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The career of a starting pitcher is inherently tenuous. You can go from greatness to out of baseball in record time due to injury or ineffectiveness. Just ask Brandon Webb or Dontrelle Willis. Young power pitchers might often become old command pitchers, while young command pitchers become young broadcasters. There are exceptions to this as with every rule — hello, Greg Maddux — but at any given time there are a number of starting pitchers attempting to extend their careers while dealing with changing stuff.
Two starting pitchers successfully made this transition last season, buying themselves more time on the mound as stars. One, Justin Verlander, was perhaps obvious, but CC Sabathia not so much. Verlander did it in a way that simply isn’t available to most mortals: He ramped up his velocity at age 33. While his average fastball velocity increased by just half a tick to 93.7 mph, he ramped up his average slider velocity over 2 mph to 87.9. That doesn’t happen every day. Verlander led all MLB ERA qualifiers in swing-and-miss rate (12.6 percent) on his four-seam fastball. He also posted exceptional Adjusted Contact Scores on both of his breaking balls (scoring 62 with his curve, 66 with his slider). Bat-missing and contact management are a pitcher’s primary tasks, and Verlander now does both well again.
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CC was a bit more subtle. He’s no longer a pure dominator with two top-shelf swing-and-miss pitches. He’s now an elite contact manager with average bat-missing ability. His whiff rates are highest on his changeup and slider, but on a pitch-specific basis, he exceeds league average just with his four-seamer and sinker. He has respectable bat-missing ability on all four. Using all four to squelch good contact, Sabathia rated as my American League Contact Manager of the Year in 2016. From best to worst, his Adjusted Contact Scores ranged from 53 (changeup) to 66 (four-seamer) to 70 (slider) to 85 (sinker). Bottom line, his second act is real. He has another big contract left in that arm.
This season, there are several veteran hurlers similarly trying to hold on, either to extend the cheap mlb jerseys second act of their careers, or trying to begin one. Can they do as well as Verlander or Sabathia did last year?