Archive for CC Sabathia
I know I just did a thoughts post yesterday, but there’s a bunch of stuff going on after Opening Day and none of it is worth a full post. This is the worst time of the season because we know the samples are still way too small to mean anything, but what else are we supposed to talk about? Baseball, man. It can be cruel.
1. I’m really curious to know what adjustment CC Sabathia made after the second inning last night. There had to be something, he looked like a completely different pitcher in his last four innings than he did his first two. Joe Girardi told Dan Barbarisi his pitches were cutting early and Sabathia told Bryan Hoch he was too amped up, but that doesn’t help us any. If there was a tangible adjustment made, that’s good. You want to be able to point to something specific for the improvement, something real. Everything gets magnified on Opening Day, that’s just the way it is, and Sabathia was far from impressive on Tuesday. I am looking forward to seeing his next outing though. Something changed after that second inning.
2. The offense was mostly a no show on Opening Day, but I thought Mark Teixeira looked really good. He hit a ball to the warning track in his first at-bat, ripped a line drive to right that sliced just foul in his second time up, then slapped a single the other way later in the game. He also drew a walk and saw 18 total pitches in four trips to the plate. Teixeira said he is still a little apprehensive about his surgically repaired wrist at the end of camp, which is a concern for obvious reasons, but he didn’t show it last night. He swung hard, made some solid contact, and he’s seeing the bell wall. Does that mean he’ll be fine going forward? Who knows. This one game, those four at-bats, were encouraging.
3. I’m fully on board with batting Brett Gardner seventh after being on the fence about it at first. Yeah, he would serve as the second leadoff man by batting ninth, but I think batting him seventh does a better job of helping the middle of the order. Gardner’s whole thing is not making outs, and by batting him closer to the middle of the lineup, he’ll get more of an opportunity to extend rallies and cap them off. The middle of the order is the key to everything; Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson aren’t going to generate much offense no matter where they slot into the lineup. Batting Gardner two spots higher to get that one extra good hitter behind Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano gives them more of a chance to turn rallies into runs. Instead of being a leadoff guy, he’ll be expected to drive in some runs. Plus he might get an extra at-bat once in a while.
4. I am wrong all the time, about everything, yet I’m still surprised at how wrong I’ve been about this last bench spot stuff. Literally every step of the way. I thought they’d take Scott Sizemore, then when it was clear he was out of the running, I thought they’d take Eduardo Nunez. When they didn’t take Nunez, I thought they’d keep him in Triple-A as insurance. Instead, he was designated for assignment yesterday to make room on the roster for Yangervis Solarte. Wrong, every step of the way. Even by my terrible standards, that’s amazing. The Yankees don’t have much shortstop depth now — Addison Maruszak figures to be the starter in Triple-A with Nunez gone — especially with Brendan Ryan out for a few weeks, so they’ll probably have to keep an eye on the waiver wire for an extra body.
5. Dellin Betances is going to be my favorite sidebar this season. He was great in relief last year, very good in Spring Training, and just electric last night. Betances has been in the farm system for an eternity and he’s had a ton of ups and downs, and we’ve watched them just about every step of the way. It’s great to finally see him find some sustained success and a niche in the bullpen. His stuff is obviously excellent, and now that he’s throwing strikes regularly, Betances can be a late-inning force. There is plenty of opportunity in the bullpen with a clear path to higher leverage seventh and eighth inning work, so this is a good time for everything to be clicking. Very much looking forward to seeing more.
6. As a team, the Yankees saw 138 pitches in last night’s game. That isn’t a huge number, but out of their 150 nine-inning games last year, they saw 138+ pitches only 72 times. Less than half the time. The 2014 offense had a bad day on Opening Day and yet they still saw pitches at a higher rate than last year’s squad. Roberts did the heavy lifting with 20 pitches in his four trips to the plate while Gardner, Teixeira, and Soriano saw 18 apiece. That was by far the worst part of the 2013 offense. They made a ton of outs and they were mostly quick outs, two or three pitch at-bats. This group isn’t like the 2004-12 lineups or anything, but they make the pitcher work for whatever he gets. It’s refreshing.
