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Yankee Panky: Midway Ramblings

What a weird turn the season has taken through the first 91 games, and specifically over the last two weeks. With the passings first of Bob Sheppard and then of George Steinbrenner and news of the fall that landed Yogi Berra in the hospital, a somber mood has befallen the Yankee Family, which includes us.

There’s a lot on my mind — nothing new there — and I wanted to get it as much of it down as I could, not only for my own cathartic reasons, but also for your reading enjoyment.

Here we go …

* The discussion regarding the fifth starter spot was rendered moot very quickly, Phil Hughes, with an improved cutter and curveball and most importantly, and an Eff-You attitude that he took from his eighth-inning role in ’09, took control in Spring Training and never let go. He won 10 of his first 11 decisions and earned an All-Star appearance. Now, with Andy Pettitte on the shelf and AJ Burnett looking like an extra in “Girl Interrupted” — more on this in a bit — Hughes is effectively the Yankees’ No. 3 starter, maybe even No. 2, depending on your opinion of Javier Vazquez. Yes, even though Hughes got roughed-up last night. 

The question with Hughes now becomes how the Brain Trust wants to handle the Phil Rules. He is supposedly on an innings limit (160 innings? 175? What’s the number?). But what will that do to his effectiveness? Skipping starts to curb innings is likely not the best move, as evidenced by the 10-day break between his home starts in June against the Mets and Mariners. The Yankees need him to be effective in September and October, yes, but they have to figure out a way to do this right.

On WFAN Saturday, Steve Phillips, commenting on the Cardinals’ management of prospective NL Rookie of the Year Jaime Garcia, said Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are not taking chances with Garcia; they’re not allowing him to start the seventh inning when he has a big lead. The Yankees can learn from that with Hughes. Skipping starts, especially as the pennant race heats up, could be devastating to both the Yankees’ chances and to Hughes’s development. Look what happened to the Tigers and Rick Porcello last year. Porcello was skipped several times over August and September as a means of preservation for the stretch run. He pitched well in the one-game playoff against Minnesota, but then this year had a miserable start and was optioned to Toledo in mid-June. He’s back with the team now amid rumors he’ll be packaged in a trade? Do the Yankees want to take that chance with Phil Hughes? Probably not.

* The bullpen. Or can we call it the bulls–t? We’re back to 2008, 2007, or any year since 2003 that the Yankees didn’t go deep into October where the biggest question surrounded the bit players on the path to Mariano Rivera. Boone Logan? A LOOGY that can’t LOOG. Chan Ho Mer? Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Damaso Marte? He’s been inconsistent at best, and now he’s on the DL, retroactive to Saturday the 17th, with shoulder inflammation. Chad Gaudin and Sergio Meat Tray? Mark Melancon coming up from Scranton? Yikes. The best option for a bridge might be to extend David Robertson into a type of role that Rivera held in ’96, thanks to the travails of …

… Joba Chamberlain. What can be said that hasn’t been said already? Longtime Banterers know that I was a proponent of him staying in the bullpen two years ago, and the experiment with him as a starter was only going to be a path to ruin. A fantastic thread started by one of my former YES colleagues on Facebook yielded some sharp criticism and sound arguments, both for and against the merits of Mr. Nebraska. Heading into the break, his ERA was above 5.00 and BAA was .282. “Not set-up man numbers,” as my colleague put it. I went so far as to say he’s turned into a cross between Kyle Farnsworth (plus fastball but would rather throw his slider), and Hideki Irabu (“Fat Toad” level athleticism and plus fastball that has no movement). I was stunned to see his name was not included in the Yankees’ package that nearly landed Cliff Lee.

With the questions now surfacing about potential deadline pickups &#151 Dan Haren, Roy Oswalt, Ben Sheets and Brett Myers have all been rumored — I wonder if Joba is just broken and that the best solution would be to trade him now while he’s still young and his value is such that he’s a major-league ready commodity. Trading Joba would be an admission of failure on the part of the Yankees, yes, but after the way they mismanaged his development — you can argue that this all started in ’07 when based on a similar need, they turned him into a reliever and rushed him through the system — it may be the only option.

* DISCLAIMER: If you don’t like politics mixed with your sports or sports in your politics, skip this bullet.

Where was/is the local media’s coverage of the situation in Arizona surrounding Yankees and Mets players and front-office personnel of Latino origin, their reactions to State Bill 1070 and next year’s All-Star Game (I confess, I was en route back to NY last Tuesday and didn’t see the All-Star Game and don’t know if it was covered on the FOX telecast. Was it?)? Outside of a May 1 report in the New York Times citing Mets catcher Rod Barajas’s opposition to the law and a NY Daily News report from Andy Martino published today about Carlos Beltran’s vow to boycott next year’s All-Star Game if he’s selected, there hasn’t been much. I didn’t see any reports questioning the Latino Yankees, the Yankees’ travel secretary or anyone within the organization about concerns over the law, which pending the decision of two hearings to be held on July 22, will go into effect on July 29. At the All-Star media day, Alex Rodriguez, when asked about it, quickly diverted the question, saying, “Wrong guy.”

