Friday, July 31, 2009

Now that 4.01 PM has come and gone...

The Yankees were relatively quiet on the trade front today, acquiring utility infielder for minor-league catcher Chase Weems.

They did not acquire a pitcher, though it is important to remember that waiver deals may be made until the end of August.

There's lot to digest here, but it comes down to the following:

the Yankees upgraded their bench at relatively little cost, which means Cody Ransom's days are numbered, and while the Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez, it has nowhere near the impact it would have had the Sox gotten Adrian Gonzalez or Roy Halladay.

That the Yankees didn't get a pitcher like Brian Bannister is intriguing only because it was supposedly the relatively miniscule amount of cash that kept the deal from getting done. Still, it's important to consider that as fans we do not have all of the information, and there may have been other factors at work.

Only time will tell if the Yankees were winners by standing pat.

Last season we thought Nady, Marte and Pudge would have the Yankees all in, and then not only did the 2008 team miss the playoffs, but none of those three are helping the Yankees this year.

Baseball's a funny game.

Don't Blame This One on Andy

Andy Pettitte, since the All Star Break:

20 IP, 16 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 23 K, 3 BB (Yes, that's 23 strikeouts to three walks over twenty innings pitched).

In those starts, he's also received a grand total of three runs of support.

The Yankees have scored more runs than any other team in baseball, but apparently Pettitte did some sort of voodoo curse on the bats because they are very much not scoring for him.

It's a shame, because Pettitte has been stellar since the break, and even if he isn't exactly the Andy Pettitte of the late 1990s, he's certainly pitching well enough to be 3-0 in his last three starts, and not 0-0, with the Yankees having lost two of those games.


It's tempting to blame the loss on Phil Coke, but Coke didn't put that runner on second, Hughes did. To be fair, Hughes was probably a bit gasses, and Girardi remains afraid to use Rivera in a tie game on a road.

At any rate, if you're going to blame anyone for this game, blame the offense that struck out seven times looking.

If the home plate umpire has a strike zone the size of a small state, you should probably at least swing at anything remotely close.

Some of you will consider this loss more grating than the game Sabathia recently lost; I disagree. Most nights if you get an effort from your starting pitcher like Pettitte gave, your team will win.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

PBP First Ever Live Chat

Garza Needs To Learn Unwritten Rules

1) You don't admit when you're intentionally throwing at a batter:

Quote from ESPN recap

"Teixeira was plunked after one of Chamberlain’s pitches sailed over the head of Longoria, who was hit by a pitch by Yankees reliever Jonathan Albaladejo. Garza said he was standing up for the Rays’ All-Star third baseman.

'They can take whatever they want from it, but I just kind of got tired of people brushing him back. It’s about time someone made a statement,' Garza said.

'I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and say we’re tired of it. You go after our best guy. Well, we’ll make some noise, too, and that’s what happened.'"

If a Yankee made that comment, you could expect a full on six game suspension. We'll see what happens here--while everyone's distracted by the trade deadline this comment could very well pass unnoticed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Joba Dominates, Bruney, Not so Much (Postgame Notes 29 July 2009)

That All Star Break must have done Joba Chamberlain some good.

Not only has he been great in every start since the break, but he's gotten better--and tonight, he flat-out dominated.

Chamberlain threw 101 pitches over eight innings, allowing just two hits, a couple walks, and no runs. Had Chamberlain been an older and un-innings-capped pitcher, it's entirely possible he would have gone out to pitch the ninth.

Such as it was, the Yankees thought they'd get Bruney some work--with a 6-0 lead, it didn't seem like much of a gamble, but Bruney was awful. The only strikes he threw were hit for a home run and a double; other than that the command was simply not there. Bruney wasn't just missing; he was missing and it wasn't even close.

Bruney's ineffectiveness is an issue because an effective Bruney allows the Yankees to be that much more flexible--an effective Bruney means that the Yankees could consider transitioning Aceves back to the rotation (they won't, I don't think--or at least, they shouldn't lose their one long reliever), or at the very least allow the Yankees to just worry about trading for a starter.

Alas, Bruney has not looked well since coming off of the DL for the second time, and at this point in time one has to ask if he's really entirely healthy. His attitude in postgame interviews doesn't tend to rub fans (who knows about the coaches--whose opinion matters much more) the right way.

At any rate, Brueny's performance was the only blemish of the evening. Joba had perhaps the best start of his young career; the offense had three home runs and a couple of other timely hits to take an early lead and never look back, and while Mariano Rivera inexplicably walked a batter (!!), he did, after all, get the job done.

One thing of note that I might expand on a little later: the Yankees have scored 198 runs in the last three innings of the game (as of this morning); no other team has more than 170 in the later innings. Given that the Yankees have scored 562 runs total, that's more than a third of all the Yankees runs being scored in that time span.

Talk about a team that fights.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Concerned about CC?

Take a look at this list here.

The list ranks pitchers by "abuse points", with the pitchers that are most abused--that is, the most overworked--at the top.

Is it much of a surprise to see CC Sabathia at the top?

When the Yankees signed Sabathia, one of the selling points was that he was a workhorse. His effort with Milwaukee at the end of last season--pitching on multiple occasions on three days' rest--was Herculean.

The problem is, however, that the selling point of Sabathia being a workhorse was also a concern point.

It's perhaps, in some odd and cruel sense, kind of funny that we, as fans, bloggers, analysts, and what have you, put so much stock into the Verducci effect--the idea that too great an increase in innings for a young pitcher is an injury risk--and yet, at the same time seem to decide after a pitcher hits a certain age that being overworked is no longer a concern.

There's no denying that Sabathia has pitched a lot in 2007 and 2008, and that in both of those postseasons he struggled. Of course, we don't know the reason for struggling in those postseasons, but it'd be foolish to ignore the amount that Sabathia pitched during the season.

Could it be, now, that Sabathia is feeling the effects, in-season, of the past two years?

I'm leaving this question open. I'm no pitching expert, and Sabathia's inconsistency could be due to something completley different. I'm just suggesting this as a possibility.

At any rate, whatever's going on, the Yankees should hope they can figure something out--barring injury or rain outs, Sabathia's next two starts would involve facing Buerhle at Chicago and then Boston.

Alfredo Aceves Update: Via Pete Abraham, Alfredo Aceves has admitted to having a sore shoulder, though he doesn't think it's serious. Still, the track record for the Yankees and admitting the severity of injuries isn't exactly stellar.

Yankees Throw a Clunker (Postgame Notes 28 July 2009)

For only the second time since the All Star Break, the Yankees lost a game, and this one was a clunker in every sense of the word.

CC Sabathia wasn't sharp, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez air-mailed throws to first base, the bats were largely flat or else erasing rallies with double plays and poor baserunning, questionable calls, and as a whole the team reminded much too much of 2008.

Given the Yankees' recent play, however, this game seems much more like an aberration than anything else, though there is a legitimate concern to be had in Sabathia's ineffectiveness.

It's not that Sabathia was ineffective tonight, but that he has been inconsistent of late, and there is growing speculation that Sabathia's running into a tired arm because of the overwork in the last couple of years.

If the Yankees were in first by a comfortable margin, I wouldn't be shocked to see them contemplating giving Sabathia a start off now and then, but with the race as close as it is, the Yankees do need Sabathia to at the very least give them a chance to win.

There's not much to say otherwise. Offenses go through rough patches, but given the eleven runs scored yesterday with the same line up, I don't think anyone is (while in their right mind) panicking. One just hopes the Yankees brush it off and put together a better effort tomorrow.

If there is a bright spot, Mark Melancon pitched in his first stint since July 10th and did not allow a run.

Chien Ming Wang News Chien Ming Wang met with Dr. James Andrews. The verdict is surgery--same as Posada had last season, and he is out for the year. (Via Mark Carig, Star Ledger)

We already suspected Wang was done for the year, but having shoulder surgery for a pitcher may very well be the kiss of death. I feel for Wang. It's tempting to assign blame, but in this case I don't think you can.

Live Chat:

I will attempt a live chat on Thursday, 6-7 PM, come on by and ask whatever's on your mind.

Starting Pitching For The Win (no, really)

The Yankees, at the present moment, easily have the best offense in all of baseball. They lead in home runs, OBP, total bases, OPS and walks, and are on pace to score over 100 more runs than last year. Scoring 1000 runs looks unlikely at this point, but it is not entirely out of the question.

For all that the offense has done, however, it's not the reason that Yankee fans are getting excited about this autumn.

A great offense can help you get to October, but, as the Yankees have seen first hand in recent years, it won't help you stay there.

The difference this year, as it is in any year in which a team is a serious contender, is the pitching.

Just think about this:

In 2008, the Yankees had games started by Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, sure, but then also Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Chien Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, Dan Giese, Darrell Rasner, Sidney Ponson, Alfredo Aceves, Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano (and probably others I can't remember).

In 2009, thus far, the Yankees have had games started by CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain, and then, only in the fifth spot do you see the variation of Chien Ming Wang, Phil Hughes and Sergio Mitre.

It's not just that the quality of pitching has been better this season, but it's also been more consistent. With the exception of Wang, starters are making start after start and, even if they struggle, still manage to find a way to keep the Yankees in the game.''

