What’s wrong with CC?

New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia was pummeled for a fourth straight game Friday, giving up five earned on 11 hits. He has now allowed 27 runs (22 earned) in his last four starts spanning 19 2/3 innings, pushing his ERA up to a whopping 4.78.

That’s horrifying.

What’s wrong with him? Before coming to any conclusions, let’s look at a variety of metrics and measurements.

  • His FIP is 4.19 and his xFIP 3.61, significantly lower than his ERA. That’s comforting.
  • His BAbip is slightly inflated, at .315.
  • His HR/9 rate has ballooned to 1.41, the first time in his career it is greater than one, and his HR/FB rate is at 14.9 percent (according to FanGraphs), almost 6 percent higher than his career mark. Pair this information with a slightly depressed LOB% and it makes sense why he keeps giving up runs.
  • His K/9 and BB/9 rates are down, but they’re nothing abnormal, as both are better than the marks he put up in 2009 or 2010 when he was in the running for AL Cy Young. Again, comforting.
  • His fastball is down about 1.5 mph… According to FanGraphs’ pitch values, it’s arguably the second-worst fastball in Major League Baseball at -14.7 runs above average, behind only the truly awful Joe Blanton. Uh oh.
  • However, it looks like his fastball was pretty bad last year (at -11.9 runs above average) but still had an admirable year. His slider was much better last year, though.
  • He’s throwing first-pitch strikes at the second-highest rate of his career.
  • Batter contact rates are down inside the zone, but up outside the zone. Weird.
  • His run support has dropped by almost two full runs per game. That doesn’t help his win total, but it also doesn’t affect his ERA.

So… What does it all mean? I don’t know. Honestly. Sabathia’s xFIP indicates he’s running into some bad luck, as does his BAbip, HR/9 and HR/FB rates. But there’s a lot of talk about his declining velocity and his fastball becoming more hittable. If a pitcher is easier to hit, more balls will be put into play and BAbip may increase naturally as the batter is better able to square up the ball. However, none of his other peripherals really indicate anything is wrong. The percentage of pitches inducing contact, swinging strikes, swings in the zone and swings outside the zone fluctuate yearly, and his 2013 numbers are not abnormal. His WHIP is high, but it’s elevated somewhat by his inability to go as deep into games (down from about 7.1 IP per game in 2012 to about 6.6 IP in 2013) and the lofty BAbip.

Ultimately, if your league’s trade deadline hasn’t yet come and gone , I still wouldn’t look at Sabathia as a buy-low candidate. Even if his ratios regress to something more tolerable, his lack of run support will render any improvements meaningless. However, I don’t see why Sabathia shouldn’t bounce back next year. I don’t know if I would rank him as highly as he was in 2013, but I doubt many experts will anyway. And unless his fastball has suddenly failed him a la Tim Lincecum, I see Sabathia returning to form..

One last note: Sabathia’s “pace,” or average time between pitches as measured by FanGraphs, is 22.6, the lowest of his career. Maybe all he needs to do is slow down his game.

Take a breather, CC.


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