Results tagged ‘ Phil Hughes ’

The garden of Halladay

halladay_250_111909.jpgSince new Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos let it be known that he would not object to trading Roy Halladay within the American League East, there has been much speculation about another Yankees-Red Sox competition for the veteran right-hander’s services. If true, this almost ensures that Halladay will be traded in the division, because these are two teams deep in resources who will be motivated to top each other, thus escalating their offers above and beyond what teams outside the division would be willing to offer.

This news is both exhilarating and depressing. The Yankees just won a World Series by leaning on three starters, and their 2010 rotation is unsettled beyond CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Halladay is one of the best starters in the game and an additional asset in new Yankee Stadium given his groundball tendencies. The depressing part is that Halladay will cost a lot, particularly if the Red Sox and other teams are bidding up the price. It would be sad to see Phil Hughes and Jesus Montero blossom in a Blue Jays uniform. Halladay will be 33 next year, while Montero will be 20, so even if Halladay spends the next five years in pinstripes, Montero will still be in his prime for years after the Doc has checked out.

The “other hand” to that is that flags fly forever, and maybe you trade 20 years of Montero for two more World Series appearances with the present group. Perhaps by that time there will be some other Montero around to distract from the 30 homers a year the original is hitting at the Rogers Centre. On yet another hand (the fifteenth hand, I believe), the Yankees’ position players are rapidly aging, and keeping a player like Montero around may help keep them competitive in ways beyond what Halladay might contribute. We’re lost in Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths here.

Were the Yankees to let the cup of Halladay pass from their lips, it might not be a bad thing. The odds are that Hughes or whoever the Yankees might trade won’t develop into a Cy Young pitcher of Halladay’s caliber, but they might, or might be good enough that the Yankees prosper anyway. Hughes will be 24 next year. In seven years he’ll be 31. Seven years from now, Halladay could be on the golf course 12 months a year. Were he to go to the Red Sox it would be a tough thing, as Halladay has pitched very well against the Yankees over the years (though not nearly so well against the Red Sox), but like the Yankees, the Red Sox have problems that Halladay can’t solve; in fact the same problem, an aging roster. The replacements that Theo Epstein trades for Halladay in December he might need by July.

Here’s another argument for trading for Halladay: Commissioner Selig and his umbrella Perkins say that each postseason series will not have 43 days off between games next year, with no series running less than six weeks each. As such, were the Yankees again to make it to October with just three trustworthy starters, Coffee Joe could not get around it by starting the Golden Trio on short rest–that fourth starter would almost certainly come into play. In addition, the same relievers could not be used in every game. If Halladay gives you anything, he gives you length, so he would be a help to any team trying to work through a more reasonable schedule.

And then there’s the Mayan calendar. If that’s right, then none of this matters anyway.

ANGELS PATRONIZED

I’m offended by the notion that what put Mike Scioscia on top for the American League Manager of the Year award is that his team succeeded despite Nick Adenahrt’s death. Adenhart’s death was tragic and futile, and no doubt the young men of the Angels’ organization were deeply affected. That said, I have more faith in the professionalism of the ballplayers on that team, a fairly seasoned lot, than to believe they would have packed it in on April 9 for any reason, no matter how upsetting.

Further, as one who deals with existentially-flavored depression on a fairly regular basis, I find it impossible to believe that any manager, Scioscia, Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Connie Mack, John McGraw, could jolly anyone out of a true bout of sadness. Words just don’t mean that much when you’re staring into the abyss. Nor has anyone said that Scioscia held individual counseling sessions or did anything out of the norm except report to work and keep making out his lineup cards. What else can you do in such a situation except keep playing?

Finally, in the most basic baseball sense of things, the loss of Adenhart was not necessarily something decisive the Angels had to overcome. While he was projected to be a big part of the team, and certainly had talent, he had not yet established himself in the Majors. In the same way that Joba Chamberlain or Hughes has advanced one foot and retreated two, Adenhart might have had steps back in his future. Certainly his Minor League record suggests that would have been the case.