As expected, Joe Girardi announced CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova will start the team’s first three games of the regular season. Well, he didn’t really come out and announce it, but the rotation for the rest of the week indicates that will be the case. This lines up Kuroda for the home opener. Masahiro Tanaka figures to slide in as the number four starter with either Michael Pineda or David Phelps as the five. Obligatory reminder that the rotation order on Opening Day means nothing.
One thing I’ve come to understand over the years is the order of the starting rotation at the beginning of the season means very little. It’s all symbolism. The Opening Day start usually goes to a veteran who has been with the team a while, not necessarily the best pitcher. Being designated as the staff ace and actually pitching like an ace are two different things. Scheduled off-days and rain-outs throw a wrench into the rotation after a few weeks and the order gets all mixed up anyway. It’s fun to talk about, but the importance is small.
Spring Training ends in less than two weeks — the final Grapefruit League game is next Saturday — and the Yankees have started to line up their rotation for Opening Day and the start of the regular season. I’m sure it has actually been plotted out and planned for a few weeks now, but now that we can see the light at the end of the Spring Training tunnel, the plan is a little more concrete. Courtesy of Chad Jennings, here is the rotation through the weekend according to Joe Girardi:
With Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren nowhere to be found, it’s likely both have already made their final starts of the spring. That makes sense, they always seemed to be the distant third and fourth contenders for the final rotation spot. Girardi confirmed Warren will make the team in some capacity a few weeks ago, so he’s headed to the bullpen. Nuno could very well wind up in Triple-A as the sixth starter.
Michael Pineda has been fantastic this spring with the obvious caveats: he’s coming off major shoulder surgery, it’s mid-March, he isn’t stretched out all the way, he hasn’t faced the greatest lineups, etc. Everything we’ve seen so far is encouraging and even though Girardi stopped short of anointing him the fifth starter — “The other guys are throwing pretty well too. We’ve got to figure out what’s best for our team as a whole,” he said to Bryan Hoch yesterday — it sure seems like Pineda is the favorite to start the season in the rotation, relegating David Phelps to the bullpen. So, with that in mind, here’s how next week’s rotation lines up:
- Monday, March 24th: OFF DAY (Nova throws a simulated or minor league game)
- Tuesday, March 25th vs. Phillies: Phelps on regular rest
- Wednesday, March 26th @ Blue Jays: Sabathia on regular rest
- Thursday, March 27th @ Pirates: Kuroda on regular rest
- Friday, March 28th vs. Marlins: Tanaka with one extra day of rest
- Saturday, March 29th vs. Marlins: Nova on regular rest, Pineda???
- Sunday, March 30th: OFF DAY
According to Jennings, Girardi “hinted that someone will pitch at the complex” during the Monday’s scheduled off-day. Nova lines up perfectly for that day, so he seems to be the guy. Phelps, Sabathia, and Kuroda follow with their final Grapefruit League starts on regular rest, then Tanaka goes with one extra day. The team has said they are planning to give him the extra day here and there. It’s also worth noting that regardless of whether he starts Thursday or Friday (or Saturday or Sunday for that matter), Tanaka will have faced only one AL club this winter (the Twins this coming Saturday). I doubt this was a coincidence. The Yankees kept him hidden from the direct competition while still getting him innings against MLB caliber hitters. Clever.
Anyway, following Tanaka’s start, Nova closes out the Grapefruit League schedule on regular rest next Saturday. What happens with Pineda at that point is anyone’s guess. He could come out of the bullpen to replace Nova, he could throw a simulated game, or he could start a minor league game. The Yankees have options. Pineda will be working on one extra day of rest Saturday and it’s good to give him that little break following his surgery and long rehab. They have to take it easy on him and not work him too hard, too soon.
With that all laid out, here’s how the rotation lines up the following week:
- Monday, March 31st: OFF DAY
- Tuesday, April 1st @ Astros: Sabathia with one extra day of rest
- Wednesday, April 2nd @ Astros: Kuroda with one extra day of rest
- Thursday, April 3rd @ Astros: Nova on regular rest
- Friday, April 4th @ Blue Jays: Tanaka with two extra days of rest
- Saturday, April 5th @ Blue Jays: Pineda with two extra days of rest
Nova’s the only guy who wouldn’t make his first start of the season with extra rest and since he’s young and healthy (and not coming over from Japan), he probably needs the extra rest the least. Pineda could throw a simulated game or pitch in a minor league game on Sunday the 30th instead of Saturday the 29th, allowing him to make that first regular season start on one extra day of rest rather than two. There is such a thing as too much rest, remember. He can get out of rhythm or something like that. Tanaka is used to starting with six days of rest, so the two extra days should be no big deal to him.
