CC Sabathia's trouble with velocity

Rob Carr

People keep asking what is wrong with CC Sabathia. I don't know why he's lost velocity, but he has, and I think that's to blame. There is probably more than one reason for his drop in velocity: a natural drop, weight loss, injury, but his fastball velocity isn't the only problem, it's his changeup too.

In his career, CC's changeup has been worth 1.35 runs above average per 100 pitches, easily his second most valuable pitch behind his slider (2.01). Unfortunately, his changeup has been worth -1.15 runs this season, or basically worthless for the first time since 2002. His slider, meanwhile, has still continued to net a positive value (1.89). It's been his only pitch that has any positive value this season, so that pitch has been fine. While his fastball and curveball have both netted negative value, neither have seen as big a drop in value as the changeup has.

Everyone seems to focus on his fastball velocity, and that's a concern, but what about his other pitches? A loss in fastball velocity will surely lead to a loss in secondary pitch velocity too. The purpose of a changeup is to change up speed, but when his fastball has lost velocity, it means that his changeup will need to be even slower in order to make it useful, otherwise it's just a slow fastball and it's going to get hit.

This season his fastball velocity has averaged 91.3 mph, which is 2.1 mph slower than his career average and 1.1 mph slower than last season. His changeup has been 1.1 mph slower than his career average and 1.3 mph slower than last year. As far as fastball to changeup velocity difference, this season it's been a 6.6 mph difference, which is one mph slower than his career average of 7.6. He actually had a slightly smaller variance in 2012 (6.4 mph), but lowering his velocity even more in 2013 means that he's had to live in the 80s for most of the season and in turn needs to try and figure out how to control a ball going at that speed.

In 2013 CC Sabathia has thrown 47.2% of his pitches in the strike zone, which is the highest amount since 2009, back when he could blow away hitters with an average of 94.1 mph on his fastball and 86.3 mph on his changeup, a difference of 7.8 mph. Basically, CC has been throwing diminished fastballs in the strike zone and when he goes to the changeup he's serving it on a platter. It's probably why he has a 9.8% swinging strike rate when his career average is 10.7% and It's probably why he has a career-high 13.8% HR/FB rate. He's serving up meatballs.

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