On Tuesday, June 5, the Blue Jays open a quick two game series against the AL East rival New York Yankees. Tuesday’s game features a battle of veterans. CC Sabathia will take the hill for the Yankees, while Marco Estrada will pitch for the Blue Jays.
CC Sabathia has been around the game of baseball for what seems like forever. The veteran left-hander was drafted in the first round of the 1998 amateur players draft by Cleveland. The big pitcher broke in with Cleveland in 2001. He played in Northern Ohio until he was traded midway through the 2008 season to the Milwaukee Brewers. Coming off of a career best 2.70 ERA with Milwaukee and Cleveland, Sabathia signed a 7 year, $161 million deal with the New York Yankees.
Despite the dead-money perception of the contract for a few of the tail end years, the southpaw found a new gear after the 2015 season. The left-hander pitched well for the final two years of his contract. So well, in fact, that the Yankees—despite interest from other clubs (including the Blue Jays)—signed the left-hander to a one year, $10 million deal this past summer.
Despite turning 38 in a few months, Sabathia has pitched admirably for the Bronx Bombers. Through ten starts, the veteran holds a 2-1 record, 3.73 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 166 ERA+, and has been worth 0.5 fWAR. Combined with his leadership in a young Yankee clubhouse, the left-hander has been a good signing for the Yankees.
A big flame thrower early in his career, Sabathia has maintained the big size, but not the flame throwing ability. As a result, he’s moved away from his four-seam fastball. Instead, he uses his cutter and slider more. In total, the veteran will mix between a slider, cutter, sinker, change-up, and a rare four-seam fastball.
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As referenced before, long gone are the days of Sabathia blowing his heaters past batters. Instead, he now uses his slider the most, at a use rate of 35.4%. For reference, in his first two years in New York, he used his slider 16.6% and 15.2% of the time, respectively. The slider averages a slow 80.41 mph with sweeping glove side action. Don’t let it’s use rate fool you, though, the slider has not been a good pitch for him. In his ten starts, opposing hitters have managed a .309 BAA and a huge .559 SLG against the breaking ball. As well, the slider has allowed the most home runs (four) of all of his pitches.
A close second to the slider, the lefty has used his cutter 33.5% of the time this season. The cutter averages a velocity of 89.22 mph. While keeping batters to a low average, the cutter has allowed almost as many extra base hits (seven) as singles (eight).
Sabathia has used his sinker 16.2% of the time this season, while averaging a velocity of 90.39 mph. The sinker has done its job remarkably well, producing ground balls on 75% of balls in play, while limiting line drives to just 10.71% of balls in play. Therefore, if the lefty gets in a jam, look for the sinker.
He rounds out his pitching repertoire with occasional change-ups and four-seam fastballs. The off speed pitch has been used just 12.9% of the time, while the heater has seen action 2% of the time. Interestingly, the veteran never used the four-seamer in his 27 starts last year. While the change has fared pretty well, posting a .200 BAA and .333 SLGA, the four-seamer has not. In limited appearances, the heater has allowed a .500 BAA and a hit batsman—one has to wonder if this was on purpose.
While Sabathia was a headline name during his day, he has comfortably filled his role as a locker room leader and middle of the rotation arm. This season he hasn’t done anything exceptionally, but he hasn’t hurt himself too much, either.
The southpaw owns middling to below average strikeout numbers— a 6.75 K/9 and 17.3% K rate. As well, he has allowed a somewhat concerning amount of base on balls—posting a 2.49 BB/9 and a below average 6.4% BB rate.
Sabathia has allowed a fair share of home runs as well, sitting at eight through ten starts. Without swing-and-miss stuff, its hard to keep batters in the ballpark. Also, if his fastballs aren’t spotted well, and they don’t have intimidating speed or action, it makes them easy to hit out.
Finally, he owns a weak 4.61 FIP, suggesting that he has not pitched as well as his ERA shows. As well, his BABIP sits at .266, lower than the rest of his career—and 10 points lower than last year. Therefore, he should regress a little bit, but I wouldn’t expect a big change.
The Blue Jays have a wealth of experience against the California native. Notably, Justin Smoak owns a .931 OPS against the veteran and Kendrys Morales holds an even higher .985 OPS. The outfield, as a unit, has struggled against the Yankees starter. In fact, the best hitter of the five is Kevin Pillar. The centre filder has just four hits in 23 at-bats and a terrible .414 OPS against Sabathia.
If Estrada’s latest outings are any indication, the Blue Jays will need to score some runs to come away victorious. While they do not have good past numbers, Sabathia is not the same pitcher anymore. The Blue Jays look to win their second in a row Tuesday night at home.