The Yankees have indicated Tanaka will start the fourth game of the season rather than the third for two specific reasons. One, they want to split him and Kuroda up since they have very similar styles as fastball/splitter/slider pitchers. (It’s not just a racial thing, you know.) Two, they want to give Tanaka extra rest when they can, and by starting him in the fourth game, he’ll be able to make his third start of the season with an extra day of rest. If he starts the third game of the season, he’d have to make both his second and third starts with normal rest. Anything to help the transition.
Sabathia was pretty terrible last season but he’s getting the nod on Opening Day for past performance. The guy was pretty awesome from 2009-12. Like I said before, the Opening Day start is a novelty more than anything. It doesn’t have any kind of real value to the team. The Game One starter for a postseason series, now that actually matters. Opening Day? Nah, not worth getting upset over. The rotation is all lined up for the start of the season and everyone who needs an extra day or two of rest will get it, and that’s it the most important thing.
It wasn’t all that long ago that it felt like a miracle whenever a Yankees’ starter completed six full innings of work. At least it felt like a miracle to me. In fact, from 2006-08, the team’s starters completed six full innings only 284 times out of 486 regular season games, or 58%. Over the last three seasons, that number is 67%. Doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it is one extra start of 6+ innings out of every ten games.
Thankfully things have changed in recent years and I think the reasons are obvious. The Yankees haven’t only added better starters over the last few seasons, but they’ve added more durable starters as well. They’ve been getting not just more innings, but more quality innings, and in turn the workload on the bullpen has been reduced. It makes the entire staff better when the starter can go deep into the game.
This coming season, the Yankees again figure to have a few starters who can be counted on to soak up innings and complete those six innings of every five days. Given the questionable state of the middle of the bullpen, having the starter take the ball deep into the game will be more important to the club in 2014 than it was at any point in the last few years. Who is going to eat up those innings? Let’s preview.
Let’s get this out of the way early: Sabathia was terrible last year. The reasons are whatever the reasons are, but the bottom line is that he ranked 76th with a 4.78 ERA and 72nd with 0.3 bWAR out of 81 qualified starters. Terrible. From 2009-12, even bad Sabathia starts were hardly disasters, usually something like four runs in six innings than six innings in four innings. That wasn’t always the case last summer.
And yet, despite all his struggles, Sabathia still managed to throw 200+ innings for the seventh straight year. Mark Buehrle, James Shields, and Justin Verlander are the only pitchers who can make that claim. Sabathia’s 211 innings were the 16th most in baseball, and he completed six full innings in 24 of his 32 starts. He completed seven full innings 17 times, the 12th most in baseball. CC’s effectiveness is waning but he remains a workhorse of the first order, someone the Yankees can rely on to spare the bullpen every five days. I have very little doubt he will continue to eat innings in 2014.
An oblique strain and a concussion caused Kuroda to miss nearly three full months in 2009, but he’s thrown at least 196 innings in the four seasons since. He’s also thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last three seasons. Kuroda, true to his workhorse form, completed six innings 24 times and seven innings 14 times in his 32 starts last season. Remember when I said the Yankees were not just getting more innings, but more quality innings out of their starters in recent years? That describes Kuroda perfectly.
Both the Yankees and Kuroda have indicated they will look for ways to lighten the load on their top right-hander this summer, mostly because he’s 39 years old and has faded late in each of the last two regular seasons. How will they accomplish that? I have no idea. Maybe they won’t send him out for that one extra inning, maybe they’ll use off-days to give him extra rest, maybe they’ll do that and more. Kuroda may intentionally be turned into a 180-inning starter this year, which is still a ton of innings even if it falls short of the hallowed 200-inning plateau.
After three televised Grapefruit League outings, we still don’t really know what to expect out of Tanaka this coming season. We know the scouting report and all that, but until he gets on a big league mound and pitches every fifth day in the regular season, there’s just no way to know what he can give the Yankees in 2014. He could be great, he could be awful, he could be something in between.
