About Last Night: CC Sabathia

CC Sabathia did something that a Yankee starter hadn't been able to accomplish all season. He kept the opposition from crossing home plate. This may seem like a silly thing to say because most people with a brain know it to be true, but when your starting pitcher can keep the other team from scoring early, it helps your offense immensely. Especially the Yankees' offense which only seems to come alive later in games. Another thing that helps? Shutdown innings. After the Yankees scored three in the sixth inning, Sabathia came out and first got Adam Jones swinging on a gorgeous changeup outside and down, walked Chris Davis, then erased the walk by inducing a ground ball double play off the bat of Mark Trumbo.

For this piece, I want to focus on CC's strikeouts. He struck out six last night: five swinging and one looking. In fact, the Orioles were swinging at a lot of his pitches.

swingCC

And they were whiffing on a balls out of the strike zone, especially righty batters like Jones.

whiffs

Here are their whiffs against CC's changeup which was really working last night:

whiffschangeup

And now my favorite strikeout of the night, the aforementioned Adam Jones at bat in the sixth:

CCvsJones5416

The best pitch of the at bat was the last one, pitch number five. Jones made a feeble attempt to make contact with an 85.4 mph changeup that tailed away from the plate and stuck out for out number one of the inning.

In this chart, you will notice that four out of CC's six strikeouts were on balls out of the zone:

fourstrikeoutsofthezone

And these are the pitches he used to finish his at bats. Notice the whiffs on the changeups. Also notice the highest velocity is 91.2 mph:

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

This is the CC Sabathia we all wanted to see. The one whose velocity isn't as high as it used to be, but whose movement tricks batters into weak swings at pitches out of the zone. The crafty lefty. And while it's great that Sabathia stopped the losing streak and contributed in large part to the first shut out of the season for the pitching staff, it's more important that he returned to Baltimore for the first time since one of the darkest points in his life, and he was able to pitch his best game of the season.

[Courtesy of Brooks Baseball]

About Last Night: The good, the real ugly, and what's wrong with Betances?

Last night's game was frustrating, maddening, and pathetic to watch. The Yankees' offense, which had been the bane of the team's existence for most of this young season, actually broke out in a good way in Fenway Park against Red Sox starter David Price, but Nathan Eovaldi decided to follow up his near no hitter performance in Texas last week with a positively dreadful performance in Fenway that ruined the Yankees' chances of snapping a four-game losing streak, and instead, extended it to five.

The Good

Alex Rodriguez is suddenly not dead, you guys! It's amazing how 35 plate appearances will make everyone (i.e. beat writers) think that someone's career is over. And I'm not saying that A-Rod didn't look awful in the first eight games of the season, he most certainly did, but that is not a big enough sample size to declare that someone needs to hang it up and call it a career. He was hitting .100/.229/.200 through those first eight games, but since then, he's hit .282/.333/.667. His OPS+ is now an above-average 108. Again, everything is skewed and looks bad because of those first eight games.

So what did A-Rod do last night? He went 2-4 with a home run and double and accounted for four of the six runs the Yankees' offense scored.

His home run swing in the third actually looked kind of weird to me, as if he didn't get all of the ball, but he still hit it to centerfield, just like his home run on Friday night.

Here's last night's home run:

trumedia_baseball_heatmap (11)

It was a 93 mph fastball that was high, but caught way too much of the plate and Alex hit it 430 feet.

Then, in the fifth inning, Price made the same mistake, catching too much of the plate with a 94 mph fastball on the fourth pitch of the at bat (and with two strikes) and A-Rod hit it to the same part of the ballpark. He didn't quite get all of it. Instead it was a long, two-run double.

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So what's different about A-Rod at the plate? In another small sample size, since 4/27, A-Rod has hit three home runs, two doubles and a single. And in some good news, all but one of those hits were off fastballs. Maybe it was just a matter of Rodriguez getting his timing back at the plate. That's a novel concept.

And yes, Rodriguez will go through more rough patches as the season progresses, but this is baseball, and they happen. Maybe next time, some people won't be so quick to bury a player just because he's struggling for eight games.

The real ugly

On the flip side, feel free to want to throw things at Nathan Eovaldi because he is one of the most frustrating players I've ever had the displeasure to watch. It's unbelievable that a guy with his "stuff" can be so awful. And why can't anyone fix him?

