Has Phil Hughes Finally Begun to Live Up To His Potential?

July 5, 2012

Well, he is at it again, that Phil Hughes. He is throwing the ball well and winning games for the New York Yankees. 

And despite an extremely shaky outing by Adam Warren in his major league debut last Friday night, the Yankee starting rotation hasn’t missed a beat since losing both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte last Wednesday afternoon.

One of the keys has been the transformation of Hughes, once the golden boy of the Yankee farm system since his selection by the Yankees as the 23rd pick in the first round of the 2004 draft*. The expectations have always been high for Hughes, who had worked up to the 2007 No. 2 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball Digest.

*An interesting fact is the Yankees were awarded this pick as compensation for the loss of a free agent by the name of Andy Pettitte, who signed with the Houston Astros after the 2003 season.

With a “dead arm” and reduced velocity over the last couple years (along with less than moderate results), much talk centered on Hughes pitching out of the pen for his Yankee future. However, the Yankee brass always discussed Hughes as a starting pitcher and, to their credit, kept him in the rotation mix over the last several years.

With improved velocity this spring training, and better results, Hughes “won” the fifth starting spot in the rotation. However, after a disastrous start to the 2012 campaign, people promptly wanted Hughes out of the rotation.

I cannot even understand all those Yankee fans who wanted Hughes banished to the bullpen. Don’t people realize that five starts do not make a starting pitcher? Whatever happened to the “small sample size” bullshit we hear about every stinking day? Did that not count for Hughes in April?

Hell, even the great Catfish Hunter had a disastrous start to his Yankee career, losing his first four starts after signing that huge 5 year, $3.2 million free agent contract.

Hughes had issues early on, primarily allowing an inordinate amount of home runs. Of the 19 HRs Hughes has allowed this season, 13 have been solo shots, and almost a third (6), have come in two games, both losses. So, similar to Catfish, despite the large amount of HRs allowed, they haven’t really hurt since the damage was usually one run, or in Hughes’ case were siphoned off in two games*.

*And in one of these games, the June 20th Atlanta game,  the Yankees banged out four home runs, too. That Wednesday afternoon was a hot and humid day just ripe for the long ball.

I remember one time I was telling a scout one time about guy who hit two HRs in a game, real bombs which travelled well over the fence. True no doubters. The scout asked me if any other HRs were hit. I said yes, quite a few and the scout said that the two hit by the kid were nice, but if the ball was flying out like that on that particular day, there were likely other factors invloved which helped the long balls that day.

But then Hughes turned his season around during an innocuous start in Kansas City, where Hughes allowed three earned runs in 6.2 innings, striking out seven and issuing one free pass. He still gave up a HR, but it was two-out, solo shot in the bottom of the 7th. Due to a pitch count of 115, and although the hurler appeared neither gassed nor in trouble of losing the lead, General Joe promptly removed Hughes from that game.

Hughes has then gone on a roll, winning 8 of his last 11 starts, helping form a solid Yankees rotation. Some of the reasons behind Hughes’ surge are his ability to get (and stay) ahead in the count, locate his fastball, throw his curve ball for strikes, and overpower hitters with his fastball. Another huge move was Hughes scrapping his cutter.

While many pitchers are in love with their cutter, I feel this pitch is the latest fad, along the likes of the splitter. Hughes fell in love with his cutter, too, but hitters began to look for it, and pounced. This is a piece I wrote back in 2010 about Hughes getting too predictive with his cut fastball.  Hughes threw it too much and I feel that is one reason why he lost velocity on his fastball and began to get those arm issues. According to FanGraphs, Hughes has thrown the cutter only 4% of the time, if that much.

From what I have noticed, early in games Hughes has gotten ahead most of the time with his fastball, then has used his curveball more often on the first pitch to get ahead later in the games. In his last start against the White Sox, Hughes only got behind on the count 2-0 to two batters, the leadoff guy in the first inning and then to Paul Konerko with two outs in the 8th inning.

While still making a few mistakes here and there (Such as why would Hughes throw a 2-strike curveball to Michael Morse in 3rd inning of his Washington start while he was blowing him away with his fastball the entire at bat), by and large Hughes is pitching smarter and with sustained velocity. Hughes was still popping his fastball up to 94 in the 6th inning of his most recent start and in that Washington game a few starts earlier.

That is progress which the Yankees wanted to see from their young pitcher.

And I do not believe this progress is “small sample size” garbage because it derived from a change in approach and improvement in repertoire. Hughes felt the need to eliminate his cutter and focus on his best pitches, the stuff which advanced him to the major leagues in the first place. This approach allowed him to throw harder and boost confidence enough to challenge hitters, something Hughes shied away from in the past. 

I have seen very good major league hitters fail against Hughes’ fastball late in games when everybody in the world knew it was coming. A perfect example is the 8th inning Kevin Youkilis at bat in Hughes’ last start. This was a massive 8-pitch at bat in a 4-2 game in an inning where most people thought Girardi was going to go to the bullpen and not let Hughes even start the inning.

And Hughes came through with a one, two, three inning against Youkilis, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, the heart of the White Sox lineup. It is that inning which necessitated this piece.

What to do with Phil Hughes?

Of course he is going to be a Yankee starting pitcher for the next two years. He has earned that right, even though the Yankees might make him “earn” his spot again next spring. That is just a joke…probably.

But what about after 2013, when Hughes can become a free agent? Still only 26 now, Hughes will be all of 28 when he gets to free agency, and with a solid year or two under his belt, if Hughes reaches free agency, plenty of teams will be calling for his services. Similar to Cole Hamels this off season, Hughes would still be in his “prime” years. And If Hughes continues his stellar pitching through next season, the numbers tossed around might even be too big for the Yankees to handle, especially if they are resigned to their self-imposed $189 million payroll noose.

So, despite the basic team motto of no negotiations during the season, the Yankees should approach Hughes and his agent to talk a long term deal.

Even before Curtis Granderson and even before Robinson Cano. Having a set starting rotation is of utmost importance in today’s game, especially a home grown kid for below market cost.

So, where to begin on numbers? Hughes is already earning $3.2 million this season through arbitration and would likely command $6-10 million next year. Hughes is 26 and a general lookup of 26 year old pitchers who have signed pre free agent deals turned up this one:

Jon Danks, who signed a 5 year/$65 million deal this past off season, then struggled before he was hurt and placed on the DL.

Other guys near Hughes’ age and history who signed long term deals during arbitration include Jon Lester (24, 5 yr/$30M), Johnny Cueto (24, 4 yr/$27M), Josh Johnson (26, 4 yr/$39M), Justin Verlander (26, 5yr/$80M), Jonathan Niese (25, 4 yr/25M).

Lester, Cueto and Niese were all younger and less established than Hughes, while Verlander, Johnson and Jered Weaver (29, 5 yr/$85) and Matt Cain (27, big money) were all established aces of their teams and were paid as such.

