How bad was Sabathia in 2013?

There are times when I wish our readers could see the great conversations the writers here have in our e-mail threads. Every day there are fascinating conversations. Recently, the topic of CC Sabathia has come up and the chances he has to bounce back to be some semblance of his old self as the ace of this Yankees team. The point has been made that Sabathia has had knee and elbow surgeries in his past two off seasons, lost a lot of weight and was not able to condition himself the way he has in the past. The results on the field certainly show a diminished fastball and far from an ace-like season in 2013. But just how "off" was Sabathia in 2013 compared to the days when he seemed a near lock for a victory when he took the mound? The answer, as we shall see, was way, way off. There are many different ways you can look at a pitcher's effectiveness and I will use as many of them as I can here for illustration purposes. I will start with one of my favorite things to look at and that is pitch values. I like to look at the values, for example, that Fangraphs.com gives for a pitcher's pitches over the course of a season. The pitches are broken down to pitch type and based on calculations, a value is given for a pitcher's season for each pitch.

Instead of using Fangraphs' proprietary pitch values, I prefer to look at the values assigned by PitchF/X because at this point, those seem more accurate as to what a pitcher is actually throwing. For more of an explanation, you can look at a recent article on my personal site. Fangraphs is great at allowing you to download the data in spreadsheet form and what I then did was a sum calculation to get a total value for all of a pitcher's pitches. I call it my "stuff" calculation or a measure of a pitcher's stuff over the course of a season.

There were 79 starting pitchers that Fangraphs calls qualified and that was what I used as a frame of reference for Sabathia. Kershaw, of course, had the highest total "stuff" rating with a total pitches value of 56.1 runs above average. CC Sabathia finished seventh from the bottom with -14.6 runs. But it is a little unfair, for example, because Sabathia threw 211 innings compared to a guy like Ryan Dempster, who threw only 168+ innings and finished with -11.7. So I then divided the runs by innings pitched to get a total pitch value per inning.

Even doing so left Sabathia at ninth from the bottom or 70th out of 79 starting pitchers. The only guys below him were the aforementioned Dempster, Bud Norris, Kevin Correia and it gets worse from there. You have to admit it is distressing when your top pitcher can be compared to the likes of those guys.

What is alarming is that Sabathia's pitch values in 2013 are part of a trend and not just a one season blip. The following chart shows the pitch value of his fastball and change-up since 2009. The blue line is the fastball and the red is the change-up:

Sabathia pitch value

Let's look at some other numbers.  There is RA9-WAR which calculates wins above replacement using runs allowed. Sabathia again finished 70th out of 79 pitchers. There is LOB-wins based on how well a pitcher did at preventing runners to score once on base. Sabathia finished 75th out of 79 pitchers.

Sabathia had the 17th highest FIP among the 79 pitchers. Baseball-reference.com lists 128 starting pitchers instead of 79 on Fangraphs.com. And B-R has a statistic called Game Score which is a way of rating starts and how well or poorly they went. Out of the 128, Sabathia's average Game Score was 94th, tied with Jeremy Guthrie. Trust me, you don't want your horse tied with Jeremy Guthrie. CC Sabathia gave up the most earned runs in the American League in 2013.

If we just look at Sabathia against himself, he had the highest hits per nine innings of his career. He had his highest home runs per nine of his career. Naturally, he had his worst home run per fly ball percentage of his career. He had the worst WHIP of his career. He had his worst FIP since 2004. He had the worst ERA of his career.

I think the point here is obvious. No matter how much you may want to sugarcoat his 2013 season, CC Sabathia was awful. A lot of the current hopes for the Yankees are that he will bounce back and have a better season. He is penciled in as the Number 1 starter. Whether or not the Yankees bring back Hiroki Kuroda or win the bid for Tanaka and no matter how many sluggers they bring in for the offense, if Sabathia has another bad season like 2013, it will be a huge obstacle for the team to overcome.