With Strasburg’s Injury will Yankees Alter Their Plan for Phil Hughes?

August 27, 2010

Stephen Strasburg needs Tommy John surgery (TJS), and if you are in shock over this, you shouldn’t be. Strasburg has all the requirements of a guy destined for this procedure.

First, he throws extremely hard, upwards of 100 MPH. That is just too taxing on the throwing arm’s tendons and ligaments. There is a certain threshold for the body when it comes to pitching a baseball. Second, Strasburg has brutal pitching mechanics, with a very violent motion.

Rather than a smooth arc in his arm’s backswing, Strasburg uses a direct path, leading with his elbow. In leading the backswing that way, Strasburg’s elbow ends up well above his shoulder, putting extra stress on his arm.

With his velocity, that combination is a terrible one-two punch, most often leading to surgery. AJ Burnett, who still has bad mechanics, was a similar pitcher at a young age and needed TJS many years ago.

Unless they have great mechanics, most hard throwers have multiple arm issues. I spoke at length with pitching coach Rick Peterson last winter and he agreed that the Strasburg and Burnett-type arm action was detrimental to a pitcher’s health.

Strasburg has been babied and coddled as much as any pitcher ever and he still came down with an injury (actually two if you count his shoulder soreness earlier). But like other hard throwers who had TJS (Josh Johnson, Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter), Strasburg will eventually come back and throw.

Let’s hope he has better mechanics upon his return or he is destined to be a reliever.

Many people are wondering why Strasburg was even in the majors just one season after his college career. Well, he dominated every level up to the major leagues and had nothing left to prove. He was carefully monitored, and likely would have the same injury pitching in the majors, minors, or college this season.

It is just a good thing that the Nationals were not in a playoff race and using Strasburg more than what he was actually used. That would have brought down a heap of big criticism from fans and media about “what is best for the player” and “the Nationals caused this injury.” *

*I am waiting for the criticism to start on Tony Gwynn, Strasburg’s head coach in college. While there is NO WAY Gwynn had anything to do with this injury by pitching Strasburg, someone has to be responsible in this blaming society we live in. Dusty Baker will never live down the injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, yet he had nothing to do with the terrible mechanics of both young pitchers.

Everyone knows how strict the Nats were with Strasburg. He never threw 100 pitches in any start, topping out at 99, and only entered the seventh inning in three of his 12 starts.

Yet he still needed surgery. It is more bad mechanics and his great velocity which put more torque on the elbow and shoulder than innings or pitch counts.

But while the Nationals had no playoff aspirations when Strasburg was called up, the Yankees do have World Series thoughts on their minds.

That begs the question of Phil Hughes’s innings limits this year. Hughes is 24, and has not had a full season on the mound yet in his major league career. He has a somewhat similar backswing arc as Strasburg, but it is not as drastic or violent as the Nationals phenom.

Hughes’ limit this year is in the 170-180 inning range, and he is currently at 144. He should be expected to make about six more starts which could give him another 35 innings or so. The Yankees might look to skip Hughes a start, or limit him in certain games, piggybacking Javier Vazquez in Phil’s starts.

But according to Cashman, come playoff time, “it’s all hands on deck” and Hughes could be part of the playoff rotation. The Yankee GM said he could not look people in the organization in the eyes and not use his best pieces in the most important games.

That means Hughes in the postseason rotation, likely slotting into the No. 4 spot.

While I have many times stated in the past that Hughes will definitely not be part of the postseason rotation, but will be in the bullpen, it likely is not the case. This is not to say that is what I thought the Yankees should do, but what I expected the Yankees to do was to put Hughes in the postseason bullpen.

Despite his last start in Toronto, Hughes is the Yankees’ second most consistent starting pitcher next to CC Sabathia. I trust him more in a playoff start than I do Javier Vazquez, Dustin Moseley, or even AJ Burnett.

Although I expect Andy Pettitte to come back into the rotation, and today’s news of an issue-free bullpen session was positive, Hughes still needs to be part of the rotation if the Yankees will win this year.

So, if Hughes is OK with getting postseason starts and innings, putting him over 180 for the season, why isn’t it OK for him to get a few more regular season innings? Important, down the stretch innings? *

*And for the record, major league innings in May and September are the same. There are no “extra stress” innings. Pitchers do not throw with less effort in May than they do in September, or less effort in the third inning than they do the seventh. Certain pitches in certain game situations might be thrown harder (AJ does this way too much) but pitchers generally throw with the same effort all the time. High stress innings is one of the biggest misnomers in baseball pitching theory.

