Cleat Geeks

The Pinstripe Post; Was C.C. Sabathia the right choice for the Yankees Rotation?

As Spring Training came to a close, there was a debate as to whether Ivan Nova or C.C. Sabathia should win the final pitching rotation spot. In terms of established pitchers, Sabathia would have the upper hand over Nova. He has a reputation as a fierce competitor and workhorse and despite his recent struggles, still has things to offer. Nova had a rough final outing in the Spring and it seemed to pave the way for the backseat, as Sabathia won the fifth spot.

The hope was he would continue the momentum the season ended with on the field. As I covered in a previous article regarding Sabathia, he had a real turn around.

Recapping the last few years:

The former Yankees ace has been through a lot over the last few years. His last winning record was in 2013 with 14-13 alongside a 4.78 ERA. That wasn’t overly stellar, though the year before was 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA. 2014 was rough going 3-4 and a 5.28 ERA, while last year wasn’t anything different going 6-10 and a 4.73 ERA.

With the exception of the injury-plagued 2014 season, Sabathia’s 137 strikeouts last year was the lowest since 128 in 2008.

But after returning from an injury last year, Sabathia made everyone forget about these struggles with a solid performance, throwing a 2.17 ERA over five starts. A potential surge of momentum into the postseason ended before it started with the announcement he was going into rehab because of alcoholism.

Going into Spring Training, there were concerns about a couple things. Was Sabathia’s September reawakening a fluke? Or is this the new Sabathia with a strong 2016 season on the horizon?

Furthermore, will the off-field issues be fully resolved or will they return to plague Sabathia down the road?

We now sit two starts into the season with an even record at 1 accompanied by a 5.06 ERA. Not stellar, but it’s also a small sample size. Each start only saw three earned runs given up, with the first start lasting six innings and the second not even five.

Pinstripe Alley highlights a troubling point regarding Sabathia’s velocity:

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that the dip in velocity appears to have accelerated. Not even the most pessimistic fan or prognosticator would have forecast such a stark loss. After sitting near 95 mph as recently as 2011, and still hovering at a respectable 91.2 mph last season, Sabathia’s fastball velocity has downright plummeted, to 88.1 mph this season. FanGraphs’ pitch f/x metrics are even less flattering to Sabathia, pegging his average fastball at 87.1 mph.

Pinstripe Alley provides a thorough analysis regarding the breakdown of Sabathia’s pitching over the years. Once a hard thrower who would relentlessly hammer the strike zone with force, he’s backed off the strike zone significantly over time as his fastball speed has diminished. The results haven’t been promising to this point, as batters are still knocking the ball around.

For what it’s worth, the Yankees alternative isn’t promising. NJ.com summed up an Ivan Nova bullpen meltdown well:

Tasked to protect a one-run deficit when he entered to start the eighth inning, Nova blew up. By the time the Blue Jays were done treating him like a piñata, the game was well out of reach, and the Yankees went back to their team hotel with a 7-2 loss at the Rogers Centre.

To the credit of both pitchers, the season is still young. Sabathia could shake off a rough April and surge into May. Nova could settle into his role holding down the fort after the battle begins nicely. Things could be alright.

The Yankees need an answer quickly though, as they sit in last place in the American League East. Sabathia doesn’t look like the answer to the fifth spot, but Nova wasn’t either. The Yankees might need to start getting creative if things don’t turn around. Neither pitcher is showing much promise at this point.

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