The Angels had many such baseball situations that they had to work through to get to the postseason. Howie Kendrick slumped early. Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter got hurt, as did John Lackey, Ervin Santana and key bullpen piece Scot Shields. Brian Fuentes was always a blown save away from losing his job. At the same time, they were also the only really solid team in a weak division, something you can’t say about Girardi’s Yankees and Terry Francona’s Red Sox, both of which had their own baseball-oriented problems to deal with. They didn’t have to confront death, and that’s something we can all be thankful for, but just because Scioscia’s team did have that occur doesn’t necessarily make him the best manager in the league last year. Treating Adenhart’s untimely demise as an excuse to lionize a manager is both trivializing and exploitative.

MORE OF ME, SORT OF
Last weekend, NPR had a “Write a song” contest. I was too swamped by the Baseball Prospectus annual to do much more than kibbitz about a few words in the item ultimately entered by my songwriting partnership, but perhaps that was a blessing to the song that was ultimately created. If you’re interested in a completely different and heretofore unpublicized aspect of my creative output (as here embodied by my collaborator, Dr. Rick Mohring), you can find it on the scroll list halfway down the page under the name “Casual Observer.” I hope you enjoy listening to our “Carrie and Pierre.”

Sights and sounds from Citizens Bank

COUNTING OUT TIME
You ever see everything wrong with a team come out in one game? There isn’t a lot wrong with the Yankees. The team won 103 games in the regular season and 10 more in the postseason so far. They’re one win away from a World Series title. And yet, no team is perfect, and most of the weaknesses that the Yankees have bit them all at once in Game 5:  

? Last winter, the Yankees were perceived to have paid too high a price for A.J. Burnett, because at times he fumbles on the mound like a schoolboy on his first date, and at others he has not been available at all. Given those negatives, only the Yankees were willing to pay a premium for all the good stuff in between. Last night, they got the schoolboy, the guy who can’t find the zone. As Peter Gabriel sang in “Counting Out Time,” “Better get [his] money back from the bookstore right away.”

I don’t think this was Burnett on short rest (something he hadn’t done this year, though he had a few times in 2008); I think it was just Burnett being Burnett. Still, let us say this: If we say Burnett, or (in the future) Andy Pettitte, or CC Sabathia did not pitched well on short rest for reasons other than the missing day, we’re making an assumption — we can’t know the real answer one way or another. No one can. That said, can we ask if the decision to change the pitchers’ routines was inevitable based on the talent the Yankees have on hand? Heck yes, we can ask, and heck no, it was not inevitable. The “rise” of Sergio Mitre coincided with the infliction of the bizarre and ever-changing Joba Rules II. Had the Yankees been less interested in giving Mitre chance after botched chance, and more alert to other options, such as pulling Alfredo Aceves and his low-leverage innings out of the bullpen (there is another righty long reliever out there) or (dare I say) stop worrying about the eighth inning and let Phil Hughes start, and the Yankees might have had another rotation option now. As things are presently constructed, Girardi has no choice but to push. Had different avenues been pursued beginning three months ago, it might be different now. It is precisely because you cannot precisely anticipate the contingencies that future events might require that I go on and on about seemingly insignificant matters like the Yankees throwing away every fifth start on a punching bag — that punching bag could have been a postseason contributor. Complacency, as the saying goes, sucks.

coke220_110309.jpg? Phil Coke is exceptionally home run-prone. In the regular season, he had the 12th-highest rate of home runs allowed per nine innings in the big leagues, relievers who pitched 50 or more innings. Even with Damaso Marte hurting, the Yankees had other options in the Minors. They didn’t try them. Coke’s inability to retire left-handed hitters Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez gave the Phillies the cushion they needed. Remember, the Yankees didn’t need to beat Cliff Lee, they only needed to keep the game close enough that they could beat the Phillies’ relievers. That is almost what happened but for Derek Jeter’s ill-timed double play (with Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui on the bases, Ryan Madson’s mild ground-ball tendencies, and Jeter’s own high percentage of ground ball double plays, this was pretty much as close to an inevitability as you can get) and Coke’s largesse. A home run is a home run, but Ibanez’s shot, one of the longest I have ever seen in person, really sums up the problem with Coke.