That 34-inning increase violates the Verducci Effect and, according to the theory, would put Hughes in an “at risk” situation the following year. This is why the Yankees are looking to maybe skip Hughes or use the piggyback method. 

Before his last start, Hughes suffered miserably after he was skipped in a start around the All-Star break. He needs to pitch on a consistent, rotated basis and not be skipped or reduced. The Verducci effect has not been proven to be a precursor to injuries, and all the pitchers on this “at risk” list over the last two seasons have been major injury-free.

The injury to Stephen Strasburg showed that pitchers who are limited and coddled are not immune to injuries. Most pitchers go through arm problems and it’s not a given that if Hughes is limited, he will be immune to injury. The risk is always there.

But that risk and concern should have no bearing on the Yankees winning another World Series title this year. The idea of baseball is to win games and World Series titles.

Hughes has been durable all year and the Yankees need his innings down the stretch, especially with 10 of the last 14 games against the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox.

And if Hughes does have any arm issues next season, then worry about it next year. While he is going over his limit with the playoffs, another 12 regular season innings is not going to drastically affect his future. His career will not end if he throws 200 total innings this season including playoffs.

Winning another World Series title and ring should be the important thing right now.


CC Sabathia vs. Tim Lincecum: Which Pitcher Is More At Risk for Injury?

July 21, 2010

Two pitchers with heavily decorated resumes.

The first, CC Sabathia, has more of a track record and is completing his 10th full season in the Majors.

The second, Tim Lincecum, affectionately known as “The Freak,” is in his fourth season, and has two Cy Young Awards.

However, both are known as workhorses, the proverbial baseball term that gives revered status to those pitchers who miss very few starts to injury and normally throw 200-plus innings per season.

Based upon their sizes, both Sabathia and Lincecum are on the opposite ends of the spectrum of pitchers you would consider workhorses.

CC is a hulky 6’7″ 290-pound behemoth, while Lincecum stands 5’11″ and 170 pounds. Yes, even though Tiny Tim appears more slight, he is listed at 170.

Both have thrown a lot of innings in their careers. Sabathia has averaged 31 starts and 210 innings during his first nine full seasons, while Lincecum has averaged 32 starts and 226 innings in his only two full seasons.

In today’s game, those are huge amounts of innings…but somewhere Steve Carlton is laughing.

Both pitchers are headed for similar (if not higher) numbers this year. CC has made 20 starts and Lincecum 19, with both having double-digit wins once again.

Interestingly enough, Sabathia is the only active MLB pitcher who has double-digit wins and a winning record in each season of his career.

But with the similarities between the two pitchers (team workhorse aces) and their differences (body type), which hurler is the more likely pitcher to eventually break down?

I don’t think either one will break down anytime soon. Both have pretty good pitching mechanics. Their arm actions are great, putting less stress on their elbows and shoulders.

But history does provide a glimpse of those types of pitchers who have long careers, and they are not usually the slight of build guys.

There have been 70 pitchers in baseball history who have thrown 3500-plus innings. The leader, of course, is Cy Young, with a ridiculous 7,356 innings. It doesn’t matter what era you are pitching in, that is a preposterous amount of innings.

So, of all these 70 pitchers, only eight are of the recent era. They are Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris, and Mike Mussina.

All of the other 62 pitchers played the bulk of their careers before the 1980s.

Almost all of these 70 pitchers were six feet tall or bigger. Ten were under six feet tall, and all but one played before the 20th century, when pitchers threw with less velocity but more often during a season.

The only pitcher under six feet tall who pitched in the modern era was Whitey Ford, who tipped the scales at a robust 5’10″, 178 pounds.

But Ford was a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher who would pepper the corners with moderate fastballs, change ups, and cut pitches (literally). Similar to Glavine, minus the cut balls.

There are not many smallish built pitchers who throw many innings, especially hard-throwing slight of build pitchers like Lincecum. Even Pedro Martinez and his lengthy career, has thrown only 2,827 innings, and he is similar in size to Lincecum with the same velocity.

Martinez, who had tremendous pitching mechanics, ended up having rotator cuff surgery in 2006. His rotator cuff issues began back in 2001 (at age 29) when he missed a good chunk of that year to the injured shoulder.

Lincecum is now 26 years old, but at the same age, Pedro had thrown about 300 more innings than Lincecum will throw this season.  

