The New York Yankees are worrisome that CC Sabathia has lost almost every ounce of ability left in his tank based on his porous spring. History, however, is telling them not to worry.
By Christian Kouroupakis
In the latter part of his New York Yankee career, CC Sabathia has experienced a significant decline in his velocity, a tool that has helped him become one of the most dominant pitchers in the modern era.
Since coming to the Bronx in 2009, Sabathia’s average fastball velocity dipped from 94.1 MPH, to 90.3 MPH (according to Fan Graphs).
His 4.04% decrease is the second worst in that span, sitting only behind Tim Lincecum (6.91% decrease). His average velocity was 18th worst in the pros in 2015, yet out of the 17 pitchers worse than Sabathia, the big lefty had the third highest ERA.
Here in spring training, the former AL-CY Young Award winner has a 5.51 ERA in five spring starts coming off a year in which he had a 4.73 ERA. He also surrendered 28 home runs, which was sixth worst in the American League.
Many fans are worried about him taking the hill every five days because “he’s washed up.” It’s undoubtedly true that his best days are behind him, but to say there’s nothing left in the tank is not only wrong, but quite ignorant.
Sabathia’s 2015 season could not have been any worse, until the month of September came around.
In his five starts in September and October, CC went 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in while holding batters to a .224 batting average thanks to his new knee brace. Sabathia’s standard statistics in that time frame were impressive, but when you dive deeper into the numbers, you will think he is a completely different pitcher.
He decreased his home runs allowed per nine innings down to .62 in September, despite leading the league with 1.51 HR/9 all year.
In terms of pitches, in his final five games batters swung-and-missed at his four seamer 65% of the time (57% in first 24), hit more ground balls for every fly ball (2.2 post-brace versus 1.9 pre-brace), and fewer fly balls/line drives turned into home runs. Sabathia gave up 8.3 HR/FB+LD in September/October compared to 12.5 HR/FB+LD before then.
Sabathia was also the most durable out of anyone in the rotation, leading the Yankees in innings pitched with 167.1 innings.
Praying for Sabathia to duplicate his September/October success into 162 games is obviously just wishful thinking and setting expectations too high. The only thing we can hope is that his knee brace and the numbers that follow are not just a coincidence.
Sabathia knows very well how to pitch and compete on the mound in order to get outs, and if his brace can help him become a more consistent pitcher, then he’ll be a key component for the 2016 Yankees.
The 35-year old’s finish to 2015 was prodigious, yet fans and members of the media are overlooking his solid month based on his porous spring training. In fact, some people even think there’s a competition between Sabathia and Ivan Nova for the fifth spot in the Yankee rotation.
Here’s a news flash: it’s not a competition.
If it were a competition, then Bryan Mitchell would be in the rotation. He’s 2-0 in five games (three starts) this spring training record with a 0.61 ERA in 14.2 innings.
Instead, manager Joe Girardi is having him start the year off in the bullpen.
By the numbers, the two starters (Nova and CC) were ultimately tied for the spot. As mentioned before, Sabathia had a 5.51 ERA with 20 hits allowed and 10 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings, while Nova has a 5.50 ERA with 18 hits allowed and 13 strikeouts in 18 innings this spring.
However, with the type of leader is, the success he has endured during his career, a ring with the Bombers, CY Young award, and the size of his pay check, Sabathia will in the starting rotation.
The decision to name Sabathia the fifth starter based on his past not only makes sense, it makes complete sense.
For the entirety of his career, the big man never had to fight for his job. Spring training for CC was always meant to be a tune up for another season of dominance, and almost every spring training Sabathia struggled mightily.
And guess what? It still translated to major league success.
In spring training of 2006, as a member of the Cleveland Indians, Sabathia managed a 8.35 ERA in five starts allowing 17 runs in 18.1 innings pitched. In the regular season, the then 26-year old maintained a 3.22 ERA, led the AL with six complete games and two shutouts, and allowed the least ER in the majors (among pitchers with 180+ innings).
In spring training of 2010, his second camp as a Yankee, Sabathia had a 7.23 ERA in five starts allowing 15 runs in 18.2 innings pitched. In the regular season, New York’s ace led the AL in wins (21) and maintained a 3.18 ERA. He was also an All-Star and came in third in the CY-Young Award voting.
Thankfully, my argument goes both ways.
In 2014, Sabathia came to camp in “the best shape of his life” and it seemed like it at first. In five spring starts, he had a 1.29 ERA while only allowing three runs on 13 hits in 21 innings of work. In the regular season, Sabathia finished with a 5.28 ERA (the worst in his career) and a 1.478 WHIP (also the worst in his career).
Will CC come out and dominate just like he did in 2006, 2010, and basically every other year leading up to 2013? No. And it’s not fair to expect that.
It’s also not fair to call him “washed up” and assume he’ll give up a home run with every pitch he throws. The guy’s a winner, a champion, and now, thanks to clearing his body of the evils of alcohol, his mind is clear.
I’m looking forward to seeing what a CC Sabathia at peace will look like in 2016, when games actually matter.
In the past, the New York Yankees have always made it clear that Sabathia would stay in the rotation, even when he had the worst year of his career last season. That was even more evident when they moved Adam Warren from the rotation back to the bullpen in the prime of Sabathia’s struggles.
His organization believes in him, his coaches believe in him, and he believes in himself. Now it’s time for the outsiders to wake up and realize that there’s still a lot more CC Sabathia can give to his team.