(Courtesy of Deadspin)
Last week this picture of CC Sabathia at a Knicks game made its way around the interwebs and naturally people started talking about it. Sabathia's weight has been an increasingly popular topic of conversation over the last few years, as he's made more of an effort before seasons to drop a few pounds and then usually ended up putting them back on by the end of the year. This offseason Sabathia made a concerted effort to not only lose weight but tighten up the rest of his body, and this picture provided some insight as to how much those efforts worked, as did his ST weigh-in result of 275 pounds over the weekend.
The major loss in poundage and somewhat gaunt appearance in that picture have caused a bit of a stir in the NY sports world and parts of the Yankosphere. The feeling has apparently shifted from "good for CC for trying to lose some weight" to "jeez, look at how much weight he's lost! That can't be good" and for the life of me I can't figure out why. Yes, that picture does make CC look like a combination of Forrest Whitaker and E.T. when he get sick and pale and Elliot finds him lying by the river, but it's just 1 picture. The shots of him in camp show that he's still a big dude, and even if he wasn't that's no reason to speak or think negatively about his attempts to get into better shape.
From what I've heard and read, the feeling from those who don't like CC's slimmer appearance is that the lost weight will negatively impact his velocity again this season. To me that's an incredibly flawed and overly simplistic line of thinking. We don't even know the true cause of last year's lost velocity. It could have been due to the offseason elbow surgery, it could have been due to the subsequent lack of offseason throwing, it could have been due to the small amount of weight Sabathia lost last offseason, it could have been due to natural age-related regression after a heavy 12-year workload, it could have been a combination of all of those factors, or it could have been none of them. To jump to the conclusion that less weight automatically means less velocity without considering any other factors from last year is dumb.
To that point, there are plenty of other factors to this offseason that give reason to anticipate an improvement in CC's velocity, namely the fact that he didn't have any offseason arm surgery this time and he got a full, regular throwing program in. Combine that with the workout regimen that CC put in to lose the weight and reportedly add muscle to his frame and the more reasonable expectation is that he'll have a better chance of regaining some of that lost velocity. Less weight to carry around means less stress on his shoulder, elbow, and leg joints over the course of a start, which should mean a better chance of staying fresh after 90-100+ pitches and a better chance of retaining some of the heat on his fastball.
And even if that doesn't happen, there's no way to say that the decrease in weight is the cause. If CC lost velocity last year at a heavier weight and either doesn't gain any back or loses more this season at a lighter weight, that's probably a sign that the loss in velocity is a natural occurrence and there's nothing that can be done to change it. The more important thing, regardless of velocity, is better command of his fastball. If the lighter weight and adjustment to his pitching mechanics allows him to do that, then CC's offseason efforts have to be commended and his chances of bouncing back from last year have to be better.
The bottom line is that the guy should not be chastised for trying to better himself. CC's moving into his mid-30s with a lot of mileage on his body. He's already started to experience some of the natural wear and tear that comes with the workload he's put in, and the most sensible thing to do in response to that is to get in better shape. If his velocity doesn't come back this season or decreases further, I think that will be more attributable to the cumulative effect of the last 12 years of pitching than 1 offseason of working out and getting leaner. And regardless of velocity, I'll take a lighter, leaner, presumably healthier CC over the remainder of his contract than a 315-pound CC.