Thursday, April 22, 2010

Young Pitching

Ironically, before Hughes took a no-hitter into the 8th inning and turned in his best performance as a Major League starter, he was going to be part of my analysis on a post more focused on Joba. We'll have to work him in a bit more now.

Joba Chamberlain got the key out of the game Tuesday night. He came in with 2 outs in the 7th, the bases loaded, and the Yankees holding a 7-3 lead to face Oakland's clean-up hitter, Kevin Kouzmanoff, the tying run. He promptly disposed of him in four pitches, trying to check his swing on a nasty slider. Crisis averted. He came back out to pitch a 1-2-3 8th, striking out two more and looking as dominant as he has since perhaps 2007.

I have long been a proponent that any young pitcher that you think has the chance to be a productive starter should be allowed to start until he proves that he can't. Then you send him to the bullpen. I think there is a part of that analysis I have ignored, however. That is the team seeing something about the pitcher to make them believe he can't be a productive starter, or at least a far, far more productive reliever, before he gets the full chance to prove himself in the rotation one way or the other. There are a lot of people in the Yankees' organization that know Joba way better than any of us do. There are also a lot of people in the Yankees' organization that know way more about baseball and pitching than we do. So perhaps they don't need to wait to see exactly what the results are going to be. Maybe they see things that, while not totally conclusive, they think are strongly indicative of a pitcher being a starter or reliever. Not just with Joba, but with any pitcher.

As it pertains to Joba, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the disparity between his pitching out of the bullpen and his pitching out of the rotation. At least since 2008. His stuff is better. He's beyond confident all the way to arrogant, and I don't mind arrogant because it's a level above confidence, and confidence is so critical. After he K'd Kouzmanoff he walked off the mound like it was no biggie. Went right after him in a huge spot. Last year in the rotation he was nibbling no matter what the situation it seemed, at least most of the time. For the first time ever - and I'm still quite hesitant - there is a part of me that is thinking maybe he just belongs in the bullpen. I know there is a lot of conventional wisdom that still says he should get more of a chance to start, and I still agree with that. But as I said, it's becoming harder and harder to ignore what he's doing in the pen.

Regarding that conventional wisdom, what Phil Hughes is doing out of the rotation in this young season is only further proof that Joba should get more of a chance to start. I understand most - including myself and the Yankees, it seems - think Hughes is going to be a better starter long term. But just because one looks like he is going to be better doesn't mean you don't need the other one, who could also be really good. And who knows what happens with another year or two of development. Joba had shown just as many flashes in the rotation as Hughes had prior to this year.

The point is, everyone who wanted to give up on Hughes when he was 21, 22 years old and struggling should drop and do 20 push ups. This is not to say that Hughes is going to be off to the races because of two good starts. It's just to say that you'd have to not be paying attention to see the improvement he's been making over time. He's taken the mentality he learned in the bullpen and applying it in the rotation. That is to say he's being more aggressive, something he needed to work on as a starter. Young pitchers tend to have things to work on. The idea is that they work on them and try to improve upon them. Hughes is doing it in front of our eyes. Joba can as well.

There is definitely the possibility that the Yankees' are letting their preference for Hughes in the rotation impact Joba. If this is accurate - and I have no idea - it should not be the case. It's all about the team, but when developing something as important as pitching, decisions should largely be made separately for each player. I understand everything works together with a roster, but with these two specifically if they can both start the Yankees need both of them to be starters down the line, and one should not be thought of as a reliever because there is a need for the other in the rotation right now. Again, I have no idea if this is the case, the Yankees may just think Joba belongs in the bullpen, and if they see something to make them believe that they are most in the know. At the same time, you can't bring Andy Pettitte back on one year deals forever. You need to develop young starting pitching as much as possible.

Regarding Hughes tonight, he was just awesome. By my count nine of his ten strikeouts were on fastballs or cutters. That goes back to attacking. And he should be attacking because, as everyone says, he has one of those special fastballs that has natural late life, making it tougher get good wood on. His curveball is also outstanding, and when he's that aggressive with his fastball/cutter, mixing the curve in makes him that much better. That was the case tonight. Of course you want to see him keep building from here, and most importantly be able to put together a full, healthy season in the rotation. But he's off to quite a start from which to build. The only way you can describe his demeanor right now is determined. He looked downright furious to not have been able to finish this game himself, which is the attitude you want to see.

The Yankees are now 11-3, have won 6 in a row, and 9 of their last 10. Importantly the starter has picked up the win in each of the last 6 games. When you're turning the rotation over like that you're usually going to be in good shape. Hopefully they can stay healthy and keep it going.

