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.


Cliff Lee Signs With the Phillies, Leaves Yankees, Rangers Searching for Answers

December 14, 2010

Well, it is finally official.

As I predicted on my nightly radio show from Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, Cliff Lee is signed, sealed and delivered to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Including all option years, Lee was offered a total of $148 million by the New York Yankees and $161 million by the Texas Rangers. Surprisingly, the Rangers offered MORE total dollars than the almighty Yankees.

And Ruben Amaro, GM of the Phillies, is a virtual master salesman.

The Rangers brass must be devastated, while the Yankees brass (likely disappointed) are probably hard at work working the phones to try and get a veteran pitcher.

And Ruben Amaro is a genius.

How can he obtain Cliff Lee, then Roy Halladay, then Roy Oswalt and now Cliff Lee again?

And despite making three major trades for three No. 1 type starters, he still has tons of pitching talent in their minor league system with Vance Worley, Jarrod Cosart and Brody Colvin.

Not that they will need these guys any time soon, although Worley did pitch well in a brief callup in 2010. If the Phillies trade Joe Blanton, then Worley has inside tract into the No. 5 spot.

While I said that Amaro is a genius, he does make strange deals, but those deals are always when he attempts to resign his own players. Giving a three year extension to Blanton for $24 million was extremely idiotic.

Also, that extension for Ryan Howard was kind of weird, too.

When it comes to other teams guys he can work wonders.

After trading for Halladay last off season, Amaro signed the 2010 Cy Young winner to a below market extension.

Now he convinced Cliff Lee to take almost $50 million less to sign with the Phillies.

This is also not to say that Lee left all that money on the table. This new deal is supposedly for $120 million over five years with a option with easily attainable incentives.

That deal could be for $135 million or more. Plus, if his back issues hold up, Lee likely will be able to pitch after this current deal is over. That means he can make another $10-15 million.

So Lee really didn’t turn down the Yankees gazillion dollars because the Yankees didn’t even offer the most money plus Lee liked what he saw in Philadelphia when he spent half the season there in 2009.   

And now Lee gets to keep his scruffy beard.

If you want to blame Yankee GM Brian Cashman, go back to last years deadline when he refused to include Eduardo Nunez in the Cliff Lee deal with the Mariners. If Lee comes to New York last season, maybe Lee feels about his time in New York the way he felt about his time in Philadelphia.

The Phillies now possibly possess the best rotation in the National League, although the San Francisco rotation is pretty good, too. Plus they beat Halladay and Lee twice in the postseason this past year.

But the Phillies are not quite guaranteed to have a parade down Broad Street next fall. Except for the assumed Domonic Brown replacing Jayson Werth, the entire Phillies lineup is over 30 years old for 2011. Cole Hamels is the only starting pitcher under 30.

And injuries have really hit their middle infield with lower body issues to both Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, while Howard and Raul Ibanez have declined.

Plus, the lineup is extremely left handed and there is no Jayson Werth to balance out Howard, Utley and Ibanez.

I am not saying they are not going to be the favorites because they are. Everybody likes big names on paper but conveniently forget about age (except when it comes to Derek Jeter).

But funny things happen over a 162-game schedule where the game is played every day.  All players over 30 years old rarely make it through the entire season.

As I said in my piece last week from the Winter Meetings, the Phillies could try and trade Hamels for a right-handed bat and some prospects. He would bring back a boatload (especially with two seasons left of control), but after the Lee trade t Seattle fiasco last year, I don’t see Amaro making that type of mistake again.

At least until next offseason. Could the Yankees be interested?

The Phillies did not get anything of current worth back in the Lee trade last season, and now give up their first round pick to the Rangers in a very deep draft. Not a problem now, but maybe down the road.

While the Phillies shocked the baseball world early Tuesday AM, they still have lots of issues.

Can Ruben Amaro work his genius again before Spring Training?


Is Prince Fielder Destined to Be a Washington National?

December 8, 2010

Based on the deal for Jayson Werth and what Adrian Gonzalez is expected to earn via an extension, the Milwaukee Brewers are well aware they will not be able to re-sign Prince Fielder to a long-term contract.