Last night in Fenway, he gave up 10 hits in five innings—nine singles and one home run. According to ESPN Stats and Info, four of the singles were off his slider, four were off his fastball, Ortiz's in the fifth was off a splitter, and the home run was a 76 mph curveball that Travis Shaw reached down and poked out of the park.

The most infuriating thing about Eovaldi is that he has good stuff and when it's working, he's un-hittable. Then something happens and he loses everything. Also, Boston has one of the best offenses in the league, and they don't get fooled on many pitches so you have to really mix up your arsenal in order to get them out. That didn't happen for Eovaldi and he threw 100 pitches in five innings. He only struck out three batters, he walked three and the home run to Shaw was a gut punch.

What's wrong With Betances?

Speaking of gut punches, what is wrong with Dellin Betances? He's given up three home runs and a single in his last three outings and last night's long ball to Christian Vazquez, whoever the hell he is*, turned out to be the game-winner.

Vazquez's shot was a first-pitch 97 mph fastball that was right over the plate:

trumedia_baseball_heatmap (14)

On Friday, he gave up a home run to David Ortiz on an 83 mph slider that wasn't anywhere near the plate, but Ortiz is Ortiz and he poked it the opposite way over the Green Monster.

trumedia_baseball_heatmap (15)

And last Monday night, during Eovaldi's last outing, he gave up a surprising home run to someone named Brett Nicholas, which luckily didn't effect the outcome of the game, otherwise, the Yankees would be on a seven-game losing streak instead of a five-game losing streak.

It was an 81 mph curveball that didn't curve quite enough:

trumedia_baseball_heatmap (16)

I was always used to "What's Wrong With Mo Week" happening sometime in August, so to see Betances going through his own "What's Wrong Week" this early in the season is odd. Hopefully it's just a blip and he'll return to making guys look silly at the plate.

*The NY Post's back page called Christian Vazquez "someone named Christian Vazquez" and I thought it was funny. People in Boston didn't, but who cares about them.

[Numbers and heat maps courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info and Fangraphs]

Going to the Headley

How bad have things become with Chase Headley? Men have a rather impolite saying when going to the men's room. Perhaps you have heard of, "Going to the Head." Lately, I have been saying that I am going to the Headley. And there is much about his first month of the season that sings the Ty-D-Bol theme song. His stats are clean, man, clean as a whistle. Looking for doubles? Nope. Triples? Nope. Homers? Nope. Hits with two outs with runners in scoring position? Hits with men on first and second? Hits with men on first and third? Hits with men on second and third? Nope, nope, nope and nope.

Chase Headley has gotten off to bad starts in his career. But never this bad. And, it would not be too much of a concern if it did not bookend how he finished 2015. September of last season was nearly as bad. That month, Headley played in 31 games and had twenty hits with only three extra base hits. Mind you, that is three more than this April. But even so, his triple slash line last September was, .179/.252/..223. That only looks good against this April's .148/.277/.148.

I was really bullish on the Yankees getting this guy. I bought into that outlier of a season he had in 2012. To my embarrassment, in our IIATMS previews in 2015, I selected Headley as my biggest surprise to be in 2015. It did not exactly happen that way. I always loved his glove. And then last year happened and I cringed every time he threw the ball (as did Mark Teixeira). I was so wrong. According to Fangraphs.com, Headley was the seventeenth best third baseman in baseball last year. Even Yangervis Solarte was better. At least his fielding has been solid to great this season.

So what has happened to Chase Headley? His line drive percentage is comparable to seasons past. His strikeout rate has been stable with his history. There are two major differences. First--and I know everyone is sick of hearing about this stat--the velocity of balls off his bat are down. Second, he is taking many more pitches and swinging less often.

Let's start with the second one because it sounds counter intuitive. It is good to be patient, right? Maybe. His overall swing percentage this season is at a career low of 35.5%. Compare that to his lifetime rate of 43.8%. There is a dramatic difference in the amount of pitches he swings at out of the strike zone. This year, that percentage is 18.2% compared to a career norm of 25.6%. That all sounds good, right? So far, yes. But then we come to the percentage of strikes.