Since the All Star break, every Yankee starter has gone at least five innings, and every starter not named Sergio Mitre has gone six. Most have gone seven innings, and while the Yankees are 10-1, they are probably one 0-2 pitch away from 11-0.

It's not a coincidence.

Sure, the Yankee bullpen has been pretty solid, especially at the back end, but the caveat here is that the bullpen doesn't really matter if the starting pitcher can't do his job.

Yanks Start Road Trip With Tampa Win (Postgame Notes 27 July 2009)

The most telling signs from tonight's Yankees' win have less to do with the stellar play by all (except, perhaps, Jonathan Albaladejo) on the field and more to do with the comments made off of it:

  • When asked if this (a 6-1, 1.78 ERA in his last seven starts) is what AJ Burnett signed up for, he responded that it wasn't, and that the press should ask again in October.
  • In his postgame interview, Nick Swisher mentioned that he had approached hitting coach Kevin Long on Monday morning asking him for some extra BP because something wasn't right. Whatever Long did, it worked: Swisher had two home runs--one that nearly reached the back row of the bleachers--in Monday's game.

The Yankees, going into this series with Tampa, really only had one absolute, must: don't get swept. A sweep would have Tampa only 3.5 games back of the...well, probably the Red Sox. The Yankees took care of that via their win tonight.

Now, Tampa Bay sits 7.5 games out of the division lead, certainly not insurmountable, but still a sizable buffer. Even if the Yankees lose the next two (and us Yankee fans hope that doesn't happen), they'd still have 5.5 games on the Rays, and be at least a half game up on the Red Sox.

This is a Yankee team that, despite the odd injury or ineffective inning, seems to be getting better as the season progresses.

In his second year as Yankees' manager, and only third year managing over all, Joe Girardi has his team only one game behind the Dodgers for the best record in all of baseball.

It is one thing to be able to make that statement on April 12th.

It is quite another to make it on July 28, after the All Star break and rapidly approaching the trading deadline.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Keeping Hope Alive

Last week's HOPE week for the Yankees--a week dedicated to community outreach in which every Yankee took part--has been hailed as a resounding success.

The Yankees participated in a youth mentoring program, visited a child with cerebral palsy, an adult with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and staged an overnight carnival for children who have an allergy to the sun, among other things.

While HOPE week may have been great for the Yankees, the best part, for the fans, is that it doesn't have to end.

Everyone can contribute in some way to community outreach, and with that in mind, here's how you can help some of the causes promoted by the Yankees.

Youth Outreach

There are many ways in which one can help to make life a little bit better for a child, but one of the most recognizable programs is that of the big brothers/big sisters. The program, which has been around for more than 100 years, pairs adult mentors with children who need (or want) a role model.

It is hard to understate the value that one positive role model can have in a child's life, especially when that child may have come from a background in which he or she does not receive any of the care or love one would expect from his or her own home.

The great thing about mentoring is that there are so many options available--some that involve a lot of training and others that involve much less, and the best thing of all may be the gift that you give to children--the gift of hope.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy is a "term cerebral palsy refers to any one of a number of neurological disorders that appear in infancy or early childhood and permanently affect body movement and muscle coordination but don’t worsen over time." (NIH).

Since the severity of cerebral palsy can vary, so too can the treatment, although many options exist to try to help children have as close to normal lives as possible.

At the bottom of this page, there is a long list of organization whose goals include further research into cerebral palsy and providing care for those children who are stricken.

There are multiple ways to get involved, and cerebral palsy is a common enough condition that most people are aware of it, even if they don't know anyone that's been stricken.


ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, is a condition that will be familiar to nearly any Yankee fan familiar with the team's history. Both Lou Gehrig and Catfish Hunter succumbed to the neurological disease, in which brain cells gradually lose motor function.

The Yankees, as one might expect, have never been shy about promoting the cause of research, as ALS has no cure and is ultimately fatal (with the apparently curious exception of Stephen Hawking).

The ALS Association seeks not just to find a cure for ALS, but to enrich the lives of those and their families who have been stricken.

The ALSA is affiliated with Major League Baseball, and offers opportunities to combine baseball with helping ALS research.


Xeroderma Pigmentosum is a rare condition in which children are actually allergic to the sun--and any other UV light.

Any exposure to UV light leads to severe burns and possibly skin and eye cancer--and it's rare for XP patients to live past the age of 20. Some of you who watch the TV show House may remember an episode a few seasons ago in which a girl was diagnosed with that condition.

The Xeroderma Pigmentosum Society is the group which runs Camp Sundown, which was publicized by the Yankees, but that is only a small portion of their work.

The group provides information on the condition and promotes scientific research as well, but because the condition is so rare, it does not receive the publicity that many other groups do.

The society offers multiple ways to help, from donation to how to help with fundraising or volunteering.


The four causes here are, of course, not the only causes that are worth considering.

On a personal note, I have donated to cancer research many times because, like many people, it is a cause that strikes especially close to home for me.

You may have another cause that strikes home to you--and it doesn't have to be a medical condition, either. It could be a cause dedicated to eradicating illiteracy, to promoting education for girls in areas in which women have few (if any) rights, a cause dedicated to providing care packages for troops abroad...

The options are extensive, and not all of them ask for your money; some just ask for a little bit of your time.

If you are sitting here, reading this post, you probably have a pretty decent life. So why not try and make it decent for some others as well?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

This is the Season

The Yankees came out of the break and won nine out of ten games.

That's good.

That's really, really good. They swept the first place Tigers and last place Orioles, and took three out of four from the last place Athletics.

Life is good for the Yankees.

It's about to get a lot harder.

The Yankees play 19 of their next 26 games on the road, including a stretch that involves visiting Tampa and Chicago, and then coming back to play the Red Sox at home.

This stretch--which will have to be made without Brett Gardner--could mean the season.

While, in recent years, July has been kind to the Yankees, August has not. Last season, a poor August transformed the Yankees from a contender to a spoiler. Of course, this year the circumstances are different--Posada and Matsui are healthy and CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett are in the rotation instead of Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner.

This year, the Yankees should be able to emerge from this stretch in decent shape, but should is the key word. "Should" guarantees nothing.

The Yankees are clearly outperforming the 2008 team, and have been more consistent than the team in 2007--less dependent on career seasons from one or two players--but, and perhaps, because of it, expectations are that much higher.

Gardner on DL with Broken Thumb

As you have probably heard by now, Brett Gardner broke his thumb in yesterday's game while sliding into a base. He then, of course, stayed in the game, hit a triple and made two spectacular catches.

Go figure.

At any rate, he'll be in a cast for two weeks, so cue discussions on whether or not the Yankees should promote Austin Jackson.

It's a hard decision because Jackson is seen as the organization's closest-to-ML-ready-legit-prospect, and bringing him up too early might set him back.

Then again, the Yankees also have the miracle of Francisco Cervelli, who wasn't supposed to do anything and ended up holding his own quite nicely...

My money would bet that Jackson ends up getting the call up. After all, the Yankees are replacing Gardner's bat, speed and defense--not A-Rod's or Posada's.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jorge Posada Must Not Like Pie (Postgame Notes 25 July 2009)

No baseball team can win every single game it plays, and it's even harder when the line-up the manager posts can best be described as the "C" line-up--but don't blame the Yankees for trying.

In a game in which the Yankees did not get their first hit until the fifth inning (and a bunt single, at that), they still found a way to bring the winning run to the plate with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Had Jorge Posada merely struck out, instead of grounding into the double play, the Yankees might still be playing in extra innings right now.

Since we can't alter the past, however, it's no use playing the what-if game. Here is what is:

Andy Pettitte was phenomenal in the first six innings, and whether we like it or not, earned himself the ability to try to get out of the seventh inning. Alas, he could not, and so Joe Girardi called on the next-most-prudent thing to do in bringing in Alfredo Aceves.

Aceves has been so good for the Yankees for so much of this season, that one might forgive a Yankee fan his or her shock when faced with Aceves', well, clunker this afternoon. Pettitte will be tagged for the loss, but Aceves' total inability to get that final out is really what cost the team the game.

Much will be made of the offense's inability to do anything against Oakland's starter Gio Gonzalez, but, as always, it all comes back to the pitching. Had the Yankees found some way to get out of that seventh inning, that 1-0 lead holds for just that much longer...

At day's end, however, the Yankees are still in first. One loss can change everything, but it shouldn't.

It's up to the Yankees to start a new streak tomorrow.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Baseball From the Bleachers

This is not the first time I've sat in the bleachers, but the last time I did, it was sunny and the entire stadium--the old stadium--was packed.

Tonight is different.

It's been raining all day, sometimes quite hard, and no one has any idea if the game will be played at all, never mind what time the game starts.

The Stadium is more empty tan full; those that have made it here are those for whom the game is everything--the real, true, hardcore fans.

There's something different about the bleachers.

Instead of the idea that each individual experience is important, the bleachers are about the experience as a community. Before you know it, you are high-fiving people you've never met before, engaging in chants and taunts that you would probably never consider on your own.

The most creative of the night?

In the late innings, long after the fans have made the rain delay pass via imbibing whatever was available, someone notices a fan wearing a Mets jersey sitting in the right field bleachers.

The normal chant is, of course, "ass-hole, ass-hole", but on this occasion my friend Brent gets an idea.

