Archive for CC Sabathia
Via Dan Martin: CC Sabathia started his offseason throwing program earlier this week after having surgery in October to clear a bone spur out of his left elbow. “My elbow is feeling good,” said the left-hander. “I just started throwing on Monday. That’s the time I would normally start my throwing program, and I’ll be ready to lengthen it out and be ready to go for Spring Training.”
Sabathia, 32, has also lost some more weight this winter — “I lost a little bit of weight … Twenty pounds. Coming off the elbow surgery, I just wanted to be able to be healthy and stay healthy all year.” — in what has become an offseason tradition. It was 30 lbs. in each of the last two offseasons, but he did a much better job of keeping the weight off in 2012 than he did in 2011. The most important thing is the health of that elbow after surgery though, and it’s good to hear his rehab is progressing well.
Via Jeff Bradley: CC Sabathia plans to begin throwing after Christmas following late-October surgery to clean out a bone spur from his pitching elbow. “That’s when I always begin throwing,” said the left-hander. “That’s normal. The past three seasons I waited until Christmas to begin throwing. Before that, I started earlier. But I have been giving myself a break the last few years. I should be right on schedule. Feeling great. The range of motion is back. I’m not worried. I’m excited about the season.”
Sabathia, 32, will be on a “modified” pitching schedule in camp but (unsurprisingly) the Yankees haven’t really explained what that means. The important thing is that he’s on schedule to begin throwing soon and is expected to be ready in time for both Spring Training and Opening Day.
All 30 managers meet with the media for 30-ish minutes during the Winter Meetings, and Joe Girardi held his Q&A session late this afternoon. It’s pretty typical of Yankees people to speak a lot of words but not actually say much, and this was no different. I don’t have the audio to share because the quality is awful, but here’s a recap…
- Girardi confirmed what Brian Cashman said yesterday, that A-Rod didn’t say anything about his hip until being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALCS. “His hips weren’t firing right. It wasn’t pain but he felt it was not the explosiveness … I was somewhat worried because he’d been through it on his right hip and you’d think he’d know what the feeling was like. It wasn’t firing the way he thought.”
- A-Rod went for an MRI on his right hip after the game, and when it came back clean Girardi kept playing him. He did acknowledge Alex “did look different than he did before he got hurt.” The team doesn’t know exactly when the injury happened.
- On losing A-Rod for the first half of next year: “It’s big. You go into an offseason and you feel you have to address certain areas and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty big hole to fill, and it may not necessarily be (filled) with one person.”
- “I’m not sure,” said the skipper when asked about any tension in his relationship with A-Rod. “It probably answers a lot of questions — he wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury. Now we have a reason, possibly why.”
For the most part, CC Sabathia had another strong season in 2012. He logged 200 innings and kept runs off the board (3.38 ERA) with peripheral stats to match (3.33 FIP), but it was also the worst of his four years with the Yankees and his worst since 2005 or 2006 with the Indians. Obviously his standards are pretty high, but the step back in performance was both noticeable and a concern going forward given the four (and potentially five) years left on his contract.
The Elbow Injury
For the first time in his big league career, Sabathia spent time on the DL with an arm injury this summer. Elbow inflammation stemming a bone spur was the culprit, though for a while it sounded a lot worse than that …
“After Seattle, I was (nervous),” said Sabathia the other day. “I woke up the next day and my arm was kind of swollen, and I didn’t have any range of motion. So I was really nervous, honestly. So we had the test, and once the MRI came back clean, I just knew it was something I’ll have to deal with. I know there’s nothing structurally wrong with my arm.” [source]
Sabathia spend the minimum 15 days on the DL and didn’t pitch all that well when he first came back, posting a 4.67 ERA and 4.47 FIP in 27 innings across four late-August and early-September starts. He insisted that his elbow was fine and that he felt “good enough to pitch,” but scattered (and unconfirmed) reports indicated that his elbow was still flaring up between starts. A late-season stretch of dominance that carried over into the postseason help assuage some concern.
