Pitching, bullpen and depth are still problems

THE LAWS HAVE CHANGED
The timing of today’s installment is brought to you by the drive-through line at the local major pharmacy chain store. I suppose there’s no rule book that establishes basic courtesy for the drive-through line, but “drive-through,” taken as literally as you can take it under the circumstances, suggests you drive through, without stopping if that were possible — just roll down the window and the clerk heaves the bag at you. Anything transaction takes would seem to require more standing around than that should require a trip inside the store. It’s just common sense and a bit of courtesy. If you need to discuss the history of Western civilization with the pharmacist, park it. You won’t be idling up clouds of exhaust while holding hostage those who just want to pick up or drop off a prescription. Think about it: would you order French fries for 100 at the McDonald’s drive-through? Better yet, would you ask for a treatise on the potato starting with the primal atom, then order? If you’re guilty of this, please turn yourself in immediately.

REVIEWING THE LAST ENTRY (WITH A FEW REACTIONS TO THE COMMENTS)

I missed a day due to a bad reaction to some medication — I know I’ve quoted Mickey Mantle’s “Kid, don’t be like me” many times before, but it’s worth saying again. Not everyone chooses how they get cancer, and I sure as heck ain’t complaining about surviving it, but my time is no longer my own, ironically so I can be sure of having more time. Hey, you over there! Drop that cigarette! This is not a lifestyle you want to choose! Got it? I’m begging you here. Anyway, that gave the last post a chance to sit around while the Yankees won their seventh straight game in grand style. Before we get to that, stats for the winning streak: .271/.358/.521 for the offense, with 13 home runs, one every 18.2 at-bats. The batters have also picked up a walk every 8.9 plate appearances — the league is taking a pass just once every 11 PAs. On the pitching side, the club has allowed just 21 runs in its last 66 innings.

After five straight wins, I wrote (as you can see below) that it wasn’t yet conclusive that the Yankees had turned a major corner (is there such a thing as a minor corner?). You can pull five games out of any team’s schedule and get a picture of that team that isn’t necessarily accurate, even — or especially — if they are all wins or losses. As the old saying goes, you never look as good as when you’re at your best or as bad as you do when you’re at your worst. Now, since I wrote those words, the Yankees have tacked on another two wins to make it seven straight victories, and those doubts can be eased a bit. And yet, yet, yet, the walks by the pitching staff, the bullpen, the lack of depth are all problems that the team will have to overcome in more than seven games, but over the rest of the season.

Pointing this out isn’t negativity, it isn’t pessimism, it’s your humble old commentator trying to do more than cast runes and read chicken entrails. I’m all for feeling good and going with the flow and enjoying it while it lasts, but I don’t like being taken by surprise, particularly when it’s my job not to be taken by surprise. As such, my method has to be to take theories like, “The Yankees have won seven in a row, so it’s a straight line from here to the next championship” and test them looking for strengths and weaknesses. I figure out what I can, then report back to you so you can test your judgment against mine.

Speaking of which, “4everbronx” says, “Whew, it’s a good thing they didn’t lose those games…What would your reaction have been?”

Almost the same. One-run games are, on the cosmic level, coin flips. This seems especially true when a team’s bullpen is as questionable as the Yankees’ pen has been to this point. If we were talking about a hypothetical pen with Bruce Sutter handing off to Rollie Fingers handing off to Dennis Eckersley (or maybe even Jeff Nelson to Mike Stanton to Mariano Rivera), I would be more accepting of these games as indicators of a repeatable skill on the part of the club. Perhaps now that Brian Bruney is back they will be. For the most part, though, when you look over the history of the game, one-run decisions aren’t something you can extrapolate from.

mark_bible_blog_052009.jpgObviously it is better for the Yankees to have won these seven games than not, but prior to that they weren’t exactly burning up the league. The Yankees have played 39 games, not seven, and those other 32, however mixed the results, can’t be totally discounted. If the Yankees of the last seven games are substantially different from the Yankees of the previous month’s worth of games, we have to be able to articulate why. I can give you two reasons, actually: A-Rod is back, and Mark Teixeira is finally hot (Teixeira claims the two are not unrelated). However, that doesn’t address the pitching side of the equation.