In that latter category, Headley is swinging at 58.3% of pitches in the strike zone compared to a career average of 67.7%. In his monster year of 2012, Headley swung at 70% of strikes. My theory on this is that he is not as aggressive as he used to be and I believe I have observed this watching every game thus far. He should be mashing balls in the middle zone of the plate and too many pass by unchallenged. Then he is forced to swing at a pitcher's pitch. He seems far too passive at the plate. This is my theory. Debunk at will. I fully admit that I am not as good a stat guy as my colleagues.

I also believe the above information bleeds into his amount of hard hit balls. Starting with his season in 2012 and covering the two following seasons, the percentage of balls he hit hard were near 35% or higher. Then last season, it went down to 28% and this year is at 23.8%. His home run to fly ball percentage took a big dip last season and, of course, is nonexistent so far this season.

Can Chase Headley recover? Sure, anything is possible. He won't be THIS bad all season. That said, I am not sure he will become a productive hitter again for the Yankees. His offense had a negative value last year and we are now talking a season and a month of not being productive. His last two full months of play have been alarming. How patient the Yankees are will be interesting to see. The organization will probably be a lot more patient than I.

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About Last Night: Betances and Miller. Holy s%^&!

An extensive number of articles have been written about the construction of the New York Yankees' bullpen leading into the season and in most of them, they've made mention of the appearance of the ternary of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman and how it would mean bad things for opposing batters. Yesterday afternoon against the Seattle Mariners, Yankee fans finally saw what two of the three ternary members are capable of when the Yankees' starter lasts through the seventh and has handed them a lead going into the eighth inning. To say it was incredible would almost be an understatement. It was wondrous, marvelous, amazing, otherworldly, and every other word you can think of to describe something that's genuinely awesome and immensely fun to watch. Here's how Miller has pitched so far this season. Granted it's a minuscule sample size, but it's still splendid:

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Notice the strikes to balls ratio and how few balls have been in play. He has struck out 12 batters, hasn't walked a batter and has only given up two singles in five innings of work. Oh, and he hasn't given up a run.

Here's how Betances has pitched so far this season. Again, small sample size, blah blah blah. Just look:

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Betances has had more appearances and has pitched a full inning more than Miller, but even so, his numbers are also quite impressive. He has struck out 15 batters, walked two and has given up three hits. Betances has three runs in his stat line, but they were unearned thanks to that error against Houston.

As I said in the intro, yesterday's game was fun because we finally got to see a starter make it through the seventh inning with a lead (Thanks for running Brett Gardner!) which set up an appearance for Betances and Miller alone—none of the middle relievers were needed. And what did they do yesterday? Oh, nothing, they just struck out the side in each inning in which they appeared.

Ho hum.

Here's Betances:

Betances threw eight curveballs in the inning and threw five four-seam fastballs.

Here's how he mixed his pitches by velocity (from a low of 83.8 mph to a high of 99.1 mph):

BetancesPitchspeed

Betances finished all three of his at bats with his curveball.

betanceslastpitchAB

Honestly, how the heck is anyone supposed to hit that?

Here's Miller:

As you can see from the video, Miller had his slider working. It was really sliding and when it does that, it's impossible to hit or in some cases, even swing.

When you have an out pitch like that, you use it for strike three and yesterday it worked every time.

lastpitchofABmiller

Here's how Miller mixed his pitches by velocity (from a low of 83.8 mph to a high of 98.2 mph):

pitchspeedMiller

Again, when these guys are on, it's impossible to do anything against them.

I mentioned the following numbers in yesterday's recap, but it bears repeating: In their last nine innings, Betances and Miller have not given up an earned run, have only allowed two hits, they have not surrendered a walk and they have struck out 23 batters. They have a 22.5 and 21.6 K/9 for the season, so far, respectively.

And here's a bonus fun fact that was blasted all over Twitter after yesterday's win: Of the 33 outs recorded by Betances and Miller this year, 27 of them have been strikeouts.

So yes, it's very early, and yes, we are still awaiting Aroldis Chapman's arrival, but yesterday, the eighth and ninth innings were a lot of fun to watch and let's hope that they were a sign of good things to come.

