It looks like CC Sabathia is back.
And this time, it might actually be for real. No funny stuff.
Sabathia turned in his best start in weeks on Friday night against a Boston Red Sox club that gave him fits back on Opening Day. The New York Yankees' high-priced southpaw went seven and one-third inning and allowed one run on six hits. He struck out 10 and walked none, leading the Bombers to a 4-1 win.
The timing couldn't have been any better. The Yankees sorely needed both a win and a gem from their ace after dropping four straight to the New York Mets and five overall. Some downtrodden Yankees fan must have knelt down in front of an R2 unit and recorded a message imploring Sabathia to help, because he was the Yanks' only hope.
If so, well, he got it.
The usual caveats apply: just one start, small sample size and all that jazz. And we have indeed seen Sabathia show flashes of his old self before this season. He racked up 10 strikeouts in a start just a couple of weeks ago against the Seattle Mariners, and he also had that two-start stretch in April in which he allowed one earned run in 15 innings.
So what makes this latest triumph different?
The opponent counts for something. Sabathia thoroughly owned a Red Sox team that came into the game with a .745 OPS against left-handed starters. Per Baseball-Reference.com, that was good for 11th in the majors.
No, the Red Sox didn't have their best lineup on the field, but it's not like Sabathia was cruising because Boston hitters were helping him out. With the kind of stuff Sabathia was featuring, he could have carved up anybody.
It was easy to notice the velocity. There were times when Sabathia was getting the ball over the plate in his usual 89 to 91 range, but there were a few 93s and even a couple of 94s.
BrooksBaseball.net has Sabathia's average fastball velocity this season down at 90.85 miles per hour. The raw data from his start on Friday night said he was averaging 92.58 miles per hour against Boston.
That's nearly a two mph increase, and it looks pretty good in light of the fact that Sabathia was averaging 91.9 miles per hour last time out against the Tampa Bay Rays. It would appear that some zip is creeping back into his arm.
CC Sabathia popped at 94 a couple times that inning, starting to sit around 93. He prefers to throw in this sweltering weather.— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughSL) June 1, 2013
It was that kind of night at the Stadium. ESPN.com has the official temperature at 86 degrees, which is pretty toasty for a night game. If that helped Sabathia get looser than he's been able to get all season, then the Yankees have a reason to feel optimistic.
Saturday is the first day of June, after all, and sources say the weather tends to get warm and stay warm in June.
I'm also wondering if the warm weather played a role in the success Sabathia had with his slider on Friday night. He picked up seven of his 15 swinging strikes on it and, according to Jack Curry of the YES Network, the bulk of his 10 strikeouts:
Sabathia's slider is as good tonight as it has been all season. Six of 10 Ks on sliders. In at bats ending in sliders, Red Sox are 1 for 10.— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) June 1, 2013
Want to know how many whiffs Sabathia got on his slider in his start against the Red Sox on Opening Day? Try zero.
Sabathia harnessing the power of his typically devastating slider again is at least as important as him finding some extra velocity. While everyone's been freaking out about Sabathia's velocity this year, his slider had been an issue for him as well.
Per Brooks Baseball, Sabathia's slider boasts a whiff rate of 18.52 percent since 2007. In 2013, the whiff rate on it has been 15.77 percent. Opponents had been hitting it at a .225 clip this season, up from a .166 clip since 2007.
Do you believe CC Sabathia is back after his domination of the Red Sox?
This all helps explain why Sabathia's wSL/C—that being the number of runs above average Sabathia has saved with his slider for every 100 he's thrown—is down to 0.93 this season, according to FanGraphs. His career mark is 1.99.
Now, Sabathia's obviously a much more complete pitcher currently than he was earlier in his career. But at heart, he's still primarily a fastball/slider pitcher. The lackluster numbers stem in large part from the fact that both pitches have been missing for him this season.
Up until Friday night, that is. I can't claim to have watched every single pitch Sabathia has thrown this season, but the stuff he was showing off against the Red Sox definitely passed the eye test. He looked more like his old self than he had all season.
Yes, it's just one start. And no, they're not all going to be this good from here on out.
But there should be more good ones than there have been. Caveats be damned, it looks like Sabathia is back.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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