scouting report. A lot of guys will watch how similar pitchers attack hitters — when I interviewed Al Leiter last year, he said he watched video of Andy Pettitte and David Wells to see how they approached certain hitters — and use that as a building block.

Sabathia’s stuff is what it is at this point. He averaged 91.3 mph with his fastball this summer — less earlier in the season, more later in the season — and that is plenty good enough for a left-hander with three (really four since he throws both a four-seam fastball and a sinker) pitches. He’s got the slider for lefties and the changeup for righties. The stuff is fine, it’s just not what it once was. Sabathia is going to have to adjust his preparation and between-starts routine as much as anything if he wants to bounce back and return to being an effective pitcher next year, something he is confident he can do.

“I’ll be back to myself,” said CC. “I know a lot of people have written me off and said I’ve thrown too many innings and whatever, but I’ll still be here and still be accountable and still be the guy that signed up in 2009.”

Categories : Pitching
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As expected, Phil Hughes will start tomorrow in place of the injured CC Sabathia. It’s unclear if Hughes and David Huff will work in tandem as usual, or if they’ll be split up. I guess it depends on whether or not he’s needed in relief. The Yankees need to come up with a starter for Saturday unless they plan on throwing Hiroki Kuroda on short rest. Brett Marshall and Adam Warren could be options for that game.

Categories : Asides, Pitching
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