[Heat maps, charts, and numbers courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info and Brooks Baseball]

Monday Morning Musings: 4/18/16

Two weeks down, many more to go.  The Yankees snapped their pesky losing streak yesterday with a 1-run win over the Mariners.  They've got another off-day today before welcoming the A's and Rays to town for the rest of this week.  6 games this week, all at home.  That's a helluva good opportunity to turn this recent offensive slump around and get back over .500.  Here are some thoughts on the happenings over the first 2 weeks: - It was good to see Alex Rodriguez get off the schneid with his 2-run homer to left to get the scoring started yesterday.  It was even better to see him do it against a fastball, which has given him plenty of problems over the first 10 games.  According to Brooks Baseball, A-Rod has seen 44 4-seam fastballs so far and has swung and missed at over 20% of them.  He's also swung and missed at over 13% of the 2-seamers he's seen, so clearly the heat is giving him some trouble.

Last year he surprised a lot of people by showing good bat speed and squaring up a lot of good fastballs.  This year it's been the exact opposite.  Iwakuma doesn't exactly throw smoke either, so I'd still like to see A-Rod do some damage against something moving 94, 95, 96 like he did so often last season.  Hopefully he can use yesterday as a springboard to correct whatever's been causing the early fastball struggles.

- Speaking of fastballs, it was better than good to see the return of Masahiro Tanaka's FB velocity yesterday.  He threw 10 4-seamers and averaged 93.2 MPH on those pitches, maxing out at 94.5.  He also hit 93 with his sinker a few times, both of those values far above what he was throwing in his first 2 starts.  We heard Larry Rothschild say recently that Tanaka needs to stop thinking so much on the mound and trust his arm and his stuff.  Perhaps yesterday was the first instance of him taking that advice and letting it go with the heater.  He looked like a much different pitcher yesterday than he did in his first 2 starts, like he wasn't holding anything back.  If he can consistently stay 92-94 with his fastball, it's going to make the rest of his offspeed stuff that much more effective.

- Carlos Beltran certainly looks like he's picked up right where he left off last year.  After hitting .292/.364/.513 in the second half, he's off to a .341/.357/.610 start in his first 11 games.  He's not going to sustain that line over the whole year or even the rest of this month, but the hot start and the positive eye test is an encouraging sign that he can remain productive in this final year of his deal.  He looks completely relaxed and balanced at the plate, and his at-bats more than anybody else on the team's seem to end with hard contact.

- On the opposite end of that spectrum, the bench production has been lacking in the early going.  Dustin Ackley doesn't have a hit in 8 plate appearances, Aaron Hicks only has 1 in 13, and Austin Romine hasn't made anybody forget that he's Austin Romine.  The only player swinging a decent bat off the bench is Ronald Torreyes, who is 6-12, and he was expected to be the weakest offensive link of the bench group.  It could just be a matter of adjusting to irregular playing time and I'm sure Joe is going to start working Hicks in more to keep his outfield starters fresh, but it would be nice to see these guys hit a little bit when they're in the game.

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Can CC Sabathia be 2013 Andy Pettitte?

The Detroit Tigers were about as bad a matchup on paper as CC Sabathia could have possibly gotten for his opening start of the 2016 season. Eight of the Tigers' nine batters were righties, including sluggers Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. Sabathia's splits against righties and lefties were drastic last season with righties having a .370 wOBA against Sabathia compared to a .231 wOBA for lefites. The Yankees were desperate for a six inning start since neither of their first four starting pitchers achieved that. Since you can't predict baseball, Sabathia was able to do it as he allowed three earned runs over six innings, including retiring the first nine Detroit hitters. It was extremely clear that Sabathia was trying to reinvent himself as a new pitcher trying to follow what Andy Pettitte did with great success at the end of his career.

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Profiling the (Probable) Opening Day Bullpen

With just under seventy-hours separating us from Opening Day, the Yankees bullpen is mostly settled. Andrew Miller will be the closer (assuming he can pitch through his injury). Dellin Betances will be the fireman (assuming that Miller is able to pitch; if not, he'll be the closer). Chasen Shreve, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, and (probably) Kirby Yates will be the bridge from the starters to Deldrew Millances one-two punch. And Ivan Nova will (probably) be the long man. There are still several issues to be sorted out, it seems, but CC Sabathia, Nova, and Yates are the only pitchers remaining in camp that do not have a set role with the team at this juncture. The smart money is on Sabathia being named to the rotation, so the rest is simply an educated guess.

Earlier today, Twitter user @detectorsarcasm asked that we offer a bullpen breakdown - and we aim to please. However, given the above, I felt that we needed at least a bit of exposition before getting underway. With that out of the way, let's dive right in.