? There’s a flipside to Coke’s performance, which is that the fellow has pitched 2.2 innings in the last month, having been pushed to the back of the reliever line by Girardi. I’m not making excuses for Coke, who as I pointed out above, has a tendency to get hit for airline-like distance. Still, it is hard to believe a pitcher can stay sharp on that basis. I also felt — and as for everything here, this was something I first-guessed at the ballpark — that the Yankees could have used a bit more Coffee Joe on Monday. Burnett gave up three runs in the first inning, walked Jimmy Rollins in the second, and opened the third with two walks. We’ve all been down this road with Burnett before; it was spectacularly unlikely that things were going to get better before they got worse. Burnett should have been pulled right after ball four to Ryan Howard. Instead, he remained to pitch to Jayson Werth, giving up a ground-ball single. He also pitched to the next batter, Ibanez, which was two batters too many. By the time Girardi got out of the dugout, the inning was out of hand.

ONE OTHER NOTE, WHOLLY SARCASTIC AND GREATLY BITTER
It sure is too bad that Mark Teixeira was too injured to play in this series and the Yankees had to play some nameless Triple-A guy at first base, Doug Miranda-something. Doug has a good glove, but man, he can’t hit at all. I know Teixeira is trying his best to get back into the lineup before the series ends, but he’s running out of time.

TOMMY’S HOLIDAY CAMP

I had the good fortune to attend Game 5 in the company of a cadre of Yankees employees, who did their level best to root the Yankees on in a highly hostile environment, one marked by a state of denial inhabited by approximately 45,000. It’s fair to chant “A-Rod sucks,” if not particularly original, but if A-Rod sucks, how the heck do you characterize Ryan Howard? Gamesmanship is swell, but let’s maintain at least a slight tether to reality.

employees320.jpgLet it not be said that the Yankees’ staff lacks a sense of humor. If you’ve been to the new Yankee Stadium, you’ve seen those ballpark flight attendants carrying “May I help you?” signs with the Yankees’ logo on them. The staffers appropriated these for the ballgame, and frantically waived them whenever the Yankees came to bat or took the field (the photo is from the top of the first). The Phillies fans loved this and chuckled kindly at the New Yorkers’ amusing antics. Or something like that. One Phillies follower shouted, “Go back to your apartments!” I think might have been an attempt at class warfare, though not a very wise one. Does he know what those apartments are worth? There were other comments, some wholly inappropriate in any venue, and mostly went to underscore why I rarely attend games as a civilian — drunk people say and do stupid things. I got to my seat at about 5:50 p.m., or two hours before game time. The beer vendors were already working the stands.

Human beings, tough to tolerate anywhere, aside, I enjoyed Citizens Bank Park. The interior design is industrial, featuring brick, high metal catwalks, and exposed girders. The effect is of going to see the world’s most highfalutin factory team. This is both sad and amusing, as America distinctly lacks factories these days. In that sense, CBP isn’t a throwback ballpark, it’s throwback Americana, the playground of Ozymandias the Industrialist. It’s as if Rome had a team and they built a replica Colosseum, complete with missing walls and fractured statures. “Celebrate the grandeur that was the empire! Have a hot dog!” As I walked through this memorial to Philadelphia’s receding industrial past, down concourses that would have been wide had they not been stuffed with choke points due to various vendors, displays, and a sit-down restaurant, I kept imagining a sign that said, “If you worked here, your job would be in China by now.” There has always been a school of thought that criticized America’s predilection for creating faux experiences in place of actual ones. Disney architecture, with its miniaturized versions of actual places, is supposed to be th
e height of this tendency to vulgarize the real, creating facades that  trivialize and sanitize without providing any illumination. I never felt that way before. CBP made me empathize for the first time.

hopp250_110309.jpgJust as I was mulling these things over, two men in business suits pushed past me. One was tall and heavy, the other short and thin. It was kind of a Mutt and Jeff cartoon come to life. The taller one was carrying a huge, overstuffed cheesesteak sandwich in his giant paw. The shorter man looked down at it. “How can you do that in this economy?” he asked. The big man strode away, the shorter one hastening to keep up. At that moment, the ballpark PA system blasted a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma:” Instant Karma’s gonna get you… Gonna knock you off your feet… Better recognize your bothers: Everyone you meet… My favorite moments in life are the ones in which the universe acts as your iPod.