The Yankees sent Sabathia for more tests after the season, which led to Dr. James Andrews performing arthroscopic surgery to remove the bone spur on October 25th. Tests confirmed the original report that his ligament was fine, but the spur he’d been pitching with since his Cleveland days had to go. Sabathia is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training but he will be on a modified throwing program in camp to help him prepare for Opening Day. I don’t know what that means, but any time your 32-year-old ace pitcher with 2,500+ innings on his arm starts having elbow trouble, it’s a concern.
The Performance Decline
A 3.38 ERA and 3.33 FIP in 200 innings is nothing to sneeze at, but for Sabathia it represented a step down from both 2011 (3.00 ERA and 2.88 FIP in 237.1 innings) and 2009-2011 (3.18 ERA and 3.27 FIP in an average of 235 innings). The performance decline did not occur in either his strikeout (8.87 K/9 and 23.7 K%) or walk (1.98 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates, which were both his bests as a Yankee. It also didn’t show up in his ground ball rate (48.2%), which was his second best as a Yankee. All three rates, the strikeouts and walks and grounders, were the third best of his entire career.
Instead, the decline showed up in two places, the first being his homerun rate. The 22 dingers he surrendered this year were a career-high, as was the 0.99 HR/9 and 12.5% HR/FB. It had been six years since he topped even 0.80 HR/9 and 9.0% HR/FB. It wasn’t just a Yankee Stadium issue either, his road rates (1.14 HR/9 and 13.7 HR/FB%) were worse than his home rates (0.84 HR/9 and 11.1% HR/FB). Hit Tracker classified just seven of those 22 homers as “Just Enoughs,” meaning the other 15 cleared the wall by more than ten vertical feet. He wasn’t giving up cheapies.
Secondly, Sabathia’s fastball velocity dropped off noticeably (click to embiggen) …
Fastball velocity isn’t exactly a measure of performance, so maybe it’s unfair to lump this in here, but at the end of the day he wasn’t throwing as hard as he had in the past. His average four-seam fastball velocity was 92.4 mph this year, down from 93.9 mph just a year ago. It had never been lower than 93.6 mph (2010) during the PitchFX era. So yeah, losing a mile and a half an hour off the fastball from one year to the next is a considerable drop-off and a concern when again, you’re talking about a guy with over 2,500 innings on his arm.
Did the reduced fastball lead to homer problems? Perhaps, he did give up ten homers on four-seamers this year according to Brooks Baseball, down from eleven last year (in 37.1 more innings) and up from eight in 2010 (37.2 more innings) and nine in 2009 (30 more innings). I think it’s more noteworthy that he surrendered seven homers off his slider this year after allowing ten total off the pitch in his first three years as a Yankee. Anecdotally, I thought Sabathia hung more sliders this year than at any other point with New York, which could be explained by the elbow problem. The fastball and slider aren’t mutually exclusive, one works off the other. A compromised fastball could easily result in reduced effectiveness of the slider.
It’s also worth nothing that Sabathia didn’t truly dominate left-handed batters like he has in the past. He held them to a .288 wOBA this year after a .248 wOBA last year and a .265 wOBA from 2009-2011, so we are splitting hairs. His strikeout (12.71 K/9 and 35.3 K%), walk (1.24 BB/9 and 3.4 BB%), and ground ball (47.5%) rates against same-side hitters were still off the charts good this season. It could be tied back to the whole fastball-slider thing, because the breaking ball is the pitch he’s used to dominate lefties his entire career.
* * *
Sabathia’s down season was still excellent in the grand scheme of things, but this year he gave the Yankees and their fans more reasons to be concerned than at any other point in his first three years with the team. The elbow injury is obviously a big concern even though his ligament checked out fine (twice), plus the declining fastball velocity is a red flag as well. The two could be related, though bad elbows usually result in poor command (which we saw out of CC at times this year) while velocity loss is typically attributed to a bad shoulder. The Yankees have already spoken internally about lightening Sabathia’s workload going forward, so they are aware of these issues and are looking for ways to address them. Hopefully they can help stave off the inevitable age-related decline.
Coming into the 2012 season, CC Sabathia was one of baseball’s few guarantees. Everyone knew he was going to throw a ton of high-quality innings just like he has every year for the last half-decade or so. Although this season was certainly a little rockier than Sabathia’s first three in pinstripes, the end result was the same. The big man again threw a ton of high-quality innings for his team.