Andrew Miller

Miller was light's out in his first season with the Yankees, posting a 2.04 ERA (2.16 FIP) while striking out 40.7% of the batters he faced, converting 36 of 38 save opportunities along the way. Surprisingly (insofar as fastball/slider LHP are concerned), he was far more effective against RHH, limiting them to a .130/.227/.217 slash line - though, to be fair, lefties only hit .227/.277/.326. Miller is a two pitch reliever, working with a fastball that sits around 94 mph and an 84-ish mph slider. As per PITCHf/x, batters hit only .092/.172/.123 against his slider last year ... so it's probably a reasonable that his dominant breaking ball represents 54.1% (!) of his offerings.

Dellin Betances

Would it be too much of a cop out to call Betances a right-handed version of Miller? Dealin' Dellin's fastball has more velocity, averaging 97 mph last year per PITCHf/x, and he struck out slightly fewer batters (39.5%) - but their pitch usage was virtually identical, and both are big, intimidating presences that flamed out as starters and found great success in the bullpen. And, most importantly, both are among the very best relievers in all of Major League Baseball.

Chasen Shreve

Acquired last off-season (along with David Carpenter - remember him?) in exchange for Manny Banuelos, Shreve was excellent for most of his rookie season. Through the end of August (52.1 IP), he posted a 1.89 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB. His last month, however, looked like this: 6.0 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 5 K, 4 HR, 13.50 ERA, .500 BAA. To say that Shreve struggled down the stretch would be putting it very, very lightly. The 25-year-old lefty is a true three pitch reliever, working with a low-90s fastball, splitter (possibly his best pitch), and a slider. The reasoning behind Shreve's struggles can't easily be explained, as his stuff (at least in terms of velocity) was there throughout the season. The best case scenario is that it was a small sample size and/or fatigue related issue, which doesn't seem unlikely.

Johnny Barbato

Barbato was also acquired last off-season, in exchange for Shawn Kelley. The 23-year-old righty has worked his way through the minors slowly but surely, spending at least half a season at each level since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft. He missed time in 2014 and 2015 due to an elbow injury that did not require surgery, else he may have made it to the show already. Barbato features a mid-90s fastball and a big breaking curveball in the upper 70s (a legitimate swing and miss pitch). His command and control are more good than great, but he tends to keep the ball down which mitigates his occasional bouts of wildness. He fits the Yankees mold of flamethrowing relievers to a T.

Luis Cessa

Cessa and fellow RHP Chad Green came over from the Tigers in this off-season's Justin Wilson deal. The soon to be 24-year-old was signed by the Mets as a shortstop in 2008, but was converted to pitching in 2011 due to his inability to hit a baseball. Cessa has surprisingly solid mechanics and a consistent delivery that belies his relative inexperience, and he has three usable pitches in his low-90s fastball, change-up, and slider. No one pitch stands out as a plus offering, but he commands all three fairly well, and keeps the ball on the ground. Cessa profiles best as a middle reliever or back of the rotation starter, but he has shown incremental improvements over the years, so the best may be yet to come.

Kirby Yates

I first heard of Kirby Yates (which I was certain was a made-up name) in this FanGraphs post, which explores some potential bargain-level relievers. Despite some disconcerting numbers in 56.1 IP at the big league level (including a 5.27 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 2.24 HR/9), Yates has posted excellent strikeout numbers throughout his career on the strength of a low-90s fastball and a couple of big breaking balls. He's a flyball pitcher, which may not play well in Yankees Stadium - but he has big time strikeout potential and has earned a shot at the last spot in the bullpen (particularly with Bryan Mitchell shelved for three months or so).

Ivan Nova

Nova has only 16 relief appearances in his professional career, so coming out of the bullpen will be a fairly new experience for him. He has averaged just under 93 mph on his fastball for his career, so there's a good chance that that plays up significantly in relief, and his curveball is a legitimate strikeout pitch when it's working. Stacey already predicted that he would pull a 2009 Phil Hughes, and he certainly has the stuff to do so. For the time being, though, I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up as a handcuff for Sabathia so that he can remain stretched out in case the Yankees need a spot start.

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Tanaka Needs To Show Us Something

Stacey mentioned in her open thread yesterday that Joe Girardi stated that Masahiro Tanaka had to show Girardi something in Tanaka's last Spring Training game to get the nod for the Opening Day Starter. And while Girardi dismissed the importance of such an "honor" during an in-game interview over the weekend, I cannot help echoing Girardi's thought and expanding it for all of 2016. Masahiro Tanaka needs to show us something.

