Pitching in the latter half of his career, New York Yankees’ southpaw CC Sabathia must find unique and interesting ways to win.
Favorable circumstances are any pitcher’s best friend, but usually, they aren’t an absolute must by any means. Former New York Yankees ace CC Sabathia is generally reliant upon everything going his way in order to claim the leeway he desires.
It is safe to say that CC is nowhere near what he was in his heyday, which has him relying on his surroundings to do the ultimate damage.
In picking up his 100th career win with the Yanks last night in Oakland, Sabathia relied on comfortable levels of run support and rest. Activated off the 15-day disabled list prior to the game, CC was working with more than pep in his step. Heading into the start, he was 2-1 with a 3.06 ERA in starts on six or more days of rest. On the contrary, he has pitched to 5.79 ERA on five days and a 4.50 ERA on four days (normal rest). At 35 years of age possessing an ever so brittle figure, Sabathia simply cannot be a workhorse, making the extra rest a circumstance he truly needs.
He also relies upon his removal. Most pitchers, particularly with the fierce competitiveness of a CC, will not ask out of a game. There comes a point where the left-hander is not the same, starts tipping pitches, and ultimately gets tattooed. In this case, Sabathia heavily relies on skipper Joe Girardi to identify that time and give him the hook.
The numbers back it up. Opponent batting averages directly increase as CC’s pitch count elevates. Opponents bat a mere .219 off Sabathia in pitches 1-25. However, they manage .259 in pitches 26-50, .323 in pitches 51-75, and .350 in pitches 76-100. Again, this goes hand in hand with durability. At this stage in his career, it is safe to stay stamina is not at an all-time high.
Once a hint of trouble comes about for CC in a ballgame, the Yankees tend to get an alternative option up in the ‘pen. For Sabathia’s sake, you would just hope he has qualified for a win by that time. However, it is evident when opposing batters start to see the ball better and square up some subpar offerings.
This goes hand in hand with the run production in CC’s outings. For any pitcher, and especially Sabathia, pitching with a large or at least comfortable lead provides the opportunity to work in the middle of the strike zone. In tight games, an 85 MPH fastball in the middle of the zone will get taken out of the yard and most times lose the game. In a 7-0 game, for instance, a run here and there will not cost the game.
Sabathia thrives off of big cushions because of that ability to pitch effectively and aggressively with leeway. When provided with anywhere from zero to two runs this year, CC is 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA. On the other hand, when the offense scores him six or more runs of support, he is 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA.
Home and road splits also stand out with Sabathia. There is no coincidence involving his 5.79 home ERA and 2.52 road ERA. According to FanGraphs, CC currently bolsters his highest fly ball percentage (33%) since 2013 and has not had a fly ball rate higher than one-third since 2010 (34.1%).
In a stadium as forgiving to the corners as Yankee Stadium, it is easy to fill in the dots as to why he has had home struggles. Moving on to pitch in a park such as O.Co Coliseum notorious for eating up fly balls is night and day for Sabathia.
Fortunately for CC, his home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) is down to 3.4% from 16.6% last year. In addition, opponents’ pull rate is down 4.2% and his percentage of softly hit baseballs is up 10.2%. Those numbers are a direct result of improved location, changing speeds, and an ever growing knowledge of opposing hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.
Although any starting pitcher would enjoy these benefits, Sabathia continuing to receive them will help him win a tremendous amount of games. At this stage in his storied career, comfortability is key. Several factors can contribute to his success, and it can most times be understood it out by asking yourself “who, what, when, where, and why?”
If proper circumstances – rest, management, opponent, run support, etc. – are in place, the Yankees can forget completely about them. All they can think of is the man who has admirably pitched to a 0.69 ERA in his last two outings, both New York Yankees wins.