CC Sabathia's HR Woes
Yankees starter CC Sabathia has coughed up a career-high 24 home runs during the 2013 season. That's tied with R.A. Dickey and Joe Blanton for second-most among all starting pitchers. While the 33-year-old has bested fellow $20 million-plus-a-year veterans Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira by at least staying on the field, Sabathia also has the eighth-worst adjusted ERA (85 ERA+) among qualified American League starters.
The 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner and six-time All-Star has usually been one of the game's best at preventing big flys, allowing just 0.8 home runs nine innings from his rookie year in 2001 through 2012. Why has Sabathia (1.4 HR/9 in 2013) seemingly morphed into a left-handed Phil Hughes? Here's a closer look at how hitters are taking CC deep.
- Sabathia's no-longer-fast fastball is the main culprit, as hitters have homered 15 times against the pitch in 2013. Only A.J. Griffin (20) has given up more home runs with the fastball. As Sabathia's velocity diminishes, hitters are increasingly ripping his fastball down the lines and into the seats. He has lost about three ticks since 2011, and opponents are now pulling well over 40 percent of his fastballs:
Sabathia's slowing fastball
Ten of the 15 fastball home runs Sabathia has given up this year have been pulled. Back in 2011, CC trailed just David Price and Derek Holland in average fastball velocity among lefty starters. This year, he places a middling 21st out of 44 lefty starters who have thrown at least 500 fastballs.
- Sabathia is leaving more pitches over the middle of the strike zone this season (27%) than in 2012 (24%), and he's paying for it. Eleven of the 24 homers he has allowed have caught the fat part of the plate, already surpassing his 2012 total (eight).
- He's also generating fewer ground balls in 2013 (46% of balls put in play) than in 2012 (49%). Opponents aren't just putting the ball in the air more frequently against Sabathia, though -- they're driving those fly balls farther. Fly balls hit off CC are traveling an average of 272 feet this year, up from 259 feet last season and the 266 foot average for starting pitchers.
- Sabathia is getting scorched more often when the hitter's back is against the wall, allowing more two-strike home runs in 2013 (eight) than in 2011 and 2012 combined (six). CC's newfound aggression with two strikes may be part of the problem -- he's throwing pitches over the plate 48% of the time in two-strike counts this year, compared to 38% in 2012. Six of the eight homers he has given up in two-strike counts have come on in-zone pitches.