Update: CC Sabathia exits Sunday’s start with right knee pain

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

2:41pm: Sabathia left the game with right knee pain and will have an MRI, the Yankees announced. That’s the knee with the degenerative condition Sabathia has had surgically repaired three times — including a season-ending clean out procedure last summer — and drained twice already this season. Not good news.

2:12pm: CC Sabathia left Sunday afternoon’s start with an unknown injury in the third inning. He struck out Yan Gomes, walked around the mound slowly, then Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue came out to talk to him. Sabathia didn’t lobby to stay in the game or throw any test pitches. He went right to the clubhouse. Here’s the video.

One thing we’ve learned about Sabathia in recent years is that he will pitch hurt. He pitched with a bone spur in his elbow a few years ago, has pitched through on and off knee trouble throughout his career, and even pitched through a Grade II hamstring strain two years ago. For Sabathia to leave like that, he must really be hurt.

The Yankees have not yet announced any sort of update on Sabathia, so stay tuned. Michael Pineda (forearm) is due to come off the DL on Wednesday and Bryan Mitchell is making progress after being hit in the face by a line drive, so the team can fill the rotation spot. Hopefully it’s nothing serious. We’ll see.

Being optimistic about Sabathia’s next start

CC Sabathia1
For better or for worse, CC Sabathia is going to be a member of the Yankees starting staff for the rest of the season. There are plenty of reasons why the large lefty shouldn’t be taking the ball every fifth or sixth day — a quick scan of the pitching leaderboards is a good place to start. But the reality is Joe Girardi has insisted Sabathia remain in the rotation despite his obvious struggles, and Brian Cashman confirmed they haven’t had any conversations about changing Sabathia’s role.

Sabathia is not even close to the dominant ace he once was and it is clear that he is working with diminished stuff every time he takes the mound. Yet as he showed in his most recent start last week against the Red Sox, Sabathia still has the competitiveness and pitching savvy of a former Cy Young winner who is capable of delivering a gem on any given night.

There were a lot of positives that emerged from that excellent outing against Boston: he shut down the Red Sox bats — both lefties and righties — giving up three hits and one run in six innings; he dialed up the heat, averaging a season-best 93 mph on his four-seamer and sinker; he kept the ball on the ground, recording his second-highest ground ball rate of the season (69 percent); he was effective in putting away hitters, allowing just one hit and a walk while netting 13 outs in two-strike counts; he avoided the “disaster” inning, getting two huge strikeouts with runners on base when he ran into trouble in the fifth. Should we officially call this the CC Shimmy?


As strong as he looked last Thursday, it is silly to think that Sabathia can be that effective every time his number comes up in the rotation. We’re not here to declare that “he’s fixed” or that “he’s back.” But the vintage performance seems to indicate that Sabathia might have regained some of his confidence on the mound, and provides him with some much-needed momentum as he makes his next start tonight against the Indians.

With that optimistic perspective in hand, here’s five stats that favor Sabathia putting together another effective outing in Cleveland tonight:

• Sabathia was drafted by the Indians in the first round of the 1998 draft and spent the first six-plus seasons of his career with the Tribe, but has shown the ability to raise his game when facing his former team. He’s 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 49 innings against the Indians, his second-best ERA and second-best record against any AL squad.

• The Indians have been pretty awful overall this year, and their struggles against lefties really stand out. They are just 13-24 in games started by southpaws, the third-worst record in the majors, and their .678 OPS against lefty starters ranks 26th in baseball. They are also missing their best hitter, Jason Kipnis, who was placed on the disabled list last week.

• Sabathia, of course, has been terrific versus same-sided hitters, holding lefties to a .189/.216/.297 line. That platoon split should give Sabathia an advantage against the Indians lineup which (with Kipnis on the shelf) is now led by the left-handed Michael Brantley, who has a sub-.700 OPS against lefty starters and has also struggled against Sabathia in their previous matchups (1-for-11, six strikeouts).

