The results of yesterday's start by CC Sabathia weren't great, but the left-hander didn't look as bad as the box score indicates. He gave up 8 hits, 4 walks, 4 earned runs, 5 strike outs in 5.0 innings. Allowing 12 men on is not a good way to show the fans that you've recovered from elbow surgery. Half of these eight hits came off ground balls, and half of these came off infield singles. If Jayson Nix had held on to a line drive in the 2nd inning, Sabathia might not have given up any of the 4 runs in that inning. While the amount of groundballs going for hits were unlucky, he also struggled to locate his pitches. His fastball and slider were wild, and without that, he was forced to live off his changeup. The walks are inexcusable, but for what's only his third start of the year, there was bound to be an issue somewhere. Since Sabathia is coming off his surgery, and his velocity started especially low, there was a subsequent panic over the Yankees' ace.
Early in the game, Sabathia hardly touched 90 mph. That was the spark that led to much of the velocity concern. Around 25 pitches in, Sabathia was throwing around 90-91 with the four-seam fastball, and his sinker remained around 1 mph slow. Note that some of the slower sinkers were misclassified as changeups. Chad Jennings took a look at the pitcher's averages over the last few years and noted that his April velocity was always lower than his season average. Girardi also acknowledged the short Spring Training as a possible factor.
Indeed, he lacked around 2.5 mph on both his four-seam and sinker on Monday. It would be hard to call these pitches flat though, and in fact the movement on his four-seam was considerably stronger than 2012. If Sabathia were suffering from an elbow problem, he'd probably be putting less spin on the pitches, and we'd be seeing a drop off in movement. But he averaged around an inch more vertical movement on his four-seam, sinker, and slider. All three of these pitches posed a control problem to Sabathia yesterday, so it's possible that the additional movement and wildness were somehow connected. I suspect that there was just a mechanical issue in repeating his delivery, causing him to over spin and in some cases change the spin angle of his pitches.
Graphed below are his pitches from Monday and locations around the strike zone. You'll see that he could hardly locate his sinker or slider inside the strike zone, and most of them appear far too low. He was fortunate enough to have his changeup working well, and four of the five strike outs came on the offspeed pitch.
There were very few called strikes for Sabathia, but the majority of them came on the changeup and the slow slider/curveball. He faced 7 righties in the lineup, and below you can see that he had trouble getting called strikes on the inside part of the strike zone.
At his age, and with the surgery under his belt, the drop in velocity is a legitimate concern. But if his elbow was still barking, we would have likely seen a drop off in movement on his pitches, like we saw at the end of 2012. Don't be surprised to see him work his velocity back up as he develops innings and strength in April. A lack of control haunted him yesterday, something which should be cured as he sees more time on the mound.