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A Look At C.C. Sabathia's Poor Start

Josh Kalk has been doing great work studying PITCHf/x data.  Check out his blog here and Hardball Times contributions here.  This guy's going to get hired by a team!  Josh kindly agreed to examine C.C. Sabathia's poor start in a guest post for RotoAuthority.com.  His post follows.

C.C. Sabathia has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball for many years now.  Despite being around since 2001 Sabathia is still just 27 years old and should be entering the prime of his career.  Combine that with the incredible 2007 season he had and he was probably one of the first few pitchers to come off the board in your fantasy draft.  Unfortunately, Sabathia has had a very poor start to the season.  Let's examine why.

The real culprit here is lack of command, specifically with his fastball.  Sabathia only walked 37 batters in 241.3 innings in 2007 but has already walked 14 in just 18 innings.  That 241.3 innings doesn't count the extra 15.3 innings he threw in post season play which represents a large increase in his workload over previous years (210 innings was his previous high).  Could Sabathia be worn down?  Is there something mechanically wrong?

Sabathia says no, and indeed if we look at his PITCHf/x numbers they seem to back that up.  His fastball is averaging a tick over 94 mph, almost exactly what it was last year.  His slider still has a lot of bite and his changeup is still excellent (he is still exclusively throwing the change to righthanded batters).  So what has changed?  If he is still throwing the same fastball why can't he seem to find the strike zone with it?  Well, if we dig a little deeper there might be an explanation in the data.  Here is a plot with Sabathia's release point for his fastball in 2007 and again for 2008:


While the data looks similar it does appear that Sabathia's release point has dropped.  In fact, on average, Sabathia's release point has dropped two and a half inches.  I should now point out that while the 2007 data has gone through rigorous corrections we don't have enough 2008 data to determine if corrections will be needed so this shouldn't be considered definitive.  Still, if the data is correct this drop in release point appears to be the only difference between last year and this year for Sabathia.  Is two and a half inches enough to be causing him to be erratic?  I can't say for certain but it certainly is something to pay attention to as the year goes on. 

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