• Although his fastball remains very hittable, Sabathia’s nasty slider has returned to form in the past month and a half. Since the start of July, batters are just 2-for-21 (.095) in at-bats ending in a slider, and he’s gotten whiffs on more than 30 percent of those swings against the pitch in that span. In the first three months of the season, batters hit .298 and slugged .500 against his slider, which yielded a whopping 11 extra-base hits during April, May and June. It’s been his go-to pitch with two strikes against lefties — as Robinson Cano found out on July 19 against Sabathia:


• The longball has been one of Sabathia’s biggest bugaboos this season — his rate of 1.76 homers per nine innings leads the AL — but that problem might not be a huge concern against the Indians, who have hit the third-fewest homers in the league.


None of this is going to guarantee a win or even a quality start by Sabathia. But these statistical advantages, combined with the renewed spirit, pitching smarts and fiery attitude he showed in his last start, do provide a glimmer of hope and optimism that Sabathia can deliver another solid performance tonight against the Indians.

Sunday Links: A-Rod, Sabathia, Sierra, Jeter

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

The Yankees wrap up their ten-game, three-city road trip a little later this afternoon with the series finale against the White Sox. Until then, here are some stray links to help you pass the time.

A-Rod on TV?

According to Bob Raissman, FOX and Alex Rodriguez‘s representatives have had preliminary discussions about A-Rod becoming involved in the network’s postseason coverage. Alex’s camp is talking to TBS and ESPN too. ESPN only carries one wildcard game while TBS gets the other wildcard game, four LDS games, and one entire LCS. FOX gets everything else.

I get the feeling Rodriguez would be an excellent television analyst. Who knows how he’ll be on camera and stuff — live television is hard! — but as far as baseball knowledge, A-Rod is unmatched. The guy lives and breathes the game. He’d have a ton of insight to offer. Of course, none of this will matter because Alex will be busy carrying the Yankees to the World Series this October. Nice of the networks to reach out though.

No talk of removing Sabathia from rotation

This isn’t a surprise. Brian Cashman told Wally Matthews the Yankees have not discussed removing CC Sabathia from the rotation. “That’s not something that we’re considering at this moment,” said the GM. “We’re going to continue to give him every opportunity to work through this for the foreseeable future.”

This is pretty frustrating, but again, not a surprise. Michael Pineda‘s injury means the Yankees couldn’t even take Sabathia out of the rotation if they wanted, but, even with a healthy Pineda, Sabathia was going to stay in there. The Yankees want to try to salvage the last few years of his contract even though he’s hurting their chances of getting back to the postseason. My guess is I’ll be writing this same blurb a few more times the next two years.

Yasiel Sierra works out for scouts

Cuban right-hander Yasiel Sierra worked out for scouts in the Dominican Republic last week, reports Jesse Sanchez. Sanchez says the 24-year-old Sierra works in the 93-97 mph range with a good slider and a recently added changeup. Because of his age and international experience, Sierra is not subject to the international spending restrictions, so the Yankees can sign him to contract of any size.( They’re limited to $300,000 for younger international amateurs the next two signing periods as part of the penalties stemming from last year’s spending spree.) I don’t know anything about Sierra beyond what’s in this post, but if he’s really 93-97 with a good slider, chances are there’s at least reliever potential there.

Jeter in Hollywood Reporter

I don’t really have much to add here: Hollywood Reporter recently ran a feature on Derek Jeter, focusing on his post-baseball life with The Players’ Tribune and his publishing venture. “I didn’t want to wake up one day and say, ‘What am I going to do now?'” said Jeter, acknowledging he’d been thinking about his post-baseball career for quite a while. Check it out. Neat article. (h/t Jeff Beck)

Game 102: ChiTown


The trade deadline has come and gone. The Yankees didn’t do anything other than pick up Dustin Ackley, so they’re sticking with the roster they have and whatever they get from their farm system. I find that quite risky! But it is what it is. The post-deadline portion of the season starts tonight on Chicago’s south side.

