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CC Sabathia needs to return to his August form

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What is causing Sabathia’s recent decline?

MLB: Game Two-Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The debate and discussion over who the Yankees should start in a potential Wild Card Game has been dizzying at times. Whether newcomer J.A. Happ, embattled ace Luis Severino, or veteran Masahiro Tanaka should get the ball is one of the hottest topics around the Yankees Universe right now.

CC Sabathia was in the thick of that discussion not that long ago, after he put together an encouraging stretch of starts after running from the disabled list. Sabathia followed that DL stint with a 2.49 ERA, striking out 37 batters in a span of 25.1 innings. His past postseason performance and veteran poise made him an attractive candidate for a winner-take-all situation.

Recently, Sabathia has seen that stock decline, as his numbers have followed a similar trend. His ERA over the past three starts is 5.46. It looked like it would be a lot worse after one inning of work against the Mariners, when he allowed four-straight two-out hits in the first inning before settling down over the next four frames.

Forget about the pending Wild Card matchup for a moment, though. Instead, it’s worth trying to figure out where Sabathia has gone wrong in his last three outings. Looking at the numbers, there are some noticeable discrepancies.

First, there’s the pitch selection. Sabathia has lived off of his cutter since he reinvented himself on the mound, using pinpoint control on the corners to induce weak contact. For whatever reason, the cutter hasn’t been working for him of late, causing him to ditch it for another pitch: the slider. In fact, Sabathia’s slider usage has increased considerably in September, while the cutter has seen an opposite trend.

With the decline of his cutter, Sabathia has become somewhat of a one dimensional pitcher. Hitters no longer have to worry about the cutter, and instead are feasting on his other offerings. It seems Sabathia is only getting good bite on that slider, and hitters are taking advantage of everything else. Consider the line drive percentages on balls in play against everything in Sabathia’s arsenal:

Now compare that to Sabathia’s whiff percentages on pitch types, and the revealing trends of each one in September:

Aside from that slider, every other pitch has been getting hit much harder than in previous months. The decline of his cutter has opened him up to all kinds of trouble, and Sabathia will have to address it on the fly, as the Yankees can ill-afford to deal with another struggling starter.

On the bright side, this can sometimes be a normal problem that crafty pitchers deal with. They don’t have velocity to mask the times when location and movement are more of a struggle. Sabathia has been declared done plenty of times over the past couple seasons, so there’s no reason to think he can’t figure things out and return to form. Of course, the Yankees would like that to happen as soon as possible, as October draws closer.