C.C. Sabathia has come to a crossroads every power pitcher must one day confront; what will happen now that he can’t throw 95 mph?
For Sabathia, it seems pretty simple, as the big lefty showed up to spring training this season looking considerably thinner. Aware his fastball is not what it once was, Sabathia hinted at a reinvention of sorts at the beginning of spring camp.
“My fastball is what it is,” Sabathia told reporters in early March, according to ESPN New York. “If it gets better, it will. If not, it won’t. I can pitch. I’m fine. As long as I am healthy, I’ll be good.”
While he insisted he lost the weight (about 40 pounds) was for health, Sabathia’s arm has more than the regular mileage on it for a 33-year-old. In 14 seasons, he has accumulated 2,801 innings. At 35, Philadelphia Phillies workhorse Cliff Lee has thrown 2,110 innings in 13 seasons, for the sake of comparison. Note that both Sabathia and Lee were longtime teammates with the Cleveland Indians.
According to data from Brooks Baseball, Sabathia threw as hard as 95 mph on his average four-seam fastball in 2009 and he used it at a 45-percent frequency. His next most oft-used pitch was his slider at 19-percent, followed closely by his changeup at 18.85-percent.
In 2013, those frequencies did not change too much and he even threw his change-up less, despite his fastball’s average velocity dropping to 92 mph. This season, in just four starts, his fastball frequency has dropped to 30-percent and his velocity to 90 mph on average. He is only throwing his change-up 16-percent of the time, but has developed a cutter that he mixes in with sliders and sinkers.
At 27-percent, he is throwing his sinker, a pitch more associated with ground outs than it is with strikeouts, nearly twice as frequently as he ever has. He has also thrown his slider at a 24-percent frequency, up five points from 2009.
As a guest instructor at the Yankees’ spring camp, Andy Pettitte taught Sabathia to throw the cutter, Newsday reported in early March. As Pettitte lost velocity on his four-seam fastball, the cutter became an invaluable weapon that induced weak grounders, pop-ups and likely contributed to the lefty’s longevity.
Joe Girardi has managed C.C. Sabathia his entire Yankees’ tenure, which was also the tail end of Pettitte’s career. Having as close a look at the two lefties as anyone, the Yankees’ skipper is not worried about his ace.
Sabathia’s last outing came in Tampa, where he earned the win against the Rays, allowing two runs in seven innings. His biggest test of the young season will be Thursday in Fenway Park to face the Boston Red Sox, a team that clubbed two home runs against him in Yankee Stadium April 11.