Let’s not pull any punches; Last year was terrible for CC Sabathia. The big lefty made 32 starts and pitched 211 innings like he does every year, but the problem is that he was bad at pitching those innings. His 4.78 ERA was 76 out of 80 qualified startersa, and he allowed a league high 112 runs on a career high 28 home runs. He also had career highs in WHIP (1.370) and H/9 (9.6). He’s been considerably better this spring, but can he keep this up all year?
First of all, let’s discuss just how good CC has been this spring. After a shaky start on March 11, in which he allowed 3 runs in 4 innings to the Nats, he allowed no runs on 7 hits and a walk in his last 17 spring innings. That included 5 no-hit innings against the Marlins, 7 shutout innings against the Pirates and 4 more his last start against the Pirates again. CC hasn’t looked this good in a long time. In fact, it’s the first time he’s looked this good since before he showed up to Spring Training last year.
That’s when the talk started about his diminished velocity. Sabathia lost a significant amount of weight between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and seemed to lose some zip on his fastball along with it. There was a time when Sabathia could throw consistently in the mid-to-high 90s. Last year, he was lucky to ramp up to 94 on a hot August day. Unfortunately for him, he kept pitching like he could throw 97 or 98, and often got tattooed. CC also says that, because he focused on weight loss and not strength, he never got his legs under him last year and was also subject to fatigue late in games. I’m willing to believe him here, because he often ran out of gas late in games and blew leads.
So what’s different this year? For one thing, Sabathia showed up to camp in the best shape I’ve ever seen him in. People all over the internet gasped when the first pictures of CC circulated the newswires. He looks lean and mean, although he says he didn’t lose that much actual weight because he put on muscle and strengthened his body.b The one thing he didn’t seem to strengthen, however, was his fastball. He was clocked in the high 80s during his first start (everybody panic!) and has hovered in the low 90s throughout the spring, even during the last couple of dominant weeks.
Sabathia and Joe Girardi have said all along that, with or without the velocity, Sabathia knows how to get people out and can do so successfully. He’s always had a world class change up, but he came to camp with a new weapon this year… the cutter. That’s right, folks. The elusive cutter. The pitch that made Mariano Rivera famous and led Andy Pettitte to a border line Hall of Fame career. What the cutter does is provide a slightly different look for a hitter. If you’re throwing a 90 mph straight fastball, don’t even unpack when you get to Spring Training. The cutter is, most of the time, a little slower than a regular fastball, but breaks slightly at the last minute. Baseball is a game of inches, so a cutter can make a real difference if used correctly.
I’ve always been taught to look speculatively at statistics from March, but it’s hard to argue that Sabathia has looked great. He’s not the same pitcher he used to be, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be successful. Remember Mike Mussina? He once possessed a great fastball, but lost it in his later years. He suffered through a couple of bad seasons before mastering the 2-seam fastball (kind of like a cutter, but with opposite side movement) and won 20 games his last season in the bigs. Sabathia has always been a good pitcher, not just a hard thrower, so it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that this cutter could revive his career.
If the Yankees want to win the World Series this year, they’re going to need Sabathia, so I’ll wait and see how his April numbers stack up. Let’s keep our fingers crossed, Yankees fans.
Featured image courtesy of: Fansided Sports Illustrated
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