It’s only been one start, but there is already plenty of scrutiny surrounding CC Sabathia‘s performance. Coming off elbow surgery in the offseason, plus a few other leading indicators, the concern entering 2013 certainly has merit. Sabathia is no longer a spring chicken, he’ll be 33 in July. And like most pitchers entering their mid-30s, the onset of decline becomes a reality. We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions based on one start to begin the season, but like I indicated last week, it’ll be important to keep tabs on CC’s elbow going forward.
The most obvious red flag from yesterday’s start was a drop in velocity. His fastball velocity average was merely 89.9 MPH, a steep drop from his final start of 2012 in which he recorded a 92.3 mean. In my post about CC last week, I mentioned that I wasn’t going to read into CC’s velocity just yet. Yes, I know compared to previous opening days that his velocity is down, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what happens the rest of the month. CC is a notorious slow starter, so I wouldn’t be shocked if things change. While there is reason to worry about decreased velocity year-over-year in April, this Fangraphs article points to months later in the season that are more important to watch out for velocity changes compared to the prior year.
Although I said I wouldn’t be overly concerned about velocity just yet, I did note that I would keep an eye out for his release point. A decrease in velocity can be signs of age or injury, but release point is a better indicator of any lingering arm problems. Thanks to TexasLeaguers.com, we can delve into some data regarding CC’s release.
First, let’s compare yesterday to the previous two opening day affairs:
You can see how from 2011 to 2012, his arm slot dropped down. That was an early indicator of arm issues in 2012. However, from 2012 to 2013, we see it move it further toward the left-hand batter’s box. I wouldn’t necessarily be concerned about this – it’s very possible CC could have shifted his position on the pitching rubber, causing the release point to move right on the graph. It’s not like his left arm magically lengthened.
Now, let’s look at the difference between his last regular season game in 2012 vs. yesterday:
While the further drop from the end of last season might initially lead to concern, it also could be misleading. I wonder if CC got into any bad habits from his soreness in 2012, and if such bad habits were carried over into this year. Unless the elbow surgery didn’t help whatsoever, I think this is a plausible theory. Furthermore, perhaps it’s a reason for the drop in velocity yesterday.
As I hinted at in the opening paragraph, age is no longer at CC’s side. Plus, with his incredible career workload, Sabathia’s ability will be the victim of attrition as the rest of his contract plays out. Hopefully later in the year, we’ll remember this start simply as CC shaking the dust off. His decline is coming – let’s just hope he can put it off a little further.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr (Originally posted to Flickr as “CC Sabathia”) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons