Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Carsten Charles Sabathia II

I'm a fan of the Indians, alright! And again Ken Rosenthal has again made an error in his judgment of a player.

CC Sabathia, the contract year left hander for the Cleveland Indians is having a forgettable start to his 2008 season. A year removed from winning the 2007 Cy Young (albeit, only partially deserving so) is struggling to find his grove in what should have been one of his best seasons to date. Keep in mind, this is not a freak out post, rather, I am in the midst of writing a response paper and came out a quote that on the surface is completely unrelated (as it has to do with reading and writing) but upon further inspection, makes a lot of sense.

Here is what we know. People are jumping ship on Sabathia claiming that his arm is dead after a brutally long and highly used 2007 season. Interestingly, Baseball Prospectus' Pitcher Abuse Points (PAP) system has Sabathia ranking all the way down as the 26th most abused pitcher from 2007. I'm not certain whether that takes into account the playoffs, but I find it hard to believe an extra 4 starts would vault the league leader in innings pitched into the top 20, let alone the top 5 where one could justifiably raise a flag.

Further evidence against CC comes in support from Will Carrol in mid February when he writes, "That said, he's as unrisky as pitchers come from a mechanical standpoint. There's some concern that the post-season innings may have an impact, but 200 innings is almost a gimme for the big man."

In today's Under the Knife, Will Carrol also reports the following fallacies,
With poor results through three starts, it shouldn't surprise anyone that there's a suggestion that Sabathia is hurt; in one unfounded rumor, Sabathia isn't throwing sliders due to a UCL problem. Not only is this wrong, it's factually incorrect. I asked a doctor I trust about the idea that Sabathia's pitch selection has anything to do with the health of his arm. He explained the structure of the arm to me saying, "the flexor pollicis longus originates on the radius, unlike the other major ligaments that originate on the ulna. Origins are proximal (closer to the body) and attachments are distal (further from the body). The UCL originates on the medial condyle of the humerus and attaches to the coronoid process. Comparing origins and attachments is like comparing apples to oranges. All these muscles have in common are their actions (flexing) and the fact that they originate at or near the elbow. There's no medical or functional reason that a slider would be more or less affected by this than a fastball." In fact, the stress of a slider is less on the important are of concern here, Sabathia's middle finger, than it would be on a fastball. Moreover, a 1987 study by Dr. Frank Jobe and a team of biomechanists showed that there is not a significant difference between the flexor-pronator muscular forces used in a fastball and a curveball. This matches with Dr. Glenn Fleisig's 2005 study that showed there were not significant differences in kinematics for fastballs, changeups, and breaking balls, including the slider.
In essence, while there may be an issue with Sabathia's arm due to fatigue or overuse, if CC is not throwing his slider or has lost effectiveness of his slider, it would not be due to an injury.

Now the question comes to this, is Sabathia hurt? People are referencing his high walk total as rationale behind this, however I'm not buying into that. Consider the opponents Sabathia has had to this point in his season and how he has traditionally fared against them?
  • Chicago White Sox - Over the last two years (since Thome) against teams with at least 15 innings pitched, Chicago is the team where CC has had the worst control.
  • Oakland Athletics (2 games) - Since Carsten's entered the bigs he has had a great deal of trouble against his home town team. Especially on the road. Everyone knows the A's preach patience and there is no wonder the A's are one of the toughest teams on CC.
  • Detroit Tigers - In 2007 the Tigers had CC's number. Had this start occurred in the middle of the season surrounded by games against Kansas City and Minnesota, no one raises an eyebrow. Because this game came while the Tigers are struggling and CC has had a tough time, the conclusion is that there is obviously a problem.
But thats too simple right? It's too simple to say, 'Well, he's just had some really tough match ups'? Although that may work while negotiating a contract, that doesn't work in the eyes of arm chair GM's. So what could the problem be?

Ken Rosenthal, as mentioned, suggests that Carstens size may be an issue going forward. This though, has been debated by myself utilizing evidence from the Hardball Times study on the size of players. He adds further fuel in a recent article by suggesting that his size makes it "difficult to predict how he might age". But if size actually helps a pitchers longevity, how can this be true?

Further criticism's of Carsten to this point have been around his contract status, however as the Indians front office 'policy' and as per Carsten's very own website, the negotiations have been cut off since before Spring Training. Although let's be fair, when CC says "I'm not thinking about the contract", he certainly is, the same way I think about how a paper I hand in will affect my pay down the road.

Currently, the problem with Sabathia is that he is unable to locate his pitches. After the Tigers hit him around hard, CC had the following to say about his performance,
"Usually, it's something mechanical or in my delivery," Sabathia said. "But it's not [this time]. I look at the video, and I haven't been [establishing] the inside part of the plate to right-handed hitters. I have no feel for my cutter. Last year, I did a good job commanding both sides of the plate, and this year I haven't done that."
Beyond the Boxscore commented on Carsten's early struggles with the following conclusion, "It’s quite possible that he’s lost his confidence in his slider and just doesn’t want to throw it..."

Eric Wedge, the Manager of the Indians also suggested that it may be a matter of a loss of confidence. This seems to be the most logical explanation when one considers the following,
Beliefs of personal self efficacy, therefore, are not dependent on one's abilities but instead on what one believes may be accomplished with one's personal skill set. Therefore, self-efficacy beliefs are often better predictors that prior accomplishments, skills, or knowledge (Mills, Pajares & Herron, 2006).
Right now, until some true evidence is revealed I have to believe that Sabathia is simply not trusting his stuff, a figure of speech so often used within the baseball community. Additionally, I think the combined pressure of pitching for a team that is supposed to win as well as knowing that every pitch he makes could make or break his big pay day. This anxiety, Mills, Pajares and Herron write is directly related to ones self efficacy. Thus, if Sabathia is anxious and consequently lacks confidence in his abilities, struggles should come as no surprise.

Word has it however, that Sabathia had a strong bullpen session over the weekend. If he goes into his next start against the Red Sox believing in his stuff, this ought to be the start where he turns things around. If he still has his contract negotiations and the team goals in the back of his head, it is going to be a very long season for 'the big guy'.

BallHype: hype it up!

Update - 04/24/08 - 10:18 AM EST
Courtesy of Lets Go Tribe a link to ESPN Page 2's idea of what was wrong with Carsten's. Check it out!

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