Although CC Sabathia has only pitched in two innings worth of spring training games so far, his fastball velocity, or lack thereof, has already generated a lot of buzz.
Sabathia first went on the DL with elbow soreness towards the end of the 2012 season, and ultimately ended up having surgery to remove a bone spur. When he returned in 2013, Sabathia failed to put up the numbers that Yankee fans had grown accustomed to. Through 211 innings pitched in 2013, he put up the following numbers: 7.46 K/9, 2.77 BB/9, 1.19 HR/9, 4.78 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, .308 BABIP. He generated fewer strikeouts, allowed more walks, and gave up more home runs than normal. In fact, his 28 homers allowed put him in a tie for sixth-most in baseball with Dan Haren. 2013 also marked a significant decrease in his fastball velocity. In 2009, Sabathia's fastball velocity averaged 94.1 mph, and in 2012 it was in the mid-92s. Last year, continuing the downward trend, his velocity averaged just 91.3 mph.
In Saturday's spring training game, Sabathia's fastball topped out at 88 mph according to YES. In an interview later that day, Sabathia said, "My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If it's not, it won't. I can pitch. I'm fine. As long as I'm healthy, I'll be good." He also said that last year was all about finding his release point again and getting a good feel, coming off of the surgery. He was happy with his outing on Saturday, noting that he was behind everything and his arm felt good.
Of course, the other interesting Sabathia-related headline has been his weight loss. There was some debate last season as to whether the weight loss led to the decrease in velocity or mechanical issues (Answer: We'll never know). Sabathia lost more weight during the offseason, although he reportedly added somewhere between 7-12 pounds of muscle, and focused on developing his leg, core and total body strength. Hopefully his physical transformation adds up to a bounce-back season.
Before you write off Sabathia's season as doomed, it should be acknowledged that it is still early in spring training, and Sabathia has only pitched two innings. It is definitely possible that as he builds up his strength, he'll be able to increase his velocity. It's probably unrealistic to expect him to hit 94 mph like the days of old, though. I can think of another Yankee pitcher whose velocity was in the 88-89 range and who still managed to be a successful pitcher, so if Sabathia doesn't gain any velocity, he'll just have to focus on improving his pitch locations. As Joe Girardi said, "To me, if he's downhill and locating, I don't care what his velocity is. He's going to get people out."
Are you concerned that his velocity is down, or do you think it's way too early in spring training to worry about it?