What we do know is that Tanaka was pretty durable during his time with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, missing a little bit of time with shoulder inflammation in 2008, 2009, and 2012. Tanaka threw 212 innings last season and has averaged 203.2 innings per season over the last three years, which works out to 7.9 innings per start. That was pitching ever seventh day and not a pace he will maintain in MLB, but it shows Tanaka is used to pitching deep into the game.
The Yankees have indicated they will try to work some extra rest in for Tanaka throughout the season, and may start him in the fourth game of the season rather than the third for that very reason — an off-day means his second start would come with an extra day of rest as the number four starter rather than regular rest as the number three. Can he give the team six or so innings every time out? I hope so, but he have to see how efficient he is first. The club will try to give their new starter some extra rest here and there, but make no mistake, he’s being counting on for lots of high-end innings right away.
It wasn’t until his sixth professional season, when he took a comebacker to the ankle in July 2011, that Nova missed a scheduled start. He was insanely durable throughout his minor league career, and he’s thrown at least 140 innings every season since 2008. Nova did miss three weeks with shoulder inflammation in 2012 and four weeks with triceps inflammation in 2013, so he’s not an ironman, but by and large he’s been an innings guy throughout his career.
The question now is whether Nova can be counted on an innings eater in 2014. It’s not just the two relatively minor arm problems the last two seasons, it’s the unpredictability of his performance as well. He’s been very up and down over the last three seasons, not an uncommon problem for a young starting pitcher. Nova’s a big guy (listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs.) and his delivery seems to be pretty smooth, two traits that portend workhorseishness. Can he make the jump to become a consistent 180+ or even 200+ innings guy this season? I hope so. Nova’s is a pretty important piece of the franchise going forward and taking that next step would be a nice development.
* * *
The Yankees have said Michael Pineda will have an innings limit because, well, duh. Of course he will. The kid threw 171 innings for the Mariners a few years ago but it’s hard to think that number means anything after a major shoulder surgery and two lost years. They have to be careful and build Pineda back up slowly. In no way should he be counted on to chew up innings, even if the bullpen was taxed the night before.
David Phelps (94.1 IP), Adam Warren (77 IP), and Vidal Nuno (45 IP) all threw fewer than a hundred innings in 2013, but none of them are particularly young (Nuno is the youngest at 26) and they all have multiple 100+ inning seasons to their credit (Phelps and Warren have multiple 150+ inning seasons). I think the Yankees would let all three throw upwards of 150 innings this season, maybe more depending on how they’re performing.
Sabathia (performance), Kuroda (age), Tanaka (transition), and Nova (unpredictable) all come into the season with questions but they all have the ability to be top-notch innings guys. This isn’t some far-fetched idea either, we’re asking these guys to do something they did just last year and over the last several years as well (aside from Nova). The benefits of having durable starting pitchers is obvious and the Yankees are in line to have several of them in 2014.
Got eight questions for you this week, so most of the answers are short. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, comments, links, whatever.
Matt asks: There has been much made, so far this spring and in the past, about CC Sabathia‘s decrease in velocity, which got me to thinking: What kind of contract do you think he would have received, had he been on the open market this past off-season?
This question came in a few days ago, so I’ve been mulling it over for a while, and … I have no idea. On one hand, Sabathia’s velocity is down and the chances of him being in a permanent decline are rather high. On the other hand, the dude is still a workhorse of the first order and his track record is as good as it gets. Sabathia is also super accountable and good in the community, making him the type of person teams want on their roster.
Given his age and workload and all that, I think Sabathia would have wound up with a shorter term deal for big dollars this winter. Not a four or five-year contract or anything like that. Something more along the lines of how the Giants handled Tim Lincecum. Would two years and $40M with a vesting option for a third year have worked? There are three years (plus a vesting option) and $71M left on Sabathia’s contract right now, so 2/40 wouldn’t be a huge step down. Just a pretty big one.
Brad asks: Most analysis at this point indicates that Michael Pineda (if healthy) will win the 5th starter job, while David Phelps and Adam Warren are favorites for bullpen spots. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to keep one of the latter two candidates stretched out in the AAA rotation?
