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

August 27, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Yankees: Do They Really Need Bench Help? Maybe.

July 21, 2010

With the best record in baseball, the New York Yankees have a 2.5 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. They are also six games ahead of the Boston Red Sox.

But according to the experts, the Yankees need major help. Since Andy Pettitte went on the disabled list with a strained groin, the Yankees now need a starting pitcher. Now that Joba Chamberlain has been very hittable, the Yankees need bullpen help.

Since their bench consists of defensive wizard Ramiro Pena, 4th outfielder Colin Curtis, LHH/DH Juan Miranda and RHH/DH Marcus Thames, the Yankees need massive bench help.

Yet with all these problems, the Yankees are still in first place with the best record in baseball.

But do they really need bench help? And if they get someone, how many games is the outcome going to be affected by their presence? What needs will they fill?

Let say the Yankees go out and get bench help. Supposedly they need a right-handed hitting bat to boost their presence against lefties. Isn’t that what Thames was signed for? Anyway, with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and switch hitters Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada, isn’t that five really good right-handed hitters in the lineup?

And Robinson Cano does pretty well against left-handed pitchers, as does Brett Gardner.

So if they get a bench player, they want  a player like Jerry Hairston, Jr. who can play infield and outfield. Versatility is key.

Heck, the Rays are chock full of those type with Ben Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac.

Lets create this “perfect fit” for the New York Yankees.

Our made up guy has a season line of .247 BA/.325 OBP/.432 SLG/.757 OPS with 15 HR and 46 RBI? How about if I tell you our guy has hit .176/.234/.282/.513 OPS with 2 HR and seven RBI over the last month, and just as bad over the last two months?

And our guy is hitting against lefties he is .247/.340/.344/.684 OPS with a single HR and eight RBI’s.

Now what I mention that our versatile guy, despite his versatility, is really below average at every defensive position he plays?

I wouldn’t think you want that type of guy.

Then why would the Yankees even entertain the thought of trading for Baltimore Orioles player Ty Wigginton?

Those are his numbers and HE STINKS!

Now, there may be better examples of versatile players who can hit a little bit. Recent mentions include Wes Helms (puuleeze!), Willie Bloomquist, Adam Kennedy and Jhonny Peralta.

None if these guys, except for Peralta, will actually make any team better. The Yankees seem intent on getting a guy who could play third base, giving Alex Rodriguez a break here and there down the stretch. When Alex sits, it is usually the weak hitting Pena who gets the start.

My first choice for another bench player would be in-house option AAA right-handed power hitter Jorge Vazquez. I have been saying since Spring Training that Vazquez will have an impact on the major league Yankee team by the season end.

Vazquez is hitting .266/.287/.531/.818 OPS with eight home runs and 30 RBI in 33 games at Triple A. This was after devastating in Double A Trenton to start the year, which began in May after an appendectomy sidelined him in Spring Training.

He plays both first and third base, and I saw him play both positions this season in Trenton. For a stocky guy, he has pretty good footwork in going after ground balls at third base and around first base. Forget about his low OBP, he does not take pitches, and is very aggressive at the plate.

But if that does not thrill you, then this is the guy I believe is the best fit for the Yankees: Adam Rosales of the Oakland A’s.

First, the A’s are out of the race, and Billy Beane will gladly trade for a young pitcher. Second, Rosales has played all four infield positions this season (many very well) and also has played left field*.

*Although with the big three-run home run hit by Colin Curtis today, I don’t think he will go anywhere anytime soon. He also plays good defense, runs well and is a GREAT KID. By the way, Curtis was also on my Baby Bomber list with Vazquez as kids who made a show in Spring Training.

Third, Rosales can hit. He has a line of .283/.336/.429/.765 OPS with seven home runs and 31 RBI in only 72 games. He filled in admirably when A’s second baseman Mark Ellis was out with an injury. He has also hit very well throughout his minor league career after being selected in the 12th round of the 2005 draft.

Rosales has mashed lefties this year with an OPS of over .900.

A combination along the likes of Sean Black in Low A Charleston and Noel Castillo at High A Tampa might do the trick. But the Yankees can even go higher than these guys if they need to (like a Shaeffer Hall), but in trading a higher end guy you would limit your trading to one higher end player even up.

Black is a decent starting pitcher, but the depth of the Yankees starting pitchers in Charleston (Jose Ramirez, Brett Marshall) and above him in Tampa, Trenton and Scranton, there is no way Black will ever get a decent shot with the Yankees. And Castillo, who I saw threw 97 MPH two weeks ago in Tampa, is blocked by mucho power-armed talent as well.