Hughes is very similar to Danks, but I believe Danks was paid too much. Danks likely received what he did because his length of work as a starter was established for several years, but I believe Hughes is a better pitcher. Somewhere in the middle of Danks and Cueto/Lester is about right for a probably Hughes deal.

How about offering Hughes a 4 year deal for $40 million with a club option for a fifth year at a slightly higher salary? Work from there and negotiate as the situation permits. That would keep Hughes in pinstripes through his key years and give the Yankees a certainty on a cost structure. If Hughes wants much more and test the free agent waters, then keep him for the two seasons and bid adieu.

But if Hughes rejects a long term deal and wants to test free agency, I would use him for 120 plus pitches each start next season. Let him really earn his free agent money.

As I said earlier, it is a credit to the Yankees brass (Cashman/Girardi) that they had the gumption to stick with Hughes in the rotation. A handful of starts are never a certainty when dealing with young pitchers, but with his new approach, Hughes has clearly turned the corner and has become a more consistent and durable pitcher for the Yankees. From his improved confidence and challenging hitters, Hughes has upped his strikeout rate this season while also lowering his walk rate.

Aren’t we told by the saber guys that this is a predictor of future success?

Sure, Hughes will still have a clunker now and then, but so does every pitcher.

I talked on Mike Silva’s radio show early this spring that the Yankees needed to at least give Hughes the chance to pitch through the All Star break to determine if he had a future in the rotation. I also said if the Yankees continued to jerk Hughes around like they did with Joba, NO WAY Hughes was going to give the Yankees an option regarding free agency. He would walk, and likely walk to the West coast (where he is from) or maybe the Boston Red Sox, his favorite team growing up.

It is time for the Yankees to pony up to keep Hughes in pinstripes. His youth and internal upbringing are keys to the future success of the Yankees rotation. Of course, the team could choose to lean on David Phelps, Adam Warren and DJ Mitchell in 2014 and beyond, or go on a free agent pitcher spending spree.

But it might be wise to combine the two and let Phelps work into the rotation and spend money on guys like Hughes who have already come up through the system and established themselves.

After all the hand wringing over the last couple years, it would a shame for the Yankees to lose their “golden child” of their system after he finally began living up to his potential.


Adam Warren and Jose Quintana – A Review of Two Rookie Hurlers

June 30, 2012

I am prefacing this by saying I have seen Adam Warren pitch about a half dozen times, from Staten Island up through Scranton.

I have never seen him as bad as he was in his major league debut Friday night at Yankee Stadium. And I don’t mean bad by results oriented bad, but approach on the mound bad, stuff bad and command bad.

Warren can be a pretty decent major league pitcher, and it would be a mistake if the Yankees ended up giving Warren the Chase Wright treatment of permanent banishment to the minor leagues after one bad start to a major league career.

But that will likely happen. Look for David Phelps to get the missing CC start next week.

Warren did get the first two guys out in the first inning, but then walked the next two. Granted they were the biggest power hitters in the Chicago White Sox lineup, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, but attack the strike zone with two outs and no one on base! Solo HRs won’t kill you, but two-run shots will.

What I did notice was Warren has a pretty good change up last night, striking out the leadoff batter on a change up and throwing a 2-0 change to Dunn for a called strike after falling behind on two curve balls out of the zone. Memo to Warren and Chris Stewart: Adam Dunn takes a lot of pitches. He never faced you before and was likely going to take the first pitch you threw him no matter what.

With two outs and no one on, throw a 0-0 strike.

However, Warren only threw a couple other change ups in his 2.1 innings, which generated swings and misses or outs. I am surprised Warren didn’t throw more as the change up was the only effective pitch he had all night. I am also surprised the catcher, Stewart, didn’t call for more changes.

Warren was throwing his fastball with good velocity (up to 93) in the first inning, but the pitch lacked pop and the extra giddy-up required to get a fastball by major league hitters. What it also severely lacked was movement. It was as straight as an arrow. It was the lack of movement that allowed Dunn to receive that first inning walk. A 3-2 fastball was just off the inside corner, perfectly placed under Dunn’s hands, but with any tailing movement to the pitch, Warren probably gets the called third strike.

But Warren’s fastball was straight all night. I don’t remember Warren having that straight of a fastball, and he used to throw a 2-seamer once in a while, but never saw it last night.

Warren also had a very ugly slider/cutter* last night. In the past, I have seen this pitch get lots of swings and misses during his minor league stints. But it was always much tighter and with good, sharp bite and he often threw it for strikes.

*I saw Warren in back to back to back starts a few seasons ago. The first two were in High-A Tampa, which saw Warren dominate both games. He was then promoted to Trenton and I saw him that next week pitching in Double-A. He did a double take when I saw him in Trenton, “like what are you doing here, weren’t you in Tampa?” type look.  Anyway, we talked about his slider and he said it was not a slider but a combination slider/cutter, which I quickly said, “You mean like a slutter?” He laughed and said that it was funny I said that, because that is what his father called the pitch – the slutter. (His dad was in Trenton for his Double A debut, and, obviously as you saw on T.V. was in Yankee Stadium for his major league debut).

But last night, Warren often started the pitch out of the zone and the slurvy break just brought the ball further low and away, a very easy pitch for major league hitters to recognize and avoid. Last night’s slutter was more an A-ball type offering rather than a major league pitch. It has been better in the past and should (needs to) be better in the future.

Plus, if the hitters weren’t chasing the pitch, he needed to throw it for strikes early in the count to hitters. Just to show them he can and to begin to bring the strike zone back into play, to the hitter and the umpire. I am not a big Lou Piniella in the TV booth guy (too general, not enough insight) but he did say a couple things last night worth noting. One was that Warren needed to throw more strikes to keep the umpire on his side, especially as a major league debut guy. A young pitcher needs to establish the strike zone to the umpire.

Without that extra pop on his fastball, the White Sox hitters knew Warren couldn’t blow the ball by them. He may have been throwing up to 93 MPH, but it sure seems like David Robertson’s 90 MPH fastballs have more juice. When hitters know you can’t blow the ball by them, they sit on certain pitches and wait patiently until they get that pitch.

Perfect example is the double hit by Gordon Beckman in the second inning. Beckham easily fouled off two outside pitches, one maybe off the plate and when Warren came inside on 1-2, he stroked a solid double down the left field line on a 93 MPH fastball. As Warren had done often early, he worked outside early to hitters, and then came inside with two strikes. Beckham recognized this and patiently waited for the inside pitch he could handle, then…well, he handled it.

Warren walked only two batters (both in the first), but he was nibbling with his fastball all night, just missing off the outside corner. I suggest throwing the ball over the plate more, then working to expand the zone later in the game when you have established the zone to both hitter and umpire.

So to summarize, Warren had brutal stuff – a very straight , medium pop fastball, with no movement at all; a slutter with no bite, was recognized all night, didn’t get chased and wasn’t thrown for strikes; PLUS a seldom used change up which happened to be his best pitch all night.

As I said at the top, it was a very bad night for Warren in terms of approach, stuff and command, which obviously had terrible results on the scoreboard. He is better than what he showed last night, and I sincerely hope the Yankees (and their fair weather “fans”) given him another opportunity.