I think that will be Vidal Nuno‘s role, the sixth starter in Triple-A. If both Warren and Phelps are in the bullpen, I assume one would be a traditional long reliever (likely Warren), and going from long relief to a starter isn’t too tough. Considering the state of the bullpen, I think the Yankees have to focus on taking the best arms north at the end of camp. Nuno will be in Triple-A as the extra starter, giving the team some freedom with Phelps and Warren.
Paul asks: What is the market for Stephen Drew at this point? Am I being a typical unrealistic greedy Yankee fan when I’m hoping/expecting him to join us soon?
There have not been many updates on Drew recently, other than his former Red Sox teammates speculating he wishes he had accepted the qualifying offer. The Yankees could obviously still use him on the infield, but the longer he goes unsigned, the less likely it is I think the Yankees will sign him. Drew would have to change positions — I’m guessed he’d move to third, not second — and that’s something he’d need to work on in Spring Training since he’s never played anywhere other than short. There is only about two weeks left in camp, so he’s running out of time to prepare for the position change. I’d love to see the Yankees sign him, but it’s clear it’s a long shot at this point.
Warren asks: So I was wondering how lead size effects base stealing. I feel like Brett Gardner in particular takes enormous leads compared to people of equal or lesser speed who steal more. I was wondering if there was a way to measure if he was taking such a large lead that it results in too much attention. He almost has to constantly be leaning back towards first. Is there any way to measure if other base stealers like Jacoby Ellsbury have more success by giving up a foot or two of lead to get a better jump?
Lead size definitely affects base-stealing. The bigger the lead, the more likely it is the pitcher will throw over. The more the pitcher throws over, the more the runner has to hurry back to the bag. The more he does that, the more tired he gets. The more tired he gets, the less likely he is to steal or steal successfully. The size of a player’s lead definitely plays a role in his base-stealing success.
How can we measure this? Other than going back and watching video of everytime a player was on base and taking a lead, I’m not sure. Hopefully this is something that MLBAM’s new player’s tracker system will cover because it is definitely a part of the game we don’t know a whole lot about. What’s the relationship between lead size and likelihood of a pickoff attempt? Is there such a thing as an optimal lead? Probably, I just have no idea what it is.
Eric asks: You can either have a starting pitcher who is guaranteed to strike everyone out once every five days, or a hitter who is guaranteed to hit a home run every time up. Which one would you choose?
I’ll take the hitter, no doubt about it. You can bat him as low as third and still guarantee he’d get no fewer than four at-bats in every game, so that’s at least four runs right there. I think that, over the course of the 162-game season, you would win more games scoring at least four runs every time out than you would by getting a guaranteed shutout (perfect game, really) every fifth day. Just my opinion. Not sure if there’s a way to test this mathematically.
Andrew asks: Do you think MLB will ever make and enforce a rule requiring identical field dimensions across baseball?
I do not think MLB would do it and I sure hope they don’t. One of my favorite things about baseball are the unique parks and dimensions. No other sport has that. MLB has minimum standards and things like that, but otherwise the shape and size of the field is up to the individual teams. It’s great, I love it.
Tucker asks: How strong of a push do you the think the Yankees will make next winter to sign Chase Headley? It seems inevitable to me.
Headley would be a really good fit as a switch-hitter with power, patience, and good defense at third base, there’s no doubt about it. I wonder if the Yankees will be open to signing another huge contract so soon though. Maybe if they somehow get rid of Alex Rodriguez and the money he’s owed, but otherwise if they were to sign Headley to something along the lines of six years and $108M (total guess), they’d have seven players making at least $17M in both 2015 and 2016. It works out to $146M for seven players each year. Unless the team increases payroll by quite a bit or their farm system suddenly starts cranking out players, I’m not sure if they would go for that. On paper, yeah Headley makes a ton of sense.
Jon asks: Given the relatively small contract for which he signed, do you think Aledmys Diaz would have been worth taking a flier on? The Yankees certainly have a bigger need for a young middle-infielder than the Cards. Maybe the guy isn’t that great but I’ll place my faith in the Cards scouting over the Yanks.
It seems pretty obvious Diaz just isn’t all that good, or at least teams don’t expect him to be all that good given his contract. The scouting reports said he might end up a utility infielder and that’s what he wound up with, utility man dollars. Just $2M annually. The Cardinals are obviously very well run by they aren’t infallible. The Yankees had him in for a workout and that’s more than they’ve done for any international player in a long time. It’s not like they didn’t do their homework.