Sabathia, as of this writing, has thrown 2,027 innings. That is good for 404th place all time. At his current rate, CC will move into the 360th-place range.

He has a workhorse frame, and even with the seven postseason series (and 61 more innings), Sabathia looks as strong as the day he broke into the Majors.

With his slight build, Lincecum should not compile as long a Major League career as Sabathia. He may not break down for major arm surgery like Pedro, but I would not bet against it.

History shows us smaller guys do not last as long or throw as many innings as bigger guys.

But both smaller and bigger guys end up getting surgery. That is the nature of the beast with pitchers.

They say pitchers’ careers are made with their legs, and the arms are just along for the ride. When the legs get tired, the arm gets tired, and that is when injuries occur.

That is why a Major League pitcher who is throwing around 120 pitches can still throw more if his legs are strong, but a guy can be wiped out after 90 if his legs are weak.

From the looks of both pitchers, it appears Sabathia’s legs have a bunch more strength than Lincecum’s.

For that reason, his size, and the longer history of sustained work with no ill effects, I believe CC Sabathia will have the longer career, logging many more innings than “The Freak.”


Why New York Mets Manager Jerry Manuel is the Stupidest Man in Baseball

July 19, 2010

It has been said that the definition of stupid is doing the same wrong thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome.

As cruel as it might sound, I believe the industry of major league baseball is stuck in a method of managing of pulling your starters before they are cruising. Continuing to use the same failed pitching mistakes continues to only lead a team into more and more losses, and wasted efforts of the starting pitcher. 

I believe New York Mets manager Jerry Manuel is a stupid person, and one of the worst culprits of this pitching change phenomenon.

He obviously does not read my Bleacher Report articles .

What else would there be to explain why he continues to pull the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana, out games in which he is pitching great? Can you honestly believe that was the correct move today against the San Francisco Giants?

Especially when your team needs a victory in the worst way to avoid being swept in the first four games on this important road trip?

How about the Sunday game before the All-Star break against the Atlanta Braves ? Does Manuel himself honestly believe pulling Santana AFTER SEVEN SHUTOUT INNINGS of a game against the leader of the NL East was the correct move?

Well, Santana did already throw 107 pitches in that game. OMG! Call the papers!

And the Mets were only ahead 2-0 in that Braves game. Why would you remove your best pitcher in that game to put the ball in the hands of Bobby Parnell?

Granted, the Mets did win both games, but Manuel has to realize (especially after Frankie Rodriguez blew another save today) that Santana, no matter how many pitches he has thrown, is the best option for him at the end of the game.

Check out the photo accompanying this article. It is the on-field hand slapping between Manuel and Santana after Johan was allowed to finish his own game.

It might never happen again.  

Manuel already managed the Mets into many losses this season by pulling Santana early, and even pulling R.A. Dickey in this game where the Mets had Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals beaten.

Parnell and K-Rod gave up four runs in two innings in the eighth and ninth, but I doubt that Dickey would have allowed any more runs to the that Nats lineup. In watching the recorded game later on, they looked flustered trying to hit Dickey’s hard knuckle ball.

But Dickey threw 115 pitches already. What are we doing Jerry, trying to save the 35-year-old journeyman’s arm?

I remember driving home that day from umpiring a double header and listening to the game on the radio. I smiled when I heard that Dickey was being removed from the game. That gave the Nationals a chance.

But let’s get back to the Mets’ most effective, and highest paid, starting pitcher.

I don’t care how many pitches he has thrown into the later innings. If the game is tight and Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, or Albert Pujols was coming up, I WANT MY BEST PITCHER TO FACE THEM in that situation.

I already got on Manuel’s crosstown manager, Joe Girardi, last week regarding his pitch count limit shenanigans .

And it is not just Manuel and Girardi, but MLB in general. This entire notion that a middling relief pitcher, who isn’t good enough to be a starting pitcher and is not good enough to close games, is better than one of your starting pitchers when a game is tight is ridiculous. You can see this trend as middle relievers continue to get more and more win/loss decisions.

In 2008, Manuel pulled Santana early in four games which the Mets either held the lead or was tied but eventually lost , including two heartbreakers to the Philadelphia Phillies on July 4 and July 22 .

I heard on today’s radio broadcast that Santana had eight leads that season in which the Mets bullpen could not hold the lead.

How about Santana holding the lead?