Despite this, as I suggested in that last entry, some will want to view this winning streak as a matter of character. A seemingly irate “yankee apologist” writes: “As a D-1 college baseball player whose career was derailed by injury I can tell you first hand or anyone else who ever played the game at a high level a win is a win no matter how it happens. If you don’t think that these wins have anything to do with grit and a never say die attitude coupled with some big hits from some key guys (damon, arod) then you’re not watching. If u think damon and arod were the beneficiaries of wind aided homers then that’s a joke. These wins build character and ingrain the players’ minds that this can happen for them at anytime they are trailing late.”

Apologist, I completely buy the last line quoted above. It clearly does and has helped the mood around the team. That the players believe that this is a repeatable thing no doubt helps them repeat it — sometimes. We know, though, that it’s not repeatable all the time or even frequently. Come-from-behind wins in baseball are far more rare than is commonly thought. As such, while winning this way is exciting for everyone, participants and observers alike, it’s not the easiest way to win. Oh, and your saying, “i know u love to call out commenters for bad grammer and spelling and what not, but im so stoned on valium i dont care to spell check, so ridicule me if u want, but ill soon have a law degree so im kinda smart” is perhaps the single best thing that anyone has ever written to me in the ten years the Pinstriped Bible has existed.  

As long as we’re delving into the comments, there are a couple on F. Cervelli to take before we close for now. “Paulp15” asks, “So Steve, have to reconsidered Cervelli yet? Or maybe I should ask if you feel you have enough to base an evaluation on him yet? Personally, I think he’s better than Molina, and has shown the ability to lay down a sacrifice, which would be fine for the bottom of the order.” Paulp, I like him better than Jose Molina and Kevin Cash, that’s for sure. Still, it’s bad practice to get carried away by 27 at-bats and 10 singles. It’s certainly better that he’s hitting .370 than if he was hitting .270 or .170, but it’s .370 with no power and no walks, and I promise you he’s not a legitimate .370 hitter. Except for the occasional Wade Boggs or Tony Gwynn, no one is. The question then becomes, when he stops hitting .370, what does he have left to give? This is also, to a lesser extent, the Robby Cano question. With Cervelli, his very limited minor league track record shows very limited power but some selectivity, so you hope that there will indeed be something useful in his bat, but you’d like to see him actually do it. It’s still too early to come to any conclusions, especially optimistic ones. O
n defense, I have no complaints — he’s thrown very well and has been an athletic, active, mobile presence.

7 Comments

I understand what you are saying and those of us who have been around a while know that bad teams can look good for a 2 week period as good teams can look pretty bad. We can also take this further and say that good / great players can look pretty bad for a month or two and so on. If nothing else it looks like some of the players on the Yankees who should be preforming are starting to preform, and there is no reason to think that these players will not keep it up. So at least it would seem that it is probable that this team will be at the very least somewhat competitive, and if all goes well, a pretty team.

Steven – keep the faith and good luck beating the cancer. My husband is one year cancer free today. It is a long road – but you can do it.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

PB said:
Oh, and your saying, “i know u love to call out commenters for bad grammer and spelling and what not, but im so stoned on valium i dont care to spell check, so ridicule me if u want, but ill soon have a law degree so im kinda smart” is perhaps the single best thing that anyone has ever written to me in the ten years the Pinstriped Bible has existed.

Is that a good thing??

I certainly don’t think that these walk offs and come from behind wins are the norm, and understand that more than not the outcome will go the other way ending in defeat. I wouldn’t have to chew up Valium like tick tacks if the team could win a few like they have the last couple of days, pitch well then throw up a huge crooked number. While I enjoy the dramatic ending as much as anybody, I’m sure we all agree we’d like to see the yanks pound everyone 8-2 more than comeback late. I’m with you on the absurdity of the thought that seven in a row is an automatic trip to the World Series. Its only May and way early so things can change over time. But after getting beaten by Boston and Tampa 4 straight in the variety that they did to the Twins, its nice to see them play well on the road and carry it over to the home stand.

