(Looks like a guy searching for answers just like we are. Courtesy of the AP)
After his latest subpar outing, I was convinced that my worries about the condition of CC Sabathia's elbow were going to be proven correct and that we were going to be told sometime in the next few days that he'd been feeling some discomfort and was going back for another MRI. That is, until I read Mike Eder's PITCHf/x diagnosis of CC's performance since coming off the DL for the second time. Mike's breakdown of CC's pitch stats and mechanics lent no support to the theory that CC is pitching at less than 100% right now, and he came to the conclusion that CC's issues are more likely attributable to just some bad luck. That should have alleviated my and everybody's concerns, as any kind of serious elbow injury to the team's ace would be the worst possible news. So then why don't I feel any better?
I think my concern stems from the fact that this isn't just an isolated incident that goes back to CC's last handful of outings. His 29 hits and 6 HR allowed in 27.1 IP over his 4 post-DL starts don't look good, but they're just a continuation of a trend that cropped up in the beginning of the season. CC has been far too hittable too many times this year, and it's typically happened in games and situations where the Yankees have needed him to be his traditional lockdown self. His 8.77 H/9 would be a career-high for him as a Yankee if the season ended today, and his 21 total HR allowed has already set a new career high for him in over 60 fewer innings than he's pitched in the past 5 years.
There isn't much in his K or BB rates or his contact rates this season to suggest Sabathia is injured either, which makes his hittability this season even more puzzling and more concerning. There is the chance that bad BABIP luck is in play here, but his BABIP against this season (.298) is 20 points lower than it was last season when CC had his best season as a Yankee and best season overall since 2008.
What's more likely is that we're finally starting to see all those innings and all that wear and tear from the last 5 years and the totality of CC's career to date catch up to him. If he's not hurt, and he hasn't changed his mechanics, and hitters aren't just getting stupid lucky against him, then what else could it be? Both the velocity and value of his 4-seamer and sinker are way down this year according to PITCHf/x, and as a pitcher who has always used his fastball to set up his slider and changeup it makes sense that those pitches being less effective would have the type of negative effect on CC's performance that we've seen.
What's most frustrating is that there doesn't seem to be a clear answer to the question of what's wrong with CC right now. He's still had a good season, and if the rest of the rotation wasn't such a mess right now this wouldn't be as big a deal as it is. But the rotation is a mess, CC is still the ace of it, and just having a good season hasn't been good enough. Like the expensive older position players on the roster, CC is locked in for the long haul at big money. The possibility of him starting to join them on the one-way train to Regression Town is very discouraging, and no amount of statistical analysis is going to ease my concern about that possibility playing out, unavoidable and inevitable as I know it is.