Keeping an Eye on CC’s Elbow

Will he stay healthy?

Given the current slew of injuries, one of the players the Yankees can ill afford to lose is CC Sabathia. It would probably be safe to write off the season if the big lefty spends significant time on the disabled list. The team’s remaining strength is its pitching staff, so losing the anchor of the rotation would be a crushing blow.

Last season, CC made two separate disabled list trips for groin and elbow issues, spending 37 total days on the DL. Still, he managed to make 28 starts and accumulate 200 innings for the 6th straight season. Prior to last year, he hadn’t spent any time on the DL since 2006. In the offseason, he underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his left pitching elbow. For a guy who’s logged a substantial amount of innings in his career, these events are particularly concerning.

Not long ago, Chris wrote about the odds of anyone on the Yankees’ pitching staff hitting the DL this season, based on a Russell CarletonĀ article at Baseball Prospectus. From Chris’ and Russell’s analyses, the prospect of a healthy Sabathia doesn’t seem great in 2013. Not only do pitchers who hit the DL in the prior season have a 43.7% chance of hitting the shelf again in the current year, but Sabathia meets the criteria for another elbow flare up. Hopefully the surgery this offseason eliminated any chance for more elbow problems, but I definitely recommend reading both the linked articles within this paragraph for more detailed information.

Back in September, I voiced my own concerns about Sabathia’s health. In particular, his drop in fastball velocity and lowered arm slot were most worrisome. Something was obviously wrong because he went on to have elbow surgery, but he did manage to pitch pretty well down the stretch.

The good news is that CC got through Spring Training without any issues, and is ready to make his fifth consecutive opening day start for the Yanks. However, he’s far from out of the woods with his elbow concerns. The Yankees are well aware of this, as they are already planning to limit his workload in 2013. Ultimately, it’ll be important to keep a close eye on his velocity and arm angle as the season gets going. I wouldn’t read much into the velocity as the season starts because of the colder weather, but I will pay attention to his release point. If we see anything like this…

…then it’s fair to be concerned.

Hopefully, Sabathia can defy the odds and be the workhorse we’ve come to love. He is probably the most indispensable piece of the Yankees’ roster (you could argue Robinson Cano given the banged up offense and I wouldn’t fight it). Without Sabathia, it’s not a terrible rotation, but there are legitimate concerns regarding age (Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte), performance (Ivan Nova), health (Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda), and inexperience (David Phelps). Yes, much of the Yankees’ competition has similar question marks, but they also haven’t been dealt the injury bug like the Yanks have.

It’s not a groundbreaking statement, but a healthy Sabathia is imperative for the Yankees’ in 2013. While Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are out, there’s even a larger magnitude of importance on his health. I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t worried about Sabathia; there’s simply too much empirical evidence working against him. The X-Factor is the surgery, which Chris noted in his article linked earlier within this post. It may have cleared up any lingering issues, but we won’t know for sure until the the season gets rolling. One thing is for sure, the Yankees are counting on it to be the panacea.

Photo by chris.ptacek (CC Sabathia) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Release point plot via

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