Thursday, February 27, 2014

New York Yankees need CC Sabathia to be their ace again

Sabathia in 2013. Photo courtesy of
Keith Allison via Flickr.
The New York Yankees recently committed $155 million to Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to be the future anchor of the rotation, but they need CC Sabathia to be the ace of this team in 2014.

After a very disappointing 2013 season, Sabathia is slimmer and more importantly stronger than he’s been as a Yankee. The 6’7” southpaw dropped some weight last year, but did not work as much on his strength and in his eyes it was an issue.

"I feel good. I feel strong," Sabathia told’s Bryan Hoch. "I don't feel any fatigue or anything like that. I'm excited.”

Is it enough?

Sabathia has tons of miles on that left arm and while it is nice that he is in better shape, it is yet to be determined how his shoulder and elbow will respond to another year of aging. In 2013, he went 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 211 innings. It marked the seventh straight season he tossed at least 200 innings.

Sabathia’s 2013 peripheral stats dropped considerably from 2012. According to FanGraphs, his K/9 rate fell from 8.87 to 7.46 and his BB/9 jumped to 2.77 from 1.98. His HR/9 climbed above one per nine innings (1.19) for the first time in his career and his strand rate was the lowest of his career at 67.4 percent. His ERA- mark of 116 (adjusted for park and league where 100 is average) was by far the worst of his career. He can blame some of that on the fielding behind him, but even his FIP- was his worst ever, coming in at 100, which is considered average.

Sabathia’s fastball velocity continued to wane. He averaged 91.3 mph according to PITCHf/x data provided by FanGraphs. That is down from 92.4 in 2012 and 93.9 in 2013. For the second straight season, his PITCHf/x fastball value cost the Bombers runs (-6.2 in 2013 and -5.4 in 2012).

Sabathia’s slider has more and more become his bread and butter pitch with the decreasing effectiveness of his fastball, though it was not as valuable as in 2012 (down to +9.0 versus +19.0). Finally, Sabathia’s sinker and change up both suffered in 2013, registering a -9.3 and a -8.4 value respectively. When three of your top four pitches are failing, there are sure to be significant issues.

None of these peripheral stats paint a rosy picture for a player who is getting up there in years and whose “baseball age” is higher due to the number of innings he’s tossed in his 13-year career. It is difficult to suggest that he can simply flip a switch and turn things around to be an elite pitcher once again.

I do believe it is plausible that Sabathia can show improvement from 2013 to this season. There has never been a knock on Sabathia’s work ethic and he is in the best shape of his Yankee tenure. If he is indeed stronger, it may boost Sabathia’s fastball back up a notch and should he find a groove again with the sinker, slider and change, he can once again be at least an above-average starter.

I mentioned early on that the Yankees need Sabathia to be their ace in 2014. For a team with zero certainties up and down the rotation, this does not necessitate a 20-win, below 3.00 ERA season. Rather, 16 wins and an ERA in the 3.30-3.40 range will likely put him at the top of the rotation and signify that he has something left in the tank for his remaining time in the Bronx.

I believe Sabathia can reach these metrics because I’m of the mindset -- as he is -- that 2013 was a blip on the radar. I look at 2013 as a transitional stage where his diminished secondary pitches couldn’t make up for the lack of velocity in the fastball. I feel if he can gain a bit more speed on the fastball and have better control over his slider, curve and change, then he’ll again be the ace of the Yankees’ rotation. Let's see if he can do it.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo. Connect with Chris on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.