With division and wild card rival Tampa Bay coming into town for a 3 game set, the Yankees were in dire need of a dominate performance from their $182 million dollar staff ace. New York entered play on Friday just 2.5 games behind Baltimore in the chase for the 2nd Wild Card and with the newly re-acquired Alfonso Soriano en tow, the deficit was looking a little more manageable. Unfortunately for New York CC Sabathia may no longer be the ace he once was. Heck, right now he isn’t even the ace of his own staff. That designation belongs to Hiroki Kuroda and his shiny 2.51 ERA.
After Friday night’s shellacking , CC Sabathia now has an ERA of 4.65. That mark stands as the highest of his career. It’s worse than the 4.38 ERA he posted as a rookie in 2001 when hitters were pummeling pitchers into submission night after night. And his ERA isn’t the only problem. The big lug is allowing more hits and homers than at any point in his career and more disturbingly, his fastball velocity is sitting 2 mph below his career norm.
Things have gotten downright disturbing as of late. Sabathia has been punished to the tune of a 5.78 ERA since the calendar turned to June. Let me repeat that again: CC Sabathia has turned into some sort of terrible hybrid-monster of Edison Volquez and Joe Blanton. In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s the same Joe Blanton who was just demoted from the Angels rotation.
Cy Young pitchers with 6 All-Star appearances on their ledger aren’t often lumped in with the dregs of the league, but that’s been the case with Sabathia the past couple of months and the biggest culprit has been his velocity. As I stated earlier, Sabathia’s lost 2 miles per hour off the pitch from a year ago and he’s lost about 4 mph from when he first joined the Yankees in 2009.
Those couple of miles per hour have made a big difference to hitters as well. This year opposing batters are knocking Sabathia around the park when he throws his hard stuff. They’re hitting .288 against his fastball and 13 of those hits have left the park. That’s already a new career-high for Sabathia and we’ve still got two months of baseball to play. This isn’t exactly a new trend either because Sabathia’s fastball was hit hard a year ago too.
Over his past handful of starts the Yankees’ lefty has been leaning on his slider more and more as a way to compensate for the lack of trust he has in his fastball right now. In last night’s start against the Rays Sabathia threw 102 pitches and only 37 of those offerings classify as some sort of fastball (30 4-seamers, 7 sinkers), while 34 of those pitches were sliders. That’s not a healthy ratio for a player who has made a name for himself as a power pitcher.
Sabathia also appears to be working through some issues with his release point.
As you can see on the chart (provided from Brooks-Baseball) above, Sabathia’s releasing the ball lower to the ground than he ever has at any point in his career. He doesn’t appear to be getting on top of his pitches, which basically means that his arm is dragging a little bit. That’s leading to fastballs left up in the zone and breaking balls that just don’t drop where they’re supposed to. When CC was releasing the ball from a higher vantage point in April his ERA sat at a very solid 3.35 for the month. Each month since, that release point has dropped and his ERA has gone up. That doesn’t exactly mean CC can just start releasing the ball from a higher arm angle and good results will come, but it would more than likely lead to a step in a positive direction. Sabathia still has all the tools to be an effective, top-tier pitcher in the American League. He just needs to remember how to use them.