"It's just everything. Not being able to make pitches with two strikes, fastball command, location. I just need to work and make certain I can get better and try to help the team."
-- CC Sabathia on needed improvements after his loss to the Rays
CC Sabathia is still trying to figure out how he can succeed with an arsenal depleted by a loss in velocity. In his past three starts, he has a 5.95 ERA, a 1.63 WHIP, and a .913 opponents’ OPS, with four home runs allowed.
He has hit a little bump in trying to find ways to be great again.
Here’s a look at what’s happened, matching up some stats to what Sabathia said.
Too many meatball fastballs
My colleague in Yankees blogging Katie Sharp had a great observation on CC during his start against the Rays.
Sabathia threw 29 of 54 fastballs over the middle-third of the plate height-wise ... in other words, right into the hot zones of most hitters.
The Rays made him pay, turning four of those 29 pitches into hits, including a pair of home runs.
If the Sabathia from 2009 to 2011 had thrown 54 fastballs in a game, he’d have probably thrown 18 into that hot spot (based on his rate of doing so with one-third of his pitches).
From 2009 to 2012, Sabathia had one regular-season start in which he threw 50 percent of his fastballs to that area.
That last start was his second this season and his worst of any start in the past five seasons.
Offspeed stuff catching too much plate
The pitchers who come through ESPN all make the same point whenever they get asked what about the key to an effective slider or changeup.
The most important thing when judging a good one is whether the pitcher can throw a ball that looks like a strike.
CC Sabathia’s vs Mariners and Orioles
In the first two starts of this three-start stretch, Sabathia was not doing that.
The Orioles hit Sabathia’s changeup and slider like they knew it was coming. They had seven hits against those pitches, the most he’s allowed with them in any start over the past five seasons.
Sabathia’s changeup and slider have been in the strike zone more often than he (or most pitchers) would like.
The chart on the right illustrates that point.
To provide some perspective: consider that Sabathia’s target for these pitches would be how often he threw them in the strike zone when he was at his best from 2009 to 2011.
Then, he threw just under half his changeups and 44 percent of his sliders in the strike zone. At his best, those pitches typically net Sabathia 3.5 outs for every baserunner they yield.
In the starts against the Orioles and Mariners, his rate of batters retired to baserunners allowed by hit or walk was 20/12.
Sabathia enters Friday's start with a 3.96 ERA in 11 starts this season. This won't be the first time that Sabathia has had a rough first two months. In 2008, his ERA through the end of May was 4.72. In 2010, it was 4.16.
But he usually figures out how to be that elite dominant pitcher by season's end. The difference is that this time, he'll have to it without his 95 mph heater.