And if they do not like that, throw in another position prospect among anyone in the middle not named Eduardo Nunez, David Adams or Corban Joseph.

Yankees might need a versatile player down the stretch, and it would not be a bad idea to replace Dustin Moseley’s roster spot with another position player. Then Ramiro Pena can be put back into his usual role of defensive replacement for second base, third base and shortstop.

The only issue I see is that with Rosales’ limited service time, he is still under team control for four more seasons. This could mean the A’s would want much more than what I am offering here. That would necessitate the Yankees “going up the ladder” in terms of prospects.

I am not sure they would be willing to do that.

But Rosales fits the bill, and I like him much better than Ty Wigginton or any of that other ilk. With only two seasons of major league service time, Rosales would be an inexpensive Yankee for a few more seasons.

If the Yankees are willing to afford him.

Hanley Ramirez’ Over Blown “Dogging It” Situation

May 22, 2010

Hanley Remirez kicked the ball evenfurthre downthe left field line, but inretrieving the ball he wasn’t able to run harder than witnessed. He appeared to be jogging after the ball instead of in a full out sprint.

He appeared to be “dogging it.” But Ramirez did foul a ball off his ankle prior in the game, taking several minutes before he stepped back in the batters box.

When he did finish his at bat, Hanley only jogged down the first base line on an infield grounder.

He was clearly hurting after the foul ball off the ankle.

When Ramirez was jogging after the ball in the outfield, even the announcers were mentioning during the play itself that Ramirez was not hustling. After Ramirez came  in to the dugout, Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez asked about the situation, then pulled Ramirez from the game.

THe official reason was that Raqmirez has a sore ankle.

Gonzalez appeared not to be asking Ramirez about his ankle, but was finding out why Hanley did not hustle.

Gonzalez and Ramirez got into a verabll altercation through the press, each attacking the ohter via words. Ramirez was quoted as saying Gonzalez ” never palyed in the major leagues.”

In going after his star player for lack of hustle, Gonzalez could do no wrong here.

He was in the biggest win-win situation ever.

Chastise Ramirez publicly and get praised for stading up to a superstar the way Jim Leyland stood up to Barry Bonds in 1991.

Or chastise his player publicly, get the wrath of the Marlins management, get fired…..

And manage in Atlanta next year after Bobby Cox retires. Gonazlez was Cox’ bench coach in Atlanta for several years and the Braves management loves him.

Not a bad position to be in.

Otherwise known as the Joe Girardi “get me the hell out of here” scheme.

Let it die down and all will be fine. Ramirez should be in the lineup tonight after apologizing to his teammates. And the big heros here are Tony Perez and Andre Dawson, both Hall of Famers who spoke to Ramirez about his attitude.

I think both played in the majors. But all the Marlins players (and manager) can still hate Ramirez and it has no bearing on the team.

The early 1970’s A’s hated each other and won three straight World Series titles.

The late 1970’s Yankees hated each other and won two straight titles.

What did these two teams have in common? A prima donna who was only worried about himself.

His name was Reggie Jackson.

Still, baseball is the one sport where selfishnes does not necessarily hurt the team. It is a team sport, but a very individualistic team sport.

Ramirez can go 3-5 tonight with a home run, two runs, a stolen base and two RBI, but not run out a grounder or a pop up and still be way too productive in tonight’s game.

I am not saying that would be good to see, but the three hits certainly outweight the two dogging it plays.

New York Yankees: How Will Curtis Granderson’s Injury Affect This Team?

May 2, 2010

New York Yankees starting centerfielder, Curtis Granderson, strained his right groin and will be placed on the 15-day disabled list. The injury occurred in the sixth inning of Saturday’s 7-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

Similar injuries have kept players out up to four-six weeks.

How will this affect the Yankees?

Pretty badly. 

In fact, it cost them Saturday’s game.

When Granderson went out, the Yankees were forced to move Brett Gardner from leftfield to centerfield. Randy Winn went to left.

The 36-year old Winn was acquired for defense and the versatility of playing every outfield position. 

Winn is showing signs of old age. He doesn’t hit much, he’s rarely not an automatic out, and has lost a step on the basepaths.

A.J. Pierzynski’s two-run double in the top of the seventh, a key to yesterday’s loss, Granderson’s absence was immediately felt.

Due to Gardner having to shift to centerfield, Winn’s old legs couldn’t get to Pierzynski’s game-winner. Gardner would have tracked it down for an out.  

I was listening to the White Sox TV broadcast afterwards and when the ball was hit, the announcer was yelling, “…stretch, get over their heads..” to the ball, meaning that he thought the ball had a chance to be caught.