Not until I wrote a piece two years ago did much talk center on letting Santana go longer in games because he is the team’s best pitcher, not Pedro Feliciano, not Fernando Nieve, not Elmer Dessens, not even the newly-anointed eighth inning guy Bobby Parnell or K-Rod are better than Johan Santana in these spots.
 
If you are talking pitch counts, and that Santana needs to be preserved for an August/September stretch run, there won’t be a late stretch run if Manuel continues to micro-manage the Johan Santana-pitched Mets games.

During those two Phillies games in July 2008, Santana had thrown 95 and 105 pitches, respectively, before he was pulled with a lead. As a reminder, the Mets lost the National League East by three games last season to those same Phillies, but were out of the National League Wild Card by a single game.

Leaving Santana in those four games when he was pulled would have likely returned three victories for the Mets.

If I am Manuel, I don’t care if Santana is at 95, 105, 115, or 135 pitches on a specific night. If Santana is still dealing and getting guys out, he is the man to be in the game. Not the aforementioned middle relievers.   

And do not pinch hit for him late either when there is no one on base or two outs in an inning. Having Santana on the mound is more important than gambling on getting a late insurance run.

Despite some successes this season, the Mets rotation is far from elite. The Mets need to win every game that Santana pitches, and that means letting your ace pitch very deep into games, if not a complete game every time out.

Then you can use the bullpen to try and bail out Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese, and new rotation member R.A. Dickey—because you know Manuel, for a variety of reasons, is not going to be allowed those guys to go the distance.

Manuel needs to stop becoming more stupid—because if you have ever heard the comedian Ron White , “You can fix almost anything, but you can’t fix stupid .”


Joe Girardi Continues to Display Ineptness Regarding The Bullpen

July 11, 2010

On the west coast road trip to Oakland and Seattle which saw the Yankees go 6-1, could have possibly been 7-0. Then the Yankees would have a three game lead over Tampa Bay instead of just a two game lead.

But in a great pitching matchup between the New York Yankees Javier Vazquez and the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, Girardi pulled his usual stunt.

The game was 1-0 Yankees and Vazquez had a NO-HITTER through the first 5.2 innings, finally allowing an infield single to Ichiro. At one point Vazquez retired 15 straight batters. He loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, but got out of his only jam by retiring Milton Bradley.

Then with a three-hit shutout going, Girardi removes Vazquez after seven innings. “You did your job Javy,” Girardi likely told the 34-year-old, 13-year veteran.

Are you kidding me? Did his job? What job was that? Getting pulled from a great pitchers duel because the manager has no concept of how to manage a pitching staff?

Vazquez was pulled because his pitch count (here we go again!) was at 117. So lets leave the balance of the game in the hands of Joba Chamberlain, a pitcher who has struggled mightily with his control, command and concentration.

And Joba did not disappoint by loading the bases very quickly and allowing a home run on a pitch way up in the zone, and even further away from his targeted location.

So why not leave Vazquez in? It’s his game. He had been outdueling the great King Felix all night.

Because Vazquez was at 117 pitches and Joba is the Yankees 8th inning guy. 

The real reason is that Girardi is playing the games based upon the “new book,” the one which states you must bring in your setup, 8th (or 7th) inning guy if your starter is over 100 pitches. No matter what the situation, no matter what the score, no matter how effective your starting pitcher is doing.

That is similar to the prevent defense in football. When your team has a decent lead in the fourth quarter, you play a soft defense allowing the other team to gain yardage, but not to hit the big play.

What the prevent defense usually does in football is prevent a win in the game for the preventing team.

Vazquez needs to be in that game for the 8th inning, pitching until he is no longer effective. It is his game, not Joba’s, and if there is a thought that the pitch count was too high, than baseball has just about stopped being a man’s game.

I thought the pitch count fiasco was only for younger pitchers who have not yet built up their arms to the rigors of professional baseball?  

Why are we then worried about Javier’s pitch count? He is a 13-year veteran who has not ever been injured. Vazquez was even rumored to be traded during that series against Seattle, and probably will not even be a Yankee next year!

And even after seven innings and 117 pitches, right now Vazquez is a much better pitcher than Joba Chamberlain and anyone else in that bullpen not named Mariano.

That loss at Seattle was not a Joba problem or a bullpen problem. It is a Joe Girardi problem.

Pitch counts should not be a reason to bring in a new guy, but Girardi abides by the new book. Hell, my son threw five innings the other day, and the threw 200 pitches of wiffle ball later on that same day. And his arm is still attached.