His opponent was Jose Quintana, who pitched last year for the Yankees High-A Tampa team, before being released in a 40-man roster crunch. Quintana was to become a minor league free agent, and needed to be placed on the 40 man roster at the end of 2011. But despite very good numbers in each of his prior minor league seasons, the Yankees chose to not keep Quintana.

Since the White Sox brought up Quintana, I have read a few reports how the Yankees blew it with Quintana, how he would be perfect fit with the major league team, etc. If the Yankees did offer their final 40 man roster spot to Quintana last winter, he would be no higher than Double-A Trenton and would never sniff the major leagues before 2014, if then. He would be on strict pitch counts and innings limits, placed on the phantom DL to limit his work and he would be buried behind all the arms at Scranton (including Russ Ortiz and now Chris Schwinden – lol).

The only chance Quintana would have had to pitch in Yankee Stadium was if it was for another team. Which last night it was.

The White Sox do things differently than the Yankees. They take risks, play young players and generally think outside the box. And they have patience with young players.

Actually, I didn’t think Quintana was all that impressive last night. He has slight movement to a nothing fastball, a weak breaking ball and so-so change up. But he has been successful thus far by keeping hitters off balance and locating his pitches well. Doesn’t sound like a Yankee pitching prospect, huh?

He has a smooth easy delivery and despite getting into a few jams last night, shows the poise of a 10 year veteran. He also trusts his stuff and throws strikes.

You know who Quintana should be? He is exactly what Yankee left handed pitching prospect Manuel Banuelos SHOULD be. But Banuelos is hurt again and has pitched only 24 innings this season.

What was impressive last night was rookie White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who confidently left Quintana in the game during the 6th inning. With an 8-6 lead, two outs and no one on base, a fielding error allowed a runner on second base, and there a right handed reliever warmed up in the bullpen. However, Quintana was allowed to pitch to Derek Jeter, a right handed hitter facing the rookie for a third time.

I guarantee Joe Girardi hooks a rookie starter in that spot, if he was allowed to start the inning at all.

Quintana calmly retired Jeter and finished his night. Ventura made a gutsy, good call leaving in Quintana. The worst case scenario the game becomes tied with a Jeter two-run homer. But more importantly Ventura gave a huge boost of support to his young pitcher, which not only helped last night but also in future appearances.


Why Is Freddy Garcia and Not David Phelps Getting the Start Monday Night ?

June 28, 2012

The New York Yankees had a mixed day on Wednesday afternoon. First, they lost both CC Sabathia (leg) and Andy Pettitte (broken ankle) to the disabled list, but held on the beat the Cleveland Indians 5-4 and sweep the three game series.

Sabathia will likely miss only two starts, and will come back within a week after the All-Star break, while Pettitte is likely done for until mid-September. The word is Pettitte is gone for only six weeks, which takes the injury out to mid-August, but the way the Yankees run injury rehabs and “stretch out” programs, it will be AT LEAST another month after his ankle heals before Pettitte will take the hill in a major league game.

So, the Yankees can easily place Andy on the 60-day DL to clear a spot on the 40-man roster as he will not be back until September.

If the Yankees are still cruising through their division and best overall record in late August, why even rush Pettitte? Remember the 2010 season, when Andy had to make three minor league rehab starts in Double-A Trenton? The Yankees were worried about bringing him back too soon. How do you think they will be two years later for a 40-year-old Pettitte?

One pitcher who piggybacked Pettitte during that 2010 Thunder post season was Adam Warren, who will get one call up to replace CC/Andy. Warren struck out 10 New Hampshire hitters that evening in six innings.

NOTE: As I write this, I see tweets from several Yankee beat writers saying Warren and Ryota Igarashi will get the two call ups. I thought the Yankees were going to call up David Phelps and Warren. The call ups SHOULD be Phelps and Warren. But due to the Yankee organization “build up” process, since being sent down on June 14th for David Robertson, Phelps only has 5.1 innings under his belt, in High-A no less. Can we let these kids throw the god damn baseball? So, in the last MONTH, Phelps has less than six innings pitched.

Pathetic.

However, I still believe Phelps is ready.

Warren will now likely get at least two or three starts. Beginning with his first start tomorrow night, if Warren does well, he will continue to pitch until he has one bad start. That is the Yankee way. If he doesn’t do well immediately, the Yankees will promote Ramon Ortiz or David Phelps, whenever Phelps is ready.

GM Brian Cashman stated that if Phelps was “stretched out,*” he would have received the call rather than Warren.

*Oh, man how do I hate this term.

Then why wasn’t Phelps ready? Again, I do believe Phelps is ready, as ready as Garcia is now. But why did it take seven days for Phelps to even take the mound in a game when he was sent down on June 14th? I know players returned to the minors have three days to report, but the Yankees could have nudged Phelps to get to Tampa right away so he could begin pitching.

Any why in Tampa and not Triple-A, but that is another story.

Phelps started on June 21st and threw two innings. Two. Then he started again on June 26th, and threw 3.1 innings, using 55 pitches. According to the above linked report, Phelps will throw 65 pitches in his next start. Only 10 more pitches than his last start? By the time the Yankees let Phelps be ready for a real start, it could be mid-July. I am half-kidding but it will be close to that time at the rate they are going with 10 pitch increases.

And why does Phelps need to get stretched out even more when Garcia only threw 32 pitches yesterday plus a few dozen more in the bullpen afterwards. Isn’t Garcia around 55 pitches, too?

I don’t understand why Garcia is getting starts. Is it loyalty to the “good soldier” who has not said boo since being demoted to the bullpen or because Garcia is a veteran who is more trusted by manager Joe Girardi? I think it’s a bit of both, but despite a good 2 plus inning performance yesterday, Garcia still hasn’t been that good as a starter this season.

But he has been pretty effective as a reliever. Why not leave him in that role? It was similar to Sergio Mitre a few years ago, who was terrible as a starter in 2009 and early 2010, but thrived in a relief role most of 2010 when he was moved to the bullpen as long man. But when Mitre was pressed back as a spot starter due to injuries, he regressed back to his usual starter suckiness.

I have the feeling that “Starter Freddy” will come back quickly.

Why not have Phelps throw 80 pitches, and not 65, in his next start? Like the start Garcia is getting Monday night. That is all the pitches Garcia is likely going to be allowed to throw, unless, of course, he gets bombed early. It’s not like Phelps hasn’t thrown this year, and in his appearances, he has thrown much better than Garcia. Phelps and Warren are the future, especially when the Yankees are at their self-assessed $189 million cap for 2014.

The Yankees babying of these pitchers is getting brutal, and with the recent demotion of Dellin Betances, it appears their methods with minor league guys do not work very well.

However, if Phelps was allowed to pitch the way he should have been, Phelps could have started throwing a couple days after being sent down. Let’s say June 17th, then again June 21st, then again June 26th. Phelps then Phelps could already have been at the 80 pitch plateau, and ready for Friday or Monday.