The Yankees dropped their last two games to the Rangers but have generally played well of late. They’re 9-4 with a +24 run differential since the All-Star break, stretching their AL East lead to six games. That’s pretty good. Heck, if you’d have told me before the season that the Yankees would be six games up on deadline day, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat. Shake off those last two losses and get a win tonight, mmmkay? Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. 2B Brendan Ryan
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s nice and sunny in Chicago yet not nearly as hot as it was in Texas the last few days. Mid-80s, not 100+. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 8pm ET and you can watch live on good ol’ YES. Enjoy the game, everyone.

Injury Updates: Brett Gardner and Brian McCann are fine, just sitting against the lefty Carlos Rodon … CC Sabathia (dehydration) is doing much better. He was discharged from the hospital in Texas and has rejoined the team in Chicago.

Roster Moves: In case you missed it earlier, Garrett Jones was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Ackley and Esmil Rogers was released so he could sign with a team in KoreaChris Capuano cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. He can reject the assignment and elect free agency if he wants … Slade Heathcott was activated off the 60-day DL and optioned to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced.

2015 Midseason Review: The Risky, High-Upside Rotation

Boy, the rotation was such a big concern coming into the season. We were talking about every scrap heap starter imaginable in Spring Training — Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Erasmo Ramirez, yikes — as if they would be some kind of upgrade. The Yankees never did add another starter in camp, and while the staff as a whole has been just okay (4.24 ERA and 3.75 FIP), they’ve stayed relatively healthy and have the potential to be much better in the second half. Nathan Eovaldi is both frustrating and evolving. The rest of the rotation? Let’s review.


Elbow Holding Up, Pitches Left Up

Needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was the single biggest injury risk the Yankees had heading into the 2015 season. He’s their ace, he was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball before getting hurt last year, and now the partially torn ligament in his elbow is like a storm cloud looming over every pitch. You can’t help but let it linger in the back of your mind.

So far this season Tanaka’s elbow has stayed in one piece — he spent a month on the DL with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, and of course forearm strains are synonymous with elbow problems — but his performance has been uneven. He’s had some truly great starts and some truly awful ones as well. The end result is a 3.63 ERA (3.60 FIP) with strikeout (24.9%), walk (4.8%), and ground ball (47.6%) rates right in line with last year (26.0%, 3.9%, and 46.6%, respectively).

Tanaka’s start-to-start performance has been much more unpredictable, however. Last year he had an average Game Score of 63.4 with a standard deviation of 13.3. This year it’s an average of 56.3 with a standard deviation of 18.7, which means Tanaka’s starts this season are deviating from his average Game Score by a larger margin. So when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad. Tanaka has some terrible starts earlier this season, no doubt about it.

The common thread whenever Tanaka has a subpar start seems to be his location, particularly leaving pitches up in the zone. Not so much his fastball, but his slider and splitter. Tanaka’s split-piece is world class, that thing is devastating, but if it’s left up in the zone rather than buried in the dirt, it’s basically a batting practice fastball. It’s no surprise then that Tanaka’s home run rate has climbed from 0.99 HR/9 (14.0 HR/FB%) last year to 1.34 HR/9 (15.4 HR/FB%) this year.

No, Tanaka has not been as good as he was last season before the injury, but overall he’s been solid for the Yankees this year and at times spectacular. The Yankees want to see more of the spectacular Tanaka in the second half and they’re going to need him to get to the postseason. So far his elbow is holding up — his velocity is fine and his swing-and-miss rate is still top notch — and that ace ability exists. More start-to-start consistency and fewer grooved pitches are the key going forward.

