Believe it or not, Sabathia’s first start was an encouraging one

A lot of people are going to look at last night’s box score and shake their heads at CC Sabathia‘s line. Don’t be one of those people. The big left-hander was unexpectedly sharp after a rocky spring training. There’s no need to rush to judgement after one start, especially considering Sabathia’s past two years of struggle, but there was certainly a lot to like about Sabathia’s performance against the Blue Jays.

Runs are baseball’s currency, but if your familiar with DIPS, you know that there’s a lot more that goes into a pitchers performance than the amount of runs he allowed. Plenty of other factors come into play, such as the defense, ballpark, and shifts. Though CC allowed four runs in the second last night, it’s difficult to hold him culpable for everything that happened. In fact, one could argue that none of those runs should have scored. Just take a look at the play-by-play.

  1. Edwin Encarnacion singles on a soft ground ball to right fielder Carlos Beltran.
  2. Josh Donaldson singles on a ground ball to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Encarnacion to 2nd.
  3. Danny Valencia singles on a ground ball to shortstop Didi Gregorius, deflected by pitcher CC Sabathia. Encarnacion to 3rd. Donaldson to 2nd.
  4. Kevin Pillar singles on a line drive to left fielder Chris Young. Encarnacion scores. Donaldson to 3rd. Valencia to 2nd.
  5. Steve Tolleson grounds out softly to first baseman Mark Teixeira. Donaldson scores. Valencia to 3rd. Pillar to 2nd.
  6. Devon Travis grounds out, second baseman Gregorio Petit to first baseman Mark Teixeira. Valencia scores. Pillar to 3rd.
  7. Jose Reyes singles on a ground ball to right fielder Carlos Beltran. Pillar scores.
  8. Russell Martin called out on strikes.

Of those eight hitters to come to the plate, only Pillar hit a legitimate line drive. Encarnacion, Valencia, and Reyes all had some fortune with their singles. Encarnacion’s and Reyes’ were seeing-eye singles partially because of shifts, while Valencia’s might have been a 6-4-3 double play had CC not deflected it. I don’t buy that the burly lefty couldn’t put away hitters when he was ahead in the count — he induced a bunch of ground balls; what more could be asked of him? In my eyes, Sabathia fell victim to a lot of bad luck that inning, but hey, sometimes that happens.

The same thing occurred in the sixth inning. After getting the first two outs, Donaldson reached on a grounder to the left side. The ball was too far in the hole for Gregorius to have a chance to throw out Donaldson. Then, Valencia hit a weak grounder just under the diving second baseman Petit. Donaldson headed toward third, and Beltran appeared to have a pretty good shot at gunning him down. However, Chase Headley couldn’t handle the bounced throw. After the ball skipped past him, Donaldson scored. Another run, not at the fault of CC.

In 5.2 innings against Sabathia, Blue Jays’ hitters put 16 balls in play. 12 of those were grounders, which is fantastic. It’s pretty difficult to give up five runs with that many ground balls. Additionally, Sabathia generated 15 whiffs, struck out eight batters, and walked none. His velocity wasn’t great, averaging 89.1 MPH while topping out at 90.7 MPH according to Brooks Baseball. Some of that might have to do with the cold weather, but clearly his command was pretty good. That’s what’s most important. If he can shake off the rust and get his location down, it won’t matter how hard he throws.

The Jays have a lineup that’s going to feast on lefties this season thanks to the trio of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson, yet Sabathia held them down. I’m not trying to get too giddy after just one start, but this was undeniably progress for Sabathia. Keep it up big fella.

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