There is expectation that Tanaka is an ace...a top gun...an elite starter in the American League. The reality is that Tanaka has not been that guy since June 28, 2014. There have been stretches on the disabled list, concerns about his elbow--and most importantly--middle of the road pitching ever since that complete game loss to the Red Sox.

At this point, you can forget about the elbow. Yes, it might explode any time. But that can be said of every pitcher in baseball. He says he has been fine and so has everyone else. But his pitching has not been that fine..It has been adequate. For starters with at least 150 innings in 2015, Tanaka finished 57th in fWAR and 54th in FIP. That compares closest to Mike Pelfrey. Mike Pelfrey.

My observation is that it all starts with the fastball. So that is where I started when looking up data. I have no problem acknowledging that Tanaka has a devastating split finger pitch. But that pitch is most effective when set up by other pitches, especially the fastball. According to Fangraphs.com, Masahiro Tanaka's fastball rated 86th in baseball last year. To get a full gauge on that placement, 87 pitchers were rated as having thrown 150+ innings. The only fastball that was rated lower in baseball last year was Jered Weaver who throws his fastball these days at about pony league speed.

To make sure I wasn't being overly jaded here, I went further with those numbers. Fangraphs tends to lump all fastballs together including two-seam, four-seam, sinkers and cut fastballs. Using PitchF/X, they rate Tanaka's four-seam fastball as 82nd out of 87. That's not much better. According to PitchF/X, Tanaka also throws a sinker and that pitch was rated 15th. BUT, only twenty pitchers throw a sinker.

The bottom line is that Tanaka's fastball has become somewhat akin to Phil Hughes' when Hughes was starting for the Yankees. And it shows because either Tanaka has become more loathe to use the pitch or McCann is more loathe to call it. Again, according to Fangraphs, Tanaka's total fastballs as a percentage of his pitches went down in 2015 to 32.5%, eight percentage points lower than the year before. According to PitchF/X, only twelve pitchers with 150 or more innings threw less fastballs as a percentage than Tanaka.

I need other, more talented writers on this staff to look at spin rates, zone charts and the like to see if location is a problem or a lack of spin and movement. The only thing I see is that his fastball often gets crushed on the batter's sweet spot. That would lead to more homers and indeed, Tanaka's rate rose last year from 0.99 per nine innings in 2014 to 1.46 per nine.

It should also be noted that Tanaka's strikeout rate went down from 26% in 2014 to 22% in 2015. Without an effective fastball, it is harder to set up the split ahead in the count. It also might account for a slight rise in walk rate if Tanaka does not have confidence in the pitch.

Projection systems don't see a big improvement in 2016. Of the four I checked, only one was optimistic that Tanaka's 2016 will be better than his 2015. Time will tell. But I am inclined to agree.

Many fans and analysts point to CC Sabathia as being the weak link and the worry in the Yankees' rotation and rightly so. In my mind, Masahiro Tanaka is in the same category and is a part of the rotation that is causing me some serious doubt.

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CC Sabathia has a home run problem

Sabathia vs NYM 2015 CC Sabathia has given up a lot of home runs the past few years. In this post, we're going to look at how many he's given up, what the projections say about 2016 and we will try to figure out what will actually happen this season. (Maybe.)

Yankee fans hoping for a renascent CC Sabathia in 2016 could be in for a rude awakening

When Sabathia signed with the New York Yankees in December 2008, he had already logged nearly 1,660 career innings with his career high of 253 occurring during earlier that year when he split his time between Cleveland and Milwaukee. Now, entering the 2016 season, Sabathia is showing the wear and tear of a former dominant ace with 2,988 2/3 innings on his arm and is searching for a way to remain a part of his team's starting rotation. (As I was writing this piece, Sabathia recovered a bit by holding the Rays to two runs in five innings on Thursday, but heading into that night's game, Sabathia's spring ERA was well above seven. Of course, they're Spring stats and they don't mean anything, but his velocity was also low so...)

Sabathia’s velocity, which was a strength a few short years ago, is now becoming his undoing.