I did too.

Gardner was playing a shade or two to left center when lefty Damaso Marte was pitching to the left-handed Pierzynski. Gardner probably would have been more straight away or even right center if a right-handed pitcher was on the mound.

Gardner almost beat Winn to the ball from centerfield, and would have caught it if he was playing leftfield at the time.

I know the bullpen is a little thin, but the Yankees are making a mistake by bringing up Mark Melancon to replace Granderson on the roster.

While I am a huge fan of Melancon’s, and want him in the majors, the Yankees need to replace C-Grand with another speedy outfielder.

Melancon should have come up to replace Boone Logan. And they could use their phantom DL placement for the struggling Marte.

Joe Girardi said he will go with Gardner in centerfield, and platoon Winn and Marcus Thames in leftfield.

That is a huge mistake.

I have written that Thames is a right handed designated/pinch hitter and should never see the field again.

Thames will now get lots of playing time out there, possibly costing the Yankees runs on defense.

The best thing the Yankees could have done to replace Granderson is bring up a speedy centerfielder.

Instead of Melancon replacing Granderson, the Yankees should have promoted Greg Golson from Triple A Scranton. 

Golson was obtained in the offseason from the Texas Rangers for High A minor league infielder Mitch Hilligoss.

Golson was a 2004 first round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, and is serviceable if used the correctly.

Defensively, put him in centerfield. He also adds speed on the bases.

He has hit .260 in Scranton with a couple homers, nine runs scored and a few stolen bases.

With the Yankees lineup as is, Golson does not need to provide offense, but any offense from him is gravy. I would rather give Golson playing time for his defense over a platoon in leftfield of Thames and Winn.

Thames is a hitter only and Winn is essentially done as a player.

With his defense and speed, Golson would help the Yankees win more games.

Jorge Posada needs to rehab more than just his shoulder

October 20, 2008

It was recently reported that Jorge Posada will begin a throwing program around December 1st. It has been speculated that if Posada’s surgically repaired shoulder is unable to return to prior form, he would be a possible replacement for first base and sometime DH.

But, Posada has demanded that he catch and doesn’t want to play 1B or even DH full time. That puts the Yankees into a bind, given that they need to decide what to do at first for 2009.

My advice to Posada is to play wherever the team tells you to play. Be a team player and stop worrying about your petty self esteem issues and think about what is best for the team – not just yourself. The Yankees are the team that gave you a $52 million contract after the 2007 season, and they are your employer. After an injury riddled first year of that deal, think they would like to renegotiate those terms?

On July 30, Posada had surgery to repair a torn labrum, and since his shoulder was worse than originally thought, he also had work done to repair tears in the rotator cuff. It is not the first time Posada had surgery on that shoulder – he had a small labrum tear repaired in 2001.

Since the labrum is cartilage and not muscle, it remains very difficult to return to form. So, Posada has had two surgeries to repair the labrum. His very likely won’t have a strong enough arm to be able to stand the rigors of the major leagues, and he won’t be able to throw runners out on a consistent basis.

He should not be the full-time catcher next season.

However, if he whines and gets to catch, it will seem like Dave Roberts is on base all the time.

Of all the surgeries that could be performed on the throwing arm, labrum surgery is the worst.

I had labrum surgery and it took me more than a full year to be able to throw a ball again with any authority, and even then the throws weren’t as strong as they were before the surgery. I was 36 at the time of my surgery – the same age Posada is now.

Also, a check of major league players who have had torn labrums repaired reveal that Mark Mulder, Rob Nen, Jason Schmidt and former elite pitchers Mark Gubicza and Houston pitcher Mike Scott never fully recovered. The only pitchers I am aware of who have successfully returned have been Dwight Gooden (no-hitter in 1996, but did not have nearly the same velocity), Arizona reliever Jon Rauch and Kansas City starter Gil Meche.

So why is Posada insisting on catching next year? Why did he snap at reporters in July when manager Joe Girardi mentioned that Posada played 1st base on July 10th?

Here is a newspaper report from that incident: “Still, Posada stubbornly had maintained plans to return this season. He even defiantly snapped at reporters when he played first base July 10 in Pittsburgh: ‘I like to catch. Okay? I’m happy that I’m in the lineup, but I like to catch. I’m a catcher. I’m not a first baseman and I’m not a DH. I like to catch, so I’m looking forward to catching.’”

That defiant statement about not being able to play where he wanted was a direct slap in the face to Girardi. There have been recent reports also that indicated Posada has been detrimental to Girardi’s authority in the clubhouse.

