Spring training stats are usually not worth paying attention to, but for CC Sabathia, who was the ace in his first four seasons with the team, the three runs that he allowed in three innings against the Washington Nationals in Viera, Florida on Tuesday is alarming. Sabathia, who had a 3.38 ERA or less and an average of 18.5 wins in his first four seasons with the Yankees, is coming off a season where he regressed with a 4.78 ERA, a 14-13 record and a very high 1.37 WHIP.
So far in the spring, the 33-year-old Sabathia has pitched a total of five innings across two appearances, and has allowed three earned runs, six hits and two walks. All of those runs came in his start on Tuesday. This spring training is important for him because he needs to prove that he can locate his pitches better than last season. He needs to prove to himself that he can pitch effectively with his decreased velocity because it does not seem like his mid-90s fastball that he had earlier in his career will be coming back.
The Yankees radar gun clocked Sabathia’s fastball between 88-89 MPH. “His command was a little off today; that’s really where he got in trouble,” Joe Girardi said. The damage would not have been as bad if he didn’t allow a two-run double to Anthony Rendon on a pitch that he threw higher than he wanted, but he pitched well according to catcher Brian McCann. His decreased velocity proves that he needs to make an adjustment as a pitcher.
Carsten Charles has impressive career stats that are Hall of Fame worthy excluding his performance during 2013. Sabathia finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2001, is a six-time All Star, won the American League Cy Young award in 2007 with the Cleveland Indians after winning 19 games and finishing with a dominating 3.21 ERA and recorded a career-high 230 strikeouts for the Yankees in 2011.
His best season with the Yankees was in 2011, only three seasons ago, where he had a 3.00 ERA, the aforementioned 230 strikeouts and a great 3.77 strikeout to walk ratio and 237.1 innings. He has always been a workhorse, he just needs to reinvent himself now that he can’t rely on his fastball to go along with his other plus pitches. Since his fastball isn’t nearly as fast as it used to be, he needs to locate it exactly where he wants it to go, in order to prevent extra base hits.
One pitcher he could try to emulate is none other than the soon to be 41-year-old starter for the Mets, Bartolo Colon. The hefty righty is in his first year in Queens after pitching arguably his best season of his career during his second season pitching for the Oakland Athletics. Colon, in his year 40 season, won 18 games, had a 2.65 ERA, which was much lower than his Cy-Young campaign of 2005, and only walked 29 batters.
Colon pitched for the Yankees during the 2011 season and had a solid bounce-back after being out of baseball for a year. He was able to pitch his first 150 + innings season since 2005, and had an improved 4.00 ERA, 135 strikeouts and used his pin point fastball accuracy to get outs. He has been able to improve every season since 2011.
Earlier in his career, Colon was able to bring the heat as he was able to throw about 100 MPH, but last season, according to Tyler Kepner, his fastball averaged 89.9 MPH. He has so much movement on his fastball and he throws it in every part of the strike zone that the fastball can serve as more than one kind of pitch.
Colon threw his fastball in 85.5 percent of his pitches he threw last season with Oakland, while Sabathia often uses his plus changeup or slider as an out pitch. Sabathia’s cutter, which he has recently added to his arsenal, could help offset his decreased velocity. However, he needs to be able to locate his fastball exactly where he wants it to go like Colon so that he can get ahead in the count, to lead to throwing his changeup.
The Yankees will need Sabathia to rebound and have stats more like he did in 2012 than 2013 if they are going to live up to expectations. The addition of Masahiro Tanaka will be an upgrade for the rotation, but Sabathia can’t be a weakness like he was last season. Based on other pitches who have lost velocity later in their career and succeeded, it seems like Sabathia should be able to continue to be a productive pitcher.