After the grand slam and the Yankees were behind 4-1, the 24-year-old, six-year veteran King Felix went back out on the mound and shut down the Yankees in 9th inning, throwing a total of 126 pitches. It was his fourth complete game in his last five starts.

Hernandez did not need anybody to finish his game.


New York Yankees: Good Decision in Limiting the Innings of Phil Hughes

June 28, 2010

Phil Hughes, aka Phranchise, will start Tuesday night’s game against the Seattle Mariners and Cliff Lee. Hughes, though, had his last start skipped out on the West Coast trip through Arizona and Los Angeles.

The reason? After throwing mostly in relief last year, he is on an innings limit this season, with the Yankees likely not to let Hughes go above 180 innings. After throwing 105 innings last season, Hughes would have that number bumped up by 75 innings over 2009.

Depending on the source, this number of 180 innings does or does not include playoffs.

Why so much of an increase? The Verducci Effect, says that any young pitcher under the age of 25 who throws more than 30 innings over the prior season is ripe for injury or a lower level of production.

It started out as 40 innings over the prior season, but I guess there were not enough injuries, so Verducci reduced the number to 30. The original theory only contained injuries, but King Tom also added an increase in ERA to prove his points.

Well, Hughes did throw 111 innings in 2007, 100 in 2008 (including the 30 he threw in the Arizona Fall League), and 105 last year. He also threw in the 2007 and 2009 post season.

Maybe the Yankees feel that Hughes has built up enough innings over the last three years (316) that he can withstand the “rigors” of 180 innings.

I feel that Hughes also can withstand those innings, and much more and I would not have sat him at all, especially with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in hot pursuit.

But I understand why the Yankees did it. They do not want to be blamed for anything if Hughes ever hurts his arm*. Don’t want to hear if from the fans, the media, the agents or even fantasy baseball owners. They don’t want to lose their future investment of a great arm.

* Newsflash! Almost all pitchers hurt their arms during their careers, many needing surgery. It is the nature of the beast in a most unnatural act. Even Roger Clemens, one of the most durable pitchers of all time, had shoulder surgery in 1985 at age 22. He only won 350+ plus games afterwards, and is 16th all time in total innings pitched.

Those who do not hurt their arms, usually have tremendous mechanics like Greg Maddux, who threw 167 pitches in a game at age 22, and still made his next 700+ starts. Maddux also has starts that season of 131 pitches (twice), 134 pitches and 143 pitches in his first start, April 6th.

Maddux also had accumulated 86 professional innings in 1986, jumped to 186 innings the following season (increase of 100), then threw 196 in 1986. After throwing 183 comined minor and major league innings in 1987, Maddux threw 249 major league innings in 1988, a jump of 66 innings over the prior season.

The reason? Great mechanics, which lessened the pressure on the shoulder and elbow.

The fantasy baseball guys are already complaining about Hughes’ innings limit, but for a different reason. They want the wins and strikeouts that Hughes was bringing to the fantasy baseball table.

And since Hughes has now become what was expected of him, a really good young pitcher and is 10-1, with a 3.14 ERA entering Tuesday, the Yankees are taking it easy.

It is a mistake but I applaud this move by the Yankees to limit Hughes’ innings.  

All the horror stories of Mark Fidrych throwing 250 innings in 1976 at age 21, Doc Gooden throwing 276 innings in 1985 at age 20, are scaring off these teams. And both Don Gullett and Gary Nolan of the Big Red Machine days of the early 1970′s had logged innings totals of 200+ innings in their early 20′s, including Gullett at age 19.

All four of these young pitchers were never the same after many years of these high innings pitched seasons.

Well, can someone please let me know how Doc Gooden would ever replicate one of the greatest pitched seasons of all time when he went 24-4. 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts and 0.965 WHIP in 1985?

What many people do not understand that the idea is to win games, not protect your “investments.”

There, I said it.

That means if a young pitcher, like Hughes or Gooden or Gullett, or even Stephen Strasburg, are throwing well in a tight pennant race, they have to pitch. I don’t care how old they are, or how many innings they have thrown.

But I still like what the Yankees are doing with Hughes.

Injuries happen whether a pitcher is overused early in his career or not. While Fidrych, Gooden, Gullett and Nolan are on one side, there are guys like Dennis Martinez, Bert Blyleven and Don Sutton who threw a lot of innings before age 25, and had long, productive careers.