The season started with a slow month of April, which isn’t completely out of character for Sabathia. He surrendered five runs in six innings to the Rays on Opening Day, and after four starts he owned 5.27 ERA (3.57 FIP) in 27.1 innings. CC turned things around in his fifth, sixth, and seventh starts, allowing two runs in eight innings each time. He held the Braves to two runs in a complete-game win in mid-June, completing a ten start stretch in which he pitched to a 2.92 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 72 innings.
Sabathia allowed five runs (one earned) in 5.2 innings against the Mets next time out, and soon after the start he was placed on the DL for the first time in six years. A minor left groin problem was the culprit, though both Sabathia and team insisted he would still be pitching if it was later in the season or in the playoffs. The DL stint was sandwiched around the All-Star break, so CC only missed two starts with the injury. He was activated on the first day eligible and returned with six shutout innings against the Blue Jays.
Sabathia made five starts after coming off the DL and didn’t seem right even though he wasn’t pitching terribly (3.89 ERA and 3.47 FIP in 34.2 innings). After allowing five runs (three earned) to the Tigers on August 8th, the Yankees placed their ace on the DL for the second time of the summer. Left elbow inflammation did him in this time, and it was the first arm-related DL stint of his career. The Yankees again insisted it was minor and Sabathia again spent the minimum 15 days on the sidelines. He threw 7.1 innings of one-run ball against the Indians in his first start back and everything seemed fine.
The next four starts were rough (4.67 ERA and 4.47 FIP in 27 innings) but Sabathia insisted his elbow was fine, or at least “good enough to pitch,” to use his words. With only three starts left in the year, CC owned a 3.63 ERA (3.41 FIP) in 176 innings and was in danger of throwing fewer than 200 innings in a season for the first time in six years. Instead, Sabathia ran off three straight dominant starts of exactly eight innings each to close out the year, finishing with exactly 200 innings. He struck out 28 in those three starts, allowing four runs on four walks, eleven singles, one double, and one homer.
Sabathia was able to carry that dominance into the ALDS against the Orioles, holding Baltimore to two runs in 8.2 innings in the Game One win. Only a two-out, ninth inning double by Lew Ford prevented him from finishing the game, though CC did get the complete-game win in the decisive Game Five. He allowed just one run on two walks and four singles in the series clincher, pitching out of a bases loaded, one-out jam in the eighth to preserve the two-run lead. His 17.2 total innings set a new ALDS record. Sabathia got rocked in Game Four of the ALCS (six runs in 3.2 innings) to end his (and the Yankees) season on a very sour note.
Obviously CC’s season did not go as smoothly as his first three in pinstripes given the two DL stints and his mid-season stretch of substandard pitching, but those are things we’re going to discuss a little later today. For now, we’re just going to focus on the fact that Sabathia again pitched to a near-3.00 ERA (3.38 to be exact) with stellar peripherals (3.33 FIP) in exactly 200 innings in what is generally considered a down year for him. That’s a career year for most pitchers. He showed a few kinks in the armor but otherwise gave the team exactly what it needed: tons of high-quality innings.
For the first time as a Yankee and really for the first time in his career, CC Sabathia battled pitching mortality in 2012. He is one of the game’s preeminent workhorses, throwing at least 230 innings every year from 2007-2011 and at least 190 innings in ten of his 12 seasons as a big leaguer. His career-low was 180.1 innings back in 2001, when he was a 20-year-old rookie. He hit the DL twice this year, including once with an arm injury. After the season, Sabathia had surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow.
During a recent radio interview, pitching coach Larry Rothschild discussed his ace left-hander’s workload and the team’s intent to scale it back at various times. Here’s the quote passed along by the fine folks at MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM…
“Joe and I talked about (lightening Sabathia’s workload) even going back to last year. This year we talked about it even more. Not only lightening the load but the pitch total during the game, because he’s a guy that almost thrives on working the pitch totals, and when he doesn’t have them, it has an effect leading into the next start. Unlike a lot of guys where if they get a little more rest they’re more effective, he works more and throws more pitches he seems to get on rolls a lot quicker. And what happened, I think, part of this year is he didn’t do it. We didn’t let him get to that point, and then with the groin at one point and the elbow at the other, we just never got to that point until towards the end and then he got on another roll when he did throw the pitches. So it’s kind of a Catch-22 with him. We do have to watch it, and we’re going to probably have to watch a few guys on this staff. We’re aware of it and back off. When he had a chance to pitch with extra rest we did that. In the past he would pitch on the fifth day almost all the time.”
