Yes, CC Sabathia beat the Orioles last night. No, Joel Sherman was not impressed.
- Manager Joe Girardi described Sabathia as “just a little off,” and his overall numbers of 6-3 with a 4.01 ERA is hardly Jeff Weaver territory. But, again, those results are burnished by pitching against Baltimore. And, in general, Sabathia simply has not sustained the excellence that made him the unquestioned ace of a champion last year.
This season he is the No. 1 starter on history and reputation more than production. He definitely has been outpitched by Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, and possibly A.J. Burnett, too. And even the heavily lambasted Javier Vazquez has outperformed Sabathia for about a month now.
“It is a long season,” Sabathia said, dismissing concerns. And over that long season, Sabathia will probably figure out his problems with the long ball, lefties and the road. But the worry is always there that Sabathia’s heavy workload and heavy body are beginning to, at the least, incrementally erode some of his great talent.
Yankees officials have claimed they are not worried, insisting Sabathia has maintained his velocity, reported no arm weariness and is merely working through a few mechanical issues. They say he is close to rectifying those problems. But they have said that for a few weeks now, and only the presence of the Orioles has tempered real worry. But after today, Baltimore disappears from the schedule until September.
If the Yankees are not worried, either they are not paying attention or they figure worrying won't help. Because Sabathia is clearly not the pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting when they signed him for $161 million. In the three seasons before the Yankees got Sabathia, his ERA+ was 146 and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 4.5-to-1. Since then, his ERA+ is 120 and (more to the point) his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 2.8-to-1.
He's still both durable and effective; he's just not a perennial Cy Young candidate.
To find out what's ailing Sabathia, you would probably have to ask a (really good) scout. He's throwing as hard as ever. His fastball hasn't been an effective pitch this season, but there have been other seasons in which his fastball wasn't effective, and it didn't hurt him. In 2007 and '08, his best seasons, his best pitches were his slider and his changeup; last season his slider was just decent; this year neither pitch has been particularly good (all this "analysis" derived from these pitch values.)
My best guess is that some of this is your basic regression, and some is your basic fatigue that happens to lots of pitchers. How many hurlers burn brightly for a few seasons in their 20s, only to fade in their late 20s and early 30s? And how many times have teams been burned by six-, seven- and eight-year contracts in the last 35 years?