Happy baseball season Yankees fans. All things considered, the Yankees did pretty well in their first game of the 2013 season, even if i was a loss. However, one thing to keep an eye on in the coming weeks: CC Sabathia and his velocity. While the Big Guy did pretty well in his first turn of the new season, one glaring inconsistency was his lowered velocity. And for an already depleted Yankees roster that will rely heavily on consistent pitching, and coming off minor elbow surgery, the continued strong play of CC Sabathia will be pivotal.
Let me start off by saying that one game out of 162 doesn’t really give a whole lot of cause for concern. It is a long season, and players, particularly pitchers, take a minute to get going and get in a routine. I’m not saying that we should alert the media and panic over the fact that CC had low velocity levels in one start. What I am saying is that his recent workloads over the last few years, combined with the fact that he is coming off elbow surgery, is something worth watching, especially since the dip in velocity is not a recent or sudden development as it pertains to Sabathia.
Since 2007, CC has pitched over 230 innings each season, not including the post-season. Similarly, since 2001, CC has pitched over 180 innings pitched per season and has logged over 40,377 pitches on that wonky left elbow during the same time period, the most in MLB. By comparison, since 2001, Mark Buerhle is a distant second on that list, with 39,432 pitches. Since making his MLB debut in 2000, CC has also logged over 2,100 Ks; Javier Vasquez is the only other pitcher who has logged over 2,000 Ks during that same span. (Think about all the other pitchers in that time fram who have not had the same success: Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, etc. Mighty impressive, and exactly why CC is paid like the ace he is.)
The bottom line, which can be missed amongst all the impressive stats, is that CC’s left arm has a lot of miles on it, and even though the surgery he had last fall was not ligament-related (he had bone chips removed), the velocity issue still wears watching with the wear-and-tear issues on the elbow. For instance, in 2012 on Opening Day (the Yankees started 0-3 at the Trop and the roof was seemingly caving in on the season), CC’s fastball averaged about 92 mph, and got up to about 94 mph. Going back to 2011 on Opening Day, that same fastball touched almost 95 mph. On Wednesday against the Red Sox, that fastball velocity came in averaging just over 91 mph, hitting 92 on the gun. Moreover, in 2012, CC’s average fastball velocity was just 92.3 mph, the lowest registered fastball velocity in his career by a fairly significant margin. While for most guys that is fairly normal, given the peripherals with CC, it warrants further monitoring.
For all the bad news, there is good news to temper it. For instance, CC’s K/9 rate in 2012 was the second-highest in his career. Further, his career ERA in the month of April is ghastly, coming in at 4.12. (However, decent numbers in April, 2009 and April, 2012 sandwich two terrible Aprils in 2010 and 2011.) Additionally, for all the consternation about CC, his performance last year remained strong, and his WHIP remained right around 1.20, despite the slightly elevated home run rate.
Overall, it’s just one game. There’s no need to panic. But given all of the other factors, CC Sabathia’s velocity will be something to monitor, even with Yankees fans being overly conscious of the radar gun. It’s not pretty when an ace’s velocity begins to fade (Roy Halladay and the Phillies are starting to see that over the course of the last year), and with the money tied up in Sabathia over the coming years, combined with the need for strong pitching, there will be more pressure on CC than ever. With the weakened lineup, the team will need to tread water for the first month of the season, and if their ace doesn’t start out strong, the Yankees will find themselves in an even bigger hole to start the 2013 season.