I see quite a few Yankee fans worrying about the loss of their two veterans. Pettitte has surprised me this season, as I did not think he was going to be as effective as he has shown. I saw tweets and heard analysts saying the Yankees lost their “two best pitchers.” Well, guys like Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova have also been pretty darn good for June. Plus, the high octane offense and very good bullpen gives the Yankees some breathing room.

I would have gone with Phelps and Warren to anchor the two spots (at least until CC returns in two weeks), and leave Garcia in the role which he is performing well.  Warren will go tomorrow night and Garcia will start Monday.

And whenever Phelps gets “stretched out,” he should get the nod over the eventual ineffective Garcia, like he should have had already.


What Happens if Andy Pettitte Falters During his MLB Comeback?

May 13, 2012

Today marks the long anticipated return of New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, who has done his best Michael Jordan impersonation by retiring then un-retiring. His first start back is conveniently against the weakest hitting team in baseball, the Seattle Mariners. They are near the bottom of all the slash categories and near the top in strikeouts.

The Mariners are a good place to start for anybody, but especially a veteran stalwart coming off a year and a half absence and whose stuff in several minor league starts was not all that impressive.

Bet Ivan Nova wishes he were getting the ball today.

Coming back from a long absence is not easy. Some examples of success were Michael Vick’s return after missing two full seasons due to jail time, and running back Paul Hornung’s comeback was successful after he and Alex Karras were suspended for the entire 1963 NFL season for betting on football games. Both cemented their HOF credentials after they returned. Jordan’s comeback to the NBA was good after his stint as a baseball player. It goes to show what a tough sport baseball really is when the best athlete in the world at the time couldn’t cut it on the diamond.

And in baseball there were dozens of former players like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and others who successfully came back to the game after serving for years overseas in World War II.

But all of those players weren’t 40 years old.

Pettitte’s last game in pinstripes was in the 2010 ALCS in a Game Four start against the Texas Rangers.  He allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings, suffering the loss in an 8-0 Rangers win. The Rangers were only up 2-0 entering the 9th inning but the Yankee bullpen couldn’t hold them, with David Robertson allowing five runs. It got so bad that Sergio Mitre even pitched!

Pettitte allowed a two-run home run to Josh Hamilton and that was it.

It was a sturdy performance by Andy, and he kept the Rangers hitters off balance all night, mixing his curve and cutter in and out, but rarely breaking 90 MPH.

Now after that long layoff, reports had Pettitte topping out at 87 MPH during his comeback starts, with his fastball generally in the 83-85 range. That might not get it done against major league hitters, especially if he isn’t locating very well. Pettitte hasn’t exactly had good performances against the minor league hitters he has faced, getting knocked around much more as his pitch counts were rising.

His last start a week ago saw him allow eight hits in five innings, allowing five runs, three earned. And his only Double-A start saw Pettitte also allow three earned runs with seven hits in five innings. But strangely, expectations are better for Pettitte while facing much better hitters.

I think all of us probably kind of expect that we’re going to see Andy Pettite (sic), what we’re used to seeing,” Girardi said. “A guy that grinds out starts. That has the ability to get double plays. That doesn’t panic out there. I think you can only go back on what you’ve seen from him. It’s not like he’s trying to reinvent himself. I think his stuff is going to be pretty similar to what he had when he walked away in 2010. That’s kind of what I feel. Will I be right? I hope so, but we’ll find out.”

But what if Pettitte isn’t that guy again, the guy who was 11-3, 3.28 ERA his final season? What if the major league hitters get fat pitches over the middle of the plate, and flat cutters with no bite like the 2012 minor league hitters were seeing? What if Pettitte allows five earned runs today in 2 2/3 innings? It would be easy to demote Phil Hughes back to the pen or David Phelps back to Triple-A if the kids were really bad, but would it be easy to give up on a Yankee icon?

GM Brian Cashman and Girardi will definitely give Andy another start or three, likely many more as it seems his spot in the rotation now is secure.

But what if that type of performance continues where he was the way Hughes started the season, or God forbid, the way Freddy Garcia started? Start after start of getting knocked around, with a good performance here and there for effect? Does Andy get the benefit of the doubt because he is a veteran with 240 career wins?

If Andy falters, my feeling is that Girardi will give Andy as many starts to “right the ship” and “find his stuff” all to the detriment of the Yankee bullpen and record.

When all the Pettitte comeback talk was on back in February, I wrote that the Yankees should be doing this for Pettitte’s October experience. I offered they Yankees should let Pettitte work in slowly, getting in to some game after the All-Star break and working towards a post season start. The team needs to find out how Nova would do in his second season, they needed to find out if Hughes can become the starter everyone expected.

Then Michael Pineda got hurt, Garcia bombed and Hughes was roughed up in his early starts. All hell broke loose in Yankee-land and Pettitte’s time frame was pushed up.

It is not like Hughes has continued his decline or Phelps (2 GS, 8.2 IP, 2 ER, 8 Ks, 4 BB) has been terrible in his time on the mound. These kids have been pretty good so far. Although it is not been reported yet (Girardi never says any concrete until after it happens), but it is likely Phelps will go back to the bullpen, or maybe even Triple-A to “get his innings up” similar to how Eduardo Nunez was sent down to “play SS full-time.”

Pettitte was brought back for his experience but now he is “needed” to solidify what was once perceived to be a formidable rotation. I still believe the rotation is fine as it is, and gives the Yankee kids like Phelps some much needed major league starting experience.

I hope Pettitte does well and helps lead the Yankees to the post season. But the odds are not great for similar success he had in 2010, and if he does not perform well, things could get ugly quickly for the Yankees and one of their icons.


Jesus Montero: An Overall Analysis

September 11, 2011

Resisting the urge and fan demands to get a starting pitcher at the trading deadline, New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman stuck to his guns and refused to trade a package of prospects for less than a sure thing pitcher. This would be a pitcher who undoubtedly would solidify the Yankees to win another World Series.

Headlining any package for a stating pitcher was Jesus Montero, a catcher built into first baseman/DH body. Cashman refused to include Montero and others for Ubaldo Jimenez, the 2011 deadlines top available starting pitcher. While Cashman did offer Montero last season to the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee, Cashman rightfully felt that Lee’s immense talent would put the Yankees over  top while Jimenez would not improve the Yankees that much.

After Jimenez was traded to the Cleveland Indians, he has not really set the Mistake by the Lake on fire, with an ERA, WHIP and HR rate higher than what he put up in the National League.

Cashman always has said that Montero, with his tremendous opposite field power, was a middle of the order bat well-suited for Yankee Stadium and its shorter right field power alley. Middle of the order power hitters are just as tough to find as top starting pitchers. So far, Cashman has been proved prophetic.

It is very easy to state that Jesus Montero has had a nice beginning to his major league career. With seven hits in his first 20 at bats including three home runs, the casual fan acknowledges Montero’s sturdy exploits.