That’s quite the wingspan. (Presswire)

Large Michael

Okay, so I knew Michael Pineda had been pretty awesome in the first half, but holy smokes, I didn’t realize how good his rates are: 25.2% strikeouts, 3.0% walks, 50.3% grounders. That is insane. Among the 97 qualified starters that is the 14th best strikeout rate, the fourth best walk rate, and the 22nd best ground ball rate. Holy smokes. Only Max Scherzer (10.71) has a better K/BB ratio than Pineda (8.54). Gosh.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we have to talk about Pineda’s good but not great 3.64 ERA (109 ERA+) and those 115 hits he’s allowed in 106.1 innings. The peripherals are fan-friggin-tastic, but there’s a disconnect here. The 1.01-run gap between Pineda’s ERA and FIP is the fifth largest gap among qualified starters and by far the largest among pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA. When Pineda is on, he does things like this …

… but when he’s off, he can’t command his slider and runs short on weapons. Pineda’s slider is absurd when it’s on. It’s an unhittable pitch. But when he doesn’t have it working, Pineda almost becomes a one-pitch pitcher because his changeup, while improved, isn’t a consistent weapon yet. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is really good, it’s just less good when hitters don’t have to honor the slider.

Like Tanaka, Pineda has had his fair share of brilliant starts and duds this year, though Pineda’s duds were bunched together — he had a 6.10 ERA (4.09 FIP) in the seven starts immediately following the 16-strikeout game. Big Mike had a 2.68 ERA (1.89 FIP) in six starts before the 16-strikeout game and he had a 1.25 ERA (1.74 FIP) in his last three starts before the break. So it was seven really bad starts sandwiched between two excellent stretches. Maybe he overextended himself during the 16-strikeout game and it threw him out of whack a bit.

Either way, the biggest concern with Pineda going forward is his workload. He’s on pace for 195 innings after throwing 76.1 innings last year, 40.2 innings the year before, and none the year before that due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees already skipped one of his starts and they will inevitably do it again in the second half. They have no choice. His right arm is too special and it already broke once. They can’t push it again. Like Tanaka, Pineda has ace upside at his best, though the Yankees will have to rein in his excellence in the second half to keep him healthy.


End Of The Line

Believe it or not, I picked CC Sabathia to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year before the season. That was pure homerism, me foolishly thinking he would get back on track — not necessarily be an ace again, but serviceable — following knee surgery, but nope. It hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sabathia’s late-career decline has continued this season with a 5.47 ERA (4.52 FIP) in 100.1 innings. He isn’t walking anyone (4.6%), so that’s good, but he’s giving up a ton of homers (1.70 HR/9) and getting annihilated by right-handed batters (.325/.367/.565 and .397 wOBA). His dominance of left-handed batters (.189/.198/.258 and .198 wOBA) would be more useful if he faced more than 91 of ’em in the first half.

It feels like every Sabathia start plays out the same way: a good first inning that gives you hope he’ll have a good start, a three or four-run second inning that knocks you back to reality, then zeroes the rest of the night that leave you wondering why the One Bad Inning can never be avoided. That’s the Sabathia formula in 2015. It feels like it happens every time out.

The Yankees have already made it known Sabathia will not be losing his rotation spot anytime soon, obviously because of his contract. That’s fine, they’re not the only team giving an undeserving player a lot of playing time because of money, but the Yankees are making life harder on themselves by leaving CC in the rotation. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2015, there’s no slicing and dicing the numbers to make it look better, and getting to the postseason will be tougher because of him.

Too Good To Start


When the Yankees pulled Adam Warren from the rotation a few weeks ago, he was leading the starters with a 3.59 ERA and had just started to look comfortable in that role. April wasn’t all that good for Warren, who looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter, but he got into a groove in the middle of May and was the team’s most reliable starter for a good stretch of time.

Warren lost his starting job through no fault of his own. He pitched well, but the Yankees had a need for a right-handed reliever after David Carpenter flopped and Warren has had success out of the bullpen, plus the team was unwilling to remove Sabathia from the rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery. Warren did not deserve to move to the bullpen but man, life isn’t fair.

