What CC could learn from King Felix

There are a lot of instances in baseball in which we would say: The young guy can learn from the veteran.

Tonight might be a good example of one in which the vet can learn from the younger guy.

What we’re referring to is how CC Sabathia brings his diminished fastball velocity into a matchup with Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and his diminished fastball velocity.

You’re probably fairly familiar with the issues of the former. The latter has been dealing with similar issues, but has had no problem in doing so.

A week ago, on a Mariners blog, U.S.S. Mariner, Jeff Sullivan (an occasional contributor to ESPN Insider) wrote:

“With less of a fastball, Felix worked on his patterns. With less of a fastball, Felix worked on his location. With less of a fastball, Felix mastered the changeup, then he mastered that mastered changeup. We aren’t to the point yet where we can say that Felix is thriving as a finesse pitcher, but what’s crazy is that such an idea isn’t wild or unrealistic.”

Hernandez Fastball/Sinker Usage
By Season

Just to illustrate a couple of those points with numbers:

In 2009, Hernandez threw a fastball, sinker or cutter about 66 times in a 100-pitch outing, and threw the heater regularly at 94 miles per hour.

In 2013, he’s throwing the heater about 52 times a game, usually at around 91 miles per hour. Year to year, he’s netting almost exactly the same rate of missed swings as he did four years ago (in fact, he’s at 18 percent this season, up from 14 percent then).

In 2009, Hernandez mixed in a curveball, changeup and slider anywhere from 10 to 13 times on a given day. Those pitches combined to net him 84 outs, which amounts to around three per start.

In 2013, he’s averaging 23 changeups, 15 curves and 10 sliders per 100 pitches. And they’re now netting him about seven outs per start.

With regards to pitch location, the increase in offspeed pitches and the knowledge of less power on the fastball has resulted in more pitches to areas in which it’s harder to drive the ball.

He’s increased his rate of throwing pitches to the lower half from 57 (2009) to 64 times (2013) per 100 pitches. In turn, Hernandez’s rate of allowing what our video-tracking service refers to as “hard-hit contact” is virtually the same as it was in 2009 (23 percent of at-bats).

This is all working very well. Hernandez has gone eight innings in each of his last three starts, averaging a mere 12 pitches per inning.

How does this relate to Sabathia?

The Yankees ace has lost his ability to put the kind of oomph behind his fastball that he used to. It’s now averaging 90 miles-per-hour. But where Hernandez learned that he had to bring the pitch down from the eyes to the knees, Sabathia is still trying to figure out what pitch patterns work best for him.

Opponents' OPS By Pitch Type
2013 Season

In fact, our pitch-tracking tool has them throwing almost an identical number of pitches to the lower-half of the zone or below (CC 222, Hernandez 221). But Sabathia has thrown 50 more fastballs than Hernandez this season to get to that number.

That might explain why opponents have a .933 OPS against Sabathia’s heater and a .681 against Hernandez.

And it might best show where these pitchers are at this point -- one who has figured things out and is at the top of his game, another who has looked good, but is still trying to figure out the best ways to survive.