The Yankees have given CC Sabathia a lead in each of his last five starts including last night's against the Tampa Bay Rays. Sabathia has given that lead back in each of those games including last night's 6-4 loss and the Yankee Universe has to be wondering if their team makes the postseason, how long can they last with an ineffective CC Sabathia?
CC has not been brilliant all season.
In his first 15 starts, the Yankees went 11-4 and Sabathia went 9-3 in spite of his 3.45 ERA. He surrendered 10 homers and struck out 105 in 107 innings. Batters hit .257 and slugged .400 against him.
Sabathia then went on the disabled list and didn't make his first start after the All-Star break until July 17. From that date through last night, a series of 10 starts, the Yanks have gone 4-6 and CC himself is 4-3 and the hefty lefty has a bloated 3.91 ERA. He's given up 11 homers in just 69 innings while striking out 64. But batters have hit only .234 and slugged .407.
One of Sabathia's problems has been the decreasing effectiveness of his fastball since the 2009 season and the numbers and the graphics tell the story.
Sabathia's 2009 fastball:
When you look at these graphics remember you are looking for colors in the orange-red range reflecting high batting success. As you can see here, batters were only hitting Sabathia's fastballs on the fringe of the strike zone. This resulted in a .248 batting average on a pitch that averaged 94.1 mph. He allowed nine homers among the 114 hits off the pitch. He recorded 64 whiffs on fasballs.
Sabathia's 2010 fastball:
We can see the orange/red colors more dramatically here in the strike zone as batters hit .262, a jump of 14 points. He gave up nine homers and 98 hits on the pitch that averaged 93.6 mph. He struck out 60 batters.
Sabathia's 2011 fastball:
Now instead of focussing on the orange/red end of the spectrum, start comparing the dark blue to green colors to prior years which reflect low batting averages and ineffective results. You can really see those colors disappearing as last season batters hit .286 against Sabathia's fastball that averaged 93.9 mph, about the same as 2010. However in 2010, 8% of the flyballs hit against Sabathia went for homers while in 2011 that number was up 10.9% as CC ceded 11 homers among the 91 hits he allowed. Strikeouts on his fastball were down to 52.
Sabathia's 2012 fastball:
Now I'm a tad color blind, but even I can see the scarcity of blue here as red has become the predominant color. You can also see by the location of the red in pitches down the middle, that Sabathia has not been effective in fooling or overwhelming batters in the heart of the strike zone. This season, batters are hitting .301 against the fastball that is now averaging 92.4 MPH. That's a jump of 53 points since the 2009 season on a fastball that is slowing down. He's allowed six gophers among the 74 hits, but he's also allowed 12 doubles as batters are slugging .488. He has 31 strikeouts on his fastball.
Understand that the diminishing speed of the Sabathia fastball also lessens the the impact of his other pitches as batters have a smaller differential and are less frequently fooled or can make adjustments.
One quick example of this is the Sabathia sinker:
- In 2009, Sabathia threw a total of 110 sinkers, primarily to righties (88). Overall batters hit .318 with no homers.
- In 2010, the sinker became a big part of the Sabathia repertoire. He threw a total of 508 (righties: 417). Overall batters hit .326 with six homers.
- Last season, CC threw 604 sinkers with 108 now to lefties. Overall, batters hit .313 with one homer as this proved to be a very effective pitch for him.
- This season is another story. Thus far, he has thrown 496 sinkers with 20 per cent of them to lefties.
You can see from the graphic below what happens when a sinker doesn't sink:
The graphic indicates very little downward movement and that means trouble. Overall, many of his sinkers have been stinkers as batters have hit .344 with seven homers to date on the pitch that averages 91.0 MPH.
The Yankees are getting Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte back, and it's not a moment too soon. They need additional consistent pitchers besides Hiroki Kuroda as CC searches for his mojo and seeks to improve his pitching grade above C-.