I spent a few minutes at the Phillies’ MLB-authenticated collectables booth. An autographed Jayson Werth ball (regular season) will set you back $60. Brad Lidge will bite you for $125. Happy people in red drifted past, holding hot dogs the size of my forearm.

On the whole, though, CBP seems like a fair place to see a ballgame, and probably a friendlier one on days in which the championship is not at stake and fewer Yankees are waiving “Can I help you?” signs around. You can see a few things not evident at Yankee Stadium, like fans standing along the railings during batting practice. Also, note the woman in the lower right-hand corner. Is her jersey:

A)    A tribute to Phillies pitcher J.A. Happ, misnumbered and misspelled?
B)    A tribute to 1940s outfielder/first baseman Johnny Hopp who never played for the Phillies but did play, briefly, for the Yankees?
C)    A tribute to rabbits, who both hop and breed frequently, hence the high number?
D)    Just a boring personalization?

I never did find out. I should have approached her with a “Can you help me?” sign. Finally, I never did find McFadden’s Restroom, but it sounds enchanting, the Fiddler’s Green of bathrooms.
mcfaddens200_110309.jpg

 

Just a little patience against Phils, for Swish

lee250.jpgSOMETIMES IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
Before Game 1, I suggested that the Yankees’ trademark patience would test Cliff Lee’s exemplary control. Score that one a clean miss. Unlike just about every other pitcher in the biz, Cliff Lee, who had the demeanor of someone who had just enjoyed a Prozac cocktail, did not bend, did not waver for even a moment. He threw nine innings of mistake-free baseball, never giving the Yankees a chance. A team that walked 38 times in six games against the Angels did not earn one free pass in the game.

You could dismiss this performance as just one game, and say, “Let’s see the next guy do that,” but for two problems. One, the bullpen took a close game and turned it into a rout. Two, Pedro Martinez. Martinez isn’t the old most-dominant-pitcher-ever Martinez, but the new version, which throws strikes and pulls strings, is still plenty good. He completely embarrassed the Dodgers in the NLCS. I will again cling to the belief that the Yankees’ lineup isn’t the Dodgers’ lineup, isn’t a National League lineup, and that lefties hit Martinez reasonably well in the future Hall of Famer’s brief regular season tune-up. The Yankees have also done good work against him (and bad, that also) in postseasons past.

Lee’s start and Pedro’s excellent control points up a way in which this Phillies rotation can take the Yankees’ best trait, their patience, and turn it against them. The Yankees like to work counts and take ball four. Phillies starters just don’t issue ball four. As a whole, Phillies starters averaged just 2.5 walks a game. Lee walked just 1.1 batters per nine innings as a Phillie, Martinez 1.6, Cole Hamels 2.0. The National League average was 3.5 walks per nine innings (the American League was roughly the same). Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, the club’s wildest starters, walked 2.7 and 3.0 respectively. This staff is simply very good at throwing strikes, and if the Yankees play their usual game — and it’s not advisable that they start hacking, because that doesn’t work either — they may find themselves facing some long counts.

As for the bullpen failure, it had limited bearing on the outcome of the game — you could imagine that if the relievers had held serve, Charlie Manuel might have been more inclined to go to his bullpen — but since the Yankees never made up the initial deficit that resulted from the CC Sabathia-Chase Utley confrontations, it didn’t matter. The real impact is in the uncertainty about the bullpen unit as a whole, which seems to have gone down the rabbit hole this October. Perhaps the relative inexperience of the unit has got them twitchy. Whatever the reason, they have to get over it quickly, particularly Phil Hughes, or this Series is going to end a lot faster than anyone anticipated. Worse, a bad performance could mean a winter of reaction from the Yankees’ front office, chasing veteran relief hands at high cost. This is a subject for another day, but that would be an extremely counterproductive strategy that has rarely worked for any GM that has tried it. It’s a quick path to a job on ESPN, however temporary.

