It’s never really fair to expect Cy Young winners to repeat their performances in the upcoming year. Yes, from time to time, they succeed in doing so. But more often than not, there is a bit of a regression because that’s just how baseball works. No matter how good you are, there’s just only so much that you can control. What broke your way one season might not the next. It’s a cruel way of looking at the game, but just like any other sport, there’s just a limit to how good anyone can be on a consistent basis.
With that said, something appears to be wrong with C.C. Sabathia. It’s not something that’s appearing on the radar gun since, by all accounts, he’s still in his normal mid-90s on fastballs. It’s not something that can be explained away by a diminished strikeout rate because while it is a bit lower than the past couple of years, it’s not out of the norm, especially considering we only have four 2008 starts with which to work. And looking at ESPN.com’s numbers, Sabathia is getting hitters to two strikes as often as he usually does. It’s just that a fewer number of guys are getting to strike three. My bet is that sooner or later, that will correct itself.
But there are some statistical data that ought to raise some eyebrows. On this chart (left), we have some information on Sabathia’s performance over the past three seasons. Sure, nearly everything there in 2008 looks ugly. But his walks per nine in particular is a cause for concern. Seven walks per nine innings pitched isn’t going to win you many ball games. In 2007, Sabathia walked an amazingly low 37 hitters over 241 innings. He’s up to 14 walks already in 18 innings. You’d have go all the way back to August of 2005 to find a four-game stretch where Sabathia had allowed so many free passes.
Then there’s that homeruns per nine. In ’06 and ’07, he posted good numbers here as well, but not so much this year. I usually wouldn’t advocate putting too much stock into this so early in the season. We’re only talking about five dingers here. Ordinarily, it wouldn’t be much of a concern since these things do happen. But it is worth mentioning how badly C.C.’s been tagged over these past four starts. And it’s BAD.
So this chart (left) makes sense. The increase in BABiP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) obviously is directly correlated to the batting average. All those walks we just talked about is a big reason why almost 1/2 the guys that Sabathia has faced this year is getting on base.
But aside from that? The stats look like he’s been throwing batting practice. He’s inducing far fewer groundballs than usual, and the line drive percentage shows that he’s getting tattooed, which helps explain the high BABiP as well (that, and suspect defense).
By the way, I don’t mean this to sound like a complaint, but I really want this pitch f/x data to be tabulated and available quicker. I know it’s an incredibly tedious process and very few people are dedicated enough to do these kinds of things. But I want more information on C.C.’s 2008 than what’s currently available!!! Thank you.
There are two popular explanations here: 1) he’s a free agent at the end of the year and it’s messing with his head, and 2) including the playoffs, he pitched over 256 innings last year and his arm is shot. But I’m not convinced entirely by either argument. For one, Sabathia’s going to get paid no matter what. If this continues, it probably won’t compete with Johan Santana’s deal, but longterm security is still in his future. Maybe it’s because my head can’t wrap around the difference between $70 million and $100 million, but C.C. was reportedly offered something around $70 million for four additional years just a few months ago, and that’s going to buy you some very nice things. As far as last year’s innings totals are concerned, if his arm was indeed shot, then why no drop in velocity (if that is indeed true. Again, pitch f/x would have been useful here. Still not complaining though.)?
“It’s not mechanical. My velocity is fine. I just can’t command both sides of the plate.”
If it’s true that he can’t command both sides of the plate, then isn’t it mechanical?
Simply put, there’s no really obvious explanation here that makes much sense to me. If I had to guess, despite the fact that he is currently destroying my fantasy season thus far, it is a mechanical problem and those can be righted. So I expect him to be OK soon. But the team should really do their due diligence and ask him to get a physical exam. Guys with his build don’t tend to last very long as elite pitchers.