And I also contend that Nolan and Gooden had nice careers, too. Nolan ended up having 110 wins and started 30+ games five times, while Gooden started 410 games over a 16 year career, winning 194.

Lots of guys today are having Tommy John surgery (TJS) and have been limited in pitch counts and their innings. Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins has TJS a few years ago, and was closely monitored throughout his pro career.

The Yankees have a bunch of minor leaguers who have had TJS and they monitor everything pitcher wise, including the use of the minor league “phantom DL” to give guys innings breaks. Heck, a few years ago the Toronto Blue Jays had a slew of young pitchers who had surgery, and they were monitored throughout their careers.

All the precautions in attempts to extend a young pitchers career has eliminated the dominant season (glad Ubaldo is here now), or that run of great seasons. Building up guys over time is fine, but now even veteran pitchers are limited to seven inning starts and a little more than 200 innings a year.

There are too many decisions going to middle relievers, guys with no business being in the critical parts of games. Is asking a pitcher to throw 15 pitches an inning over nine innings too much?

It is ridiculous to ask someone to be like Iron Joe McGinnity again, but to throw 135 pitches over nine innings (15 per inning) does not seem problematic, especially when a pitcher conditions himself to do so.

Most great pitchers like Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and the like only became what they were because they were allowed to become what they are.

Steve Carlton only became Steve Carlton because he was allowed to be Steve Carlton.

And that is to take the ball all the time, throwing enough to win (or lose) the game that day, going out and doing it again every four (now five) days. Those types of pitchers used to “get better as the game went along.”

That phrase was even used this season about Strasburg. But Strasburg is not yet being allowed to become Strasburg. And Hughes is not yet being allowed to become Phil Hughes.

But I like what the Yankees are doing with Hughes, and what the Nationals are doing with Strasburg.

And what the Reds are doing with Mike Leake, what the San Diego Padres are doing with their young starters and what the Baltimore Orioles are doing with young starters Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta.

The Yankees, as well as many other teams, most notably Kansas City when Zack Greinke started games, lost games in which they held middle to late inning leads. What the manager did was remove the starting pitcher after six or seven innings to hand the lead over to the bullpen.

Many times this ends in team losses, and in close pennant races in September, those games blown early count just the same.

Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts died just about two months ago, and he won 286 games, including 20+ wins in six straight seasons from age 23 through age 28. He also won 19 a year later at age 29. He dominated those six/seven seasons, and despite having double-digit wins in eight other seasons.

He was really never the same after age 28 after he averaged 319 innings per season.

But I would rather have the dominating six years, than a real good pitcher for 15 seasons who doesn’t dominate, but gets his obligatory 12+ wins every year. Are these teams trying to get 30 starts out of these guys for 15 years? That would be 450 starts.

Know how many pitchers have started 450+ games? Only 77. In the history of major league baseball, only 77 pitchers have started 450+ games, the equivalent of a 15 year career at 30 starts per season.

And most of these guys began their careers before 1985, the era when pitch counts started to become common.

So let’s get these pitchers to start dominating again over shorter time periods.

Give me Phil Hughes or Stephen Strasburg or a Mike Leake dominating for seven seasons before mediocrity hits. The teams will be better because of it, and if a tam cannot develop another good starting pitcher or two (or three) in seven years, then player development is a problem.

But I like what the Yankees are doing with Hughes, what the Nationals are doing with Strasburg, and what the Reds are doing with Leake.

Because when one of these guys (or any other “limited innings” pitcher) gets an arm injury and needs surgery, then baseball can get back to the days of the dominating, workhorse starting pitcher.

I believe Phil Hughes can be that guy. Just let Phil be Phil.


Joe Girardi: New York Yankee Manager Makes Huge Gaffe in Pulling Starter

June 19, 2010

After seven brilliant innings by New York Yankee starting pitcher Javier Vazquez in Friday night’s game versus the New York Mets, Joe Girardi did his usual routine.

He pulled out of the game a very effective pitcher who was cruising through a lineup all night long, giving up one very soft run in the top of the 1st inning.

Why did Girardi pull Vazquez?

Well, by God, Javier was over the magical 100 pitch count threshhold! Vazquez threw 109 pitches before being pulled.

Oh my goodness! The Yankees best starting pitcher over the last month was pulled out of the game during a very critical moment. The game was 1-0 Mets, and Vazquez was cruising, having not allowed a hit for five and a third innings!