But the little things he does at the plate are the most impressive. The Yankee fan has heard for quite a few years that this kid was special when it came to his ability to hit the baseball. He has very quick hands and a good knowledge of the strike zone. But what Montero has shown in his first half-dozen games is far more advanced, especially for the level, than what I remember when last seeing him live.

I have not seen Montero live since his days in Trenton during the 2009 season. I also saw him play quite a bit when he was with Charleston in 2008. Back then, Montero showed lots of promise with good pitch recognition (laying off junk away) and power to both to left field and the opposite way. After Montero hit a bomb in the first game of a series in Lakewood, NJ, I was also at this game later in the series where Montero tripled to deep right center, a line drive that kept going, where Phillies top prospect Domonic Brown dove for the ball but just missed making the catch.

Brown was injured on the play and had to be removed from the game, with Montero getting his only triple that season.

Montero was impressive then and is still impressive now. There was much to like back then, but even more to like from what I have seen in his first half-dozen major league games.

What I like now in late 2011 is the new stance, a stance more balanced and compact. If you watch that video from 2008, Montero is more upright with less flex (or bend) in the knees. From viewing Montero at different points of his career, he changes his batting stance quite a bit. While I have not seen him live since 2009, I have seen quite a bit of video.

In this June 2009 video from his first game in Double-A Trenton, Montero has a very  low crouch, similar to what Jeff Bagwell used, a stance where the hitter needs tremendous leg strength and trunk rotation to be continuously effective. This is due to a hitter having a tendency to “lift up” his body out of the low crouch, causing a change in the ball plane and pulling off the ball. The result is usually infield/short outfield popups to the opposite side. Montero does all that in this video.

A hitter needs to hit down and through the ball, not by lifting up his body.

Montero kept this stance in early 2010, by still incorporating the wide base but is not as far into the crouch.  He uses the inward to tap as a timing mechanism both times.

But then something changed mid-season after Montero slumped May through July. He changed again in late 2010, still wide but more upright and very open. Notice how he is higher on his front toe, eliminated the smaller toe tap but used a higher leg kick.

Also notice the change in uniform numbers from 45 early in 2010 to 21 during the August 2010 videos. Sometimes hitters will do anything to change their results. But this showed me a hitter who was unsure of himself and looking for something “lucky” to help him.

In 2011 spring training it was more of the same upright stance on the front toe. But in April 2011, Montero began to use a version of his current stance. He is more balanced with a solid base (not rocking on the higher front toe), a better foundation to use his efficient load and quick hands. That April 9, 2011 home run to left field is literally a perfect swing.

Now that Montero is in the majors (hopefully for good), look for him to stop changing stances and work with Kevin Long to continue with the KLong style: balanced with a solid base, more flex in the knees, hands just off the back shoulder. This is very similar to how Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and now Andruw Jones all hit. It is amazing how Alex and Andruw now have very similar stances.

Montero has very quick hands and keeps his hands back well, especially on off-speed pitches even after he partially collapses his front side. Several times in his young major league career Montero was “fooled” on an off-speed pitch, but was still able to hit the ball hard because his hands were still back in the launch position. Hitting is two distinct parts. First you stride, then you swing, but the interesting part is they work in unison.

Montero keeps his hands back very well.

Knowing his hands are quick also allows Montero to let the ball get deeper in the zone. Along with good hip rotation, this is why Montero has so much power the opposite way. To be a good hitter, you need to allow outside pitches to travel farther to the plate before making contact. It is impossible to hit the ball consistently well on outside pitches if you hit them out in front of the plate like you would on an inside pitch.

But there are always concerns with young players. After the two opposite field home runs, and the long single off the right field wall, all the talk was whether Montero would be able to handle inside fastballs from major league pitchers.

Newsflash: very few hitters like the fastball in tight on their hands. The main reason why hitters can jump on a hard fastball on the inner third and hit the ball hard is many times they are looking for that pitch in a certain count and “cheat” a little by opening up. That is how some left handed hitters can hit Mariano’s cutter on the inside corner once in a while. They look for it and attack.

Another key on the inside fastball is to bring your hands in closer to your body during the swing to be able to get the barrel of the bat on the ball well in front of the plate.

Just over a month ago with Brian Cashman in attendance, Montero hit a 97 MPH fastball for a home run to left field. He can hit the inside fastball, and showed again Friday night with his home run to left field off of Jered Weaver. At 88 MPH, it wasn’t an overly fast pitch but was up and on the inside corner, a tough pitch for any hitter to mash.

With two strikes, it seemed Montero was looking for that particular inside pitch. This shows his ability to adjust to how he expects opposing pitchers to work him.

Montero has shown great plate discipline. I like Montero’s aggressiveness on hittable fastballs in the strike zone, and despite the first major league pitch he saw, Montero doesn’t chase many pitches outside the zone. With the bases loaded that first plate appearance, he was overly aggressive during that first pitch against Jon Lester. I believe Montero was swinging at that pitch no matter where it was, but tried to hold up when he saw it was two feet above the zone.

I imagine Montero was trying to become another Marcus Thames.

It impressed me that same first at bat when he took a couple two strike pitches out of the zone, one a fastball up and then a fastball away just off the plate. He also fouled back a couple hard insde fastballs off of Lester. However, the one pitch he seems to be susceptible is the low breaking ball from a lefty, striking out against Lester and Ricky Romero plus being out in front against Brett Cecil.

What I do not like is the fact that Montero will not get any playing time behind the plate. After Saturday night’s injury to Russell Martin, Girardi put Jorge Posada behind the plate. That is fine considering Montero was the DH that night and putting him behind the plate would have forced CC Sabathia (and all other pitchers) to bat.

But with Martin hurt and Francisco Cervelli having concussion symptoms, this would be a good time to have Montero catch a couple times a week, working with pitchers like Ivan Nova, who Montero has previously caught and a veteran like Bartolo Colon, a guy who throws lots of strikes.

While Montero’s qualities as a hitter, such as a solid, balanced stance, quick hands, knowledge of the strike zone and the ability to adjust will keep him in the majors for many years, his value will be enhanced by his ability to play a position (or two) and not just DH.

A few years ago, I ripped into Jorge Posada because he was being selfish by saying he only wanted to catch, not play first base. The idea of a team sport is to do anything to help your team, whether it play another position or teach the younger players how to be better players. Now that Posada has become more of a team player (with a little push from Joe Girardi earlier this year), it would be beneficial for the Yankees to use Montero in a multitude of roles to help the overall team.

Therefore, he needs to catch a few games a week, pick up a first baseman’s glove and learn to play there to give Teixeira a rest. That is what the St. Louis Cardinals did in 2001 when the 21 year old Albert Pujols was a rookie, when Prince Albert played four different positions to keep his potent bat in the lineup.

Montero may not seem like the best athlete in the world, but he does look more mobile now than he did earlier in the year. Also, he is still only 21 and has the youthfulness to get more athletic and become a better overall baseball player.