Tons of teams have looked into the big first baseman, including the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. With the Cubs not in yet, it appears they will go with a shorter-term fix like Carlos Pena. However, look for the Cubs to be players if Fielder reaches free agency.

With Scott Boras as his agent, Prince is likely to become a free agent, but there is one team which might be able to keep Fielder off the market.

Why not the Washington Nationals for Fielder? Boras is Fielder’s agent, and he just moved his outfielder Jayson Werth to Washington. The Nats are a natural fit for Fielder as they need a first baseman for 2011, but might be able to wait another season to sign the free agent to be.

However, if the Brewers are not in contention for the playoffs come July, could the Nats trade for Fielder, then sign him to a long-term extension thus keeping other potential suitors away.

The Nats have some pitching they can give up, with quite a few guys at the major league level and Triple A.

At the Winter Meetings, I asked Boras if he will push for a Fielder trade to the Nats. His reply? “I would love to be able to dictate things, but I can not force deals to happen.”

And he gave me a questioning look.

Boras appears to have a great relationship with Nats GM Mike Rizzo and the Lerners, having already worked on deals for the last two top draft picks, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper plus the recent Werth contract.

If Fielder is not traded to the Nationals this off season, look for him to be in a Nationals uniform by 2012, if not sooner.


MLB Winter Meetings: New York Yankees in a Fight To Sign Free Agent Cliff Lee

December 7, 2010

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With the Jayson Werth deal signed, sealed and delivered, and the Adrian Gonzalez trade done with the extension to be announced later, the entire baseball world is wondering where Cliff Lee will sign.

On Monday, Lee’s agent, Derek Braunecker, met with the various teams interested in his free-agent left-hander. Braunecker met with New York Yankees and Texas Rangers officials. There was even talk the Boston Red Sox met briefly with Lee’s agent, probably just to keep tabs on what the Yankees are up to.

Anyway, the domino theory is very much in play. Unless guys are being given what are now called “Jayson Werth”-type deals (that means out-of-their-mind contracts in terms of years and money), lots of people are going to decide after Lee signs.

Lee has a guaranteed deal with the Texas Rangers, on the financial side only. The years have not been determined. There are reports that Lee wants seven years and the Rangers have offered four, then five years guaranteed.

That is where it stands now. Lee has a five-year offer from the Rangers (presumably $23-25 million per season) to continue pitching in the Lone Star State.

Word is that if the Rangers move up to a sixth year guaranteed, and then Lee would be 80-90 percent sure he would go to Texas.

I believe that Cliff Lee WANTS to go back and pitch for the Texas Rangers, and that he is trying to find a way to do that. Lee likes the fact he is THE MAN in Texas and relishes the role of mentoring young pitchers C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland.

What can bring Lee to New York is if the Yankees top the Rangers and go for a seventh year guaranteed. If that’s the case, Lee may essentially have no other option but to take the money and come to New York.

I believe the Yankees don’t want to go for that seventh year, but they will do it kicking and screaming.

The Yankees are secondary for Lee, and he would only come for the money, as he feels he can win a title with either club. The Lee camp could be putting out that “will go to Texas for a sixth year” talk just to get the Yankees to also go a guaranteed sixth year.

Then if two teams are guaranteeing six years, it is only a matter of time before one goes that seventh year. The key in his camp is to get both teams already committing to six.

Braunecker putting out the word that Lee is a lock for Texas at six years is a good play on his part. The agent is doing everything he can to get the most money from a World Series-contending team.

However, an unexpected suitor for Lee has emerged—the Washington Nationals.

105614851_crop_340x234 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Talks were rampant early this morning that the Nats were going to offer Lee a seven-year deal, the amount of years Lee desires, but for less money per season.

No one here at the meetings thinks that the Nationals will land Lee, but the Lerner ownership group, likely the richest in the majors, is tired of all the losing.

Majority owner Ted Lerner is 85 years old and “desperately” would like to see a winner in Washington. This scenario is similar to how Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is trying to buy a World Series winner in the Motor City by signing free agents Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit.

