Perhaps Sabathia Is Too Healthy

I’ve been trying to keep everyone up to date with CC Sabathia‘s velocity since the beginning of the season. Ever since his elbow surgery, pitching just hasn’t been the same for the big lefty. A number of reasons could be contributing to his high hit rates of late, and Brad did a great in-depth analysis of just that yesterday.

The good news is that Sabathia is definitely starting to build up arm strength. He’s slowly built his way from a high 80′s four-seam to a low 90′s four-seam in the matter of two months, and in the last 50 pitches against the Rays on Sunday, Sabathia’s fastball was sitting between 92 and 93 mph.

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Sabathia’s four-seam fastball sat at 92.3 mph last year, so this is close to exactly what we saw in 2012. It’s obviously a great sign, but why is he still getting hit around? Could he be getting beat early in games when the velocity is lower? Is his pitch movement less efficient? So I decided to get the average velocity and movement on all his pitches from 2013 and group them by balls in play and swinging strikes. Then I took all the pitches that were put in play, and divided the group by balls that became outs and balls that were hits or scored runs.

In play
Pitch Type Count Velocity H Mvt V Mvt
CH 54 84.67 8.30 6.48
CU 8 75.41 -3.56 0.34
FF 104 90.23 4.78 8.77
SI 22 89.65 10.30 6.65
SL 45 80.13 -2.18 0.52
Swinging Strike
Pitch Type Count Velocity H Mvt V Mvt
CH 115 84.55 7.98 6.34
CU 30 75.31 -2.00 -0.52
FF 220 90.18 4.85 9.13
SI 43 89.35 10.51 6.95
SL 116 80.12 -2.30 0.39
In play, out(s)
Pitch Type Count Velocity H Mvt V Mvt
CH 31 84.27 8.38 6.41
CU 6 75.20 -3.45 0.54
FF 64 90.24 4.66 8.68
SI 14 89.84 9.95 6.91
SL 30 80.15 -2.17 0.43
In play, Hits/Runs
Pitch Type Count Velocity H Mvt V Mvt
CH 23 85.22 8.20 6.59
CU 2 76.05 -3.89 -0.27
FF 40 90.23 4.97 8.92
SI 8 89.31 10.92 6.19
SL 15 80.09 -2.22 0.72

Looking at velocity alone shows no significant difference between pitches that led to generic outs/swinging strikes and hits/run producing contact. In fact, between 104 four-seam fast ball put in play, the average velocity of an out was 90.24 mph, while the average velocity with a hit/run event was 90.23 mph. Meanwhile, the average velocity of swinging strike on a four-seam fastball was just .06 to .07 mph slower on 220 swinging strikes. This is a pretty good indication that velocity has very little to do with Sabathia’s current issue.

Of all things, his vertical movement seems to be the most important factor in a pitches’ success or failure. In terms of outs, his four-seam is actually showing less overall movement both vertically and horizontally in generic out situations. He’s getting a massive amount of vertical movement in swinging strike situation, but at the same time, this same amount of “rising” action seems to correlate with the hit/run events.

According to the player cards at Brooks Baseball, Sabathia is showing considerably more movement on his four-seam this year, which is not necessarily a good thing. One theory would be that his elbow surgery or weight loss has helped his arm speed, and he has thus increased the spin on the ball. If this isn’t just a product of small sample size, more vertical movement could mean pitches being left too far up in the zone, and an increase in fly balls and extra base hits, something that won’t work in Yankee Stadium or the other hitter-friendly ballparks in the AL East. I can’t say if the control problems are indeed an issue, but from 2012 to 2013, Sabathia has seen his fly ball rates on the four-seam increase from 6.33% to 7.37%, and the home run rates have increased from 0.74% to 1.39%.

So if this is the problem, what can Sabathia do to fix the problem? He could increase his sinker usage, which has fallen to just 11% in 2013. This will lead to more ground balls overall. He could also make a minor arm slot adjustment, as we saw from Phil Hughes last season. If he drops his arm very slightly, the increase in spin should have less of an impact on the vertical movement, and instead add to the horizontal movement.

Thankfully, it looks like Sabathia is regaining his arm strength, and his ability to spin the ball is better than ever. I’m not worried that his recent struggles are due to an injury, and looking at the numbers leads me to believe that Sabathia is actually in an odd situation. It’s as if he has learned how to pitch through elbow issues over the last few years, and is now over spinning the ball with a healthy elbow. If this is truly what is wrong, it’s probably just a matter of time before the southpaw learns how to deal with it.

Mike is the co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money. Outside of blogging baseball, Mike is also a musician, a runner, and a beer lover.

One thought on “Perhaps Sabathia Is Too Healthy

  1. [...] Is Sabathia Too Healthy? It’s About the Money | Michael Eder: CC Sabathia‘s struggles might not be due to a loss in velocity, but in a loss of weight or even elbow surgery because the ball is moving too much at times. [...]

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