Repeat After Me…

…when a player opts-out, let him leave. When a player opts-out, let him leave. When a player….

Recently, we have seen two players opt-out of their Yankees contracts and both times the Yankees have thrown more money at them to bring them back. In 2007, Alex Rodriguez opted out of his deal and was rewarded with a $275-million/10-year deal. In 2011, CC Sabathia opted-out of his deal with the Yankees and got at least an extra $25-millon and most likely, an extra $50-million. Don’t blame the players for these actions. They had an opportunity to use the leverage given to them and they took it. It was Yankee management that made the boneheaded move.

Think about an alternate universe where the Yankees simply walked away from both A-Rod and Sabathia after the 2007 and 2011 seasons respectively. With A-Rod, the Yankees would have missed all the “fun” of his PED use and suspensions. On the field, they would have missed a guy who has missed almost 30% of the games he has been eligible to play since he signed that deal. With Sabathia, the Yankees would have missed a great clubhouse guy and a great 2012 season, but they would have also missed his painful decline to mediocre pitcher or worse at this point.

I bring this up today for two reasons. First, Tanaka has an opt-out after the 2017 season. If he uses it, we will see if the Yankees have learned anything. Second, because the Yankees have a big problem with CC Sabathia.

Sabathia has not been a league-average pitcher or better since 2012. In 2013 he put up a 4.78 ERA. While ugly, his FIP of 4.10 suggests he was better than that. The problem is, the AL ERA was 3.99, so even if you give him the benefit of the doubt and embrace his FIP, he was still below average. In 2014 he only made eight starts and put up an ERA over 5 again, with an FIP of 4.78. The league ERA was 3.81, so he was almost a run above it based on FIP alone. In 2015 he has an ERA of 5.65, a FIP of 4.50 while the league average is ERA 3.89. So he is closer to the average, but still well below it. Those three seasons represent 55 starts, so they are a large enough sample to draw some conclusions from and the conclusion has to be that Sabathia isn’t league-average pitcher at this point.

Why is that? Some of Sabathia’s pitch data gives us an idea. In 2009, Sabathia threw either a fastball or a slider almost 80% of the time. His fastball averaged 94.1 mph and his slider averaged 92.2. In 2015, Sabathia has thrown a fastball or slider 43% of the time. His fastball is averaging 89.9 mph and his slider 89 mph. (2013 was the last season he threw more than 50% fastballs+sliders). His favorite pitch right now is a sinker, thrown 29.1% of the time. The problem is, he isn’t getting ground balls with it.

Sabathia has a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 0.83 right now. That’s actually right at his career rate. But those fly balls are going to different places than they once did. For his career, 13% of the flyballs hit against Sabathia have been to the infield. Infield flyballs are almost always outs. In 2015, that ratio is down to 8%. In addition, 25% of the balls put in play against Sabathia are line drives. (The MLB average is 20% and his career average is 19%) Since liners are the usually the hardest ball to record an out on, this is not good.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but the problem seems pretty obvious. Sabathia is trying to change his pitch mix and it isn’t working. I don’t know if he can live with a fastball/slider combo that averages under 90-mph. Mike Mussina did it in 2008, but he also had a really slow (73-mph) change up to complement those. Sabathia’s change up is averaging 83.5-mph. Perhaps it isn’t slow enough?

For now, I think the Yankees and Sabathia need to come up with a way to get him off the mound. A “tired arm” or some other minor ailment and a trip to the DL might be the best for everyone. Get him throwing on the side, let him rehab in the minors for a few starts and try some new things out. Anything would be better than trying to keep running him out there every fifth day. That is clearly not working.