But there is absolutely no way Cliff Lee ends up in Washington. The Nationals will throw a whole lot of money at Lee, but like Mark Teixeira did two years ago, Lee will reject the most money and sign with one of the contending teams.

If it comes down to the Yankees, Rangers or Natioanls, my guess is Texas.

The Rangers will eventually go for that sixth year to get the guy they want, just like the Red Sox went a seventh year with Adrian Gonzalez. Whether the Yankees offer Lee his desired seventh year will decide whether or not he goes to New York. But Yankees GM Brian Cashman has a solid history of convincing free agents to come play in New York, most notably CC Sabathia. 

But it is tough to see that happening right now for Cliff Lee, especially if the contract offered by Texas is the same.


MLB Winter Meetings: Jayson Werth to Washington Nationals, Adrian Gonzalez Deal Dead?

December 5, 2010

On the ground at the winter meetings in unseasonably cold Orlando, Fla., there has been quite a bit of action already.

Actually, in much colder Boston, the Adrian Gonzalez trade is currently off, as the slugging first baseman and the Boston Red Sox could not agree on an extension. They had a window until 2 p.m. today, and while the Red Sox were willing to given Gonzalez a six-year extension, the player wanted eight years and “Mark Teixeira money.”

Many people here believe that if Gonzalez tests the free-agent waters after this season, there would be up to six potential suitors for the type of money (eight years/$180 million) Teixeira signed for two winters ago. Those teams include the Dodgers, Angels, Nationals, Cubs and, of course, the Red Sox.

The Cubs were the other teams heavily involved in trying to trade for Gonzalez last week. Could talks with the Cubbies begin anew?

While the deadline for an extension has passed and the trade is now dead, it does not mean it is completely done. The teams could talk trade again (same players involved), and the Red Sox could up their offer.

I believe the Red Sox need Gonzalez so bad that they at least go to a seventh year (he would only be 35 in that last season), and this trade eventually gets done.

It gets done because of the major news today from the meetings that former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth, he of the 120 career home runs at the age of 31, signed a big-money contract with the Washington Nationals.

That deal is for seven years and $126 million. Are you kidding? This deal will turn out just as bad as the deal Jason Bay signed with the New York Mets. Maybe it’s the name.

Well, Scott Boras did his work here and earned every penny of what he is getting paid by Werth.

But the right-hand hitting Werth was also on the Red Sox radar, to complement the trade for the left-hand hitting Gonzalez.

Now Werth is out, and the Gonzalez deal is done, for the time being. Even if the Red Sox do eventually get Gonzalez, they need another bat.

And that means going after Carl Crawford. The Sox can put a dent in the Yankees and Angels’ pursuit for CC No. 2 and improve their own lineup, too.

Let’s say the Red Sox then do sign Crawford. That means the Angels are needing to improve their team. They would like to get lineup help and want Crawford to be their No. 3 hitter.

But if Crawford signs elsewhere, the Angels can improve their team by getting better starting pitching.

And that means going heavy for Cliff Lee. What better way to crush the rival Texas Rangers, hurt the Yankees and improve your own team?

I have always thought the Angels were going to be a dark horse for Lee. However, many people here believe that Lee does not want to go back to the west coast. Valid point.

Also, the Angles aren’t hurting for starting pitching, with five starters already in the fold, including Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero, Dan Haren and Scott Kazmir. But Kazmir is mostly ineffective and could be moved, as he only has one year left before free agency. They could also move the more desirable Santana to make room.

However, money does talk (ask Werth), and the Angels will certainly be able to go $150 million for six years for Lee. That might get it done. Angels owner Arte Moreno has never been shy about spending his hard-earned cash.

Plus, I have always believed the Angels don’t really need Crawford with speedy youngsters Peter Bourjos (ready now) and Mike Trout probably ready in 2013 or sooner. Trout could be the best overall prospect in the major leagues.

Going after and signing Lee would make the Angels the leading contender in the AL West and would severely alter the Yankees pitching plans for their rotation.