We shouldn’t overstate the impact of one game. Two is a different matter. A lot of pressure falls on A.J. Burnett’s right arm. Does he come ready to dance, or does the wild, uncertain version of the pitcher show up? Mister Cream Pie could do more to improve the Yankees’ morale tonight than all of the cans of shaving cream he’s gone through put together — or he could break it.

AND ONE COFFEE JOE NOTE: THINK!
I buy that Nick Swisher needs a mental health break, but considering yesterday’s performance to be part of his slump isn’t exactly fair given the way Lee pitched. After Lee, the whole roster might need a mental health break. In addition, Swisher continues to get into good counts, working the pitcher, which has value in itself if you want to get to the Phillies’ relievers already. In any case, Jerry Hairston is a bizarre choice to substitute for him. I’m thrilled that Hairston has had 10 hits in 27 at-bats against Martinez IN A PERIOD THAT BEGAN IN 1999 AND ENDED FIVE YEARS AGO. Martinez ain’t the same Martinez, Hairston ain’t the same Hairston, and the relevance is extremely, extremely debatable. As with Jose Molina’s time in the game, we’ll assume that this decision won’t have more than an at-bat or two’s worth of impact, but wow, Coffee Joe, that’s an odd call. You readers know I believe in the stats, but you can’t be a slave to the numbers. You also have to THINK.

More to come…

Breeze it, buzz it, easy does it

girardi_300_102009.jpg(AND LAY OFF THE COFFEE, COFFEE JOE)
The postseason’s many off days have frequently been observed to allow shenanigans with starting pitchers that wouldn’t be possible in the regular season, such as reducing the rotation to three pitchers as the Yankees are doing in the ALCS.

Less often remarked upon is the freedom it allows a coffee-achiever/manic manager to run pell-mell through his bullpen, pulling out relievers like they were blades on a Swiss Army Knife — Mariano Rivera is the bottle-opener, Phil Hughes is the screwdriver and Alfredo Aceves is the one whose function you’re not quite certain of. If a manager acted that way in the regular season, he’d burn out his bullpen in about a week.

Thanks to the schedule, Joe Girardi has had the freedom to ignore questions of fatigue and can make changes on a whim, or at the command of a black binder that suggests you ignore what’s happening right in front of you in favor of oracular advice in the form of head-to-head data and scouting reports. In the case of the former, the samples are so small as to be meaningless, and as to the latter, whatever Howie Kendrick’s preferences are insofar as whether he likes fastballs better than curveballs or boeuf bourguignon to Lobster Thermidor, his interactions with David Robertson have been so limited that all you really have is a theory along the lines of, “If a tiger fought a lion, we believe the tiger would win,” or “In our prior experience we have seen that when sodium hits the water, things go boom, and we believe that Robertson is sodium and Kendrick is water.”

It’s speculation. There’s no fact behind it, just inferences. You can’t know if those inferences are correct until you test them. Girardi opted not to, and in a situation where he had the platoon advantage all along. Unless Aceves is harboring a specific pitch that we’ve not yet heard of — The Klingon Ball? The High ‘n’ Tight Hemingway Paragraph? The Astro Orbiter? — and Kendrick has been seen to wet himself at the sight of the Klingon Ball, there is no advantage that Aceves could have had over Robertson to justify the switch.

In fairness to Coffee Joe, we don’t know would have happened had he stuck with Robertson. Perhaps Kendrick would have hit the ball to the moon and the game would have ended right there. It could be that the manager’s hunch was correct and Aceves didn’t execute. What we do know is that Robertson was doing a fine job, has done a fine job, and that learning to trust him is a big part of this manager’s and this team’s future. If Hughes rejoins the rotation next year, Robertson could be your eighth-inning guy, and no reason that he shouldn’t be.

The Robertson/Aceves switch, and the Damaso Marte/Phil Coke switch earlier in the game, or all of the hectic pinch-running (which has not availed the Yankees and has actively hurt them) are also symptomatic of a manager who is managing too much in the moment and not thinking about what will happen if it turns out he needs the player he just chucked away. In particular, he seems to have forgotten that Brett Gardner is not just a runner but a full-function player. Since Eric Hinske is not on the roster, he’s the closest thing the Yankees have to a competent hitter on the bench. Because of the way he’s been used, the Yankees have been forced into having Freddy Guzman, Jerry Hairston, and Francisco Cervelli hit in key spots and potentially lost an extra inning of work from Rivera because they gave up the DH to replace Johnny Damon on defense.