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As you can see, his velocity has been on a steady decrease since 2012. Diminished velocity on secondary pitches isn’t as dire as it is on your fastball, and it may not seem like much, but when the gap between your fastball and "soft" pitches closes from 15 mph, and at some points, nearly 20 mph to just over 10 mph, hitters will have an easier time adjusting and end up hitting pitches they used to have trouble recognizing.

It’s not completely dire. Sabathia isn't only reaching 82-83 mph on his fastball, like other pitchers (Jered Weaver) so all is not lost, but the Yankees have to hope that he’s just starting a bit slow in Spring Training and that the last five starts of his 2015 campaign—when he was 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA—are more on par with what we’ll see this year. If not, they're going to have to figure out what to do with him.

A projection oddity for 2016

I took a look at three major projection systems' predictions for Sabathia's HR numbers. He's always given up home runs, but the last few years have been trending downward—well, down for him, up for the players hitting home runs off him—and I wanted to see if the numbers would increase. PECOTA sees Sabathia’s HR total increasing to 33 (up from 28 in 2015) while Steamer and ZIPS see those totals going down (17 and 20 respectively) but Steamer and ZIPS are also seeing a decrease in games started (23 and 21 respectively) while PECOTA is projecting 33 starts for Sabathia which would match his 2013 numbers. Sabathia’s career high in starts occurred twice: in 2007 and 2010 when he started 34 games (his age 26 and age 29 seasons). In 2013, his age 32 season, he posted his career worst ERA 4.78 and gave up a career worst (to that point) 28 home runs. He matched that total last season in 44 fewer innings.

While looking at CC's stats on Baseball Reference, I decided to look at the players who were most similar to him through their age 34 season (CC turned 35 mid-season 2015). The range of names was pretty impressive, but the five that stood out were Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Dwight Gooden, Bob Welch, and Mike Mussina. Clemens was at 3,040 innings, Glavine 2,900, Gooden 2,695, Welch 2,733 and Mussina 2,668 and Sabathia has more home runs at this point in his career than all of them, in more innings than Glavine, Gooden, Welch and Moose, but in fewer than Clemens.

The many facets of the home run problem

Since the beginning of 2013, 89 pitchers have thrown at least 400 innings. Sabathia has the highest HR/FB and the third highest HR/9 rates among those 89, and it doesn't seem like a fluke.

Are all of the home runs crushed? Not recently.

Year True Dis. Stadium Dis.
2012 403.5 402.7
2013 384.2 383.5
2014 403.1 399.9
2015 380.3 379.6

And here are his longest and shortest home runs since 2012:

  • 2012: Longest - 448 feet hit by Josh Hamilton in Texas.
  • 2012: Shortest - 365 feet by J.J. Hardy in Baltimore.
  • 2013: Longest - 421 feet by Evan Longoria in Yankee Stadium.
  • 2013: Shortest - 344 feet by Raul Ibanez in Yankee Stadium.
  • 2014: Longest - 439 feet by Carlos Gomez in Milwaukee.
  • 2014: Shortest - 344 feet by L.J. Hoes in Houston.
  • 2015: Longest - 431 feet by Mike Olt in Yankee Stadium.
  • 2015: Shortest - 326 feet by Allen Craig in Boston.

Here's his home runs by velocity:

70-79 mph 80-89 mph 90-99 mph
2012 2 6 14
2013 4 9 10
2014 0 7 1
2015 3 15 6

Home runs by pitch type since 2012:

# of starts Home runs Fastball Slider Changeup Curve Cutter
2012 28 22 14 5 2 1 0
2013 32 28 16 5 5 2 0
2014 8 10 4 3 2 0 1
2015 29 28 15 4 5 0 4
totals 97 88 49 17 14 3 5

And here's the home runs by where they land in the strike zone.

Upper Half Lower Half In the zone Out of the zone
2012 9 13 21 1
2013 13 15 25 3
2014 5 5 10 0
2015 8 20 27 1

This also illustrates how hitters (from both sides of the plate) have done when Sabathia pitches in the zone. Obviously, he'd be better off not throwing it down the middle, but that could be said for every pitcher, even those with a scorching hot fastball. CCsluggingpercentagesince2012

More home run stats since 2012

  • Sabathia has given up 15 home runs to lefties and 73 to righties.
  • He's given up 37 at home and 51 on the road.
  • Last year he gave up 25 out of his 28 home runs to righty batters and gave up 90% of his home runs to righties in 2014.
  • He's averaging 19.5 home runs a season, but the shortened 2014 season skews that a bit. If we go by those numbers in which he gave up 10 home runs in only 46 innings, it's quite possible that Sabathia could have given up between 30-40 home runs, if he had pitched a full season.