If Lee signs elsewhere, what do the Bombers do then? I have several thoughts on what they could do,  but they will be held for another piece.

These possible moves are the domino effects of the Gonzalez trade being called off (for now) and Werth strictly showing us money was the only factor in signing with the Nationals.

So much has gone on here at the winter meetings, and they haven’t even officially begun.


New York Yankees: Can Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild Really Fix A.J. Burnett?

November 26, 2010

All the New York Yankees news the past week or so has been about Derek Jeter and his new deal. How much will Jeter “settle” for and will the Yankees come up from their three-year, $45 million deal. Also, some Mariano Rivera news has popped up. Will the Yankees give him a two-year deal?

But one big story a couple weeks ago was the hiring of new Yankee pitching coach, Larry Rothschild. His big job would need to be “fixing” A.J. Burnett, a bad pitcher locked into an $82.5 million body.

Larry Rothschild really has his work cut out for him.

Tons of articles about how Rothschild needs to find out what is wrong with A.J. Burnett, identify those faults (which are many) and “fix” A.J. Burnett’s mechanics.

That is going to be very difficult.

You see, Burnett is entering the third year of a five-year contract which is paying him $16.5 million per year. Chump change for most of us, but real money to Burnett.

Burnett is also going to be 34 years old in 2011, has a dozen seasons of pitching in the major leagues on his ledger and has thrown 1,770 major league innings. Rothschild has pitched a total of 8.1 innings during his major league career.

Do you really think Burnett is going to scrap the way he has pitched for more than 12 seasons to go along with a guy who doesn’t have enough innings for even one complete game?

I don’t think so, because even though A.J. is deemed “a good guy” by most of the Yankee beat writers, I see Burnett as a guy who cares only about himself.

Burnett has had his share of incidents with the teams he has played. First, he was kicked off the Florida Marlins team in September 2005 for detrimental comments about the manager, Jack McKeon, and the organization.

He was kicked off the team! The Marlins said, “Get lost, we don’t want you around here anymore!”

Burnett also showed up one day this season with a black eye. No one has said what happened, but I would not be surprised if Burnett popped off to someone in the locker room (Jorge Posada?) who took matters into his own fists… I mean, hands.

As I wrote in the past, I would have stayed far away form A.J. Burnett two winters ago. He showed to have a bad attitude and only performed well in arbitration and his walk years. I even had a huge discussion about it on 1050 NY ESPN radio host Michael Kay. His last comment was “that is who the Yankees really want.”

The Yankees should have passed on Burnett. When you look into Burnett’s career, he really hasn’t had one dominant season, not even a few really good seasons. He has always gotten by on the fact that he “has great stuff.” But when you can’t get hitters out on a consistent basis, you don’t have great stuff.

Even Burnett’s “good” 2008 season in Toronto, he was 5-1 with a 2.05 ERA against the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but only 13-9 with a 4.93 ERA in all other games. Typical Burnett of pitching well in a walk year against two rivals, but not doing well otherwise.

Now Larry Rothschild will be looked upon to save the big (black eye) guy. While it is somewhat easy to recognize pitching faults and work with the pitcher to correct them, it is much more difficult to get past the pitcher’s mental faults.

Burnett has many mental faults and it will be tough to get him to change those to become more confident and to concentrate more on each pitch.

Physical faults can be corrected.  

The biggest issue is that Burnett does not have command of his fastball. How many times do you watch a game and the Yankee catcher is set up on one corner or the other and Burnett throws a fat pitch right down the middle?

Too many times. And when the ball does not travel over the middle, it usually misses way outside or way inside, often hitting the batter. In fact, Burnett led the major league in hit batsmen in 2010 with 19.

No control with or command of the fastball, which is always what you hear manager Joe Girardi say after bad Burnett outings. Burnett’s pitches move too much.

Easiest thing to do to “fix” Burnett is to have him throw his fastball right down the middle. They can first test A.J. to see if maybe he has his A game and can hit the corners. But that rarely happens so move to Plan B is needed.