"Lu-is Cas-ti-llo", he starts.

The rest of us join in, poking fun at the Mets' second baseman whose dropped pop-up cost the Mets a game against the Yankees this season.

At some points in time, you almost forget what is happening at all during the game, though the game itself tonight was a good one.

CC Sabathia didn't have his best stuff, but he still gave the Yankees seven innings of work.

The Yankee offense wasn't stellar, but again did enough to build a lead, add some insurance runs, and thus give Sabathia and the bullpen (today taking the sole form of Phil Hughes) some extra breathing room--which they did not need.

All told, it was the seventh straight win for the Yankees, important as it were as it came after a long rain delay, did not burn the bullpen and increased the Yankees lead over both the Red Sox and the Rays.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Congratulations Mark Buerhle!

Congratulations to Mark Buerhle of the Chicago White Sox, who today pitched a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Buerhle has consistently been one of the best--albeit underrated--pitchers in the game for the recent few years. He had previously pitched a no-hitter in 2007.

Congratulations, and hey, thanks for beating the Rays!

Yankees don't need to move heavens at the deadline

With the trade deadline approaching, all baseball conversation seems to hover around whether one's team is a buyer or a seller, and, if so, who should be targeted or what should be brought back.

Last year, an eight-game winning streak right after the All Star Break pushed them firmly into buyer territory, but though the trade for Xavier Nady and Dámaso Marte was hailed as a steal at the time, Marte was soon injured and Nady soon ice-cold. Another move, trading Kyle Farnsworth for Ivan Rodriguez, seemed to ruin the flow of the bullpen, and was pretty much a disaster on the catching front, too.

This season, the Yankees have been buyers all the way. They've spent much of the season with the third best record in all of baseball--now second only to the Dodgers (and only 3.5 games behind them, as well), and the best in the American League.

That said, there are some holes the Yankees probably want to consider addressing--the most important and apparent of which would be the acquisition of another starting pitcher.

Once through the rotation after the All Star break and every starter was great, but it would not be fair to ask of Sergio Mitre to pitch against Boston like he did against Baltimore--he is, after all, the emergency fifth starter, not a highly-touted prospect or a high-profile free agent signing.

Right now, many eyes are on Roy Halladay, but the Yankees shouldn't need to do anything that drastic. The team doesn't need an entire makeover; it needs only minor improvements to go from one of the best teams in the American League to, perhaps, the best.

It's kind of interesting that an offense that's gotten by all season without Xavier Nady and for a while without Jorge Posada, and even for a month without Alex Rodriguez is still leading all of baseball in runs scored.

Could the Yankees use another bat off the bench so we don't have to worry about Cody Ransom's defense? Possibly.

Still, when push comes to shove, I'd wager it's far more likely that the Yankees would call up Ramiro Peña from AAA Scranton as opposed to going out and trading for another bat.

Now take a second to think about it.

That the Yankees have the option to call up a guy like Peña, and that no one would blink twice if they did, is a testament to the rebuilt farm system. Sure, Ramiro Peña is no Jesús Montero, but guys like Peña, who can field a range of positions, steal bases and otherwise annoy teams are just as important. The playoffs aren't won and lost as individuals; they are won and lost as a team.

I doubt that Eric Hinske will be the only in-season move that the Yankees make, but don't expect them to go the way of the Red Sox and be overactive at the deadline.

For the first time in a very, very long time, the Yankees have that luxury.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

2009 and Feeling Fine

Five games after the All Star Break, and five more wins.

All of the games have been close, and three of them pure pitchers' duels (while the other other two had competent pitching, as well).

One entire time through the rotation post-All Star break and every pitcher, and the bullpen is pulling their weight.

The three game sweep in Anaheim?

It appears even more an aberration, and not the rule.

The Yankees have won 18 of their last 22 games. They've won blowouts, pitcher's duels, shootouts and because of Luis Castillo.

The team has an offense that ranks at or near the league lead in almost every category, and a pitching staff, rotation and relief, whose combined ERA is 3.84 since Alfredo Aceves was recalled to the major league team on May 5 (not including tonight's game).

As one might expect, when good things happen to a team, the standings tend to change, and the Yankees are again in sole possession of first place--the first time since 2006 they have been so this late in the season.

What's more, though, is that this team is fun to cheer.

It's not just the walk offs and the pies (though those do help), but the fact that with the apparent exception of Angels Stadium in Anaheim, the Yankees, you can be pretty sure, will play a decent game. They'll win most of the time, but it seems that even when they don't, they keep you glued in your seat until the final out of the ninth inning.

The team's not just fun on the field, but this season they're also great off of it, with events such as Hope Week and making a conscious effort to actively participate in community outreach, not as individuals, but as a team.

It's been a long time coming since the Yankees have spurred such great feelings.

This is a team that could go places, but I'm pretty sure, if you're reading this post, that you didn't hear it here first. You already knew.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What's Another Walk Off? (Postgame Notes 20 July 2009)

Walk off hits for the Yankees this season:

Melky Cabrera (3)
Alex Rodriguez (1)
Jorge Posada (2)
Johnny Damon (1)
Luis Castillo (1)
Hideki Matsui (1)

Nine walk off wins this season and we're in the middle of July.

All of last season, the Yankees had nine walk-off wins.

There's something in the air this season. There's got to be. The Yankees are 16-5 in their last 21 games.

In the past four games the Yankees have scored only 11 runs--and this at the New Yankee Stadium in the middle of summer.

The Yankees are also 4-0 in that time, which includes a sweep of the first-place Tigers. Some decent pitching--starting and bullpen, indeed, and Sergio Mitre can worry about being Sergio Mitre and not any sort of stopper.

Sure the Yankees have issues, like that Chien Ming Wang felt pain in his shoulder while playing catch today and is now shut down until Friday, but walk off wins--not including ones won on pop-ups--have a way of making those worries disappear.

At least, that is, until the next game.

At any rate, the last time the Yankees were this many games above .500 was the last day of the 2007 season.

It's good to be there again.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Kids Are All Right (Postgame Notes 19 July 2009)

Perhaps because it was Old Timer's Day, the ghosts of Yankee Stadium(s) decided that something special would have to happen today.

It wasn't anything that will enter record books or baseball lore, but Joba Chamberlain's six-and-two-thirds innings pitched, while surrendering only one run on a solo home run is notable in its own right given Chamberlain's recent struggles.

It seems as though the nine days' rest did him good--whereas AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia were too strong, Chamberlain finally appeared strong enough, throwing 107 pitches, and certainly efficiently enough to earn the designation of a quality start.

It's a good thing Chamberlain was on his game, because like Justin Verlander before him, the Tigers' Edwin Jackson was throwing gas, too.

The difference was simply that while Chamberlain made only one mistake pitch, Jackson made two, and he made them to guys named Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

The three-game sweep of the Tigers is not just the best possible way to come out of the All Star Break, but winning each game by a close and low-scoring margin shows that the Yankees do not need offensive shootouts to win games.

Everything, as always, comes back to pitching.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Holy Jesus Montero Watch, Continued

Jesus Montero tonight:

1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB.

The one home run was a game-tying grand slam in the late innings that came on a 3-2 count.

Other prospects that may be worth keeping an eye on as the summer progresses:

Kelvin DeLeon--hitting .338 for GCL Yankees.
Matthew Richardson--0.64 ERA and only one walk in 28.1 IP for GCL Yankees
Neil Medchill--Raking for Staten Island; already with 8 HRs.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Observation that You Youself Probably Made (Postgame Note, 17 July 2009)

Phil Hughes pitched two innings of relief tonight--striking out the side both times--and throwing a total of 40 pitches, by far the most he's thrown since being sent to the bullpen.

Theoretically, he could throw 60 pitches next time out if need be.

You can see where this is headed.

I have previously argued that to fully stretch Hughes back out, turn him back into a starter and one that could really help the Yankees would take too long at this part of the season to be effective.

I stand by my argument, but, if the Yankees are, in fact taking the mid-season-stretching-out-of-pitchers route, I hope I'm wrong.

Either way, Hughes has remided us this season why we were all so hyped up about him in the first place.

The Joba Theory--Explained and Expanded

Many of you saw the post I wrote last night, in which, with the help of a couple of Mets fans, I arrived at a very, very simple conclusion for the pitching woes of Joba Chamberlain.

Now that I've had a night to sleep on it, I thought I'd go and expand it, mention some caveats and correct some errors on my part, as well as provide you with some raw data--so if you'd like, you can draw your own conclusion.

The "Joba theory", as I'm callling it (feel free to call it whatever you want) centers around one basic premise: the pitching woes of Joba Chamberlain may be at least partly, if not wholly, attributed to the fact that, combining college and minor league performances, Chamberlain has not built up the proper arm strength to be a starter over the long haul.

Reduced endurance/stamina can be a cause of reduced arm strength, which in turns means reduced velocity, more hittable pitches, more pitches thrown and shorter outings.

That's just the physical aspect of it--there's also something to be said for the psychological aspect that without adequate time in the minor leagues, pitchers who experience sudden success at the major league level may not know how to handle the situation when they first begin to struggle. That, would, however, be over-reaching. Only a player and his psychiatrist/psychologist/whomever knows what's really going through his mind.