As I mentioned earlier, Montero’s bat will be around for a long time. He has hit everywhere he has played and will continue to hit in the majors. Cashman was correct in not trading him (and other prospects) for the likes of Jimenez, Wandy Rodriguez, Hiroki Kuroda or any other bums who would not have improved the Yankees this season.

I remember the July 31, 2011 NYBD radio show at the trading deadline when NYBD contributor (who from what I understand has a Yankee contact in Tampa who has never been correct on anything), said about Montero (at the 61:30 mark): “I don’t know why they didn’t trade him (Montero), I mean they could have gotten something for him…

What the hell does that mean? ”By something” did Russo mean a pedestrian, BELOW league average Ubaldo Jimenez? Or a crappy Ted Lilly or non-upgrade in Wandy Rodriguez? Russo even goes on at the 68:00 minute mark to say that “many people in the Yankee organization did not think Jimenez would translate well in the American League East.”

Then why would they want to trade their top prospects for him? I bet if Russo ran the Yankees since the time Cashman took over in 2005 the Yankees would be even worse than the Baltimore Orioles, and with a $350 million payroll. At that point, all the moat seats at the stadium would be empty.

During that same show Russo also said that “the bad guys won and by that I mean the Joe DelGrippo wing of the Yankees Universe.” I am glad Cashman did not trade Jesus Montero (and Ivan Nova plus others) for Ubaldo Jimenez, Wandy Rodriguez or any of the other bums the Russo faction of Yankees Universe wanted.

Since the respective teams do not win the World Series, trade deadline deals usually do not work out well for the teams getting the veterans.

Just ask the San Francisco Giants, who have lost 12.5 games off the standings since trading for Carlos Beltran, while Zack Wheeler has dominated the Florida State League since the trade.

Thus far Montero has performed well and should be a young, potent bat in the middle of the Yankee lineup for many years.

I am glad the Cashman/DelGrippo wing won this battle.


Cliff Lee, World Series 2010: How San Francisco Giants Took Lee in Game 1

October 28, 2010

Last night’s game was not the total shock many people think. I figured the San Francisco Giants would score a couple runs early against Lee, but was surprised the way they knocked him around.

The Giants pitchers also neutralized Mickey Mantle Jr, I mean, Josh Hamilton.

The Giants game plan with those two players were the key to winning Game 1. 

1) Cliff Lee vs. Giants Hitters

The key in getting to Cliff Lee is to be aggressive in the batters box. I have long discussed that on this site. Hitters cannot continue to take early strikes, get behind in the count and then have to react to any on of four different pitches he throws with two strikes.

Lee starts most hitters off with a fastball. He then mixes in cutters, curves and an occasional change up. He is also more likely to throw his curve ball with two strikes.  

And why not? It is harder to control that either the fastball or cutter and you do not have to throw it over the plate with two strikes, just get in low in the zone and you can be successful.

But the Giants are a very aggressive group of free swingers. They like to hack at lots of pitches early in the count, both in and out of the strike zone.

Against Lee, the Giants were aggressive, but mostly on pitches inside the strike zone, more specifically right over the middle of the plate.

They did not chase the high fastball. One of Lee’s important pitching traits is that he moves the ball around, changing the eye level of the hitters.

He works low and away, then up and in. He will throw the two-seamer or curve low, then throw a normal 91 MPH fastball up, many times out of the zone.  

But unlike the Yankees hitters, the Giants lineup did not chase the pitch up and out of the zone. The right-handed hitters also did not offer at the many pitches Lee threw just off the outside corner. That is why Lee probably threw very few changeups.

This forced Lee to work from behind in the count, and then have to come over the plate with his pedestrian fastball.

And that usually gets hit…and hit hard. While there were many hard hit balls, especially in that fifth inning, there were even more fat pitches which the Giants aggressively attacked yet fouled back.

Andres Torres, Juan Uribe and Cody Ross all missed fat fastballs over the middle. Lee threw too many pitches over the middle of the plate. The Giants hitters were also looking to hit the ball the other way, with right handed hitters hitting the ball to the right side.

That allows the ball to travel deeper and the hitter can see the ball longer. Going to right field hurts Lee’s pitching game plan. He thrives on teams like the Yankees who are looking to pull the ball, but the pesky Giants hurt him. Another reason why Lee likely threw very few changeups.

The Giants aggressive nature works well with pitchers who throw lots of strikes. That is why the Giants have beaten Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and now Cliff Lee in this postseason.

Watch for the Giants to continue to be aggressive on pitches in the zone, and their key to winning is to stay off the pitches out of the strike zone. Even Uribe took two pitches before hammering his three-run home run.

Credit the Giants hitting coach, Hensley Muelens, for putting together a good game plan for the hitters last night and will likely have another good one for tonight.

Tonight’s starter, C.J. Wilson, has one of the highest walk rates in the American League. The Giants will continue to be selectively aggressive.

2) Josh Hamilton vs. Giants pitchers

Right now Josh Hamilton has a long swing. He doesn’t have very quick hands and mostly swings with his arms. Does it have something to do with his rib injury from a month ago?

Since most teams pitch him away (like the Yankees always did in the ALCS), Hamilton continuously looks (and leans) out over the plate.

But the Giants pitches have worked Hamilton differently. They have thrown lots of off speed pitches away, but they also challenged Hamilton. 

And they challenged him inside where his long swing can not catch up even with a normal major league fastball.

In Hamilton’s first at bat, Tim Lincecum had to pitch to him with men on first and second.

But Lincecum got Hamilton to meekly ground out on pitches away.

Next time up, Lincecum jammed Hamilton on an 89 MPH fastball up and in.

Third time up, Hamilton was worked outside again and weakly grounded out back to Lincecum.

Fourth time up, Casilla blew an up and in fastball right by Hamilton then got him to fly out again on a fastball in.

The Giants pitchers got Hamilton out twice away and twice in, moving the ball around and not just trying to keep the ball away all the time.

Like the Yankees did, Joe Girardi worked scared against Hamilton. Most of the hard hit balls Hamilton had were on pitches out over the plate when the pitchers were constantly working away.

Look for Matt Cain tonight to continue to pound Hamilton inside with fastballs, but also showing him some stuff away for effect.

The Giants neutralized both of Texas‘ main weapons, Lee and Hamilton, and won big in Game 1. If they continue to play smart baseball and do the same things they did in Game 1, they will have an good time in Game 2.

Except for his high walk rate, C.J. Wilson is a similar type pitcher as Lee and can be approached the same way. Wait him out to come over the plate.

And the job of Cain and the able bodied bullpen is to bust Hamilton inside.

He can’t handle that pitch, and the Giants will continue to exploit it.


New York Yankees Comeback Reveals Rangers Manager Ron Washington’s Weaknesses

October 16, 2010

I am 100 percent confident that C.J. Wilson does NOT give up five runs in the eighth inning if Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington allows Wilson to stay in the game.

He gave up two runs on two hits in that inning, and was pulled in favor of Darren Oliver following a Derek Jeter RBI double.

But the Yankees would probably have only scored those two runs (or maybe just the one already in) had Texas manager Ron Washington avoided being like Bobby Cox and Bruce Bochy.

