Phil Hughes

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That PED thing sure was fun, wasn’t it? Now I am going to focus on the actual team for a little bit.

Since the All-Star Break, the Yankees haven’t won a series. They are 6-10 and the solid starting pitching of the first half has deserted them. It’s a small sample of course, but Yankee starters in the second half have a 4.89 ERA compared to a 3.96 ERA in the first half. Of major concern, three-fifths of the rotation, Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte all have ERA’s closer to 5 than to 4 for the season and they have been getting worse for awhile now.

The problem is, there are not a lot of alternatives right now. Both Phelps and Pineda are going to see Dr. Ahmad today. Vidal Nuno is on the DL in AAA and the rest of the rotation in Scranton is a mess. In fact between Scranton and Trenton the Yankees have only one pitcher younger than 28, with 10 starts this year, and an ERA under 4. That’s really bad. So the rotation is ” Kuroda and Nova and then it’s ovah.”

A look at the standings paints a grim picture. They are 9-1/2 back from the division and 5 back from the second wild card. Coolstandings puts their playoff odds at 3.4%.  We can certainly expect the offense to improve with Granderson and that other guy back in the lineup, But unless the pitching improves a lot, it’s hard to see how the Yankees get back into the playoff picture.

 

 

 

Good Idea

Joel Sherman in today’s Post speculates that the Yankees should trade Hughes and/or Joba for offensive help. He acknowledges that both would be traded when their value is low, but also mentions that there is little chance of either one being in pinstripes next year.

Let’s set Joba to the side right now, he is basically a mediocre middle reliever and those aren’t hard to find. But Hughes is a different pitcher. Sure, he hasn’t been what Yankee fans hoped for, but he is at the very least a guy you can plug into the back of a good rotation and not worry about. That has value and in today’s market where pitching is at a premium, it wouldn’t shock me to see Hughes get five years at at least $10-million per as a free agent.

Now the Yankees probably can’t pay that and get under $189 million. (At least if they sign Cano to an extension they can’t. ) They could keep Hughes for the season and then offer him arbitration and get the draft pick, but the Yankees need to develop a rotation for 2014. It is highly, highly unlikely that they can afford to pay both Kuroda and Pettitte (and that assumes those two want to come back next year) so the 2014 rotation is Sabathia and Phelps right now.

But the Yankees have other arms. Pineda is making his way back. Nuno looked good in his starts. Nova is at AAA and Adam Warren has pitched well out of the pen.  All of these guys could be part of the 2014 rotation, but the Yankees need to see them pitch in the majors regularly and assess them. That means getting rid of at least one current starter and Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte will not be that starter. Phelps is a guy they need to evaluate, so that leaves Hughes.

Now, the Yankees could decide they want to keep Hughes around. If that is the case, they should try and sign him now and then worry about breaking in a pitcher or two next season. But what they can’t do is just continue to send Hughes out there every fifth day and then let him walk away after the season. That would be another case of the Yankees not looking at the big picture. With a real payroll ceiling quickly approaching, they can not afford to do that.

It Was The Right Call

So the intentional walk to David Ortiz has become a point of controversy. If you turn on sports radio this morning or read columns like this one, Girardi made a colossal blunder. Personally, I don’t see it that way at all.

Let’s separate the names from the equation and just look at the situation. Boston starts the inning with three-straight hits and then Phil Hughes strikes out Pedroia. So now we have runners on second and third with one out and a left-handed hitter coming to the plate. The next guy up is a righty. This year lefties are hitting 100 OPS points higher against Hughes than righties are and they have twice the number of home runs. Furthermore, an intentional walk sets up a potential double play to end the inning. I don’t see why you wouldn’t intentionally walk the hitter in that situation.

But, if you have some hesitation then consider the fact that the hitter is David Ortiz, a guy who has murdered the Yankees through the years and is hitting incredibly well in 2013. And while Mike Napoli is certainly no slouch, he isn’t Ortiz and he is on pace to strikeout 230!! times this season. I just don’t see how Girardi can be criticized for his decision to intentionally walk Ortiz.

If you want to blame someone, blame Phil Hughes. Hughes served up the gopher ball and did so after jumping out to an 0-2 count on Napoli. Look at the breakdown of the at bat, a frustratingly typical tale for Hughes:

Pitch 1- 94-mph fastball-swing and a miss

Pitch 2- 94-mph fastball-called strike

Pitch 3- 94-mph fastball- foul

Pitch 4- 93-mph fastball-called ball

Pitch 5- 82-mph slider- called ball

Pitch 6- 94-mph fastball- deposited into the seats

Hughes struggles to put hitters away and it costs him. In fact, 39% of the plate appearances against Hughes this year have gone to an 0-2 count. (For comparisons sake I looked at the same figure for these pitchers: Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez, Darvish, Moore, Buchholz, Hernandez and Kuroda. Most of them had a figure in the 20′s. Only Verlander and Sanchez were close to Hughes, but both of them were at 35%. Also, the MLB average is 23%.) I don’t know what it would take to transform more of those 0-2 counts into strikeouts, but that is what Hughes needs to figure out if he is ever going to live up to his potential.

