Following the game on Saturday, Joel Sherman wanted to know the answer to this question so badly that he forgot his manners. You can watch the exchange here. The series of questioning, and what I thought was personally an inappropriate tone from Sherman, resulted in a heated confrontation in Girardi’s office later that evening. Steve S covered the journalistic integrity behind Sherman’s actions, and I tend to agree that he went overboard. Sports writers, especially in New York, are known to be tough, but at what point does tough cross the line of ethics and standards?
In my opinion, Sherman has done his readers a disservice by both showing a bias against the manager, as well as ensuring that they won’t be provided with any inside information from Girardi for now on. This type of cut throat attitude certainly helps create interesting stories, more readers, but at the expense of the truth. What we’re left with is essentially a non-story, and it’s become a consistent problem with the majority of sports writers in this city, and the very reason why I always found myself reading sports blogs over newspapers.
So while Joel Sherman was unable to create a narrative about CC Sabathia‘s elbow injury, I figured that we could try to answer the question with actual data and visuals. Let’s first take a look at the raw PITCHf/x data provided by TexasLeaguers.com.
As opposed to his previous three post DL starts, the injury question was mostly thrown around after Saturday night’s game, where Sabathia surrendered 5 earned runs over 6.1 IP. Personally, I felt he hadn’t pitched that well before, but I was wrong, because over the previous three starts he had 21.1 IP, with just 6 earned runs and 21 K’s. So now that we have the PITCHf/x data in front of us, it doesn’t come as a surprise that his pitches are nearly exactly the same from before his DL stint and after. In fact, his velocity is slightly increased since his injury, and the movement is largely more favorable.
Here we have an image put together by @YankeeSource on Twitter. Superimposted are two CC Sabathias, one from June and one from Saturday evening. I don’t see a single difference in mechanics.
This GIF above shows his mechanics from August 3rd to September 3rd. Since there were plenty of complaints about his command since returning from the DL (despite just 3 walks over his last 4 starts), I chose a pitch that clearly missed it’s spot. Even looking at a pitch that was clearly mis-thrown, his mechanics are identical. Nothing to see here.
Above are the release points of his pitches. The release point from pre-DL remains in color, while the release point from after the DL is black. And yet again, we have no signs of change.
Through all three of the images above, there is no noticeable difference in his mechanics or release point. Combine this with the PITCHf/x data showing consistency from before and after the DL, as well as his strong previous three starts, and I’m starting to think this injury business is ridiculous.
So why are people convinced that he’s lost velocity and still suffering an elbow issue. Take a look at the PITCHf/x data again and you’ll see that his selection has changed a bit. Recently, Sabathia has run into some trouble pitching to right handed hitters. Before the DL, he held righties to a .249/.302/.374 tripleslash, but after he’s seeing them hit .258/.289/.495. It’s no coincidence that Sabathia has retaliated by throwing more of the pitches that he uses to neutralize opposite side hitters. Both his sinker and changeup have significantly increased in usage, and that’s because both pitches move hard movement away from righties. However, the majority of people are only seeing a decrease in velocity in his overall fastball, and not considering that he’s throwing his slower sinker more than his four-seam fastball.
The last theory, that he’s throwing his changeup more because his elbow injury limits his slider, is debunked when you see that the selection on the slider hasn’t declined all that much. Likewise, there is still great movement there. It’s much more likely that, since he’s been struggling against righties, he’s choosing to throw the changeup more often to them, a pitch that moves away, compared to the slider, which moves in.
In the end, there is no evidence that Sabathia is injured. His mechanics, velocity, movement, spin, and results are consistent. The only true difference is his selection, which he’s likely choosing to counter a slump against right handed hitters. Sorry if you wanted a ridiculous narrative, but there’s no reason to panic. With the hitting starting to come alive for this team, beat writers were just looking for something to write about on the pitching. Sabathia looks as healthy as ever, and I’m confident that Saturday was just an outlier for our ace.
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