Despite the two DL stints, Sabathia still threw 200 innings (exactly 200, in fact) this year because he threw eight innings in his final three starts. He seemed to hit his stride in September as Rothschild said, dominating in those final three starts and twice again in the ALDS. At age 32, Sabathia has over 2,500 regular season innings on his arm, more than the career totals of Bret Saberhagen and Doug Drabek, for example. Within two years he’ll be in the top 150 all-time in innings pitched.
I mentioned this to Joe at some point late in the season, but perhaps the Yankees have to start treating Sabathia as more of a 200-inning guy than a 230-inning guy. That means giving him the extra day once in a while or not sending him out for the eighth when his pitch count is sitting at 105. His velocity did decline this year and it’s easy to say they should take their foot off the gas to “save bullets” so to speak, but as Rothschild notes, it’s easier said than done. CC does seem to be a rhythm pitcher, particularly with his command. Reducing his workload even slightly could mean a big adjustment has to be made on his part. I think it is something worth discussing though — the Yankees have already had these talks, obviously — especially with Sabathia approaching his mid-30s with another four (potentially five) years left on his contract.
Rothschild also discussed a number of other pitching topics during the interview, including Michael Pineda‘s injury and possible returns by Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. Chad Jennings has the full recap.
4:46pm: CC Sabathia had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his left elbow today, the Yankees announced. He is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training. Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure at his practice in Alabama during the left-hander’s scheduled visit.
Sabathia, 32, has pitched with the spur in his elbow since his days with the Indians, but it didn’t give him any problems until recently. It caused him to spend two weeks on DL back in August and he also received a cortisone short at some point late in the season as well. It’s never a good thing when your ace pitcher has surgery on his throwing arm, but this was a relatively minor procedure and by all accounts the ligament is fine. That’s all you can ask for with this stuff.
The Yankees were swept out of the ALCS by the Tigers almost a week ago, but it wasn’t until today that Joe Girardi conducted every manager’s annual end-of-season press conference. He said the team has yet to look back and evaluate the 2012 campaign just because everyone takes a few days off to be with their families and kinda get away from baseball immediately after the season ends. They’ll obviously evaluate the club top to bottom in the coming weeks. Here are the important notes from the press conference…
On Alex Rodriguez…
- “These were things that we evaluated a lot before we made our decisions,” said Girardi when asked about benching A-Rod in the postseason. “I don’t go back and second guess myself.”
- Girardi has not yet spoken to Alex (or any other player for that matter) about their relationship, but said “that will take place … it just hasn’t yet.” He isn’t worried about things being strained but acknowledged that actions have consequences and he will deal with them if need be.
- Girardi said he believes A-Rod was healthy in the postseason and was just struggling, particularly against righties.
- “Can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely, I don’t have any question in my mind,” said the skipper. He praised A-Rod’s baseball smarts and said he expects him to be his everyday third baseman next season.
- Chad Jennings has Girardi’s full quotes about A-Rod if you aren’t sick of hearing about it yet.
On the playoffs…
- “Yes it was somewhat puzzling,” said Girardi on the offense’s struggles. He attributed Robinson Cano‘s disappearing act to being pitched well and just falling into a poorly-timed slump. He did acknowledge that Robbie was frustrated, which likely compounded the problem.
- Girardi said he doesn’t think the team’s unfavorable postseason schedule contributed to their lack of hitting, ditto all the tough games they had to play down the stretch in September. He basically said he doesn’t believe his team was worn out after a month of playoff-type games.
- “I hope not,” said Girardi when asked if he may have he lost the trust of some players by sitting them in the postseason. “I was making moves trying to win ballgames … I’ve been honest with our players and I will continue to do that, and I will do my best for this organization to win every game.”