When you try to over-manage based upon matchups, you end up losing most of the time, like Bochy and Cox in the NLDS and now Washington in Game 1 of the ALCS.

I have to give oodles of credit to YES announcer and ESPN radio host Michael Kay, who has constantly said that Joe Girardi will out-manage Washington. Girardi has proved Kay to be prophetic.  

Girardi made a good move by using Joba Chamberlain in the fifth inning, but I applaud Girardi for throwing a nice changeup and bringing in Dustin Moseley for the sixth and seventh innings.

I am not a big Moseley fan (in fact he stinks), but bringing him in after Joba was throwing 95-96 MPH heaters was a stroke of genius.

The Rangers hitters were completely off-balance on Moseley’s 89 MPH fastballs (acting like a change to Joba’s and C.C.’s heat) and were more off-balance when Moseley threw his rinky-dink high 70’s breaking pitches.

Dustin’s two-inning scoreless effort allowed that Yankee comeback to occur. Sandwiching him between two fireballers in Joba and Kerry Wood made Moseley more effective and probably made Wood’s fastball appear even quicker.

Most people are saying that Washington did not use his hard-throwing closer Neftali Feliz in that eighth inning. That is a valid point once the decision to remove Wilson was made.

But why did Washington remove Wilson in the first place? Don’t give me that bull about pitch counts, matchups, that Wilson was finished or “you want to remove him with a lead and feeling good.” Total garbage.  

There are no pitch counts in the postseason. As NFL head coach Herman Edwards has said, “You play to win the game.” Wilson was dealing very well at that point.

He gave the Rangers the best chance to win at that moment, certainly better than Darren Oliver or Clay Rapada. No need to remove Wilson. He allowed a weak ground ball single to Brett Gardner and then a hard double to Jeter.

The end of the world? Hardly. Lose with your best on the mound, not with your middle relievers. The best at that point was Wilson.

When Alex Rodriguez came up with the bases loaded in that inning, TBS commentator  Ernie Johnson said that Alex was “0-for-3 with two strikeouts.” That was against Wilson, and Rodriguez had not even come close to catching up with Wilson’s fastballs.

Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira had not done much of anything off Wilson either.

At that point in the game, the Yankee two (Swisher), three (Teixeira) and four (A-Rod) hitters were 0-for-9 with three strikeouts.

So why the need to take out your starting pitcher when he has dominated all game long?

I was watching Game 3 of the NLDS between the Atlanta Braves and San Francisco Giants. Jonathan Sanchez was on the hill in the eighth inning (that fateful inning again) for the Giants, winning 2-1. With one out and a man on first, he had dominated a very weak Braves lineup.

Cox brought in right-handed hitting Troy Glaus to hit for lefty-hitting Rick Ankiel against the lefty Sanchez. Bochy went to his bullpen for RHP Sergio Romo.

Again. Why? I texted about a dozen people at that time saying how terrible a move that was. Sanchez had dominated up to that point, so why remove him? After the pitching change, Eric Hinske pinch hit for Glaus and powered a go ahead, two-run home run.

Bochy is lucky that Cox was even more idiotic in the top of the ninth, and the Yankees are lucky that Washington is more of an idiot than either two of those N.L. managers.   

From the seventh inning on, why do managers feel the need to remove starting pitchers after one hitter hits the ball hard?

But since Wilson WAS removed by the inept Texas manager, why not bring Feliz into the game? Your best pitchers need to be in the game late, not Oliver and Rapada.

Rapada was added to the ALCS roster for this series to face lefties like Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, but Rapada had not pitched in a REAL GAME against REAL HITTERS since Oct. 2.

This is a little known secret. Throwing more bullpens between appearances to stay “sharp” is of very little benefit when facing guys with bats in their hand.

To put Rapada in last night’s game on national TV to face Cano, who hits left-handers just as well as right-handed pitchers, is akin to pulling the switch on an execution.

I prefer the dominating starting pitch to remain, but if you want to bring in your top reliever, that is less of a quibble.

In Game 1 of the 1972 World Series (a day game by the way), Oakland A’s manager Dick Williams brought in his best relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, in the SIXTH inning with no outs and the tying run on second. Fingers stranded Johnny Bench at second and the A’s won.

Williams also brought Fingers in the FIFTH inning of Game 5 that series. Fingers shut the door early before allowing the tying run in his THIRD inning of work that day. That thrilling game was the last weekday day game played in World Series history.

Once the decision was made to remove Wilson, Washington managed last night’s game based upon the save statistic and not to win the game.

Often times during important games, the big inning is not the ninth inning, but an inning earlier in the game when men are on base and a potential game-tying rally is forming.

If the manager wants to make a move, that is when your best relief pitcher should be brought in the game. However, I wouldn’t have made the move.

Washington managed that game not to lose, but he ended up getting what he deserved.

A well-earned loss.


New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett Needs to Start In The ALCS

October 14, 2010

We now know the New York Yankees roster and their pitching rotation for the ALCS.

A.J. Burnett will start Game Four in Yankee Stadium. And while many people feel it is the wrong move, it is definitely the correct move for the Yankees to make if they want to advance to the World Series.

While many fans want CC Sabathia to throw games One, Four and Seven on three days rest, it would be foolish to heap that much on the big guy. With better performances by Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes in the ALDS, it would benefit the Yankees if all three of their ALDS starters were scheduled for two games each on regular rest in this series.

I would much rather have all three of the Yankees top starters pitching two games each than CC running out there three times. Overall, the Yankees starters are much better than the Rangers starters, even including Cliff Lee.

And including A.J. Burnett.

Other than Lee and Wilson, the other two Rangers starters are not that good.

Colby Lewis was an All-Star for the first month of the season, but has thrown for almost a full run higher in the second half. Tommy Hunter is two runs higher in the second half, and much better at home than on the road.

He pitches at Yankee Stadium in Game Four, going up against Burnett.

I wrote it was a mistake for the Yankees to keep A.J. on the ALDS roster because he was never going to be used. First, he is not a relief type pitcher as he does not throw consistent strikes, the key ingredient to being a successful relief pitcher.

Second, keeping A.J. off the ALDS roster would allow him to stay fresh by going down to Tampa and pitching in real games down there, keeping himself in pitching shape. It would

The biggest issue for starting pitchers is when they pitch with too many days rest. Their command suffers. A.J. will have had 17 days off from live pitching when he toes the rubber in Game Four Tuesday night.

And Burnett is already having issues with his command now that he back throwing to live hitters.

Sabathia had eight days from his last start of the regular season to his ALDS start. CC lacked command in that start, allowed five hits, walked three and missed his locations all game long.

David Price missed the same amount of days before his first ALDS start and had a similarly outing. His second outing in the ALDS (although he received another loss) was much better command wise.

So, AJ has to many days off. So why should he still get a start in the ALCS?

It will make the other starters better. The time period between their first and second starts will be on normal rest. While I believe Sabathia on nine days rest will struggle again tomorrow night, he will grind through that game, and the Yankees will come out on top.