This is the opposite of good managing. For the rest of the series, Girardi might better focus on imparting some of his high-caffeine mojo to his hitters, who haven’t had a hit with a runner in scoring position in the last two contests. The speed of the runners on base matters not a bit if the next three guys make outs and that is exactly what’s been happening. Alas, this aspect of things might be out of Coffee Joe’s hands.

YESTERDAY, CC SABATHIA SEEMED SO FAR AWAY
BUT OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

As for today’s matchup, when the three-man rotation concept was first floated, I brought up Luis Tiant in the 1975 World Series. El Tiante, who had been just so-so in the regular season that year but was nonetheless the team’s ace, had a week to get ready for Game 1, and he pitched a five-hit shutout. He pitched Game 4 on three days’ rest and was just good enough, holding the Reds to four runs in nine innings as the Red Sox won 5-4.

After Game 5 there was rain, which meant that Tiant got to pitch Game 6 after a five-day layoff. He shut out the Reds for four innings, but they broke through for three runs in the fifth, two in the seventh, and one more in the eighth. Given the long rest, the issue wasn’t fatigue, but familiarity — the Reds had seen all of Tiant’s tricks and were ready for them (they would go on to lose the game in extra innings on Carlton Fisk’s famous home run).

Obviously the Yankees don’t want this series to go seven games, and if Sabathia pitches well tonight it might not have to, but they have an extra reason to hope that it does not — a third helping of Sabathia might prove to be too much of a good thing.

The Understudies

bradpitt_250_092409.jpgEver go to a Broadway play to see a famous actor in a part, only to have the guy not show up? You’ve dropped some serious dough on Brad Pitt as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” (work with me here). As you’re sitting in your seat waiting for the lights to go down, a little slip of paper flutters out of your Playbill. It says, “For tonight’s performance, the part of Willy Loman, normally played by Brad Pitt, will be played by Ethel Birnbaum.” You are, at the very least, nonplussed.

Wednesday’s game had the feeling of an Ethel Birnbaum performance. For reasons of necessity, Joe Girardi started only about half of his normal lineup. There was no Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher, and once the game was turned over to the bullpen — perhaps a bit hastily — there was no Phil Hughes. That the Yankees won in spite of these sacrifices is one of those “any given day” hand-outs that sports, and that Flying Dutchman of a pitcher A.J. Burnett, can grant.

I am reminded of an occasion during Casey Stengel’s Minor League managerial career when, desperate for a starter, he called on a pitcher lacking the stuff to break the proverbial pane of glass, and won. “Casey,” said the opposing manager, “I think you’re underestimating this league.” Girardi wasn’t guilty of that; he had his reasons, but the effect was the same. You wouldn’t want to try this again unless you had to, especially not against the Angels.

DEAR JOE GIRARDI
Sir:

gardner_250_092409.jpgCan we please have more Brett Gardner? By this I am not asking that he make even more appearances as a pinch-runner or defensive substitute, but that he be given more starting assignments now and into the playoffs. He’s not dramatically more productive than Melky Cabrera is, but as we saw on Tuesday in Anaheim, his style of play can be a welcome change of pace from the usual Earl Weaver-style approach employed by the Yankees.

Now, I’m the last one to ever criticize Weaver-style on-base ‘n’ bash baseball, because I believe it is the most effective form of offense there is. You could almost say I’m religious about it, Joe. Yet, even Earl employed his base-stealers, players like Paul Blair, Don Buford, Al Bumbry and Don Baylor, who in his younger, more svelte period swiped 30 bases a year for Team Baltimore. Even Reggie Jackson swiped 28 bags his one year in the Crab Kingdom, a career high. Earl’s 1973 team even led the league, hard as that is to believe.