Clearly, Posada is not enamored with his manager? But why?

It all goes back to 1999. Here is a statement from back then: “The New York Yankees picked up their $3.4 million option on Joe Girardi yesterday, keeping their catching platoon in place for 1999.” A catching platoon with Posada.

It’s obvious that Posada still has a beef with Girardi over Joe’s return in 1999. During the 1998 season, Posada caught the majority of games and was becoming the starting catcher, but when Girardi was resigned for the 1999 season, Posada became upset, mainly because he wanted to be the everyday catcher.

That was the year when Joe Torre missed the beginning of the season with prostate cancer surgery and Don Zimmer had the managerial reigns. Posada knows that Zimmer preferred Girardi and played him the majority of time early that season.

Here is what Posada said about that time period: “‘It was tough because we didn’t know what was going on,’ Posada said. ‘Don Zimmer was our manager, and there were a lot of changes. I’m the starting catcher, but now I’m not starting. I played the first game (of the season) and then I didn’t play the next few days…it seemed like Zim didn’t have the trust in me. (Girardi) was like a son, and he trusted him a little more.’”

Girardi was Zimmer’s catcher for a couple of years when Zimmer managed the Chicago Cubs. He knew Girardi and liked his ability. Posada was still young and some pitchers liked throwing to Girardi more. That is why Joe Torre insisted Girardi be signed for the 1999 season.

Posada’s resentment likely stems from an even earlier time. He didn’t make the cut on the 1996 post season roster (Torre chose utility man Andy Fox instead of a third catcher) and split time with Girardi in 1997 and 1998. But, he was still young and had plenty of future ahead of him.

Besides the pitchers liking to throw to him, Girardi was kept around for another reason – continue with the tutelage he began with Posada, who was still early in his catching career, having been drafted by the Yankees as a second baseman.

Girardi stayed with the Yankees in 1999 to continue to help Posada, but Jorge resents it because he wasn’t the full time guy. Posada was only the main guy behind the plate on one World Series title team during that dynasty – the 2000 team. And that is the main reason why he is so bitter towards Girardi.

But Girardi was extremely helpful to the young Posada. After Posada arrived for a platoon role in 1997, Girardi knew Posada would eventually take over the majority of the playing time and rather than resent Posada, Girardi embraced and tutored him.

Zimmer said it best back then, “No catcher could come to the big leagues could be treated any better than Posada. But that’s Joe’s style. Joe has done everything he could to make the other guy better.”

However, Posada said in a 2008 interview about his favorite moment as a Yankee (catching David Wells’ 1998 perfect game), that he was happy when Girardi left the team so he can be the full-time catcher.

Posada’s mouth has not been confined to only his position on the field either. Since he had shoulder surgery, Posada also has become a champion of controversy.

He rehashed the Joba Chamberlain debate, adamantly stating on Michael Kay’s YES network’s CenterStage show that Chamberlain needs to be a reliever because, while going 200+ innings, he would get hurt as a starter. Another likely reason is because Posada feels that with Chamberlain in the bullpen, the Yankees would be a better team.

 But if Posada can’t throw (and history states he won’t throw as well), wouldn’t the Yankees be a better team with him at 1B/DH?

Other players have done the position switch. Throughout history, major players have switched positions for the betterment of their team (and the length of their careers).

Robin Yount moved from SS to CF for the Milwaukee Brewers (and won an MVP at each position); Dale Murphy moved from catcher to CF and Cal Ripken moved from SS to 3B. Even HOFers Ernie Banks, Carl Yastrzemski and a former Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra, have switched positions to help the team.

Banks and Yaz switched to first base. If those great names can switch, then Posada can make the switch.

Players have moved for injuries, too. This season, Kevin Youkilis has played OF, 1B and 3B. He came up to the Red Sox in 2004 and played mostly 3B, but moved over to 1B when the Red Sox traded for Mike Lowell after the 2005 season.

Because Lowell is now injured, Youkilis has moved back over to third for the playoffs. He has even played a few games at second base and originally was drafted by the Red Sox as a catcher.

Bottom line is that Youkilis is a baseball playing, team player who will do anything to keep his bat in the lineup and help his team win. He does not pop off and complain that “I am a first baseman and I want to play first base.”

Jorge Posada needs to put his mouth and ego on hold and do what is BEST FOR THE TEAM. Maybe that is one reason why the Yankees did not make the playoffs in 2008 – not many team players.

When Posada needs to get ready for Spring Training, he can bring his catcher’s mitt, but he better make sure he also has a first baseman’s glove.

It’s what’s best for the team.