I’m not sure the 14-start stint told us much about Warren we didn’t already know. He threw five pitches regularly, which is something he did even in relief, so it’s not like we had to see if he had the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. Warren did show he could hold his velocity deep into games, so I guess that’s something we learned:

Adam Warren velocity by inning

His strikeout (16.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates as a starter this year certainly weren’t as good as they were as a reliever last year (23.5% and 45.4%, respectively), which isn’t surprising. Every pitcher sees their performance tick up on a rate basis when they move into a short relief role. Warren’s no different. He wasn’t an ace, far from it, but he was a perfectly competent Major League starting pitcher.

It’s easy to forget Warren only made the rotation because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. He was the sixth starter — if the Yankees are to be believed, he was competing for the sixth starter’s job with Esmil Rogers, which, lol — who got a rotation spot thanks to injury. Capuano’s quad gave Warren an opportunity and he took advantage. He showed he can start in the big leagues. His move to the bullpen says more about the team’s decision-making than it does Warren’s performance.

2015 Midseason Review: First-half Yankeemetrics

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

As part of Mike’s great Midseason Review series, I’m here to give you some of the amazing (both good and bad) statistical notes from the unofficial first half of the season, plus a quick look ahead to a few of the records that these six Yankees below will be chasing during the remainder of 2015.

Without further adieu, your first-half Yankeemetrics:

Brett Gardner
Gardner is certainly deserving of the being the Yankees’ first-half MVP, and if Mike’s write-up on Tuesday didn’t convince you, then how about this note: Gardner is the second player in franchise history with at least 10 homers, 20 doubles, 15 steals and a .300 batting average at the break. The other? Alfonso Soriano in 2002 — which just happened to be the year he came thisclose to a historic 40-40 season (39 homers, 41 steals).

Something to watch for in the second half: Gardner needs three steals to reach the magic number of 200. He would be the second Yankee, along with Hal Chase, to have 200 stolen bases in their first eight major league seasons — and the only player in franchise history with at least 200 steals and 50 homers through their first eight career seasons.

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is having a tremendous bounceback season, leading the AL with 62 RBI and also hitting 22 homers. He is just the second Yankee in the last 40 years to be the outright league leader in RBI at the break, along with A-Rod (2007) and Don Mattingly (1985).

This is the third time as a Yankee he’s had at least 20 homers and 60 RBI before the All-Star break (also in 2009, 2011). Since the first All-Star Game in 1933, here’s the list of other Yankees to reach those benchmarks three-or-more times before the break: Mickey Mantle and Jason Giambi.

Something to watch for in the second half: Teixeira is on pace for his first 40-homer season as a Yankee. The only other player in franchise history to hit at least 40 homers in his age 35-season or older is Babe Ruth, who did it three times (1930-32).

Alex Rodriguez
If you told me that A-Rod would have the third-most at-bats on the team (he’s healthy!) and have 18 homers and 51 RBIs (he’s productive!) in the first half of the season, I might have suggested psychological treatment for you. How rare is it for a guy as old as A-Rod to be hitting that well?

The only other players in their age-39 season or older to have at least 18 homers, 50 RBI and 80 hits before the All-Star break (since 1933) are Edgar Martinez (2003), Andres Galarraga (2000) and Dave Winfield (1991). Yup, the Summer of Al continues.

Something to watch for in the second half: If A-Rod can stay healthy and get at least 500 plate appearances this season, while maintaining his current slash line of .278/.382/.515 or better, he’d join Barry Bonds (2004) and Ted Williams (1958) as the only players to finish a season with those marks in their age-39 season or older.

Stephen Drew
Of course we had to put Drew’s bizarre statistical first half into context, even if he might just be a bench guy in the second half (yes, please). With 12 homers and an unfathomable .182 batting average in the first half, Drew is the first player in franchise history to hit double-digit home runs and have a batting average under .200 at the break.