The Red Sox are going to be tough to beat at home, as always. Despite the Tampa Bay series, the last two nights have told us that. Tampa is one of the best teams in baseball, so they are unique anyway. When one of the not best teams in baseball is visiting, the Red Sox are going to dominate. Their roster is built to score there, as we were reminded of the last two nights where they won on walk-off hits from righties that would have been routine pop-ups anywhere else. And that's not a knock, that's how it is. Based on their play at Fenway alone, especially against lesser caliber teams, they are going to be in the hunt. They'll play well enough against the top competition and on the road to live off of beating up on everyone else at Fenway.


from the bronx said...

hughes last night was terrific. terrific. glad to see him back healthy pitching well out of the rotation.

but last night was a perfect example of how the yankees are getting it wrong with joba. pat, as you said, everyone wanted to give up on hughes because he struggled at first, but he was still just a kid in need of time to sort it all out. going forward, he's probably still going to have quite a few bumps before he settles in. but the same scenario arguably exists with joba. the guy has very little time in the majors as a starter, and as you've spent time chronicling on this site he's been jerked around and mishandled by the yankees organization and he's been injured, and as i've pointed out he doesn't have his head on straight. is anyone surprised he's better out of the pen where he doesn't need to be as fit then he is out of the rotation where he needs to be stronger?

but i would also argue that joba as a starter showed glimpses of brilliance in 2008... before he got shut down that year he was one of the best starters in the league. but everyone wants to see some maniac come running out of the bullpen and pump his fists in April, so now he's in the pen. what really needs to happen is for everyone to just calm down, learn to be patient and give joba time to mature and develop. he spent barely any time in the minors and was rushed to the majors in a non-ideal way. he still needs a lot of polish, the way hughes did.

TimC said...

I agree with the idea that young pitchers need two thing the most; time and reps (some would argue that those two ideas are the same thing, but I disagree).

I see time as being equated with an organization's patience. A young pitcher will struggle and a young pitcher, particularly one of Joba or Hughes's talent, will have weeks or months where they do not perform at a major-league level. With time, a pitcher can ride out these fluctuations and develop into a solid veteran player.

Reps refer to getting into situations that help a pitcher grow. Since the act of throwing off a mound to a catcher can be replicated in the minors, a young pitcher going to the majors needs certain situations to differentiate the reps. Pennant races, tough road environments, and dealing with the press through difficult times are all good reps that pitchers need to develop into solid veterans.

The problem with the Joba/Hughes situation is that they both came up, along with Kennedy, in an organization that I feel is pretty low (historically) on 'time' and has an unusually high level of stress associated with their 'reps'. With three pitchers coming up like that, the Yankees were handcuffed because giving those guys the starts needed to develop in such a tough division would have been very difficult to pull off if they wanted to continue winning (as they do every year). Plus, the few chances they did get were multiplied by the New York factor. When things go bad in these situations, they go BAD, and quick.

In situations where multiple young talents are promoted to a big-market, playoff-level club, I think the team has to make a tough decision. Do they give the players the time and reps needed to continue the development process, or do they focus on winning and try to squeeze the young guys in where they can? It can be easy to say that the club needs to be patient with young talent but when the risk of missing the playoffs is factored in the idea of a youth-laden rotation can be intimidating. I think looking back at the Yankees situation the criticism I would make is that they probably should have gone with one guy as a starter and either traded the other guys or moved them, for good, to the bullpen. This might not maximize the future return on these players but given the Yankees' unique situation in baseball it would have been the best move.

the gm at work said...

At some point we all have to realize that we're not talking about the freaking Oakland A's here. The Yankees really don't have to protect their resources like Joba Chamberlain that much. I mean, as nasty as it is to say, do you think the Seibu Lions were concerned with maximizing the length of Daisuke Matsuzaka's career when they had him? No. They're trying to make that paper. Same with the Yankees: Chamberlain probably could/could have be/en a tremendous bullpen asset for 6-8 years. Do they care whether he can throw a ball at age 38? Probably not.

Plus, the part about the Yankees not being the Oakland A's, it's not like if they someday have a hole in their rotation because Chamberlain's a reliever and Kennedy sucks, they can't just patch it up in the trade or free agent market.

This whole issue is a lot more relevant if we were talking about the A's or the Devil Rays.