I am digressing.

Back to the theory at-large.

If I were to make a statement about what the theory is, without using the words "Joba" or "Chamberlain", it would be thus:

While long stints in the minor league do not guarantee a pitcher success, not pitching enough, either in the minors or in a combination of college ball and the minor leagues, can actively work against a pitcher's development.

This is what I wrote last night re: Joba

If you look here, you can see Chamberlain's innings totals for both his time in Nebraska and his time with the Yankees.

What do you notice?

Chamberlain did not even pitch 100 innings in the minor leagues; at Nebraska he did not reach 120 innings.

This season, he's already logged 89 innings--and if we keep the Verducci Effect (the idea that excess increases in innings pitched from year to year substantially increases injury risk) in mind, he probably won't top 130 IP--perhaps 140 if the Yankees are feeling like living on the edge with a pitcher who sustained a can't-be-overlooked shoulder injury last season.

Now, I did leave out the winter ball that Chamberlain pitched in 2006. While that does bump his 2006 innings total over 100 innings, you are still left with Chamberlain having pitched two years of college ball and one year in the minor leagues.

How does that compare with other?

Take a look at the chart I created here (it's in PDF form).

Now, some notes and observations:

  • The pitchers selected are, for the most part, considered either the #1 or #2 pitcher on their team, are no longer rookies (I believe Gallardo is an exception due to last year's injury) and are either considered young or in their prime--ie no Randy Johnson or John Smoltz or Andy Pettitte, all of whom are on the obvious downswing of their careers.
  • The first column is innings pitched in the minors before a pitcher's first call up; second is whether or not the pitcher was sent back down; third is total innings in the minors and fourth is the number of years in the minors.
  • I included the innings pitched totals for college ball for Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander because of the low number of innings they pitched in the minor leagues. Both Lincecum and Verlander pitched three years of college ball--not Joba's two--and pitched over 100 innings in each season. It's not the minor leagues, but it would certainly contribute to stamina.
  • Aside from Verlander and Lincecum, only Mark Buehrle (out of 20 pretty randomly chosen pitchers) pitched less than three years in the minor leagues before their first call up. Six pitchers not named Verlander or Lincecum pitched between 200 and 300 innings, with Cole Hamels at the low end and Johan Santana at the high end (at 294). Twelve pitched at least 300 innings before their first call up.
  • You can guess a lot at those who went back down to the minors--shorter stints likely indicate rehab for an injury, while longer stints may reflect ineffectiveness or else that a team wanted to further develop a pitcher.
  • If we want to establish a baseline for what is most common--ie, the rule and not the exception--it'd seem to be three seasons in the minors (with a potential call up to the majors in the third) and 200 innings pitched. Even if you make the argument--and you can--that the combination of Joba's college innings and one year in the minors puts him over the 200 IP mark, he's still missing a year. He's not the only pitcher to have ever shot through all four levels of the minor league system in one year, but such things are an exception, not a rule, and sooner or later the law of averages tends to catch up.
  • Twenty pitchers, even twenty name-brand pitchers, is still of course far too small of a sample size, so I'll work on expanding it. Theoretically. If there's a pitcher you would like to test, it's pretty simple--go to the Baseball Cube, type in the pitcher's name, and look at the inning pitched in the minor leagues. Have fun! Ones you might consider trying, for the hell of it: Phil Hughes, Clay Buchholz, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Chris Carpenter, Ben Sheets, Josh Beckett, Josh Johnson, Mike Pelfrey, Matt Garza, et al. Stay away from rookies who may be riding beginner's luck.
  • Relievers don't work here, either. Since relievers by their very nature don't pitch as many innings, the endurance they need to build is not as important as brute arm strength: Can you throw it 100 mph? Can you locate it vaguely close to the strike zone? Can you make believe it's got movement? Congratulations, there's team waiting to sign you right now! Starting pitching is a much different thing.

This is, of course, just a theory.

There are certainly holes, exceptions that don't fit and other issues to consider--like, perhaps, whether or not a pitcher has a history of arm injuries--but it does fit the model of Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation is usually the best.

Unfortunately, merely knowing what the problem is won't solve it--and with Chamberlain, that's a whole, other impossible-to-answer question.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A deceptively simple cause for Joba's problems

Tonight, I appeared as a guest on Steve Keane's Pro Baseball Central show on BlogTalkRadio.

Through much arguing and bickering about the importance of the eighth inning and what will happen when Mariano Rivera's contract expires, there was a point raised that I found worthy of further investigation:

Among the many reasons cited for Joba Chamberlains's inconsistency and lack of stamina, I have not yet seen someone tackle the issue of whether or not Chamberlain's lack of innings pitched--both in college and in the minor leagues--and the affect that might have on him now.

If you look here, you can see Chamberlain's innings totals for both his time in Nebraska and his time with the Yankees.

What do you notice?

Chamberlain did not even pitch 100 innings in the minor leagues; at Nebraska he did not reach 120 innings.

This season, he's already logged 89 innings--and if we keep the Verducci Effect (the idea that excess increases in innings pitched from year to year substantially increases injury risk) in mind, he probably won't top 130 IP--perhaps 140 if the Yankees are feeling like living on the edge with a pitcher who sustained a can't-be-overlooked shoulder injury last season.

How does this compare with others?

Roy Halladay, since he's topical, pitched about 640 innings in the minor leagues; with about 150 or so (if my random mental math is accurate) after his first call up to the major leagues.

Dan Haren pitched 472 innings in the minors; about 128 of them coming after his first call-up to the majors.

Justin Verlander pitched only 118 innings in the minors (over one season), but preceded that with three straight 100+ innings pitched seasons in college ball--Chamberlain only had two years at Nebraska and only pitched more than 100 innings in his first season.

Johan Santana pitched 340 innings in the minors; some after his first call up but the majority before.

Notice a pattern here?

It would seem, then, that there is perhaps a case to be made for "Joba hasn't pitched enough" as a reason for his depleted stamina--which in turn means lower velocity, more hittable pitches and shortened outings.

Now, there are some things to consider:

1) Chamberlain was injured in college--which is part of the reason he fell to the Yankees as low as he did in the draft.

2) He was rushed through the minors because he had been pitching so well--and also because the 2007 Yankees needed pitching help like, uh, (pick your own grossly inappropriate comparison)

3) Going from 89 innings pitched in 2006 at Nebraska to 112 innings pitched in 2007 for the Yankees at multiple levels was a 23 inning increase--perhaps not the Verduccian 30, but for a guy coming off an injury, probably close enough. I'm not sure how many innings pitched he was on pace for before he got hurt in 2008, but it's probably safe to assume that again the Yankees would have been toying with the Verducci line.

Now, already at 89 innings pitched, it doesn't seem likely that Chamberlain will be able to pitch himself out of August without really risking damage, which, of course, would create a whole other set of problems--but you knew this already.

At the time, back in 2007, I don't remember there being too much debate about Chamberlain being rushed--the team's needs were that desperate at the time. In the off-season, Chamberlain was hailed as untouchable by the fans when discussing Santana rumors, but no one--or nearly no one--suggested Chamberlain be sent back down to the minors to build up arm strength, even though the conversion from reliever to starter would surely require that.

It is--perhaps in some sick sense--almost amusing that an issue we as fans (and even writers) have seen as so complicated and so mysterious might actually be really simple: he hasn't pitched enough.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how you'd address that situation. We're already at a point in the season in which even if you did send Chamberlain back to the minors to work on his pitches, he's pitched so many innings that it's hard to see exactly how beneficial it might be.

It's certainly, however, a warning sign--if the Yankees did trade Chamberlain for Halladay and Toronto did have Chamberlain pitch substantial innings in the minors to build up arm strength and stamina (given Toronto's history in developing--or, as it were, not-- pitchers, they'd probably take this to the other extreme), Chamberlain could yet end up being the effective starter the Yankees hoped for in the first place.

What it seems we're seeing now, then, is all the development and growing pains that should be happening at the minor league level--only it's not at the minor leagues; it's at the majors, where the hitters (excluding those on the Royals, Padres and Mets) don't let mistakes go unpunished.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half - The Bullpen

[So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.]

Since this is the last post in the series, I'll provide you with an index:

The Rotation
The Lineup, Part 1
The Lineup, Part 2
The Bench

Now it's on to the mother of all things Yankees:

The Bullpen

To do this post justice, one has to figure out who should be included, and who might be a little more expendable--since bullpens are fluid and change so much over the course of a season.

In this instance I'm going to settle around the "core" of Mariano Rivera, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, Phil Hughes, Brian Bruney, David Robertson and Brett Tomko--the guys that have been around (or should have been around) all season. Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo will get passing nods, but we'll go ahead and pretend that Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez were not utterly awful.

As a whole, the bullpen struggled early--when most of the rotation did, as well--but the call-up of Alfredo Aceves seemed to work miracles. That one move allowed for the short relievers to remain short relievers, for Coke and Hughes to basically claim the eighth between them and for Robertson and Tomko not to be faced with undue pressure.

When Aceves was moved from the bullpen for a spot start, we saw the 'pen fall apart again--though, this time, fortunately, the All Star break came at exactly the right time.

As long as Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte are utterly ineffective, look for Aceves to remain in the bullpen.