In fact, his .182 batting average is the third-lowest in major-league history for any player with at least 10 homers in the unofficial first half of the season. The only guys with a lower average are the Cubs’ Mike Olt (.144 in 2014) and the Twins’ Tim Laudner (.181 in 1987).

Something to watch for in the second half: I don’t think Drew is going to get enough at-bats to reach 20 or 25 homers, but what if he gets to 15? The lowest batting average for a guy that hit at least 15 homer runs in a season is .179, done by Dan Uggla (2013) and Rob Deer (1991). That’s doable!

CC Sabathia
At least he is healthy, right? Well, that might actually be the problem, because Joe Girardi has little choice but to keep sending Sabathia out there every fifth day (sort of) despite his ugly numbers (4-8, 5.47 ERA).

Sabathia is the third Yankee starter to lose at least eight games before the break with an ERA of 5.40 or higher. The other pitchers on this inglorious list are Tim Leary (1991) and Ralph Terry (1964). In the words of the aforementioned manager, “it’s not what you want.”

Something to watch for in the second half: How bad can it get for CC the rest of the season? The highest ERA for any Yankee pitcher that qualified for the ERA title in a non-strike season is 5.30 by Bump Hadley in 1937. (Unfortunately, Hadley is better known for something else that season, as the pitcher that beaned Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane and ended his career.)

Dellin Betances
Betances couldn’t quite match his numbers from the first half of the season last year (84 strikeouts, 1.46 ERA), but still has had a terrific couple of months so far with 77 strikeouts and a 1.53 ERA.

Those back-to-back first-half performances are unprecedented for any pitcher since the first All-Star Game in 1933. That’s right, no pitcher (starter or reliever) in that span has entered the break with at least 75 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.60 or lower in back-to-back seasons. Bravo, Betances.

Something to watch for in the second half: Last year Betances set the single-season franchise record for the most strikeouts (135) by a pitcher with zero starts. He’s probably not going to break that record again, but even if he regresses a bit and finishes the year with more modest numbers, he’d do something that no reliever in major-league history has ever done: consecutive seasons with at least 115 strikeouts and a sub-2.00 ERA.

Game 85: Last Home Game Before The All-Star Break


It’s the last home game of the first half. The Yankees are 24-16 with a +34 run differential at Yankee Stadium this season and only 21-23 with a -16 run differential on the road. The offense hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders the last few games, but the Yankees are clearly a much better team in their home ballpark this season. That short porch sure is friendly.

Masahiro Tanaka is making his last start before the All-Star break today and it has been an uneven first half for him. There were times he looked absolutely dominant, times he got smacked around, and off course the month long DL stint. Tanaka’s second half is going to have to be better than his first half for the Yankees to stay in the postseason hunt, I reckon. Hopefully he can finish the first half on a high note today. Here’s the A’s lineup and here’s the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Garrett Jones
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Chris Young
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Cole Figueroa
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Not the greatest weather day for baseball. It was raining this morning and it’s supposed to rain again this afternoon, but not for another few hours. Shouldn’t be a problem unless the game goes into extra innings or something. This afternoon’s game will begin just after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy!

Injury Updates: Chase Headley (calf) had an MRI last night and it showed inflammation close to his knee. He feels much better but remains day-to-day … Brendan Ryan (back) will start a minor league rehab assignment today. It was supposed to start Friday but has been pushed up, I guess because the Yankees want to get Ryan back as soon as possible in case Headley’s injury lingers … If you missed it last night, CC Sabathia had his knee drained before the start of the homestand. Second time he’s had it drained since Spring Training.

Roster Move: So, based on the lineup, Figueroa is with the team now. Jose Pirela was sent down and Taylor Dugas was designated for assignment in corresponding moves, the Yankees announced. Figueroa, a left-handed batter, is having a great season with Triple-A Scranton (.317/.372/.415 and 130 wRC+ with 5.0 K% and 7.5 BB%) and he can play all over the infield. Makes more sense for the roster than Pirela with Headley banged up.