See, it wasn’t that Earl totally disdained the stolen base. He saw it as a tactical weapon, one to be used sparingly rather than fetishized. And if the base-stealer in question does some other things, like takes the odd walk and plays solid defense, well, Earl had his Mark Belanger, after all. Gardner is no Belanger, Joe. My point is our particular offensive cult does permit this kind of messing around with speed guys; as long as two guys are on when the home run hitters come up, we’re okay. Gardner would seem to provide your best option for getting that out of your center fielder.

As for the power you would be giving up, there’s not a whole lot there on Cabrera’s part, and its loss should be offset by Gardner’s larger contribution on defense, on the bases, and of course from his reaching base more often. Cabrera is a groundball hitter, and his current 12 home runs seems to be around the upper limit of his power. Sure, he gets into stretches where he gets a little more loft on the ball, resulting in his bunching four of his home runs into the month of April, but outside of those hot streaks the power production comes down to one or two home runs a month.

That’s not a lot to sacrifice given what’s being gained. And here’s another bonus: both Gardner and Cabrera hit a ton of ground balls, but the latter’s speed is unexceptional, resulting in a high percentage of double plays. The Major League average hitter (the number is almost the same in both leagues) hits into a double play in about 11 percent of his chances. Cabrera hits into one 14 percent of the time. Gardner, with his speed, hits into one only seven percent of the time. Over the course of a full season this is a gain of many outs. This is why, despite the gap in home runs, Gardner is creating 5.5 runs per 27 outs, while Cabrera trails at 4.7. Over a full season, this would work out to at least one added win, and that’s without considering defense. Speaking of which, most metrics agree that Gardner is the rangier fielder. I would say that most naked eyes agree as well, but I can only speak for myself, and being down one eye, I should probably leave that assessment to others not part of the Greater New Jersey Order of Cyclopians.

I understand why you’ve been reluctant to start Gardner of late; he had just come off the disabled list, and maybe his thumb isn’t up to the daily pounding. Cabrera would also seem to have “won” the job while Gardner was gone, but in truth, his recent production has been nothing special. He’s hit .255/.318/.382 in the second half, .243/.299/.361 in August-September. Cabrera is also getting to the point in his career where he’s going to cost the Yankees some significant dollars (he’s in his arbitration years), and given that the budget has proved to be only semi-infinite it would probably be a good idea to get Gardner established so the front office knows the full extent of its flexibility. Perhaps a Gardner/Austin Jackson combination next year will be just as good as a Gardner/Cabrera combination. In that case: voila, instant trade bait! Instant payroll reduction! This sounds like the best of all worlds to me.

Thank you for giving this matter your full attention.

Very Truly Yours,
Ethel Birnbaum

Responsibility must be with Burnett

ONE AND ONE
Friday was a sort of good Yankees day (great hitting, no pitching) and Saturday was a very bad Yankees day, which sounds like some kind of weird children’s story: “Jorge Posada and the Rumpy Grumpy Starting Pitcher.”

It does seem like Posada has had more than his share of disagreements with his starters this year, but in many ways there is a culture clash at work with the Yankees in a minor key way. The team has a new pitching staff. Few of the current pitchers — CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin, Damaso Marte, and Sergio Mitre (that is, just about everyone except Andy Pettitte and Brian Bruney) — have much experience being Yankees and throwing to Posada. The veterans among them have their own way of doing things. The rookies may be headstrong or timid. Posada, one senses (at least from trying to talk with him in the clubhouse), may not be the most diplomatic guy in the world. You can see how this could lead to conflict on those days when defeat wants to be an orphan. Suddenly it’s not what the pitcher threw, but what the catcher called.

When it comes to an established veteran like Burnett, the final responsibility must be with him. He certainly has the standing on the Yankees to call his own game. It’s not important that he disagrees with Posada, only that he either shake Posada off until they come to an agreement (that is, doing it Burnett’s way) or Burnett throws Posada’s selection with confidence. An in-between approach — resignedly throwing Posada’s pitch — can lead to disaster, apparently what happened yesterday.

Perhaps, though, we need not delve that far to find the source of Saturday’s discord. Burnett has rarely been a consistent pitcher. There are days his control just doesn’t show up for work, one of the reasons he currently leads the American League in walks issued. This has been a career-long problem for Burnett, and blaming his catcher would be unfair given just how many catchers have received his pitches on days like Saturday. Note that Burnett did not blame Posada. We shouldn’t either.