(The so-called bullpen core in alphabetical order)

Alfredo Aceves

The statistics will tell you that Alex Rodriguez, and not Alfredo Aceves is the more valuable of the two Yankees to make their first appearance this season in early May, but Aceves' value lies in far more than just the numbers he's posted.

The easiest way to explain what Aceves has meant to the Yankees in 2009 out of the bullpen would be to say that Aceves is pitching in a role similar to that of Ramiro Mendoza, but his numbers out of the bullpen are actually closer to what Mariano Rivera posted in 1996.

Since Aceves can pitch multiple innings at a time without getting worn down, the short relievers--especially guys like Phil Coke and David Robertson--do not have to pitch nearly as much as they otherwise would. This not only saves their arms from, uh, being Proctor'd, but helps keep them more effective over the long haul.

Look for Aceves to remain in the bullpen for now--after the disaster in Anaheim, the Yankees probably don't want to mess with the bullpen too much--but if Mitre, the presumed new fifth starter, bombs and the Yankees decide not to go after Halladay (or another, you know, more attainable starter), Aceves could end up the fifth starter.

In which case we will all have to hold our breath in the second halves of games started by Chamberlain and Pettitte.

Brian Bruney

The season that, for Bruney, started with so much promise has quietly turned into a disaster. He'd earned himself the eighth inning role before going down on the DL with an elbow problem, worked his way back only to go back on it after just one appearance, and now seems to have lost the command that had been so important in the first place.

In short, it's the return of the 2007 version of Brian Bruney.

The Yankees really want to get him right--if he can somehow recover his arm strength and command, the Yankees could consider, more seriously, the idea of sending Hughes down to AAA to stretch him out as a starter (although I explain here why I don't think it would work), but even if Bruney did recover, the risk inherent in relying on a power pitcher who's twice been on the DL in the same season with elbow problems is an enormous one.

It's a shame, really, because Bruney showed so much promise in 2008 before hurting his foot, and then again in early 2009.

I don't know what happened for Bruney to have such awful karma, but something apparently did.

Going forward, Bruney will likely be used in low-leverage situations until his command improves, or he will be used in mop-up like roles after the starters (yet again) are inefficient. He'll have to work his way back to the 8th and even then there is no guarantee.

Phil Coke

The battle between Good Coke and Bad Coke may be as addicting to watch as the battle between Good Melky and Bad Melky. Actually, the entire reason to want to see him pitch is to watch the postgame interviews afterward.

Coke struggled in the beginning, found a groove, and then struggled again in his most recent appearance in Anaheim.

On the whole, he's been fairly dependable, but tends to give up too many hits--6 HR in 38 IP is not a portent for good things to come--so the Yankees are best served if he is used very sparingly, which, thanks to Aceves and Hughes, he now is.

Should Dámaso Marte stop playing catch and start playing baseball, he could help ease some of Coke's LOOGY duties, and provide some relief for the Yankees, who are playing with fire.

Phil Hughes

Probably the most controversial reliever, not because he's pitched poorly, but because he probably should have never been in the bullpen in the first place.

As a starter, Hughes wasn't exactly dominating anywhere outside of Texas, but he was getting better, and showing improved consistency and efficiency. Considering that this is his first healthy season since all the way back in 2006, that's not something to be taken lightly.

As a reliever, Hughes has just dominated. You can see the splits here, but to sum:

Hughes' ERA is 0.98, his BAA is .115, OBPA is .182 and WHIP is 0.655.

Hughes has only pitched 18.1 innings in relief, and his BABIP is an insane .147, so there's certainly a case to be made that the law of averages will catch up to him, but with relievers much of the time, you only have a small sample size to use, so you ride the hot arm as long as it stays hot.

If the Yankees have learned only one thing here, it's that if Hughes, for whatever reason, loses his value as a starter next season, he still has plenty of value as a reliever.

Look for him to keep the 8th inning role in the second half unless the Yankees have utterly no choice but to stretch him out again. If that happens, than the Yankees will probably have bigger issues than what they do about the eighth inning...

Mariano Rivera

He's Mo. Really.

He was getting hit more often in the beginning of the season, which had some worried, but this seems to have been a result of recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and perception, since what he did last season was simply historic.

He's back to his old Mo self now, notching his 500th save and 1st career ERA in the same game.

In the second half, the Yankees probably won't want anything more than for him to keep doing his thing. Wearing number 42, he is, after all, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.

David Robertson

The easiest way to explain Robertson in this: when he throws strikes, he's unhittable. When he doesn't, he's unwatchable.

When Robertson comes into a game in low-leverage situations, he throws strikes.

When Robertson comes into a game in high-leverage situations, he throws balls.

You can see why this is a problem.

In a mop-up type role, Robertson is fine for the bullpen, but the problem is that the Yankees play a lot more close games than they do blowouts, and they need relievers that can either protect a lead or keep another team's lead within reach.

Look for him to stick to low-leverage situations, and don't be shocked if some combination of Chien Ming Wang getting healthy again and Sergio Mitre pitching well sends him back on the AAA bus--though likely not before Melancon or Albaladejo.

Brett Tomko

The problem with Tomko is that when he gets hit, he gets hit hard.

Though a former starter, right now he can't really pitch more than two innings at a time, and he's seldom seen in anything other than a mop-up role or in an extra inning game when all other pitchers have been used.

That said, I think he does get a bit of a bum rap--for what it's worth, Coke has given up more home runs. Then again, Coke's pitched 38 innings and Tomko's only pitched 20...

Although Tomko is a DFA candidate, it would seem more likely that Mark Melancon or Jonathan Albaladejo would be sent back down to Scranton before the Yankees parted ways with Tomko. We shall see.

Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo

Melancon, once hailed as the future Mo, was probably called up from AAA Scranton too soon. He's struggled in AAA since being sent back down, and again since being called up. There's too much talent to write him off, but he does need some more time.

Albaladejo didn't pitch well early and got sent down, has pitched lights out when recalled after Wang got hurt the second time, but then got sent back make room for Melancon.

If Girardi is riding the hot reliever, right now he should stick with Albaladejo.

dude, if you made it this far, I kind of want to hug you...

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half--The Bench

[So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.]

Next on our list, we have the ever-changing and always underrated bench

The Bench

The Yankee bench went from being centered around Jose Molina and Cody Ransom to Francisco Cervelli and Ramiro Peña and then back to Molina and Ransom again.

It's not a knock on Cervelli and Peña, but rather a compliment: the Yankees have seen that much more potential in Cervelli and Peña than they expected so they're giving the two a chance to blossom even more in AAA. Both of them will likely be up again in September--if not before. Cody Ransom, at least, isn't giving the Yankees a whole lot of good reasons to keep him at this level...

(In alphabetical order)

Francisco Cervelli

Cervelli was never supposed to make it to the majors this year. It took injuries to both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina within days of each other, and the Yankees unwilling to panic and sign for another catcher, to get the .190 hitter in AA a call up to the big leagues.

At the time, the only thing the Yankees were hoping for was someone that could catch the pitches when thrown to him and possibly throw a runner out at second. They didn't really expect anything from him offensively, so when he hit .269/.284/.346, it was quite a pleasant surprise.

Granted, the low on base percentage and almost zero slugging power would have eventually caught up to him, but Cervelli had a knack for timely hits (even infield ones), running well for a catcher, and all of the pitchers seemed to enjoy throwing to him. And, of course, the dreamy eyes of doom.


Cervelli earned himself a getting-sent-down-promotion, in that instead of being sent back down to AA, he was sent to AAA, where he should have been this season had he not lost so much of 2008 to a wrist injury.

Cervelli always has been a legitimate prospect--but without the bat of Montero, Romine or some of the other Yankee catching prospects--and thus perhaps not seen as such. Until he develops more power, he'll only project as a back up, but the Yankees would probably be quite fine with that, using Cervelli and Posada in tandem until teh Jesus makes his first appearance.

Or until one, or both, of them is traded.

Assuming the Yankees don't trade Cervelli, look for him to re-appear sometime around September.

Brett Gardner

Gardner won the starting CF job, then lost it to Melky, and now, seems to have wrestled back a platoon position--which is probably what the Yankees wanted all along. The trade off with Melky is speed vs. power; and don't underrate Gardner's speed--he does have an inside-the-park-home run.

While Melky may be Clutchy McClutchbrera, Gardner hasn't done too badly for himself, coming off the bench, either.

In 21 plate appearances when coming into a game as a sub, Gardner is batting an insane .556/.600/.889/1.489. Small sample size all you want, but this is more than three at bats we're talking about.

No, I can't explain it, either.

In the second half, don't be surprised if Girardi eventually decides to ride the hot bat--the Yankees are getting more out of their 4th OF centerfield than I think anyone thought they would, and they seem to do quite nicely when platooned. Gardner's other benefit is that unlike McClutchbrera, he can hit lead off, which allows Girardi to rest Damon and/or Jeter on occasion, and the two will certainly need a day or two off down the stretch.

Eric Hinske

A late addition to the Yankees, Hinske has already hit three home runs as a Yankee, winning himself the urging of fans everywhere to play him more.

Therein lies the problem.

