New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia is finally learning how to work with his diminished velocity in this late stage of his career.
By Emmanuel Berbari
It took a while. Between battling injuries, personal problems, and the fact that he is not the same pitcher who won 74 games in his first four years for the New York Yankees, CC Sabathia seems to have finally made the transition that can carry him through the rest of his career.
Not the same overpowering perennial CY-Young candidate, it took Sabathia quite some time to restore effectiveness in a different form. Never in the first 12 years of his career did he have to pick at corners and be the “crafty” left-hander that so many southpaws become. The Andy Pettitte type of transformation doesn’t come easy for anyone who is accustomed to rearing back and gassing hitters, but it has finally arrived.
Three elements took the forefront in this transition: realization, discipline, and perseverance.
The realization that he could no longer overpower hitters was probably the most imperative. According to Brooks Baseball, opponents slugged .610 in 2015 off pitches that CC left anywhere in the central quadrant of the strike zone. If Sabathia missed with a pitch, he got crushed. Mistakes were no longer an answer.
The transition required discipline. Going through a season where right-handed hitters slash .309/.363/.502 with 25 homers on your watch must make you feel like a left-handed specialist at best, without even hearing it from the media and fans. All CC did was go about his business as usual and plug through the season.
The perseverance aspect clearly took a toll on the big left-hander. From his personal problems with alcohol to his possibly career-ending knee injury in 2014, Sabathia’s health was not close to a sure thing while struggling through one of the worst seasons of his career.
Sabathia has gotten to the point where he can give the Yankees a chance to win every time he toes the rubber. His mix of a cutter, changeup, and a slider is good enough to get him by and keep opposing lineups in check.
He still struggles in the latter end of his outings, pitches 51-75 via Baseball Reference, as opposing batters slash .421/.476/.737 once they have seen CC multiple times in a game. However, this comes with his age, stamina, and questionable health in his lower half. He still leaves an option to the Yankees.
If Joe Girardi wants to give Sabathia the quick hook, he has the choice to do so. The difference between last year and this year is that by the time Girardi gets to the mound things have not unraveled yet.
CC showed signs of tailing off right at the end of last night’s start. With that being said, they gave him the hook after 90 pitches (six innings) and he gave the team a chance to win. He departed with his team trailing 3-2, well within striking distance and a minimum of nine plate appearances still to be had.
His overall line for the 2016 season thus far may not be glamorous, but in no start has Sabathia allowed more than three earned runs. That is all you can ask of your number five starter.
Moving forth, there should be optimism and comparisons between Sabathia and Pettitte. Sabathia has an extremely similar repertoire to what Pettitte had at the same point in his career. Pettitte relied on a high-80s fastball/cutter, a plus changeup, and a slider just as Sabathia does.
Pettitte was able to work quickly and put the ball exactly where he wanted, riding that effectiveness in high leverage starts to an age of 40 when he decided it was best to hang up the cleats.
The Yanks and Sabathia have to hope that the same level of fortune comes their way. CC is at the point where he has completely transformed himself as a pitcher, and now it is on him to add the finishing touches.