We were all waiting for CC Sabathia to put together a great performance at some point. He may have given up three runs last night, but his pitching was a lot better than his ERA would indicate. In fact, the southpaw only allowed 4 hits and a walk in 7.1 innings, along with 7 strike outs. Looking at how tough the first two outings were for Sabathia, its worth looking into how this performance was any different from before.
In his win against the Twins, Sabathia threw 112 pitches, 48% four-seamers, 27% sliders, 15% two-seamers, 8% changeups, and 2% curveballs. Compare this to his last start against Baltimore, with 23% four-seamers, 31% two-seamers, 22% changeups, and 23% sliders. These numbers are far different, and the later numbers from last night’s start are much closer to his 2011 numbers, 43% four-seamer, 27% slider, 17% two-seamer, and 14% changeups. So for some reason, Sabathia was throwing less four-seamers and more two-seamers/changeups against the Orioles.
Looking at the pitch types per inning, there doesn’t seem to be a point where he decided to throw more two-seamer than four-seamers, but there is something that stands out. In his bad start, Sabathia threw the four-seamer 0.73 mph slower and with an inch more horizontal break into left handed hitters. While this isn’t necessarily bad, I think its an indication of fastball issues. While the two-seamer was actually thrown harder than the four-seamer, it only had 8.73 vertical break, which is barely any drop compared to most two-seamers, and an inch less “sinking” action than his 2011 average. It’s clear that Sabathia was having trouble with his mechanics when you look at the break results and speed, but a sinker with no sink means no groundballs, and indeed Sabathia only got 2 groundball outs that night. Against the Twins last night, his sinker was much closer to career numbers at 7.68, and he was able to draw 9 groundballs.
Here we have the spin angle versus speed of the pitches he threw in the rough 2nd, 3rd, and 5th innings of the Orioles game. Looking at the two fastballs labeled in green and blue, you can see that some of the sinkers have the same spin angle as the four-seam fastball. This will cause the sinker to have a similar vertical break to a four-seamer, thus negating the sinking effect. Sabathia was just losing a feel for the sinker in these innings, something we don’t see in his successful 1st, 4th, and 6th innings.
Here is the same graph from last night, and as you can see, the spin angle between the sinker and four-seam is more distinct. The spin axis for a lefty sinker should fall between 115-140 degrees, Sabathia was able to keep his angles at the higher side of 140 degrees. In comparison, his outing against the Orioles had many two-seamer thrown above 140 degrees.
With all the experience the Yankee ace has throwing that sinker, I think we can assume that he was just rusty in his first few starts of the season. The pitch selection and pitch break matches up nearly perfectly with the game last night, and all he should look forward to now is adding velocity. Sabathia should be in full form soon, so we can expect plenty of groundballs and strikeouts.
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