Phil Franchise feeling the heat

hughes_250.jpgNO PRESSURE, KID
Only Phil Hughes can save the Yankees’ season, or so it seems on the eve of his first start of 2009. It’s a dramatically unfair place for a 23-year-old to be, but somehow, some way, the Yankees need to get this season started. It’s ironic that the Yankees bent over backwards to make Hughes unnecessary this past offseason. They didn’t want to depend on him. Now, until they see consistency from their other starters, not to mention anything at all useful from Chien-Ming Wang, they’ll feel lucky to have him to depend on.

The irony here is that pitching wasn’t necessarily the problem last year. With patience, the Yankees might have continued to mature their youngish staff and gotten by. The offense was the sector that looked to be problematic going into this season. As it turns out, the correct answer is, C: All of the above. As has been the case since the decline of the last dynasty, inattention to depth has beggared the big club and could continue to do so all season long.

That’s the injury front. More interesting is the club’s weird inability to hit with runners in scoring position. As you’ve no doubt heard, the team is hitting .223/.320/.346 in such situations. Robinson Cano, who has been so good overall, has batted .192 with runners on, and he has had more runners on in front of him than any other Yankee. He’s hitting .419 with the bases empty. Johnny Damon has hit .200, Hideki Matsui .125. Damon has come up with 11 runners on third, tied for most on the Yankees, and still has just seven RBIs on the season. The two center fielders have been execrable, with Brett Gardner hitting .143 in 14 at-bats and Melky Cabrera hitting .083 in 12 at-bats. It would help if the club could stay out of double plays. They’ve grounded into 18 in 154 possible opportunities, a slightly above-average rate. Below average would obviously be better. The worst culprit on the Yankees has been Melky Caberera, who has hit into three GDPs in eight possible situations, or 38 percent. The league average is 10 percent. The best is Mark Teixeira, who hasn’t hit into a single twin-killing in 22 opportunities.

This situation is almost certainly transient, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. Playing with the most basic run estimators suggests that the Yankees have failed to score about 10 runs that they might have scored had their hitting with runners on been more representative.

HERE LIES AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER

Steven Jackson sent back to the Minors to make room for Phil Hughes. Eight games and nary a touch. Way to show confidence in the kid, Joe.

THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)

?    It was very odd seeing Barry Bonds calmly chatting in the booth during last night’s Dodgers-Giants game. Having recently read “Game of Shadows,” I was conditioned to believe that he was more likely to kill someone than have a normal conversation.

?    Dexter Fowler looked like he was going to be a valuable player for the Rockies even before he stole five bases off of the Padres on Monday night. Ironically, though he had 101 steals in 334 Minor League games, it didn’t look like baserunning was an area in which he might distinguish himself. Over the last two seasons, he stole 40 bases but was caught 19 times, an unimpressive rate. The last time a Yankee stole five bases in a game? It’s never happened. The Yankees have had a player steal four bases in a game 18 times, most recently Tony Womack in 2005.

?    Scary Fly-Ball Guy Jeff Karstens gave away three baseballs to the Brewers on Monday in just five innings. That’s the problem with being a Scary Fly-Ball Guy: eventually they either have to take you out of the game or risk a national ball shortage.

?    Emilio Bonifacio: now batting .266/.301/.342. Welcome to Replacement Level Theatre.

?    You’d think that former Nats GM Jim Bowden being of such low repute would buy Manny Acta some time in Washington. The mess there isn’t his fault.

?    I find that Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” is kind of depressing for a bouncy pop standard. I like when that happens, when concert-goers are swaying and singing, “La la la life is brutal and unfair!”

?    I know Matt Wieters has barely played, but with Gregg Zaun 6-for-50 and the franchise flailing at the box office (just 10K at Camden last night) can they wait much longer to bring him up?

MORE FROM ME
Today at Baseball Prospectus, in an article open to non-subscribers, I discuss the anxiety problems of 1930s catcher Babe Phelps and compare them to those of someone I’m very close to… Me. 

5 Comments

Steve, I think you’re completely overrating this start.
It would be nice to see Hughes win. But if he lost would you be shocked? I know I wouldn’t.
The games we’re expected to lose are not the big losses. Those are the losses where you were expected to win.

I worry about how much pressure is being put on this young kid. For many people this seems to be a “due or die” game for the Yankees; a lot for any 23 year old to bear.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

Hughes comes through. Alas Devils do not.

I have to say Hughes far exceeded my expectations. A 2-hit shutout through 6 innings is pretty darn exceptional for a young guy. It also happens to be the first shutout for the Yankees this season. He’s set a high bar for himself with this start, its hard to be much better than that the next time he pitches.

Steve – Jeter is batting 350/458/700 with RISP. I know he is washed up and more of a liability than an asset, but it might have been worth a mention in your discussion of batting with RISP . . . 🙂

We can only hope that Hughes continues to pitch well enough to give the Yanks a problem in deciding who their starters should be.

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