The Yankees aging former ace has rejuvenated himself in the past few years, showing he can still pitch. The 36-year-old southpaw was one of the Yankees biggest question marks headed into 2017 but is showing signs of his dominant past.
The Yankees number two starter, CC Sabathia, isn’t going to blow anyone away with his fastball anymore. He struggles even to touch 90 miles per hour, which is around the speed of Aroldis Chapman’s slider. But that has been the story for the aging former flamethrower.
Sabathia has learned how to pitch without velocity instead of only throwing as hard as he could, which in his prime was on the verge of triple digits. This hasn’t been an overnight thing, but as his career has gone on, Sabathia has gotten better despite the lack of an explosive fastball.
Sabathia isn’t going to have an ERA under 3.00 again, nor will he win 20 games a season. Those things were required of him when he was an ace, but now as the Yankees #2 starter, he is expected to have quality starts and keep the Yankees in the ballgame.
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Sabathia has delivered in each of his first three starts of the season, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.47 ERA. But how has he been able to hold hitters to just a .182 average against him? It’s his use of five pitches that he has been able to throw for strikes, all with movement.
According to Brooks Baseball, a website that tracks PITCH/fx data and charts it; Sabathia’s sinker has been his go-to pitch in 2017. He utilized it a significant amount, 30% during the 2016 season and 31% so far in 2017. But it has more drop this season. In 2016, his sinker moved an average of 9.12 inches. His 2017 sinker is moving an average of 11.19 inches per pitch. That’s nearly a foot of movement that the hitter has to account for as he faces the pitch coming in towards him.
Oh, and the ball is coming in at an average of 91 miles per hour. Of the 81 sinkers he has thrown in 2017, half have resulted in groundball outs. He has almost completely abandoned his fastball, throwing it only once in 2017 and 57 times in 2016. Sabathia has relied on movement and control to become effective, and get hitters out.
Sabathia’s arsenal in 2017 includes a slider, cutter, and change-up. His cutter is coming in at nearly the same speed as his sinker, 90 miles-per-hour, while his slider sits at 80. He throws a change-up on occasion, and that comes in at 83.
All of his pitches move, and he has been around the strike zone so far in 2017. In 18.1 innings, he has struck out 11 hitters while walking only seven. Not impressive numbers, but he is getting the job done.
CC Sabathia has been able to accept the fact that he can no longer throw a fastball and reconstructed himself as a crafty lefty. He completely abandoned a pitch that gave him his career, and after a few years has figured out how to pitch without velocity.
If Sabathia continues to use his pitches and hit his spots, 2017 can be a big year for the big southpaw.