Despite all odds, CC Sabathia is having arguably his best season in pinstripes. The 35-year-old left-hander is 4-4 on the year, but has posted a 2.28 ERA, which leads the New York Yankees’ staff, and is fourth best in the American League.
Despite a rough April, Sabathia was able to turn it around and be an unlikely source of hope for this struggling pitching staff. The key to Sabathia’s success this year has been his ability to finally realize he is no longer the flamethrower he once was and use his breaking balls more often.
Yankees’ fans were disappointed when Sabathia was named the fifth starter at the beginning of the season, and at the end of April Yankees fans wanted his head. Twelve earned runs in 21 innings left him with a 5.06 ERA after the opening month. Many people thought Sabathia would only decline, but surprisingly it has been the opposite. Sabathia has pitched to a 0.71 ERA in the months of May and June, and this leaves many wondering the same thing… how?
The biggest thing Sabathia has done is realize he cannot throw the ball past anyone anymore. His fastest pitch in the 2016 campaign is a measly 90 mph, almost 10 mph slower than his Cleveland Indians days. That being said, he barley even throws his fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, Sabathia has thrown 934 pitches this year; only 13 being four-seam fastballs. Those are mostly in a get-me-over-type situation. Sabathia has relied more on his secondary pitches, and his movement, in order to get outs.
Sabathia has always had electric stuff since he made his debut back in 2001. It showed when he won a Cy Young award in 2007, and signed one of the largest contracts in baseball history in 2009 with the Yankees.
Back when he won the Cy Young award, Sabathia relied heavily on his fastball, which could reach triple digits, and used his secondary pitches to keep guys off balance. Not a bad strategy, which most flamethrowers use. But it took him some time to realize that his fastball was declining, and he finally got rid of it almost altogether.
Sabathia mainly uses his sinker, cutter, and slider this season, mixing in a changeup and rarely a curve ball on occasion. All this movement, to different sides of the plate and changing eye levels, causes hitters to have trouble picking up the baseball, and swing at pitches out of the zone.
He has only surrendered 48 hits in 59.1 innings this year, but has walked 24 batters. Sabathia is known for attacking the strike zone, but has strayed away from that this season, even though he has 49 strikeouts. He throws the ball around the plate, and not directly over, in order to induce outs and keep hitters from getting hits. This leads to more walks obviously, but it has worked well for Sabathia this year.
This new strategy is something that he has embraced. Now, it’s hard to call someone an ace whose fastball averages 88 mph, but he has made it work. The Yankees staff has struggled this year, but Sabathia stepped up just when they needed someone to, showing the veteran poise in him. Hopefully, Sabathia can keep up his stellar performance, and continue to produce despite everyone’s early doubts.