Over the last few years, we've watched CC Sabathia's velocity decline along with his efficiency on the mound. Many narratives continue to point to the correlation between the slower speed of his fastball and his rising ERA, and even Sabathia has discussed his attempt to become a pitcher that relies less on his power fastball.
Sabathia's weight loss has also correlated with his declining velocity, and Sabathia again dropped weight this offseason. As opposed to the 2012-2013 offseason, the southpaw made an effort to also gain muscle along with his fat loss, in order to prevent the muscle loss that he believed contributed to his fastball decline in 2013.
Yesterday, Sabathia finally showed a slight increase in his velocity. In the month of April, Sabathia averaged 88.5 mph on his sinker and 89.4 mph on his four-seam fastball according to PITCHf/x. In his first start of May, the left-hander averaged 88.9 mph on his sinker and 90.3 mph on his four-seam fastball. This velocity gain is typical for most pitchers and especially for Sabathia.
Despite the increase in velocity, Sabathia showed a lack of movement on his pitches yesterday. In comparison to the month of April, his sinker averaged nearly 1.5 inches less of vertical rise, and his four-seamer lacked .8 inches of both vertical rise and horizontal movement into left-handed hitters. While his slider also showed a lack of movement, his changeup showed the biggest dropoff, losing .6 inches of vertical rise and nearly 4 inches (!!!) of horizontal movement away from right-handed batters.
Over the entire game, Sabathia couldn't even break 10 inches of vertical rise with his four-seamer, and his changeup looked much more like four-seam horizontal movement than his typical sinker movement. Ideally, Sabathia wants big differentials in the vertical movement of his two fastballs, but from the chart above, it looks like his four-seamer and sinker are far too close to each other, while his changeup falls right in the middle.
With his changeup lacking nearly 4 inches of movement, Sabathia complained about the pitch after the game. Indeed, the pitch was thrown 14 times, not one batter swung and missed at it, and of the 7 swings, 6 were put in play.
With Sabathia's velocity coming back, again we're seeing that it's not the speed of his pitches that make or break him, but the movement. Without movement on his changeup, Sabathia will continue to have games like he had yesterday, where he went 3.2 innings. Fortunately, losing 4 inches of movement on one of his pitches isn't typical for CC, and his previous peripherals still look good, with him owning a 9.74 K/9 and 1.99 BB/9. Though he's only put together 2 really good performances, Sabathia has shown glimpses that he can still dominate hitters.
Sunday was a game where he had no feel for his changeup, and I wouldn't make too much of this one poor start. He hasn't pitched well over the last year, but one poor performance where his changeup completely disappeared shouldn't discount his recent uptick in strikeout and walk rates.