Patrick said...

ftb -

i agree with everything you're saying. i feel the same way. what i'm starting to come around on, however (and i'm not there), is the idea that there may be situations where an organization doesn't need to wait and see results in the rotation to know that person is better served in the pen. something like sustainability of delivery in conjunction with body type, etc. most of us are of the mind that we should always exhaust someone's opportunity to show us they can pitch in the rotation. i know i am. but maybe there are times that an organization sees something earlier, and that process would be both fruitless and a waste of time. i'm not saying this is the case with joba. he showed me things in both 2008 and 2009 that said he could be a very productive starter one day. i'm saying i'm coming around to the idea that maybe the yankees see something or know something that we don't, and therefore don't need to give him every chance to start. he hasn't had much of a chance, and maybe the yankees have a legitimate reason for that besides what we and the media speculate. if that's the case, i would feel less strongly about my "exhaust their opportunity to start" viewpoint.

timc -

outstanding. i've talked about the yankees' unique situation before (trying to develop young talent with growing pains while winning at the highest level at all times - two things that are very far from hand in hand in most situations). i think all of your points are accurate, and very interesting regarding time and reps, a distinction i agree with and also agree both are important.

regarding your last point, kennedy helped net them granderson, and that was a good usage of trading talent as you mentioned. however i would not go as far as trading the other two or needing to have them have defined ultimate roles. in most instances this lack of definition was because of the yankees' unique position. they were doing what they thought was best in terms of balancing winning now and developing pitching, and although i was very critical at times of the way they went about that process, as i've since said it did result in a 2009 world series that hughes and joba both played a big role in, so it's difficult to argue with that element of the results. in almost every other organization these guys just would have been doing what we talked about above - starting and starting until they either prove they can or can't start. so regarding time and patience as they pertain to winning, i don't think there is a perfect answer or formula. and that goes for everyone not just the yankees.

Patrick said...

gm -

in theory yes. but in practice no. and that's because of the expectations. from a resources perspective, yes, it is more important for oakland or tampa bay. but those teams aren't trying to/able to win every year. that's what the yankees are tying to do. this is not the best time to make this argument, because they have been able to assemble a good rotation adding 3 new arms through free agency and trade the last 2 years. however, it is important to remember how much they struggled to find pitching through those markets from 2004-2008. a pitcher of CC sabathia's caliber (and let's not kid ourselves, he's the biggest rotation difference maker among the three imports we are talking about here) comes on the free agent market at his age once every...10 years? i'm sure it's less than that, but not by a ton. so if you want to win every year like the yankees do, you have to develop pitching. and that's before you even get to the issue of saving resources there to spend elsewhere, as starting pitching is by far the most expensive thing there is. i know the yankees won without doing it this way in a lot of those years i mentioned, but (1) it was often a struggle, with a lot of reliance on the offense and (2) related, because they relied so heavily on their offense they were ill suited for the playoffs. that's not what the yankees are tying to do.

the gm at work said...


Hate to mess with you regarding technicalities (oh wait, yes I do), but isn't the former Astro/HGH user also technically an "import?" 80% of the rotation was acquired from another team through the free agent market.

Look, the Mets recovered from Generation K being a bust in the 1990s through free agency and further minor league development. At least for the first five months of many seasons in the 2000s. That's because they have deep pockets. As do the Yankees. So they can utilize their homegrown talent in a slightly-less inefficient way than other teams can. What I'm saying is that keeping Chamberlain permanently in the bullpen is probably an okay option.

the gm said...

*free agent market or trade.

Patrick said...

i agree with that danny. technically you are correct on pettitte, and that is a unique situation with the constant 1 year deals for his production, which the yankees are not likely to find again which is just another reason to develop more pitching.

there is no question the yankees can afford to be less efficient. if we were strictly talking about efficiency, then the yankees can make up for a lot. i thought we were talking about the yankees really not needing to be efficient at all, not how they could be less efficient relative to some of the other teams. that's definitely a truth.

they still need to be efficient though. because as i've said before, in this post, in this thread, and in this comment the yankees are in at least two unique situations. (1) sabathia - just not going to find starters like that on the regular in free agency. (2) pettitte - major luxury to be able to bring back an above-average lefty on one year deals, meaning maximum reward with very little risk. you need young, cheap pitching to avoid having to rely on this stuff all the time, which will not be easy. the yankees have realized that, which is why they have become more efficient developing their pitching. i don't think they plan on stopping here, and they shouldn't. the question is how you balance that with the constant expectation of winning the world series every year, which is not easy to accomplish at the same time. hence how joba has been handled.