Despite the Yankees heading into the All-Star break with 62 wins, first-year manager Aaron Boone has received his share of criticisms, particularly his recent handling of the starting rotation. The Bombers dropped two of out four games to the lowly Orioles last week, both one-run defeats in which the Yankees’ starters faltered late in their outings.
CC Sabathia was one of those starters. He entered the bottom of the sixth inning with a 4-2 lead last Tuesday night, but allowed the first two batters to reach before Danny Valencia to give the O’s the lead. That score would hold the rest of the way.
Sabathia had been grinding through most of his start, but Boone elected to stick with the veteran left-hander to face Valencia, despite having Jonathan Holder warming in the bullpen. The rally wasn’t all Sabathia’s fault as an error by Neil Walker didn’t help. Considering how CC wears down as the game progresses, it’s time for Boone to keep a closer eye on Sabathia in the fifth and sixth innings.
Don’t get me wrong, Sabathia is enjoying a solid season; he continues to defy the odds, remaining effective despite diminished velocity. He owns a 3.51 ERA, and his walk rate has declined since 2016. His effectiveness, however, takes a massive hit as the game wears on, particularly during the third time through a batting order.
Sure, most pitchers sacrifice efficiency as opposing hitters get a second and third look at a starter’s repertoire, but Sabathia’s drop-off is far more dramatic. The first time through a batting order, he holds a 1.59 ERA and an opponent batting average of .215. The second time, the ERA increases to about four, but the batting average and strikeouts remain almost identical. Boone needs to be at the top step and ready to pull the plug during the third time, as Sabathia’s ERA rises to 6.64, while hitters are batting a scary .359 against him.
From his first time through a lineup to his third, the wOBA against Sabathia skyrockets from .267 to .439. This became clear in Sabathia’s final start before the break, where he once again ran into trouble in the sixth inning. The southpaw allowed a walk and a single before Brandon Guyer tied the game with a two-run single. That chased Sabathia from a game he likely should have already been out of. Thanks to a Little League homer from Austin Romine, the Yankees won the game and Boone’s decision wasn’t as heavily scrutinized. This should still serve as a valuable lesson.
Sabathia is days away from turning 38 and can still provide valuable innings down the stretch. He has more playoff experience than any other pitcher on the roster, and that will be a big boost for Boone, just as it was for Joe Girardi last season. Remember how Sabathia helped the Yankees win a decisive Game Five in Cleveland?
Still, despite the track record, Sabathia isn’t the innings eater of old. He’s human, after all, and is beginning to show signs of fatigue earlier than he did in the past. It’s normal, and expected. Given his drastic decline in the later innings, Boone should have the bullpen ready to go in the fifth and sixth innings to avoid more frustrating, preventable losses.