The 2015 New York Yankees rotation is mostly a giant question mark right now, with CC Sabathia being the perhaps the biggest one.
Nobody is expecting much from Sabathia in 2015 because he hasn't given anybody a reason to expect much since 2012. Sabathia went 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA after eight starts last season before missing the rest of the year with a knee injury. His struggles began in 2013 when he had a notable loss of velocity on his fastball and finished with a 4.78 ERA.
Obviously, he is never getting his 95 MPH fastball back, but plenty of pitchers have been successful with fastballs that average around 90 MPH. Despite all the negativity surrounding Sabathia, there are some signs that he can be one of those pitchers.
A scout told ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand that he believes Sabathia's pitching smarts can help him reinvent himself as he turns 35 next season.
“When a guy gets into their 30s, they have to have a second career," the scout said. "I always felt that CC could do that because he really knows how to pitch.”
The first guy I thought of when reading this was Andy Pettitte. Pettitte was incredible for the Yankees at ages 38, 40 and 41, as he pitched to a 3.29 ERA over 389.2 innings. Pettitte never threw as hard as Sabathia did in his prime, but still had to figure out new ways to pitch at an older age. His best pitch during his final years was definitely his cutter -- which helped him avoid hard contact -- and that has been Sabathia's downfall recently.
Pettitte tried to teach Sabathia the cutter last spring as a special instructor, but he didn't use it much in the real games. The home run ball absolutely has killed Sabathia the last two seasons. His HR/FB ratio last year was an absurd 23.3 percent. That is something that is extremely unlikely to happen again.
Sabathia still induced ground balls at a 48.3 percent clip -- which is above his career average -- so it's not like he has turned into a fly ball heavy pitcher. Some of it has definitely been bad home run luck, which is indicated in Sabathia's 3.11 xFIP last year.
His fastball location must be better, as opposing batters hit .352 with a .722 slugging percentage and a .370 ISO against Sabathia's four seam fastball last season. The good news is that batters hit just .226 and .244 against his changeup and slider respectively, so those are still both good pitches for him.
The sinker was also pretty good for Sabathia last year. Even though batters hit .313 off his sinker, they only hit one home run and hit ground balls 57 percent of the time. This means the batting average probably has some bad luck in there. Maybe the answer is for Sabathia to throw even more sinkers and less four seam fastballs if he cannot figure out how to use his less powerful fastball. He threw 235 sinkers and 218 four seam fastball last season. Remember this is only over an eight start sample size.
The other positive thing Sabathia had going last season was his 9.39 K/9 ratio. He was still missing bats despite the reduced velocity. If he could ever just figure out how to cut out the long ball he could be a solid mid-rotation starter.
Steamer is projecting Sabathia to go 11-11 with a 3.93 ERA over 192 innings in 2015. I think most Yankee fans would take that, especially the 192 innings. The Yankees are desperate for innings eaters at this point. Sabathia is a high character person and highly competitive pitcher who would love nothing more than to come back strong for his team. I would not count him out just yet.