Fact is, there’s a wealth of information on the topic, from the position taken by the MLBPA, to statements made by Adrian Gonzalez, Yovani Gallardo (who was later silenced) and the differing opinions of Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa. An opposition web site entitled movethegame.org has been created petitioning fans to urge Commissioner Bud Selig to move the game. Supporters of keeping the game at Chase Field, or keeping any major sporting event in Arizona, cite the economic effect a boycott would have, particularly on the amount of Latino workers in area restaurants and hotels.

Selig, for his part, is playing the way he should. The catch, and one reason why he may not even be able to move the game if he wants is that one of his bosses is Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kendrick helped bankroll the campaign of governor Jan Brewer and is helping to finance other Republicans who support the bill, even though he’s taken the opposite stance publicly.

Honestly, I don’t care what happens to the All-Star Game. Last week’s game was the lowest-rated ever. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters, at least for this excerpt, is that for the most part, the local media dropped the ball on a major story.

* Injuries. Numerous reports have surfaced citing the Yankees’ intention to fill Andy Pettitte’s void with Sergio Meat Tray. In fact, GM Brian Cashman said the following: “I’m not looking for starting pitching. I don’t feel compelled. This is why we have Sergio Mitre.” For six or seven starts, it may not be a bad thing, but do you want to have to rely on your bullpen — a bullpen that’s spotty at best — that much at such a critical juncture? Additional reports have the Yankees scouting Kevin Gregg (maybe they should talk to Lou Piniella?), lefty Scott Downs (an interesting option with Marte out), and Joakim Soria (closer experience, could thrive in setup role and take some heat off of Rivera).

* The pennant race will be a three-team sprint to the finish. The Red Sox will get healthy and make a run, and the Rays will remain dangerous due to their rotation depth. Here’s where the Yankees have a tremendous advantage over both teams, and I haven’t seen it reported enough: the schedule is in the Yankees’ favor. Sure, they play the Red Sox and Rays another 10 times each and the AL East and Wild Card will likely be decided in those 20 meetings. The caveat to the schedule: the Yankees do not have to travel farther west than Arlington, Texas (twice), over the last two months of the season. The Rays, meanwhile, have one West Coast trip (a 7-gamer in mid-August), and the Red Sox are in the midst of a 10-game West Coast swing and have another six-game stretch out West from September 10-15. The Yankees have kvetched over the years about how the schedule makers have not treated them well. Here’s an opportunity for them to take advantage of a break.

It’s going to be a fun ride to October. And it’s going to be even more fun reading, watching and listening.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 21, 2010 11:18 am

Man, nobody loves them some Joba no mo, huh?

2 monkeypants   ~  Jul 21, 2010 11:22 am

[0] and the experiment with him as a starter was only going to be a path to ruin.

Isn't this a bit of revisionist history, given that he was a starter in college and in the minors. Rather, it was experiment to throw him into the pen in 2007. In retrospect, of course, but I think *that* was the great mistake.

3 Jon DeRosa   ~  Jul 21, 2010 11:35 am

[2] Yeah, I agree. My mom said, "Joba is a guy that should not be made to think to hard."

One interesting way to look at it: each change has resulted in worse performance, relative to his last time ih that specific role.

2007 > 2008 (rel) > 2009 (rel) > 2010
2008 (sp) > 2009 (sp)

And from what we hear about how he was dealing in MiLB in 2007 as a starter, we could maybe bet that 2007 (MiLB sp) > 2008 (sp).

No matter which way he turns, he produces less.

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Jul 21, 2010 11:38 am

developing joba has been like having a sand castle tower crumble through your fingers.

you're trying to preserve something of the original, but each added tweak brings more sand to the ground until you're left with nothing more than an unrecognizable lump.

5 Diane Firstman   ~  Jul 21, 2010 11:45 am

Tyler Kepner tweets this little piece of coincidence/synchronicity:

ARod's 500th HR came off KC's Kyle Davies at home on a Saturday. He's at 598 now and will face KC's Kyle Davies at home this Saturday.

6 Paul   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:01 pm

[2] Yeah, that's one seriously ill-informed opinion that also ignores any pretense of actual facts.

[4] Developing? Unfortunately they did no such thing. It was Bizarro Developing. It's like if you ever want to develop a pitcher, look at what the Yankees did with Joba and do the opposite. The kid got 15 starts in the minors. Hughes got 60+. And still Joba was a league average in the majors when they gave him the ball as a starter.

Here, for those writers too lazy to look:

Joba as a Starter:

12-7, 4.18 ERA, 221 IP, 206 Ks, 101 BBs

Hard to see that as a "path to ruin". In fact, that would be the 4th starter on this year's team - ahead of two guys making a combined $27 million.

The worst part is they Yanks can't send him to minors after this year. They never developed him and now they'll have no chance. FAIL.

[3] I'll disagree a bit there. His peripherals are just fine (9.9 K/9; 3.2 BB/9). It's his .381 BABIP that suggests he's just been unlucky.

7 Diane Firstman   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:08 pm


throwing a rookie "starter" into the pen isn't always a bad idea (see Price, David).