And this was after Vazquez quieted the Mets bats earlier this season on one hit over six innings.

That mistake of pulling Vazquez based upon pitch count by Girardi COST the Yankees an opportunity to win that game.

And to make matters worse, Girardi brought in perhaps his most inconsistent pre-8th inning guy Chan Ho Park to start the inning. He put Park in the game ONE NIGHT after Park gave up two hits in a third of an inning in a loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

In that game, Park relieved another reliever, Joba Chamberlain, who had replaced an effective starter in Andy Pettitte. Pettitte was relieved after throwing a whopping 105 pitches!

According the Michael Kay on the broadcast, Andy’s pitch count was high.

Take him out!

Is that why Girardi took Pettitte out yesterday after 105 pitches? Pettitte could have AND SHOULD HAVE gone out for the 8th inning against Philadelphia.

AND VAZQUEZ SHOULD HAVE GONE OUT FOR THE 8TH INNING FRIDAY NIGHT.

Are 109 pitches really too much for one of the most durable pitchers (besides Roy Halladay and Mark Buerhle) in the entire sport? A guy in the 34 year old Vazquez, who has averaged 217 innings and 33 starts in each of his 10 full seasons in the majors?

That is flat out retarded. Girardi is not a good manager when it comes to pitching. That is surprising Girardi was a pretty good catcher. He is the same as every other manager in baseball, making the same moves with pitchers and trying to lose ballgames.

They do not follow the most basic rule in pitching.

It is also DelGrippo’s Baseball Rule No. 1 to win games :

In a close game, if your starting pitcher is throwing well (and especially dominating the opposition) NEVER, EVER take him out due to an innings limit or pitch count.

WHY?

Because as a manager, you know how your current pitcher is throwing, but you have no idea how your relief pitcher will throw. Is it a good day, or a bad day for them?

We don’t know, but we do know our starting pitcher (who is usually at least 30 years old if they are throwing for the Yankees).

*This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George is going to get married to Susan. Kramer then tells Jerry all about the horrors of marriage, including the following exchange:

Kramer: Yeah, and you can forget about watching TV while you’re eating.
Jerry: I can?
Kramer: Oh, yeah! You know why? Because it’s dinner time. And you know what you do at dinner?
Jerry: What?
Kramer: You talk about your day! “How was your day today? Did you have a good day today or a bad day today ? Well, what kind of day was it? I don’t know, how ’bout you, how was your day?”
Jerry: Boy!
Kramer: It’s sad, Jerry. It’s a sad state of affairs.

The same exchange can be used in the sad state of pitching affairs in major league baseball. All around you see how young pitchers are doing well , and that more have sub 3.00 ERA’s. But many of these hurlers are being conditioned to look over their shoulders towards the bailout bullpen at every hint of trouble from the fifth inning on.

But the sad state is when managers think that after 100 pitches, it is time to take your starter out of the game, and never go above 120. This is because some guy who never played the game suggests that pitchers will be injured for life it they do.

That is why Justin Verlander has not thrown above 120 pitches since I wrote this article .

And if your starter IS OUT due to some reason, like getting hit hard or has been replaced by a pinch hitter, and your first relief pitcher is pitching well, NEVER, EVER take him out to bring in your 7th inning, 8th inning or closer (unless it is Mariano Rivera).

WHY?

Same reason above, you know how your current pitcher is performing and you do not know how the next guy will do.

When relief pitchers have good days, everyone is happy. But why take the risk? That is why they are relievers – they really aren’t great pitchers.

But when relievers have bad days, and they oftentimes do, the team usually loses the game. Most of the time when relief pitchers give up runs, games penciled in the win column turn into losses. Or as Girardi has shown the Pettitte and Vazquez games, he takes a one run deficit and makes it into a game you never will win.

Maybe, just maybe they turn into games you barely squeak out but use up your entire bullpen by playing the idiotic matchup game.  

And the matchup game is because lefty pitchers supposedly can only get out left handed hitters, and righty pitchers can supposedly only get out right handed hitters.

And that is why (as I mentioned earlier) relievers are not good pitchers because they can pretty much only get out the same side hitter. They never had the pitches to make it as a starter.

That is why starters should pitch longer than seven innings and 100-110 pitches. They are your better pitchers. They should pitch more, especially when they are in their 30′s and have been involved in the majors for a decade as have Pettitte and Vazquez have been.