Another thing I looked at were his quality of contact stats. Per Fangraphs: Quality of Contact Stats (Soft%, Med%, and Hard%) represent the percentage of a hitter or pitcher’s batted balls that have been hit with a certain amount of authority. The numbers (Soft%, Med%, Hard%) will equal 100 percent.

Soft% Medium% Hard%
2012 16.4 55.0 28.6
2013 16.1 51.2 32.7
2014 16.3 56.5 27.2
2015 16.5 54.4 29.1

CC actually is good at not giving up many soft hits, but he ranges from awful to average in giving up medium and hard hits. 2012 was his worst in giving up medium contact (55 percent) while he was great at soft contact (16.4 percent) and below average with hard contact (28.6 percent). From 2014 to 2015, he actually improved his medium and hard contact rates from awful and below average (per the range on Fangraphs), to poor and average, so that's something!

But remember, these numbers aren't perfect because it's not always guaranteed that a ball hit hard will fall for a hit and that a softer hit ball will automatically be an out, but it does illustrate that Sabathia is having issues with balls that aren't necessarily being hit that hard (medium).

So what does this all mean for Sabathia's home run rates in 2016?

It all depends on how he adjusts to being a former hard throwing lefty ace who doesn't have as much left in the tank. And it's a story you read about a lot in Major League Baseball. A hard throwing, innings amassing, now former ace of a team enters the twilight of his career, and he comes to the point of no return. Thanks to the cruel march of time, there's no going back to his former dominant days, and thanks to that same cruel march of time, that ace must now make a choice: Does he continue pitching the way he's always pitched even if it means poor results which hurt his team’s chances of making the playoffs or does he reinvent myself and pitch to his new, somewhat diminished abilities?

It's very possible that CC stays consistent, doesn't fall off a cliff, and gives up around 27-28 dingers this season, but, if Sabathia does give up 33 home runs like PECOTA is predicting, he'd end up matching James Shields' 2015 total.

[Data courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info, Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Prospectus.]

Monday Morning Musings A Week Away From Opening Day

It's close now, real close.  In less than a week the 2016 MLB regular season will officially be underway, and in a few hours more than a week the same will be true for the New York Yankees.  The roster trimming continues, the speculation about who will and won't nab the last few Opening Day 25-man slots has intensified, and the anticipation of first pitch next Monday is rising.  Here are some assorted thoughts on where the Yankees stand a week away from that first first pitch. - At the start of camp, I didn't think there was any way that Gary Sanchez wasn't coming out of ST as the backup catcher.  I also didn't think there was any way that Rob Refsnyder would come out of camp with a big league roster spot.  Two weeks ago, I completely flip-flopped on both of those thoughts and then Refs took a few ground balls off the dome and everything changed again.  The Yankees have made a clear commitment to get younger and build from within over the last few seasons, but it's good to know that they still recognize when guys aren't quite ready and are willing to give them the time they need to be fully prepared to come up to the show and contribute.  Sanchez has swung a cold bat all spring and Refsnyder needs more work at third base if he's truly going to be an option there for Joe.  There's nothing wrong with letting them work on those things in the lower-pressure environment of Triple-A, especially when there are other options for their positions available.

- We already know who that other option is going to be at backup catcher.  Now with Refs getting sent down yesterday, the question becomes who fills in for him as the final utility infielder.  It's a 2-man race between Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes and I'm hoping with every fiber of my being that it ends up being Torreyes.  If ST stats mean anything, he's been the much better hitter this spring (.313/.333/.375 in 32 ABs compared to .167/.231/.250 in 24 ABs for Kozma) and that should give him a leg up.  He's also younger, he's been healthier in camp, and he can play the same mix of positions that Kozma can.  I've said all along that I don't want Kozma on this team.  He's basically a Brendan Ryan clone and I think using a roster spot on a player like that is a waste.  Torreyes comes with a little bit of projectability thanks to his young age and his high-contact approach is a great fit for a part-time bench gig.  If it comes down to these 2 for the last bench spot, Torreyes is the clear choice in my mind.

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