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CC Sabathia's 1-5 record doesn't tell whole story

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia throws

New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning of a game Toronto on Wednesday, May 6, 2015. Credit: AP / Frank Gunn

On days when Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren or Chase Whitley start, the Yankees' bats have been ferocious.

The Yankees' offense has averaged 5.2 runs in those 26 games, with a 19-7 record, numbers that have helped put the team in first place in the American League East.

Then there are the days when CC Sabathia pitches.

Prior to Monday's 11-5 thumping of the Rays in Tampa, the Yankees averaged 2.6 runs in Sabathia's six starts. Sabathia was winless until last night, and at 1-5, he still leads AL pitchers in losses.

The value of a pitcher's personal win-loss record has been debated in recent years, but it's still a staggering stat when a pitcher of Sabathia's stature and salary ($23 million) leads the league in losses. He is a former Cy Young award winner, a six-time All-Star and a World Series winner (and 2009 NLCS MVP).

Sabathia's subpar start isn't totally surprising, however. The 34-year-old lefthander made just eight starts in 2014 before requiring right knee surgery, and he wasn't very effective before he was sidelined (3-4, 5.28 ERA). He was little better in 2013 when he posted a 4.78 ERA in 32 starts.

But there's reason to think that as 2015 progresses, Sabathia will do the same.

The losses aren't entirely his fault. The 11 runs the Yankees scored on Monday is only two shy of the total they produced in Sabathia's first six starts.

Sabathia certainly pitched "well enough to win" on April 20 in Detroit, when he gave up two runs in eight innings. But the Yankees could only score one run that game -- Sabathia's third loss of the season.

On May 1 in Boston, Sabathia gave up two runs in six innings. But he left the game trailing 2-1. The Yankees scored single runs in the seventh and eighth to win the game, and reliever Esmil Rogers, who followed Sabathia and pitched the seventh, was officially credited with the victory.

Sabathia gave up four earned runs in each of three other starts, against the Blue Jays on April 9 and May 6 and the Orioles on April 14. Sabathia took the loss in all three games. To show just how much luck plays into the win-loss record, consider that Warren has allowed four earned runs three times this season as well, but he's 2-0 in those games.

Then there is the picture advanced statistics paint about where Sabathia is and where he could be headed.

His average fastball velocity is down to 89.3 mph, the second lowest of his career (Sabathia averaged 88.8 mph in 2014). But he's using that fastball just 55.5 percent of the time, well below his 60.9 percent career rate. As the fastball usage has dropped, his changeup frequency has grown. Sabathia now throws a changeup 19.9 percent of the time, up from a career rate of 15.5 percent.

Sabathia appears to be changing his pitching approach as his velocity and "stuff" diminishes. Only 16.5 percent of all balls put in play against Sabathia this year have been line drives, well below his career rate of 20.4 percent.

Sabathia has displayed excellent control and still shows the ability to command the strike zone. His 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings falls in line with his 7.7 career average, and his 2.0 walks per nine innings is below his 2.6 career rate.

But, just like the (lack of) runs scored behind him, elements beyond Sabathia's control appear to have gotten in the way of a good process translating into good results.

Sabathia's 16 percent home run per fly ball ratio is the second highest of his career and well above the MLB rate of 10.7 percent. His .338 batting average on balls in play also is abnormally high. Most pitchers settle into a BABIP around .300 by the end of the season. Sabathia's career BABIP is .294.

After finally earning that elusive first win on Monday, Sabathia said his "biggest concern is always just trying to help the team. I think wins will come."

If he keeps pitching like he's been, he might be right.


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