It is in no way an exaggeration to say CC Sabathia was one of the worst pitchers in baseball last season. Out of the game’s 81 qualified starters, he ranked 76th with a 4.78 ERA and 72nd with 0.3 bWAR. He also led the league with 112 earned runs allowed. Last season was the worst of Sabathia’s career by a large margin and it was a big reason why the team failed to qualify for the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.
Why did Sabathia struggle so much in 2013? There is no shortage of theories. He lost too much weight, he lost too much velocity, he had offseason elbow surgery, all the innings are catching up to him, his mechanics were out of whack … on and on we could go. Sabathia never made excuses and pitching coach Larry Rothschild blamed it on inconsistent mechanics that led to too many pitches out over the plate. My guess? All of it. All of that stuff and more contributed to his poor year.
That disastrous 2013 season is in the past now. Sabathia is now more than a full year out from elbow surgery and he remade his body this winter, shedding bad weight and adding muscle in hopes of building power and stamina. He looks marvelous and in better shape than he’s ever been as a Yankee, but that was also true last spring, just not to the same extent. Physical condition is not going to be excuse, not that it ever was. CC is always going to be a big guy, that’s just his body type, but now he is slightly less big.
In his first Spring Training outing on Saturday, Sabathia came out firing 88 mph bullets that raised a little red flag but are not really freakout worthy yet. It was his first Grapefruit League start and we’ll re-evaluate his fastball when he builds up some more arm strength and gets another start or two under his belt. Sabathia’s velocity has steadily declined in recent years …
… and there is little reason to think that will stop. That’s the reality of being a 33-year-old workhorse who will top the 3,000 career innings (regular season and postseason) mark this summer. Once the fastball starts to go, it tends to continue going. Reversing the velocity decline is just not something that happens. The best the Yankees and Sabathia can hope for is halting the decline and maintaining this level of velocity for a little while longer.
Lefties who can pump 94-96 mph consistently — like Sabathia a few years ago — are the exception. Lefties who sit right around 90 are the rule. That’s Madison Bumgarner (91.2 mph in 2013), C.J. Wilson (90.9), Cliff Lee (90.4), and Mike Minor (90.4) velocity, and that foursome combined for a 3.06 ERA and a 3.12 FIP in 841 innings last year. Sabathia averaged 91.3 mph with his fastball last season and even if he loses another mile an hour this year, it should still be enough.
At his peak from 2007-12, CC maintained an ~8 mph separation between his fastball (93.7 mph) and changeup (86.0 mph). Last year it was only a 6.5 mph separation and that’s a big difference. That’s the difference between squaring a pitch up and hitting it off the end of the bat or flat out swinging and missing. Linear weights reflect the reduced effectiveness of his changeup (-8.3 runs saved in 2013 after +35.6 from 2007-12), a pitch that his been one of his most dangerous weapons the last seven years or so.
Of course, velocity and separation between the fastball and changeup is only one small piece of the pitching pie. Sabathia’s location flat out stunk last season, anecdotally because his arm slot wavered (he admitted as much) and his pitches cut back over the plate. According to Baseball Heat Maps, a whopping 39.2% of Sabathia’s pitches were over the heart of the plate last season, up from 30.7% in 2012 and 31.7% from 2011-12. That’s a big, big deal. He averaged 104.25 pitches per start last season, so we’re talking an extra nine pitches (!) over the heart of the plate per start on average. Big deal. Really big deal.
Improving on last season’s performance will require a number of things. Sabathia’s not finding more velocity so just forget about that. He needs to improve his location first and foremost. I’m not sure there is any way you can improve performance quicker than by not throwing the ball in the hitter’s wheelhouse. If Sabathia can get back to living on the corners and at the knees, it doesn’t really matter if he’s throwing 85 or 95. Easier said than done, obviously. Regaining that 8-ish mph separation between the fastball and changeup is another key.
How does Sabathia go about improving his location and the effectiveness of his changeup in 2014? Damned if I know. That’s up to Sabathia and Rothschild to figure out. The problems could be mechanical or the result of the elbow surgery — he underwent a biomechanical analysis over the winter and things checked out okay, for what it’s worth — or they could be the result of muscling up and trying to manufacture velocity. Overthrowing is a great way to miss spots. Again, it’s probably a little of everything.