Hinske's most valuable coming off the bench--he did it for Tampa and Boston and killed the Yankees every time. Playing him every day, the team will take a hit defensively--he's really not as good as Swisher; certainly not as good as anyone the Yankees have on the infield--but off the bench, he has enough pop to be a legitimate pinch-hitting threat. Certainly a better one than Cody Ransom.

Look for him to start periodically to spell Swisher and Damon, but don't be surprised if he ends up with more ABs as a pinch-hitter. For what it cost the Yankees--two low-level prospects that don't profile very high--the Hinske pick up was, thus far, a good move indeed.

Jose Molina

The back up catcher who played too much last season has now played too little this season to really know much.

The wear and tear of last season did seem to still be effecting him as his defensive numbers were down in April and May, until he got hurt, but now that he's healthy, it's as though he starts with a clean slate.

The MO on him has always been that he's one of the best back ups in the game but should not start; the Yankees haven't seen anything to prove differently. In the second half, pray Posada stays healthy and that Molina doesn't have to do more than back up--although, at least this time around, the Yankees have a more than able third-stringer in Cervelli which would undoubtedly soften the blow.

Ramiro Peña

Strangely, the highest compliment that can be paid to him may be the fact that he's in AAA learning how to play center field.

It's not that Peña couldn't play third or short or second--but rather that he could play all three that has the Yankees trying to see if they can expand his versatility as a defensive player and thus make him that much more valuable.

The knock on him was always that he could field, but no one knew anything about his bat--and then he surprised everyone by being not-so-much an automatic out. He did not hit for much power and his batting line differs from Cervelli only in a slightly higher OBP, but he's still young enough that some more time at AAA may help him come even farther.

At any rate, his defense is, right now, anyway, so much better than Cody Ransom's, one has to consider if the Yankees would consider calling him up before September to take Ransom's spot. It's one of those situations in which the Yankees have to balance the immediate needs of this season with the long-term goals of the future, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

If Cody Ransom's defense ends up costing the Yankees a game (or three), it will be that much harder to justify keeping him over Peña.

Cody Ransom

Kind of said it all above, but when the best thing you've got going for you is your crazy 5' vertical jump, that's not going to do you much good.

He's not very good on offense, not very good on defense and, already past 30, is a finished product. At this stage, the only reason to justify keeping Ransom on the bench is to give Peña some more ABs in the minors, but this may wear thin pretty soon if other options make themselves available.

As stated above, if his defense ends up costing the Yanks a game or two, it will be that much harder to justify keeping him.

Then again, you never know, he could catch fire...and the Nationals mathematically can still win the World Series...

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half--The Lineup, Part 2

[So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.]

Next up we have the second part of the lineup.

To see general thoughts on the lineup, see the previous post.

The Lineup, Part 2

Hideki Matsui

Matsui's season started horribly. He looked, quite simply, done--was as close to an automatic out as the Yankees had in their line up.

Then, he got his knees drained and got hot, and reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

He cooled off again after that, but now, in July, perhaps his favorite month of the year, Matsui again has gotten hot and seems to have benefited immensely from the nine straight games in NL parks (noticeably the only Yankee to do so).

Where Matsui hurts the Yankees is in his inability to play the field. The Yankees were able to plod through the interleague part of their schedule without totally imploding (though 2-4 against the Marlins and Nationals is frankly embarrassing), but the real danger is if Damon or Swisher gets hurt. Gardner and Cabrera can cover two positions at a time and Eric Hinske, while still a smart pick up, is not an every day player.

What the Yankees need from Matsui is for him to keep hitting well, continuing to provide protection for Posada (who protects A-Rod who protects Teixeira), and they thus also need to keep him healthy by resting him every once in a while. Fortunately, Girardi does not seem to have problems resting Matsui, so I can't see it becoming an issue the way Chamberlain and Canó in the five hole are issues.

In the words of Dora the fish, "just keep swinging, just keep swinging".

The Curious Case of Robinson Canó

Normally guys that hit .308/.341/.490 are in the running for team MVP consideration. Normally everyone oohs and ahs about their spectacular season and they at least make appearances in columns about All Star snubs.

Normally, guys that hit with that line have more than 46 RBI at the break. Especially when they've spent half the season batting fifth.

I'm not sure anyone has a decent explanation for Canó, but to some him up, it's this: when there's no one on base, Canó is a killer at the plate. Dangerous. One of the best hitters in the game. If there's someone on base, Canó's effectiveness goes down--and it's almost directly proportional: more runners on base, more outs, the less likely Canó is to come through.

At this point, it'd be comical if we didn't care so much.

Moving Canó down in the lineup has seem to have helped--and here Joe Girardi is taking a leaf out of Joe Torre's book. Torre is batting LAD center fielder Matt Kemp 8th--even though Kemp is a better hitter than that--because Kemp is batting .528/.576/.774 in that spot (for what it's worth, his numbers hitting ninth are even sicker). If Canó is a better hitter 7th than 5th, then regardless of what Canó could potentially do, that is where he should stay.

In the second half, all eyes will be on what Canó does with men on base. Eventually, he has to be able to hit in that circumstance--or he'll end up the trade bait that he was last winter, when everyone was worried the Yankees would sell low. The potential for Canó to be great is still there--bad hitters don't have .300 seasons--and it's certainly an improvement on last year, but Yankees and their fans still expect so much more.

Nick Swisher

At one point in time, Swisher did not just lead the Yankees in nearly every offensive category; he also led the Yankees in ERA.

Although Swisher's probably not his best as an everyday player, his value to the Yankees comes in having been able to keep steady in right field after Xavier Nady's season-ending injury, and, of course, the untold value of his clubhouse antics.

Swisher has done for the Yankees what many have expected--low average, lots of walks, some power--and has done it all with smile on his face. The fans love it, although they don't, so much, love the bloopers defensively and on the basepath or the low numbers with runners in scoring position.

Brian Cashman, Girardi and Swisher had a closed door meeting a few weeks ago, but the subject of that meeting was never revealed.

Now, with the addition of Eric Hinske, Swisher likely won't be starting every day--and this will ultimately benefit both Swisher and the Yankees. They would like him to get hot again, though it'd take a small miracle for him to be able to repeat April. They'd probably settle for what he did in June, however.

Melky Cabrera

Or, as I like to call him, Clutchy McClutchbrera.

Melky's hitting a solid (and for him, career best) .285/.347/.439, but where he has excelled all season is in the clutch. Nineteen of his 34 RBI --more than half his total RBI--have come in high leverage situations.

The Yankees already have eight walk off wins on the year; Clutchy McClutchbrera is directly responsible for three of them (vs. A's, Twins and Phillies).

He is adequate defensively--Gardner may be the better overall center fielder, but you'd take Cabrera over Damon and Swisher in a heartbeat--and, this season, at least, he hasn't cost the team an error by responding to "roll call" and thus not keeping his eye on the play at hand.

If Cabrera's plate discipline can improve--and it's much better than it's ever been--he becomes that much more of a weapon. Still, there's no getting past the fact that at least when Melky gets his hits, he makes them count. It's kind of like the polar opposite of Robinson Canó.

Next up will be the Yankee bench, which will include Cervelli and Peña.

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half--The Starting Lineup, Part One

[So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.]

For your lunchbreak, I'm going to tackle the one area that's remained relatively problem-free: The starting line up.

Here I've included hitters 1-5, because I think any more and the post will get too long. I'll be back with the rest of the line up a little later on today.

The Starting Line Up

The goal of an offense is to score as many runs as possible. The Yankees? Their 495 runs scored is tops in the Major Leagues and frankly is not too far off the pace if this team wanted to score 1000.

The most impressive thing here isn't just that the Yankees are scoring runs; it's the way they are doing it. Aside from the Chien Ming Wang disaster starts, games in which the Yankees have been blown out are few and far between. The twenty-five come from behind wins and eight walk off wins are illustrative of an offense that keeps fighting.

The offense alone can't win a World Series, but with these guys, it's not for a lack of trying.

In the second half there will probably be more attention paid to Mark Teixeira--who has been slumping--now that the excuse of cold weather is no longer acceptable. Joe Girardi will still have to do a balancing act in center, with Brett Gardener and Melky Cabrera--and both of them seem to perform better when they are not playing every day. Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher will need days off--for different reasons, mind--but as the pennant race heats up these will become harder to come by.

Still, out of all the problems the 2009 Yankees have, the offense is pretty low down on the list.

Derek Jeter

The renaissance that Jeter had in the first half was good enough to make him this year's leading AL vote getter in All Star voting. Getting him out of the second spot has drastically cut down on his grounding-into-double-plays, even if we're still not quite used to seeing him hit first.

The biggest boon to the Yankees, however, may very well be his improved defense, which has been attributed to playing further back in the field. It's as though Yankees fans have been whisked back to 2000...

In the second half, the Yankees just want more of the same from Jeter: great hitting and good defense. They could, perhaps, do without him trying to steal third with none out, but such are minor complaints.

Johnny Damon

Damon's first half witnessed a power resurgence that was unabashedly aided by the short right field at the new Yankee Stadium. He's been a good choice to bat second because of his relative lack of hitting into double plays, and he's also been a very poor ambassador for whatever bat company he uses--breaking at least one bat a game.