No way Vazquez should be taken out of Friday night’s game. Girardi cost the Yankees an opportunity to win that game. I have much more confidence in Vazquez (after throwing 5.1 consecutive hitless innings) pitching the 8th and, even the 9th, innings than I do some middle reliever guy.

And that includes Joba Chamberlain.

A team today should only have ten pitchers – five starters, a closer, and four guys who can get out both right handed and left handed batters and pitch multiple innings. One of those four needs to be a five+ inning type guy (a sixth starter)- in case there is an extremely long extra inning game.

I ask you, “is it too much to think that a pitcher can’t throw 15 pitches per inning? That equates to 105 pitches for a seven inning game. Then why can’t he go two more innings than the usual seven if he feels good, his legs are strong and he is dominating the opposition?

The biggest knock on the “abuse of pitchers” was that the pitches they threw when tired is what led to injuries. Vazquez (and Pettitte*) did not appear tired after seven innings. So why take them out, and lose those games?

* I do understand a little about Pettitte as the Yankees are a little worried because his rib cage injury from last season has begun to act up again . The Yankees may think it might be a little more serious than just a pull .

Is is that hard? Or is everybody scared of what the agents will think? Are the GM’s who let this craziness continue worried too much about the money lost if a pitcher gets hurt?

Are wins and losses important?

As I said earlier, it is not just Girardi who makes this terrible blunder time after time. Zack Greinke’s bullpen has blown at least three games for him this year, Tim Lincecum’s bullpen blew several of his early starts.

Just yesterday, The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen blew a win for Cole Hamels . The Phillies bullpen is a sad group of pitchers who should be the poster children for complete game advocacy.

But Hamels had thrown 117 pitches by that time, and the Phillies had a five run lead with two innings to go. As the PAP guys say, “the game is in the bag, why abuse the starting pitcher?”

It is not pitch counts or innings workloads which hurt pitchers arms. Josh Johnson of the Florida Marlins, the second best pitcher in baseball had Tommy John surgery at age 22. He was not abused via pitch count or innings increments, having a steady increase throughout his pro career. 

Johnson was taken out of yesterday’s game  by manager Fredi Gonzalez, he of the double-switch lineup snafu’s, removed Johnson after eight innings because he had thrown 117 pitches.

“If the pitch count had been 103 or 104, you’ve got to give him the opportunity to go back out there,” Gonzalez said.

Johnson’s last two pitches, his 116 and 117, were 96 MPH.

How about a 34 year old man in Javier Vazquez, who has a history of durability and was pitching great baseball?

Why take him out after 109 dominating pitches?

Now that the Yankees are in sole possession of first place, Girardi will try like hell to help his team lose games.

You can pitch count on it.


Yankees Double A Affiliate Wins Again 4-0 behind Lance Pendleton’s Gem

May 25, 2010

The Yankees Double A affiliate, the Trenton Thunder, won 4-0 today, continuing a tremendous run by winning 15 of their last 18 games.

While many of those wins were decided by a very potent offense, today it was the pitching of Lance Pendleton, a 26-year-old veteran of six Yankee Minor League seasons.

That long without getting above Double A means the Yankees really like him.

Anyway, he looked good, and had a perfect game going through four innings. He ended up walking three, allowing two hits before leaving after his seven strong innings. He threw 99 pitches and I wonder why the Yankees took him out, since he is 26, past Tom Verducci’s innings limit age restrictions, and is not really a hot, young prospect.

But the Yankees follow all the ground rules for starting pitchers, rarely letting them go more than seven innings.

That is a mistake. Pendleton is big and strong with an effortless delivery. He spots his fastball very well, and mixes in a nice, tight breaking ball. He knows how to pitch. But most major league teams listen too much to scouts that a certain pitcher is not a “top of the rotation” guy, so the organization doesn’t put much into the pitcher other than being an “organizational arm.” 

 Because he becomes a minor league free agent after next season, the Yankees have his rights basically for another two years.

If Pendleton is not part of the Yankees future (similar to Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf, etc.), let the kid pitch and dominate. Then move him up to Triple A to get even better exposure. Then give him his shot to make the major leagues by allowing him to become a 7 to 9 inning workhorse, and trading Pendleton to another organization who will use him.

With another draft coming up in two weeks, plus the expected returns of Dellin Betances, George Kontos and Manuel Banuelos soon from rehabs, there might not be any more room at the inn for Pendleton.

And that would be a shame.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.