Maybe I’m just a raging homer, but I truly believe Sabathia can rebound and be an effective starter for the Yankees this summer. He has to make several adjustments first and even if he does, I still think it’s unlikely he’ll ever get back to peak CC form, that Cy Young caliber ace. Simply being not one of the worst pitchers in baseball like last year seems reasonable to me though. A guy who can give the team 200+ innings of 3.70-ish ERA ball is still really valuable, even if it is not what we’re used to seeing from Sabathia.
I don’t know if the Yankees can make the postseason in 2014 with a good but not great performance from Sabathia, but I do know they have almost no chance of going to the playoffs if he pitches like he did a year ago. Even with Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda around to anchor the rotation, I believe a rebound from the club’s erstwhile ace is a necessity for contention this season.
This past weekend, in his first outing of the spring, CC Sabathia chucked two scoreless and relatively uneventful innings against the Phillies. Uneventful unless you were watching the radar gun, of course. Sabathia topped out at 88 mph with his fastball on Saturday and sat mostly in the 86-88 mph range, which is far below what you want to see, even on March 1st. And everyone did see it thanks in no small part to the Michael Pineda velocity fiasco of 2012. The radar gun has become a focal point in Spring Training.
“My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If it’s not, it won’t. I can pitch. I’m fine. As long as I’m healthy I’ll be good,” said Sabathia to Chad Jennings after Saturday’s game because what is he supposed to say? No this is terrifying and I don’t think I’ll ever be effective again? C’mon now. It takes a lot of confidence and a certain level of arrogance to be an elite pro athlete, and part of that is never doubting your own ability despite signs of decline. Of course Sabathia is unconcerned about his fastball.
I am concerned about Sabathia’s fastball, however. Well, concerned isn’t the right word. I’m keeping my eye on it. That’s better. I wanted to go back and compare CC’s early spring velocity to past years, but there’s a bit of a problem: there isn’t any Grapefruit League pitch data out there. We’re limited to MLB.tv archives and the YES Network gun because there’s no PitchFX. Sabathia did not appear in a YES broadcast game until the middle of March in both 2012 and 2013, so we can’t even compare early spring velocities. We’re stuck lumping it all under a big “Spring Training velocity” umbrella. Here’s what we’re left with:
Sabathia did not pitch in a YES televised game in Spring Training 2011, so we can’t go back any further. I’m not sure how useful anything from pre-2012 would be anyway.
Just to give you an idea of how unprecise this is, Sabathia had one fastball clocked at 94 mph in the 2013 start and another clocked at 57 mph (!) in the 2012 game. I can buy 94 mph, but the most relevant thing is that he was consistently in that 89-90 range with a handful of 91s during the five-inning outing. I can’t buy 57 mph, but again, Sabathia was regularly in that 89-92 range with a smattering of 93s back in 2012. That’s what’s important.
Sabathia’s velocity in his first televised Spring Training game, as questionable as it may be given the source, was right in line with his PitchFX recorded April velocity in both 2012 and 2013. He held that Spring Training velocity through the season’s first month before adding another tick or two in the summer months, after the weather warmed up and he got into midseason form. That alone makes you want to see Sabathia get his heater closer to 90 mph this month.
Because of who he is and how important he is to the 2014 Yankees, Sabathia is going to be under the microscope this spring. His first outing was less than encouraging because his fastball was a little short, but it was only March 1st. I want to see how he looks after another outing or two before getting … well … concerned. I don’t think the fastball he showed on Saturday is full freakout worthy, but as much I hate Spring Training velocity watches, I don’t think we can simply sweep it under the rug just because it’s early-March either.
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):
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:
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.
CC Sabathia has left Legacy Sports to join Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, the agency announced. Here’s a photo of him signing the contract. Someone needs to give CC a sandwich or a Ring Ding or something.
Sabathia is under contract with the Yankees for what feels like an eternity — through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017, if you must now — so switching to Roc Nation isn’t going to impact any upcoming negotiations or anything like that. Unlike Robinson Cano last year, the move won’t create any headaches for the team, at least not right away.