Is there any more reliable source of performance hand-wringing than Yankees quasi-ace CC Sabathia? Probably not, so in that sense we're duty-bound to make something of his flop against the Astros on Tuesday night.
In his first start of 2014, Sabathia yielded six runs on eight hits in six innings of work against the team that last season ranked last in the AL in OPS and 14th in runs scored. Sabathia did, however, manage to strike out six against only one walk.
Obviously, you can't conclude much of anything based on one isolated, season-beginning start, especially not after Sabathia authored a strong spring. With that said, Sabathia's velocity readings may be something to monitor.
On Tuesday night, nearly all his pitches were down, according to the radar gun. To be fair, all pitchers tend to be a bit slower in April, whether because of the cooler weather or because they're still rounding into form. Even so, here, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, are Sabathia's velos from his Tuesday start against Houston ...
Versus his April velos from a year ago ...
Even by April standards, he was pretty slow against the Astros. Only his changeup showed improved velocity, but it's generally not a good thing when your fastball-changeup spread is down to 6.5 mph or so. Sabathia, of course, has the rest of the month to match those April 2013 levels, but the numbers above are nonetheless noted.
Like every other pitcher, Sabathia is naturally losing velocity as he ages, so on some level this is to be expected. Some pitchers cope just fine with velo loss (Felix Hernandez certainly has, and he's just 27), but it can be an indicator of the onset of the deep-decline phase or even an underlying injury. On the first point, bear in mind that Sabathia will turn 34 in July and will likely approach 3,000 career innings by the end of the current season.
Given Sabathia's spring effectiveness, it's hardly panic time. Above all -- and to repeat -- we're talking about one start. However, the state of Sabathia's fastball certainly bears monitoring as we move forward.