And this is one of the biggest questions for the Yankees going forward. What exactly is Phil Hughes? He certainly doesn’t seem to be a top of the rotation pitcher. But it’s also worth noting that he is still only 27 with only 114 starts to his name. Look at Cliff Lee, who didn’t put it all together until 29. Or Annibal Sanchez who has taken it up to a new level at that same age. The Yankees have to decide if Hughes can make that jump and how much they are willing to spend on that bet. It’s just one more tough decision they will have to make in a season full of them.

It’s Getting Ugly

The Yankees took another injury hit today when it was announced that Mark Teixeira will miss 8 to 10 weeks with a wrist injury. That timetable puts him back into the lineup right around the same time Curtis Granderson should return. It’s another blow to a team that does not have the depth to handle a lot of injuries.

Sure, the Yankees weren’t going to re-sign Swisher, who would have been a great player to have right now, but they didn’t have to get to this point. Eric Chavez, a 35-year old player who could play first and third, while really only hitting righty pitching, was allowed to sign with Arizona. Travis Hafner, a 35-year old player who can’t play at all in the field, while hitting only righty pitching, was brought in for roughly the same amount of money. Just in case you were wondering if the Yankees would try Hafner at first now, the answer is still no.

Now, let’s not forget that so far Derek Jeter is only projected to be ready for Opening Day. Phil Hughes has been out for more than 2 weeks and David Robertson felt “tightness” in his pitching shoulder. If I am the Yankees, I drive over to the Dominican WBC Team, kidnap Robinson Cano and put him in bubble wrap for the next four weeks. After that, there are not a lot of positive steps they can take to improve this situation. A panicked trade will most likely hurt more than help, so the Yankees should cross their fingers and hope that someone can step up and show them something. The opportunity is certainly there. But, I leave you to ponder the following Opening Day lineup:

Ichiro-RF

Nunez-SS

Cano-2B

Youkilis-3B

Hafner-DH

Cervelli-C

Gardner-LF

Mesa-CF

Dan Johnson-1B

 

Unfair

Joel Sherman has always been a fairly level-headed voice for reason in the insanity that normally surrounds the Yankees. So, I am a bit surprised by his article this morning about the Yankees being tired of Joba’s “act”. I don’t know if the article was one that was planted by Yankee brass or if it is Sherman’s original thinking, but it strikes me a unfair and incorrect.

Let’s start with the ego part. Does Joba have a huge ego? Does he crave attention? Well most professional athletes have bigger than normal egos, it what helps them rise to the top of their game. I couldn’t begin to say if Joba’s ego is bigger than most or not. What I will say is that the two biggest egos in the history of the Yankees were George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson. Both of those guys have plaques hanging in Yankee Stadium (one of them has a ridiculously-sized one) so I don’t think egos are something the Yankees really worry about.

So what are they worried about? Probably the fact that they had three highly-ranked prospects and none of them developed into a frontline starter for the Yankees. They jettisoned Ian Kennedy in a trade. Phil Hughes is still trying to establish himself and then there is Joba. I have a feeling that if you administered truth serum to the Yankees they would admit that they blew it with Joba. They panicked when they turned to him in 2007 as a bullpen arm and then they started messing with him in 2009 to keep his innings down. Through his first 20 starts of 2009 he was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Once they started messing with his innings he fell apart posting a 7.74 ERA over his last 11 starts. Those were the last 11 starts he would make as a Yankee. He moved to the pen full-time in 2010 to protect his arm, got hurt in 2011 and the rest is history.

In light of all of that can you blame him for saying he wants to be a starter? He was fairly good at it once and then there is the money aspect. Starters get big money in free agency, so do closers, but middle relievers do not. Joba knows that and he knows that the next contract he signs will be for a fraction of the amount he once thought he would get. I can’t blame him for being unhappy about that.

The First Crack in the Armor

Word today out of Yankee camp is that Phil Hughes has a bulging disc in his upper back. The Yankees seem to think he will miss only two weeks. I’m not so sure.

Back discs are strange things. I’ve see a number of people go through bulging discs. One had surgery, one had shots, one had only physical rehabilitation. The one thing all three of them had in common was that it took a lot longer than two weeks for them to get back to normal. We can look into recent Yankee history and see that Alfredo Aceves never made it off the DL when he came down with a bulging disc in May of 2010. (BTW- I guess we know why the Yankees DFA’ed Aceves, he’s quite crazy.)

Now, none of this means that Hughes is destined to miss the season or anything so dire, but it exposes the Yankees’ lack of depth. If Ivan Nova returns to his early-2012 form and David Phelps pitches like he did last year, the Yankees could survive the loss of Hughes. But what happens if a second starter goes down? And even more concerning, what happens if a position player goes down?