- Girardi attributed the dull Yankee Stadium atmosphere in the postseason to a lack of scoring on the team’s part, nothing more. “I think our fans are very passionate about the Yankees (because) we see it even on the road.”
- “(It has) not taken place,” said Girardi when asked if CC Sabathia has gone to visit Dr. James Andrews about his elbow. He is encouraged by his ace left-hander’s performance in September and the ALDS and he expects to have him in Spring Training. “We’re always concerned that it’s maybe something more than you think it is … I don’t like people going to see doctors (but) sometimes people have to be evaluated to make sure everything is okay.”
- “We expect him to be back and playing for us next year on Opening Day,” said Girardi about Derek Jeter and his fractured ankle. He added that there are always concerns following a surgery, including Jeter pushing his rehab too hard and having some kind of setback.
- Mariano Rivera did throw sooner than expected this year but Girardi never did ask him if he will definitely return next season. “I don’t think you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you have some interest in coming back,” he said.
- There were no undisclosed or “hidden” injuries this year, so to speak. Russell Martin‘s hands are banged up but that is typical catcher stuff and isn’t a long-term concern.
- Both hitting coach Kevin Long (elbow) and third base coach Rob Thomson (hip) will have surgery this offseason, if you care.
On free agents and the team moving forward, etc…
- “There’s a lot of hunger and fire in him,” said Girardi about Andy Pettitte, but he doesn’t know if the veteran southpaw will return next year. He expects him to discuss things with his family before making a decision.
- He mentioned briefly that like Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda is among the players who will make a decision about his future and playing beyond this year.
- Girardi said he was unsure about Ichiro Suzuki coming back next year but he knows the veteran outfielder enjoyed his time in New York. He also praised Ichiro for making adjustments like playing left field and batting towards the bottom of the order.
- “I think this kid has something to offer us,” said the manager about Eduardo Nunez while also acknowledging that his role for next year is undetermined because other parts of the club are unsettled. “There is talent there, there is speed, there is excitement, he has a lot to offer.”
- “There’s a lot of players we have to decide what we’re going to do with, but I believe when Spring Training starts next year, we’ll be a championship club,” said Girardi, acknowledging that the team has a lot of players with open contract situations.
- He also spoke about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power sources (specifically catcher, second base, and center field) and their ability of the offense to absorb the loss of a homerun hitter (i.e. Nick Swisher) if that happens this winter.
- Girardi acknowledged that the team has a busy offseason coming but doesn’t expect the chaos to be a problem. “Sometimes quiet is a bad thing,” he joked.
On the status of him and his coaches…
- “No. The pressure you see I put on myself,” said Girardi when asked about the pressure of entering a contract year. He doesn’t expect the team to talk about a new deal until his current one expires and he doesn’t anticipate asking for an extension before then either.
- Girardi expects the entire coaching staff to return next year but again pointed out that the team has not yet discussed everything.
- Girardi praised his role players for stepping up into more prominent roles than expected this year, mentioning Raul Ibanez, David Phelps, and Cody Eppley by name.
- When asked about Cano’s general lack of hustle down the line to first base, Girardi said he “will address with every player to play hard.”
Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.
As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.
The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.
Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.
Saturday: Via Jon Heyman: Sabathia will see Dr. James Andrews later this week. The ligament in his elbow is said to be fine, but it’s believed that there’s a bone spur which will need to be cleaned up. Heyman says it wouldn’t put in him danger of missing time next season. Fingers crossed until the Doc looks at him.
Friday: Via Marc Carig: The Yankees will take another look at CC Sabathia‘s left elbow now that the season is over. “Let’s put it this way, we’re going to look at that elbow, no doubt about it,” said Brian Cashman. “That will be on the list of things we have to look at now that the offseason’s here. Whether he wants to or not, we’re going to go look into this thing and make sure everything’s okay.”
Sabathia spent two weeks on the DL with elbow stiffness at midseason and struggled initially after his return, but he pitched extremely well late in the season and in the ALDS before getting rocked in ALCS Game Four last night. The left-hander told reporters that the elbow “felt good enough to pitch” yesterday, perhaps indicating that he wasn’t 100%. Then again, no one is this time of year.