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Don't give up on CC Sabathia just yet

CC's ERA is ugly, but there are some reasons for hope.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

CC Sabathia's ERA sits at an ugly 5.96 and most fantasy owners are giving up on him. He is only owned in 18% of Yahoo leagues and has been dropped about 3800 times in the last transaction period. But taking a look at his pitching peripherals, it looks like he's fallen victim to some rough luck on his outcomes, and better days should be ahead.

CC has a significantly below average strand rate

CC's strand rate sits at an incredibly low 59%, meaning he is only stranding 59% of the runners he allows to reach base. League average strand rate in MLB is about 73%, and most pitchers will hover somewhere near that number. It looks like CC is falling victim to unlucky sequencing.

The lowest 5 year combined total strand rate from 2010-present is about 65%, and pitchers with a low strand rate mostly have below average strikeout totals. High strikeout pitchers like Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw have career strand rates closer to 80%, probably because missing bats leaves a pitcher less susceptible to bad luck on batted balls in play. CC doesn't really fit the profile of a low strand rate pitcher because:

CC is still missing bats

CC's strikeout (20.6%) and swinging strike (10%) rates are both above average. His swinging strike% is 34th best in baseball among qualified starting pitchers and ahead of notable players like Jacob deGrom, Madison Bumgarner and David Price. The fact that CC's stuff is still good enough to still miss bats at an above average level is a very encouraging sign.

CC's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) and xFIP are both above average

FIP measures things that a pitcher can control, like strikeouts, walks and home runs, and it's probably my single favorite stat in evaluating a pitcher. CC's FIP- sits at 96 and xFIP- sits at 82, with 100 being average. His xFIP- is 21st best in baseball and ahead of notable names like Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, David Price and Stephen Strasburg.

If you subscribe to the hypothesis that xFIP is not always so great because some pitchers just get hit harder than others (I also tend to hypothesize this as well), it doesn't seem to fit CC's case because:

CC's hard hit% against is above average

The higher exit velocity and better trajectory a batter generates against a pitcher, the more likely that pitcher is to give up runs. CC's hard hit%, a stat that combines measures like exit velocity and trajectory, sits at about 15% as of today. MLB average is about 15.5%. That means that the percentage of at bats against CC that end in a hard hit ball is better than the average MLB pitcher so far, which means CC isn't getting teed off on like his ERA would lead you to believe. According to baseballsavant, his average exit velocity against on balls in play is about 88 mph, which is second best in the Yankee rotation, better than teammates Masahiro Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi and Adam Warren.

CC has changed his pitching style to attempt to mitigate his diminished velocity

CC's average fastball velocity this year is 89.4 mph, down from 94.1 mph in his first year with the Yankees in 2009. According to pitch FX, CC has changed his style of pitching to attempt to compensate for the lost velocity. He's targeting downward break on most of his pitches; look at this pitch type layout from his Yankee career:


4 seam

















CC has cut his four seam use in half, doubled his sinker use, nearly scrapped his slider, began throwing a curve, and upped the use of his change up. The new pitch types have resulted in a high ground ball percentage at 53.2%, which would be the best of CC's career if it holds and is currently 26th best in baseball among starting pitchers.

Because his velocity is down, CC is going to have to locate his pitches well to have a lot of success, and he won't be able to get away with mistakes like he once could. But that doesn't mean he can't have value, and if all of his pitching peripherals hold to where they are right now, CC should see a significant improvement in ERA the rest of the way.