He could go on three days rest.

And both Hughes, the up and coming young stud, and Pettitte, the aging but still very effective (and oftentimes dominating) lefty, will not be thrown on three days rest. The Yankees will not do that to their No. 2 and No. 3 starters, at least not in the ALCS.

If Hughes and Pettitte were going on three days rest, they would likely be limited in the innings they throw in their first games, probably six. Limited innings would severely put an added emphasis on the back end of the bullpen.

The bullpen has been good over the second half of the season. The Brian Cashman trade for Kerry Wood has solidified an already strong pen, and has appeared to lift the performances of most others back there.

But if Hughes and Pettitte become six inning pitchers, I do not know if the bullpen will be able to get nine outs per game not started by Sabathia. CC’s three day rest start in last season’s ALCS was an eight inning gem, but the other pitchers all had that extra day of rest and went on regular rest.  

No extra day this season. Hughes and Pettitte are not three day rest guys this season.

Not when they have a starting pitcher in Burnett who can possibly go out in Game Four and pitch a good ball game like he did last year in Game Two of the World Series.

But if bad A.J. shows up, hitting the barrels of bats, going deep into counts and walking hitters, Joe Girardi will pull him early in Game Four.

That is why Sergio Mitre is again on the roster, and was pretty good during the season coming in relief. In 13 relief appearancesof more than one inning, Mitre only allowed a run in four of them.

Mitre will likely keep the Yankees in the game if Burnett falters early, but if Burnett is on, the Yankees will have easier access to a second straight World Series.


New York Yankees Make Mistake By Having AJ Burnett on the ALDS Roster

October 5, 2010

The New York Yankees post season roster is always highly debated, but this season the roster has a few extra spicy sidebars. We now know for sure what has been assumed for at least a few weeks: AJ Burnett will not get a post season start.

But if Burnett is not going to get a start, then he should not be on the post season roster in the ALDS at all. He is not going to get any late innings work, as those are reserved for Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Kerry Wood and David Robertson.

A.J. will only get long relief work, and that is if the Yankees are down by a few runs early or the games goes into a few extra innings.

In the first case, the reliever is in the game to “hold” the other team down and keep the game close. In the second example, the tight game takes on added pressure that a single bad pitch could cost a victory. 

One of the biggest needs to be a relief pitcher is to have control of the strike zone. I do not care if the reliever gives up hits, just do not walk anybody. Without a walk involved or back-to-back extra base hits, it usually takes three hits to score a run.

In either scenario, there are usually very few or no innings left and the team can not afford to put extra runners on base. If a reliever walks guys and gives up a few runs, the offense has fewer opportunities to get those runs back. While it is not OK for a starter to walk many guys, either, a team has far more chances to get early runs back if a starter gives up walks and runs early on.

It is imperative, and rule No. 1 for a relief pitcher, to throw strikes.

A.J. Burnett DOES NOT throw strikes consistently and can not be trusted to pitch in big spots, especially extra innings where his high walk rate (3.8 per 9 IP) would really hurt. He does not deserve a roster spot as he will not even get a chance to pitch.

But Burnett will pitch in the ALCS if the Yankees get that far. Probably in a Game 4, and for that reason, Burnett should also be off the ALDS roster.

It will allow him to go to Tampa to work out in Tampa and pitch during instructional league games against real hitters.

Forget the innings limit garbage and “saving the arm.” One of the keys for starting pitchers is to throw consistently against hitters, keep in rhythm and stay in pitching shape. If A.J. is in the bullpen for the ALDS, he is taken out of his consistent throwing.

I also believe Sabathia will have issues after not throwing for eight days between his last start and his first in the ALDS.

CC Sabathia will go his customary seven or eight innings win or lose, and I do not foresee him getting rocked early to where he has to be removed. So, no need for a long man in Game One. Andy Pettitte will go Game Two and will get at least five or six innings, maybe seven if he is cruising along.

And with Sabathia saving the bullpen in Game One, everybody is ready for Game Two. Phil Hughes has been pretty reliable all season. He has gone at least five innings in all but one start, and if not on an innings limit this year he probably would have gone five in that game, too. Expect Hughes to give his customary six innings in Game Three while allowing three or four runs, including at least one home run.

If those first three starts go as I anticipate, then the bullpen will need to get seven innings worth of outs. Joba, Wood, K-Rob and Rivera can do that with a little does of Boone Logan thrown in. There is no need for Burnett, unless one of the games goes extra innings.

And isn’t that what middle relievers are for?

Burnett was not great the last time he pitched in extra innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs and a walk, taking the loss. Granted he did throw that inning on two days rest (stop the presses!), but still was typical AJ Burnett.

Joe Girardi made a great choice in putting Sergio Mitre on the roster instead of Chad Gaudin. Mitre throws more strikes (2.7 BB/9 IP), has a lower ERA, WHIP and HR rate.

He also does very well against left-handed hitters (.226 BA/.261 OBP/.368 SLG) and in 13 relief appearances of more than one inning, Mitre has only allowed runs in four of those contests. Gaudin allowed runs in 10 of his 17 appearances of more than one inning. Mitre’s success against left-handed hitters (plus his ability to go multiple innings) likely cost Royce Ring a shot to get a roster spot as a second situational lefty.

And why is Dustin Moseley on the ALDS roster? He will not pitch unless the Yankees are getting killed, and they probably will end up losing by more if he enters a game. On the season, Moseley had an ERA just under 5.00, and the worst strike out rate, walk rate and home run rate of any Yankee pitcher. He is the worst possible candidate to be on a post season roster.

Girardi’s confidence in Moseley is baffling.

He has worse numbers than even Javier Vazquez, and has terrible number in relief roles. Meanwhile, Vazquez is 2-0, with a 2.70 ERA and limiting opponents to a .528 OPS in relief.

So instead of having both A.J. Burnett and Dustin Moseley on the ALDS roster, with both likely in the same role as Sergio Mitre as long man, Girardi should have been more versatile with his roster. I would have taken Vazquez over Burnett and taken an extra bench player such as Eduardo Nunez over Moseley. Burnett and Moseley are not going to pitch much, if at all, and it would be better for the Yankees to have that extra bench player.

With Golson in for Swisher for defense, the Yankees also lose their speed player in case they need to pinch run for someone. For example, Yanks are leading late and Golson is in for Swisher for defensive purposes but the Twins rally and tie the game.

Posada gets on base his next time up and you want to run for him. Run with Cervelli since he will replace Jorge? Good, but not great. It can’t be Ramiro Pena because he is your emergency infielder. If he runs for Posada, what happens if Alex pulls something? Who plays infield then?

That is where Nunez comes in to play. He can run and then provide added insurance as another infielder.

Roster management in a five game series should be much different. Teams don’t need that extra pitcher, and the Yankees have 11 arms on their ALDS roster. Extra position players would help a team more in various situations than an 11th pitcher.

The Yankees made a mistake carrying both Burnett and Moseley.


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.


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