Going into the All Star break, Damon was hitting a not-so-robust .147 for the month of July--perhaps indicative, again, of his body beginning to betray him. Certainly, a nagging calf injury has kept him out of the line up on occasion and even kept him from fielding decently while in it.

For the second half, what the Yankees need is simple: they need Damon not to break down. An outfield of Swisher-Gardner-Cabrera for any length of time won't give the Yankees a whole lot of power, and it will over expose all three (who may be over exposed already). Hideki Matsui probably can't play the outfield all year unless there are literally no other options aside from forfeiting the game and Eric Hinske is, many believe, not an every day player. The Yankees will easily take Damon's kind-of-cringeworthy arm and misplays if it means his bat is in the line up.

Mark Teixeira

Perhaps the most important thing Mark Teixeira did in the entire first half is show the Yankees just how wonderful it is when everyone on the infield can play a little bit of defense.

Sure, the 20+ home runs and loads of walks help, as does his hustle in running out routine pop ups, but the defense is the first thing you notice when comparing him and Jason Giambi.

In the second half, Teixeira's fate will probably be even that much more bound up with Alex Rodriguez.

When A-Rod is on a roll and crushing pitches, Teixeira will likely get more pitches to hit as teams figure out that it's a bad idea to pitch to A-Rod with men already on base. If, however, A-Rod slumps--and he does--teams will again pitch around Teixeira. It would not hurt Teixeira's cause if he were to hit for a higher average. Right now his .275 average is his worst since his rookie season. Of course, when your OPS is .913, you tend to let these things slide.

Alex Rodriguez

His tumultuous first half saw him miss a month with a hip injury, come back and hit nothing but home runs, which slowly morphed into nothing at all, and then, only after a two-day rest period, has he begun to look something of the A-Rod of old. He may very well be the only player you've ever seen with a batting average of .256 and an OBP of .411.

A lot of this has to do with the inordinate about of games in which Robinson Canó hit fifth. Since Canó has some sort of can'thitwithmenonbaseitis, pitchers simply worked around A-Rod and pitched to Canó, who more often than not grounded into a double play--but more on him later.

Now that Canó has been moved out of the fifth spot--hopefully for good--Rodriguez is getting more pitches to hit. Rodriguez hit all of .207 in June, but is hitting .350 in July. A lot of that probably has to do with him being rested, but don't discount actually having protection in the line up.

In the second half, the Yankees need Alex Rodriguez to hit like Alex Rodriguez. They need to be careful that they actually do rest Rodriguez--once a week if possible--because the hip is only going to get worse until the entire thing can get repaired in the off-season.

Jorge Posada

The most notable thing about Posada thus far is that despite the hamstring injury that had him on the disabled list, his shoulder doesn't just seem to have held up okay, it actually seems to be stronger than it was before last year's disaster.

Teams were--rightfully--willing to run all over Posada to test the arm; while he may be no Molina Brother behind the plate, he has certainly held his own.

The controversy of him having tiffs with the pitchers is overblown--he's found a way to work well enough with AJ Burnett and Joba Chamberlain's had problems with every catcher--so please, please don't get too caught up in that.

With a bat, Posada is having a usual Posada-like season; his batting average fits in nicely with career norms; the on-base percentage is on the low end, true, but Posada makes up for this with a higher slugging than normal. It's not Posada's 2007 campaign--a career year hidden by A-Rod's antics--but the Yankees will take that production from a catcher without blinking.

The biggest concern going forward is, like Johnny Damon, what the wear and tear of late summer and a pennant race will do to a 38 year-old catcher's body. The Yankees know full well now how valuable Posada's bat is, so don't be surprised if he gets a number of half-days at DH or Girardi seems to pick odd days to just rest him entirely. The last thing the Yankees want is to go into that final Boston series with Posada being unable to play because he's too beat up.

[That's long enough for now, I'll be back with the Lineup, Part 2, later on in the day, followed by the bench and the bullpen].

Breaking Down the Yankees for the Second Half--The Rotation

So the All Star Game is officially over--and we can thus consider ourselves in the second half.

This is where it gets fun.

All of those days players got rested in the first half? Well, now they have to play. Now the pennant races start to heat up, and every move a team makes, be it a trade, a free agent signing or simply bringing someone up from AAA has even more added meaning.

What do we expect from the Yankees?

I'm going to do a series of posts addressing this, because there's so much to say that having it all in one post would a) kill your eyes and mine, and b) give me carpal tunnel at the age of 23.

So for now, I'm going to start with the starting rotation, because everything depends on the success and/or failure of these guys.

The Rotation

This is the biggest problem area for the Yankees, which is strange to say given how much was spent in the off-season to improve it.

The truth is, however, that outside of AJ Burnett's most recent string of domination, no one has emerged as an ace in the way that Mike Mussina did last year.

CC Sabathia and Burnett have been fairly reliable--although Sabathia's peripherals, the worst they've been since 2005 are a source of concern--but Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain have been inefficient at best and the fifth starter is, right now, non-existent.

CC Sabathia

Last time out, in Anaheim, Sabathia's ridiculously low road BABIP (batting average on balls in play) caught up to him. If you look here, you'll see that his strikeouts are down, walks are up and K/BB ratio is the worst it's been since 2005.

In the second half the Yankees, theoretically, should have enough starting pitching depth that Sabathia doesn't have to pull a stunt like he did with Milwaukee at the end of 2008, but he will have to be better. The peripheral stats are something that more and more seem to be noticing, and the Yankees will need to decide how much of it has to do with moving to the AL East and how much has some other, undiagnosed cause, and thus, how concerned they need to be.

Sabathia is the biggest pitching investment the Yankees have made since, well, Pavano and Igawa, so expect that the Yankees will do everything possible to make sure he is right.

AJ Burnett

Burnett got off to a very rocky start, and found no love from the fans after, well, you-know-what-ing the bed in two starts in Boston. He was in desperate need of a decent start against Johan Santana of the Mets, and it is entirely possible that his ultimate turning point in the season came when he had the bases loaded, none out, and got out of the inning without giving up a run.

Since then, AJ has really been the Yankee ace. He has faced the Mets, Marlins, Mets, Jays and Twins in that time span and has not given up more than 2 ER in any of those starts.

His last pre-break start, however, was not so much dominant as it was getting lucky and delivering the right pitch to escape jam after jam. In the words of, I think, the Associated Press, he had nothing, but still found a way to win.

If there's one thing the Yankees would probably ask a genie to do, if such genies existed, it would be to reduce Burnett's walk total--which leads the league.

Against teams with weak offenses, like the Mets, the walks don't hurt as much because no one ever makes you pay, but against stronger offenses, like Boston, the walks are killer. Burnett's always had control issues--he walked nine when he pitched a no-hitter for the Florida Marlins--but the Yankees aren't paying him $88 million over five years so that he can dazzle you with spectacularly wild pitches.

Andy Pettitte

Here's where things begin to get dicey. While Sabathia and Burnett have some issues, they are, for the most part, giving the Yankees enough length to keep the team in the game and not overexpose the bullpen.

Pettitte and Chamberlain? It's a little different.

Pettitte actually started the season strong, pitching into the sixth inning (and often beyond) in each of his first nine starts. That efficiency hasn't lasted, and his ERA has jumped from under 3.00 at the end of April to nearly 5.00 now.

The easiest way to explain it is that it looks as though Pettitte's body is having trouble keeping up with the grind of pitching every five days--as is what happens when most pitchers not named Moyer or Paige reach their later 30s.

Pettitte's first start after the break will be very telling--if the extra rest seems to have helped him, the Yankees could possibly consider skipping a start or two of his down the stretch to give him some extra breathing room (but somehow I doubt they will). If, however, he still continues to struggle in his next two or three starts, the Yankees will need to address whether or not it really is beneficial to the team to have him pitching in the rotation. If the Yankees, by some miracle, acquire someone like Halladay (see my previous post), or if Chien Ming Wang miraculously regains his form (also unlikely), then Pettitte's trending ineffectiveness is easier to bear.

Joba Chamberlain

Ah. Well. Here we go. The Wunderkind of 2007 and pre-injury 2008 has struggled in 2009.

Everyone's trying to figure out the root cause of the struggle, if it's psychological or physical or mechanical, and watching everyone go at it like a rat race would be incredibly amusing if the consequences weren't so large.

Each cause of his struggle has different results: if it's mechanical, this would be the easiest to fix--the Yankees could try to fix him up here or send him to AAA to sort it out, and if Joba's as good a pitcher as he's supposed to be, he'll be a quick study. If, however, it was as simple as this one would have seen improvement already.

The real answer is that the root cause is probably more complex, a combination of perhaps a nagging shoulder, an inexplicable fear of strike three, and maybe, since we're making this like a soup here, you can throw in some could-be-conditioned-better for extra spice. Like paprika.

Anyway, what the Yankees need, and need almost immediately, is to see if there's any indication that they can get Joba right, or at least that they can get Joba to pitch past the fifth inning. If they can, great. If they can't, the argument to turn him into a Canadian becomes all that stronger.

I think--and this is just opinion here--that the Yankees still see quite a bit of potential in Chamberlain. He is, after all, only 23, and he has shown that, when right, he can touch triple digits in the seventh inning.

The talent's there. The Yankees have to figure out how to access it.

