Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sabathia's Fastball Struggles Continue

That's CC Sabathia's 4-seam fastball plot from his start last night.  It's noteworthy mainly because it shows almost no pattern whatsoever.  He's scattered throughout the strike zone, missing badly both up and down, and still leaving too many pitches in the meaty part of the hitting zone.  The fastball, be it due to velocity or location, has been at the forefront of any analysis of CC since Opening Day and he's been at his best when he's been able to locate it down in the zone.

Strangely enough, last night's ambiguous, inconsistent location plot was actually a step up from what CC's fastball has been doing for him lately.  3 earned runs allowed in 7.1 innings is much better than the atrocious results he put up in his previous 4 starts, and the collection of 4-seamers he threw in those starts looks like this:

Again, no real discernible pattern or specific concentration of pitches in any part of the strike zone.  The defining characteristics of this plot are the greater distribution of pitches left middle of the strike zone and up, the higher concentration of misses out of the strike zone that occur up, and the still too high number of pitches that are right down Broadway.  The theme of CC struggling with his fastball command could not be more perfectly visually demonstrated than it is right there.

Having not seen much of his recent starts, I can't even start to say what I think is going on with Sabathia.  Maybe his mechanics are off in a way that's causing him to leave the ball up more, and when he tries to correct and get it down, that's when it drifts into the middle of the hitting zone.  Resident IIATMS/TYA gif master and PITCHf/x guru Mike Eder thinks it could be something with CC's timing, but even he admitted he couldn't put his finger exactly on the source of the problem.

What we know is that CC is throwing his 4-seamer harder than he was early in the year - sitting around 92 MPH for the last few months and these last 5 starts - and he's getting even worse results.  The expectation was that we would see improvement when the velocity started to tick up and instead it's been the exact opposite.  Sabathia is still getting tuned up to an OPS against of .839 on his 4-seamer.  He's given up 75 hits on the pitch this season, more than double the number of hits off any of his other offerings, and 24 of them have gone for extra bases (12 HR).  21 of his 38 unintentional walks have been attributed to the fastball.  It doesn't require a statistical genius to know that's bad.

It's a problem that still hasn't been solved and one that needs to be if CC is going to make a successful transition to life without a dominant fastball.  Last night was a step in the right direction, but there's still a lot that needs to be done.

(Plots courtesy of Texas Leaguers.  Stats courtesy of FanGraphs)

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