Since Burnett can not hit a corner on a consistent basis, the thing to do is have the catcher set up for fastballs right over the middle of the plate—every fastball, every time. Then, when A.J. has his movement going, or he is not concentrating, the pitches he throws to the glove will miss to either side and be near or right on the corners.

Tough for hitters to take those pitches and even tougher for them to hit.

We used to do this in college with high velocity guys who could not locate and Davey Johnson convinced this was the way to go with Sid Fernandez back in the 1980s. El Sid was a really good pitcher for the New York Mets during their heyday, allowing precious few hits but tons of free passes.

This tactic couldn’t be any worse than how A.J. performed in 2010. Throwing the ball down the middle could only be better, but the Yankees would never do something as simple as that.

In 2010, A.J. has had his worst statistical season as a full time starting pitcher. Worst strike out rate, worst WHIP, worst HR rate, worst ERA and almost worst walk rate.

That has to be a really bad FIP.

So they will attempt to “fix” Burnett’s mechanics.

Let me help out the new pitching coach with identifying Burnett’s mechanical issues.

Burnett uses a big hip turn where he shows the number of his uniform and his back pocket to the hitter. No need for this as it does two things. This provides no benefit to velocity and actually pulls Burnett away from the forward momentum he should be delivering directly to the plate.

What this big backwards hip turn does is reduce his velocity by creating excess movement during the delivery. Velocity has nothing to do with the strength of your arm, but the power of your core including a powerful hip turn after the front foot lands.

The big hip turn will also usually cause the lead leg to swing out and straighten when the lead leg should remain in a bent position. It is not good when the front leg acts like a swinging gate.  As I said earlier, a big turn of the hips is good after the front leg lands, not before it.

A swinging gate front leg often causes the landing foot to plant in different spots, away from the mid-line to home plate, causing the aforementioned reduced velocity and any concept of control of his pitches 

Add in the fact that Burnett does not concentrate on every pitch and that is a recipe for disaster. A disaster which turned out to be his 2010 season.  

Repeating mechanics is very difficult for Burnett because of so much movement and lack of concentration. Similar to what Dontrelle Willis has been going through since, well, forever.

First step to “fix” Burnett is to eliminate his aggressive backward hip turn and have him bring the lead leg up, down and out. Eliminating all the excess backward movement will increase Burnett’s velocity and improve his control.

As I mentioned earlier, the toughest thing for Rothschild to “fix” is Burnett’s mound demeanor and concentration. Burnett doesn’t seem like he really cares out on the mound. Several pitches in a row look good, then four hits and two walks later, the Yanks are down by three.

Only thing which works on the mental aspect is to treat the player like a child. Take things away, like his spot in the rotation. But that will never happen with all that money being paid to Burnett.

I can’t see Burnett listening much to what Rothschild says. If Burnett proves me incorrect, then it would be great all around for Yankee fans, but I just don’t see it based upon his track record of individualism.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Best thing for the organization is to try and work a trade for A.J., eat lots of cash and let a young kid from the system take his spot. Get rid of the black cloud of having pressure on Rothschild to “fix” Burnett and having constant questions after every one of Burnett’s bad starts.

With Andy Pettitte looking like he will return for one more season and the almost certainty of signing Cliff Lee, the Yankees can afford to take a hit by trading Burnett (limited no trade clause) and using a kid (Ivan Nova, David Phelps?) as the fifth starter.

They couldn’t do any worse than the 10-15, 5.26 ERA and 1.511 WHIP Burnett put up last season.

Biggest way to fix Burnett is to not have him around anymore.


Victor Martinez: Tigers Sign Catcher, Show They Don’t Know How To Build a Team

November 23, 2010

The Detroit Tigers are about to sign free agent Victor Martinez to a four-year deal worth $50 million. Martinez is listed as a catcher, but will primarily earn his keep via the designated hitter position.

It is said this move will give the Tigers a real good 3-4 duo of Miguel Cabrera and Martinez with V-Mart providing valuable protection for Cabrera. Maybe they can even sign another hitter (Magglio Ordonez, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford?) to have a good 3-4-5.