8 Paul   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:09 pm

I honestly don't know why I bother. Any one who brings up an opinion from two years ago and yet made no attempt in the intervening time to educate themselves has already shown facts are irrelevant. What the hell is it with this country where facts are available in under ten seconds, but opinions that take tens of minutes to bang out can't be bothered with them? We really are doomed to Sarah Palin in 2012. She's the perfect embodiment of our "democratic" discourse. Meanwhile, the quiet thoughtful dude has to deal with the likes of Andrew Breitbart and Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. My God we're doomed.


9 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:10 pm

Joba has been as much victim as disappointment. He has been booted around since he's been on the team...the Joba Rules. Remember last year, he had three solid victorious starts after the ASB, and hopefullly can make that kind of performance again. He needs to go back to the minors (if that option is still contractually open) and get stretched out and right. He has the stuff, he just needs the mental ability. Hanging around AJ is not helping him. He will not be worth spit to the team, or the trade market unless he exhibits some type of ability again.

Of course we fans are disillusioned with him, Joba held such promise and is now damaged goods that we cannot get behind. Sad for him, and you can see it in his face and body language when he pitches, and he has let himself go fitness-wise.

He stated publicly that he would pick up towels in the club house, if that is what is needed for the team. Well, for the teams sake, and his own...get thee to Wilkes-Barre.

10 Paul   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:14 pm

[7] As a one-off to control innings? Sure, why not. The problem is too many people fell in love with the grunt and fart routine as teh greatness setup guy, including those with the power to actually decide something. Hughes showed he was a great setup guy. Let's move him back there! But first, let's give him eight starts of unknown length. I mean, why have a guy throw 6 innings at a time when he can throw one!

11 Paul   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:15 pm

"if that option is still contractually open"

It's not. Three years in the majors means he has to pass through waivers.

12 Paul   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:24 pm

Here's a fun comp for those who are interested in facts:

Prospect A: 19-12, 46 GS, 4.69 ERA, 247 IP, 205 K, 91 BB
Prospect B: 12-7, 43 GS, 4.18 ERA, 221, 206 K, 101 BB

That's how each pitching prospect began their major league careers as starters. It's close, but which looks to be the better prospect?

Prospect A = Phil Hughes
Prospect B - Joba Chamberlain

Clearly, Hughes belongs in the pen because his record as a starter has been a "path to ruin". Setup Guy!111!

13 monkeypants   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:24 pm

[8] We really are doomed to Sarah Palin in 2012. She’s the perfect embodiment of our “democratic” discourse. Meanwhile, the quiet thoughtful dude has to deal with the likes of Andrew Breitbart and Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. My God we’re doomed.

Come on, man...review the posting guidelines and lay off the political stuff.

14 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:26 pm

[11] I'm sure there is a way to protect him while still sending him down.

So what does this all mean? Cashman, Girardi, and Eiland can't develop young pitchers correctly? Hughes was almost ruined too.

15 monkeypants   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:32 pm

[7] Diane, I generally agree that young pitchers can and should be broken in via the BP, especially for multiple innings (see also Santana, Johan). I only meant that in hindsight, in my view, it was a mistake to throw Joba into the pen where he quickly became THE EIGHTH INNING GUY.

First, 2007 and even the start of 2008 created unrealistic expectations, which in turn fueled impatience on the part of fans, media, and (I am beginning to think) the organization. In addition, I wonder more and more if Joba-as-late-inning-reliever has stunted his development as a pitcher. Lastly, and related to the first two, the team has frittered away precious development time with him, all the while setting themselves up to be dependent on him in the late innings...both have made it difficult if not impossible to send him to AAA.

So now they are stuck. They don't dare try "stretching" him into a starter during the season, they can't really send him to AAA (or a re simply unwilling to), and they increasingly do not trust him in the eighth inning (it seems, if I judge recent comments by Girardi)...and, frankly, they are not in a good position to trade him because they would be selling low.

Now, all this being said, I will be the first to admit that I never would have predicted the way things would turn out, at least as of mid 2008. I am simply observing, from the secure vantage point of hindsight, that things *seem* to have turned out badly by bringing Joba up, in desperartion, as a late inning reliever in 2007.

16 Paul   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:34 pm

[13] You're right. I'm sorry if I offended anyone.

[14] Unfortunately, there's not. This is the last year they can send him down without passing him through waivers. What's the chance of that happening? And if they try to pass him through waivers next year, what's the chance any team wouldn't put a claim in?

Joba's development is complete. He's done being a starter. Now he'll pitch 60 innings a year.

17 monkeypants   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:36 pm

[14] Hughes was almost ruined too.

Are you being serious or sarcastic? Hughes' development has been fine, albeit a bit slow. But that mostly had to do with injuries, and perhaps what I still think was silliness of turning HIM into the eighth inning guy last year (we can thank his lowish innings limit this year to that decision last year; now, maybe that won them the World Series...that's debatable).

18 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Jul 21, 2010 12:47 pm

[17] I was being serious and you fleshed out the reasons why, ALMOST being the operative word. Thanks.

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