A few things:

1- I like Cervelli a lot, way more than Molina based on the fact that Cervelli seems to be the equal of Molina as a defender as well as Cervelli’s ability to actually move around in an athletic manner (not to mention his willingness to take the BB here and there). It doesn’t matter if Cervelli hits, cause Molina doesn’t. Any possible way Cervelli sticks when Posada and Molina are deemed healthy? You think there is a possibility that Cervelli’s play and performance has made Molina expendable to the point where we wont see him again at least on this team, either via trade or release?

2- Hughes: I like him a lot and see big things from him for the next 10 years. What to do with Hughes? his 5IP 6H 3ER 1BB 9K looked awfully good. I thought he threw the ball much much better than his line and should have been sent out to pitch the 6th. That aside, do you send him back to AAA to pitch in a place he has proven he can dominate, or do you move him to the bullpen and try creative ways to get him meaningful innings? I’m not advocating Hughes to the pen for the 8th inning or as a set up guy. Its just that what more can he do in AAA? I’m not really sure what the yanks will do or what they should do. Its clear Hughes has a boat load of talent, but should he be starting in AAA and accumulating innings and be in a position to get called up for the various Joba rotation skip or injury fill-in? Should he be in the pen working on his ability to get big league hitters out? It’s all a moot point if Wang comes back and pitches, well like the Wang of 09.

3- Lastly, when does the club figure out Veras is an arsonist and they might as well have Robertson and Melancon pitching those innings as they actually have that thing called upside? Oh, one more thing, Berroa, seriously whats his purpose other than making it apparent that the farm system is completely barren of near ready position players (minus AJax)?

One more (for real this time) keep writing and I’ll keep reading. After the past semester of reading Federal Income Tax Code and Tax Case law I need my fix of Yankee stuff for the summer, desperately. Keep up the good work.

Steve,

Assuming the Joba-to-bullpen cheerleaders are more quiet now that he has been their second best starter through 2 months… Wang is scheduled to come back soon. Rather than sending Hughes back down to the minors, should they put him in the bullpen? Sure, if he’s good, we’ll have to hear the keep-him-in-the-bullpen fights next season if there is room in the rotation for him. But it seems worth it.

The only reason I could see this as a bad thing is if he could be spending the time in AAA working on a 3rd pitch…

Steven, I love your blog and I appreciate and look forward to your updates every few days or so. I noticed a few other commenters have written asking about Phil Hughes and the hypothetical look at shifting him to bullpen duties for a time (and I presume that time would consist mostly of long relief). What is the downside to having a kid who has been (and for the forseeable future will be) groomed as a starting pitcher take a few innings out of the bullpen? The game experience may not be the same as for a starter, but when you start a new job at a company, are you not given a tour of the entire operation, to implement a sense of empathy for how your job and your performance affects the rest of the company? That’s what I see a potential situation such as this as being, on-the-job training of sorts. Relief work has the potential of giving a starter the view of the game after the starter has done (or, conversely, not done) his job. The pressure on a reliever is often not all his own. Most times, he has been handed a lemon and told to somehow get the lemonade in the glass, and make it taste good. I think that pressure and those situations could potentially awaken the sleeping lion in Hughes. I don’t know Hughes personally to say this, but I assume if you ask any young pitcher ‘Would you rather start in Scranton or relieve in the Yankees bullpen?’…most would say keep me up in the majors. One thing I will say is that Hughes undoubtedly has flashes of brilliance, and who is to say that pitching in relief couldn’t get him more in touch with that aggressive fastball and dominance and it that couldn’t help him make that transfer to the anchor in the rotation that has been envisioned (there is another hurler in our rotation who’s been on a similar journey) We could always use another reliable gun in the bullpen, no?

Hey Steve,
Long time reader, first time commenter, yada yada yada. YES always shows Alex’s #’s vs whatever team the yanks are playing against. They are always pretty consistently awesome, something along the lines of .300 35-45hr 100-120 RBI. Is there any AL team that he hasn’t hit well against career wise?

~cc

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