That might boost Cabrera’s MVP status for next season (he finished 2nd today), but it still will not help the Tigers win in 2011 or 2012 and especially not during the final two seasons of the proposed deal.

The signing is terrible for the Tigers, and comes on the heel of another bad signing, the three-year $16.5 million deal for right handed relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit.

It just goes to show that the Tigers management has no idea how to build a winning team. As the Tigers are trying to do, it is impossible to buy your way into a championship.

Martinez does not offer anything more than a DH and occasional first baseman. He is completely unproductive on the defensive end of catching, unable to move well behind the plate and is really good in his ability to allow stolen bases. I am sure V-Mart is not the best game-caller either.

So to pay $50 million for a 32 year old DH is mind-boggling. And not only do they sign Martinez for four years, but they also have to give up a first round draft pick in 2011 (No. 19 overall) to the Boston Red Sox.

The Tigers give up a draft pick in a draft that is considered to be very, very deep. It could rival the 2002 first round and/or 2005 first round in terms of quality and depth.  And both those drafts were quality after the first round, too.

So, in a deep draft, a team which has a terrible farm system has given away its first round pick, and if they sign another Type A free agent, they lose their second round pick, too.

I am not against free agent signings. Many free agent signings work out for the teams with decent production, but rarely do they ever lead to World Series championships. When they do, it is because the free agent player was the “final piece.” 

Free agents are to be used to supplement a good farm system, to complement the players a team has already developed and who are ready to compete. They should not be signed to start a team or fix up some holes.

When your own home grown players have reached the point where they are “knocking on the door” is when you search the free agent market for that key piece. The Tigers did that in 2004 when they went out and signed Pudge Rodriguez to handle a younger pitching staff, and eventually went to the World Series in 2006.

The fact that the 2010 Tigers positional prospects are ranked the worst overall in baseball has forced the Tigers hand here to sign an aging FA veteran bat.

And the prospect spiral keeps plummeting downward for the Tigers. They would not win in 2011 without Martinez and they will not win with him.

Martinez is not a key piece for the Tigers as their lineup still stinks even with him protecting Cabrera in the No. 4 hole. V-Mart had a decent season last year, but in no way does it warrant a four-year deal worth $50 million. He is not a real impact guy, only the best available now, and will only decline as he gets older.

Even if Martinez does not catch any games in 2011, the wear and tear already on his lower half will hasten any decline*. Did you know Martinez only has had one season with a plus .500 slugging percentage?

Even Derek Jeter had one plus .500 slugging season, back in 1999. Jeter’s career OPS is a scant .001 below Martinez career mark of .838. Is that worth $50 million? In a park which is historically bad for Martinez and is considered a pitcher’s park?

*Some readers will relate this deal to the one the Yankees gave Jorge Posada four seasons ago, a four year $52 million deal. Another deteriorating switch-hitting catcher who will end up as a DH. But things are much different for the Yankees at that point.

First, Posada was a home grown, key member of the Yankees dynasty run in the late 1990s-early 2000s. There is something to be said for paying for past performance when you are a home grown champion. Second, Posada was still the primary catcher and also pretty decent behind the plate at that point. Third, he was coming off a career year which he slashed .338 BA/.426 OBP/.543 SLG/.970 OPS, with 42 doubles, 20 HRs and 90 RBI.

The deal does not make sense in terms of years, money or losing a draft pick.

The Tigers would be better suited to follow the lead of the Minnesota Twins, who won the A.L. Central division last year, three of the last five years and six of the last nine seasons. Load up on home grown talent, sign the top two or three to long term deals, and keep producing enough talent to fill holes along the way.

Granted the Tigers are taking on more payroll in trying to win.

But smart franchises increase payroll on their own players, not somebody else’s free agents.

That is the recipe for staying near the top of the standings nearly every season. But an organization first has to produce your own home grown major league talent.

Bad franchises keep signing other teams players instead of producing their own.

Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit are two bad free agent signings.

Par for the course within the Tigers ownership of Mike Ilitch.