It’s All About Sabathia
Tonight CC Sabathia will get another chance to prove that he is healthy and that he can be the ace the Yankees expect him to be heading down the stretch. The Yankees ace has seen a September swoon that has seen people questioning his health. He is 0-3 with a 4.67 ERA over his last four starts and he has blown leads in the last five starts. You can talk about whatever you want with the Yankees, but if Sabathia doesn’t turn this around the Yankees can forget about championship number 28.
There are many parts of this Yankees team that you can analyze, but at this point it really starts and ends with Sabathia. If he is going to continue to pitch like has over his last five starts then nothing else about the team even matters. This is not to suggest that Sabathia has had a bad season, but his 3.63 ERA is his highest since 2005. For a normal pitcher he has been fine, but as the ace of the staff Sabathia has much higher expectations, which he hasn’t reached yet.
Looking at Sabathia peripheral numbers suggest he has been a bit unlucky this season. Sabathia’s 8.64 K/9 this season is his 3rd best mark for his career and his 2.05 BB/9 is the 2nd lowest of his career. Sabathia’s LD % this season is 20%, his GB % is 48.6% and his FB % is 30.6%. For his career, Sabathia’s LD % is 20.2%, his GB% is 45.4% and his FB% is 34.4%. So to sum up, Sabathia is striking out more batters this year, walking less batters, getting batters to line out at about the same rate, getting more ground balls and getting less fly outs, but he is having an off year by his standards. Doesn’t make sense does it?
The main difference between Sabathia this year and previous seasons are home runs. Sabathia’s HR/FB ratio is a gaudy 13.8%, which is the highest mark of his career by far. That would seem to be unlucky because he is allowing less fly balls this year than normal. Sabathia’s 3.30 xFIP would also suggest that he has been unlucky this season. This is not to make excuses for Sabathia in anyway shape or form, it is just pointing that he has probably pitched better this year then his numbers look on the surface. Sabathia’s xFIP of 3.30 is better than Hiroki Kuroda’s mark of 3.63, yet everybody has been raving about Kuroda this year and rightfully so. It all comes down to expectations. Coming from the NL West expectations for Kuroda were modest, even though I had a lot faith in him personally. The expectations for Sabathia were much greater so even though Kuroda has had better results than CC this season, there has not been as great of a difference in their pitching as the perception is.
The main reason that people question whether Sabathia is healthy is because of his fastball velocity. His fastball velocity is down to 92.3 MPH as compared to 93.4 MPH for his career. This has led to his fastball being a very ineffective pitch this season. Fangraph’s pitch value has Sabathia’s fastball at a brutal -15.6. Sabathia’s pitch value for his fastball for his Yankees career before this season had been 8.1. This is what has Yankee fans concerned about his future. If Sabathia is really hurt then hopefully he gets that velocity back next season. But, if the loss of velocity is due to the wear and tear of pitching a lot of innings of a long career, then who knows if it will come back. He will need to start using his fastball more effectively if he wants to improve.
The Yankees starting pitching is probably the best part of their team right now. Kuroda and Phil Hughes have done a good job consistently for a long period of time now. Andy Pettitte looked like the Pettite of old before he got hurt this season and Ivan Nova looked like a new pitcher on his first start of the DL. However, none of this matters unless Sabathia pitches to his capabilities. He has had a disappointing season so far, but there are still many important games left to be pitched. Sabathia still has an opportunity to earn his ace card back this season. Will he?