The Fifth Starter

At this point, you just feel bad for Chien Ming Wang. He wasn't quite right in Spring Training, but it went ignored (because hey, it's Spring Training), and he imploded in the beginning of the year. He had a long and largely inefficient road back, but finally, finally looked something like the Chien Ming Wang of old while dueling Roy Halladay on July 4th--before he promptly strained his shoulder.

I don't believe in coincidences, so the fact that Wang got hurt while Halladay was starting for the Jays has to be considered some sort of divine sign, no?


There are those that would prefer to see Hughes or Aceves take the fifth spot, instead of Sergio Mitre and whomever the Yankees end up trading for (and they probably will), but there are problems with each.

Hughes, first of all, is not stretched out, and as I detailed in a recent post, the process of stretching him out, at this point in the season, might simply just take too long and create more problems for the Yankees and their bullpen than the ones it solves.

Aceves could be a perfectly competent starter, but when he's removed from the bullpen, the bullpen seems to fall apart. I'm not sure it's him, personally--although you have to consider the eerie similarity between his numbers and Mariano's of 1996 (his ERA has risen from 2.49 from 2.02 after his spot start, but if he stays in the bullpen it will likely come down again)--but I think there's a case to be made that his value lies in since he can pitch so many innings, the short relievers pitch less. The less the non-Mo short relievers pitch, the more they remain hidden, and the more they become a strength.

All we really know about this spot is that the next time it comes round it's probably Sergio Mitre's shot--but after that, who knows?

Obviously, the sooner the Yankees figure something out for the long term, the better, but don't be surprised if one good Mitre start spells another, and the Yankees try to recapture the ghost of Aaron Small circa late summer 2005.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Some Thoughts on Halladay

Right now, nothing has permeated baseball discussion to the point that Roy Halladay has, when JP Ricciardi, GM of the Blue Jays, announced that he would trade Halladay if the right offer came his way.

So I figured I'd offer a few thoughts--feel free to agree or disagree.

  • Dealing in-division would likely cost more for the team that trades for Halladay (ie, the Sox or Yankees), but it's by no means prohibitive. David Cone and Roger Clemens both came from within the division; they are probably not the only examples, either.
  • The price the Yankees would have to give up would be enormous. You're talking one of Joba/Hughes, Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero and maybe Mark Melancon for good measure. If Ricciardi is really set on dealing Halladay, teams will wait for the price to come down. If there is a move to be made in-season, it probably won't happen until the 11th hour, a la Manny Ramirez.
  • The fact that the Jays won't let teams talk to Halladay is a killer. Halladay's contract runs through 2010, so whoever gets him would probably want to extend him. Without the guarantee of an extension, teams cannot be 100% sure if Halladay would stay with them after that season, and giving how much teams would have to give up in the first place, that will no doubt be off-putting to some.
  • Halladay's comment that he would rather hit than face guys like Matsui, Jeter and Teixeira is kind of odd given his historical success against the Yankees. You can interpret it any number of ways you want, I think, but only Halladay knows what he was really trying to say.
  • At this point, going on absolutley nothing but hearsay and gut, I'd have to go with with Philadelphia and Texas as being favorites. Both teams have the prospects to get it done, and both teams desperatley need the pitching. Philadelphia has a percieved added bonus of being an NL team, but I think that's really only a factor if you're a fan. The Rangers don't have nearly the impact on the Jays' season that the Yankees or the Sox would.
  • Halladay has struggled (for him, anyway) since coming of the disabled list, but this is probably only temporarily. At any rate, him struggling is the same thing as 90% of other pitchers in the league pitching well.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Home Run

I'm sitting here, watching the home run derby, and it's boring me.

Over at River Ave Blues, one commenter reflected on the first home run he'd ever hit, and everyone filled in with their first home runs and when they started playing baseball and the like.


I played organized softball when I was seven--at that age when the coach pitches and you can't strike out. I was more interested in playing with the dirt in the field than catching the ball.

What can I say, I have an overactive imagination...

I never played organized softball after that, but I did go to camp every summer, from when I was nine to when I was fifteen, and softball was a regularly scheduled activity.

The games tended to just be four innings long. I'd bat towards the bottom of the line up, and would be stuck somewhere out in left field--you know, where you stick the worst fielder in the team.

Most of the time I came up to bat and I would be an easy out. I didn't always strike out--much of the time I'd sort of have a swinging but down the third base line. Sometimes I broke fast enough to be safe at first; most of the time I did not.

One time, however--and there's always one time--it was different.

I don't remember much. I don't remember who was pitching or who was on base or how old I was or what the score was or how many pitches I took or swung at or anything like that.

All I remember:

I hit the ball, and it sounded different.

Real, solid contact.

I thought maybe it was a single, so I ran to first. No one had come up with the baseball--they were still running after it. So I ran to second. Still, no one had it. They were running a long way. So I ran to third. From there, I saw someone waving me home, so, without looking to see where the fielders were or the ball was, I ran home.

To this day, I can't remember where the ball landed.

I can't remember anything about what happened afterwards--only that people looked at me a little differently. How on earth could someone batting maybe .050 hit a HR?

The baseball gods, my friends, work in mysterious ways.

So what about you? Did you ever hit a hR? Do you remember it?

How Reactivating Chien Ming Wang Messed With Phil Hughes

Recently, I've been seeing a lot of posts suggesting that to solve the rotation problems, the Yankees should move Phil Hughes back from the bullpen to the rotation.

On the surface, it's hard to disagree with this.

As a starter, Hughes this season was showing improvement outside of one disastrous Baltimore start. He was gradually becoming more efficient, less tentative and better at keeping a bad inning from imploding.

Things, in short, were going well.

Then the Yankees panicked in re-activating Chien Ming Wang from the DL, and things got hairy.

After a time it became clear that the Yankees couldn't keep Wang in the bullpen, or else risk losing all the arm strength that he had built up. Long story short, Hughes got sent to the bullpen.

And here the problem begins.

Hughes, out of the bullpen, has primarily been a one inning, and rarely a two inning pitcher. Since he's been so efficient out of the bullpen--he's had more than one nine pitch inning--at most, right now, I'd say he could throw about thirty pitches.

What does this mean?

If you were to tell Hughes tomorrow that he was starting again, he could probably pitch about two innings before tiring.

Now, some have suggested that the Yankees use the All Star break to stretch Hughes out, but here they are missing something: it takes longer than just a week to stretch a pitcher from a reliever to a starter.

There are two players to look at as models: Alfredo Aceves and Joba Chamberlain.

Aceves made a spot start last Thursday, which on the surface would seem to be a reliever-to-starter transition without a period of stretching. There are, however, two caveats: 1) Aceves was already a long reliever. Him pitching four innings the Sunday previous was not a terrible strain because he has already spent much of this season giving the Yankees two or three innings at a time, and 2) he only did pitch into the fourth inning--65 pitches on the nose--which ended up taxing the bullpen that day and bleeding into the next three.

The better example to look at is Joba Chamberlain.

Chamberlain had, in '07 and the first two months of'08, been an eighth-inning short reliever, but the Yankee plan was always for him to be a starter, so, towards, but not at, the end of May 2008, they announced plans to turn Chamberlain into a starter.

They had him first pitch longer stints out of the bullpen, and then, in the beginning of June, he made his first start--limited in pitch count, he did not get out of the third inning.

By the time Chien Ming Wang had gotten hurt, Chamberlain had stretched out not quite enough to pitch a complete game, but enough to pitch himself into the sixth-or-so inning, so that instead of the Yankees looking for another one starter, they looked instead for a five starter and found Sidney Ponson. You can debate the merits of this idea at your leisure, but that's not our concern here.

It took nearly a month for Chamberlain to go from set-up man, a role similar to what Hughes is doing now, to a full fledged starter--and it was not long afterward that Chamberlain hurt his shoulder. While the back-breaker was likely a fall Chamberlain took in Texas, the injury was likely building for some time--whether or not it had to do with the pitching transition, we can only guess, but it's highly doubtful that the Yankees would overlook it.

If Hughes took the same trajectory, in that the Yankees started to stretch him out now, we would be looking at the middle of August before he would really be a full-fledged starter. One needs to forget that Hughes started the season as a starter; after so long in the bullpen the arm strength and endurance that was there has likely gone.

Waiting until mid-August in the thick of a division race that will likely be decided by one or two games at most is not in the Yankees' best interests, especially when one considers how burnt out the bullpen would get covering for Hughes in the first few innings when a pitch count would prevent him from going more than four or five innings.

Should Hughes be in the bullpen long term? Absolutely not. Next season, he should come to Spring Training a starter and then remain a starter all through the season.

If the goal, however, is winning the World Series in 2009, the Yankees can't afford to muddle with Hughes for a month and risk exposing the bullpen even more. We saw the trouble that comes when Aceves is removed from the bullpen this week; any time the bullpen has to pitch more than two or three innings, especially in a row, it resists over-exposure--and then it gets hit. With Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte already so inefficient, Hughes on a limited pitch count is exactly the thing the Yankees don't need.

There's no one to blame on this one but the Yankees themselves.

The Yankees, for whatever reason, appeared to have not thought it through entirely in bringing Wang back before coming up with a plan for Hughes.

In an over-used cliché, "it is what it is", and the Yankees will have to make their peace with it.