SWISHER’S WEIRD SPLITS
If you average Nick Swisher’s 2008 road stats with his 2009 home stats, you get .198/.343/.309. Miserable. If you put last year’s home stats with this year’s road stats, you get .263/.363/.552. Brilliant. I have no further comment, except to say that if the fellow could just get his concentration down in both places, he could have a 40-homer season. Of course, that he hasn’t is why he was available to the Yankees for Wilson Betamax. As with Burnett’s occasional wild days, Swisher’s oddly bifurcated production represent the invisible hand of human psychology at work on the game. 

Despite the Wangery of things, a good weekend

wang_250_070609.jpgChien-Ming Wang headed back to the disabled list and Joba-To-the-Bullpen became Joba to Nowhere, but winning trumps everything. Adding to the sweetness of the proceedings was the fact that the victories came at the expense of an AL East opponent, pushing the Yankees to one game under .500 against divisional rivals. They kept the pressure on the Red Sox, who dropped two of three to the Mariners, and put some distance between themselves and the rest of the competition. The Rays, swept by the Rangers, are now six games behind the Yankees in the loss column, the Jays eight behind. The wild card standings remain close, with AL West co-leaders Texas and L.A.-Anaheim just two games back of the Yankees.

How long this happy situation persists will depend in part on how the Yankees choose to compensate for the loss of Wang. This seems a bit odd to say, “compensate for the loss of Wang,” because the Yankees haven’t really had Wang all season long. For all their patience, prodding, and pushing, Wang has yet to record a quality start. Now, quality start is just a made-up statistical category (heck, they’re all made up) denoting a starting pitcher having done certain minimal things in his games — throw six innings, allow three or fewer earned runs. It’s not a crazy high standard, as all it asks a pitcher to do is post a 4.50 ERA. Wang is 0-for-9, and whatever achievements exist in the past, they clearly don’t have much bearing on this season.

Since returning to the starting rotation on June 4, Wang’s ERA is 6.43 in six tries. His rate of home runs allowed per nine innings is a career high, and it didn’t dramatically improve during Wang’s latest sting. He allowed four home runs in 28 innings, which doesn’t sound like much, but it works out to 1.3 per nine. The career rate for the sinkerball artist coming into this season was 0.5. Wang’s latest injury is just the latest clue that anything the Yankees need to cultivate a solid alternative and view anything they get from Wang this year as a bonus.

That alternative is almost certainly not Sergio Mitre. While you can never preclude a team catching journeyman lightning in a bottle (see Aaron Small ’05), Mitre seems a long shot to click. Frequently injured, Mitre is a heavy ground ball type who has never found consistency in the Majors due in large part to control problems — a pitch-to-contact type can’t walk three or four batters per nine innings and expect to succeed. There are simply too many balls in play with runners on base for the pitcher to succeed, even with the enhanced double play rate of the sinker ball pitcher.

One intriguing note here is that Mitre has done great things with his walk rate in the Minors this year, passing just five batters in 39.2 innings. If Mitre can carry that kind of control back to the bigs, it will be almost as if the Yankees were trying a brand-new pitcher, not a 28-year-old retread. Even then, success is not assured. This is a pitcher against whom Major League batters have averaged about .300 — they’re not fooled, and while Mitre might cut down on the number of free passes he gives out, he will still have to keep the batters from simply banging their way on base.

With the All-Star break coming up, the Yankees will have a few days to reorder their rotation and figure out what they want to do with Wang’s spot over the longer term. As much as Alfredo Aceves and Phil Hughes are overqualified to be relievers, they’ve done so well in that role that it’s understandable that the club would be reluctant to pull them from the pen at this juncture, not without some kind of viable alternative to take the spot (the problem of “stretching them out” into a starting role is transient, especially given that Aceves threw 43 pitches on Sunday).

Here is yet another occasion to point out the way the Yankees have hurt themselves by perpetuating Brett Tomko in the Majors at the expense of Mark Melancon, lefty Zach Kroenke, or practically anyone else in the organization. Tomko’s trash-time work could have been developmental time for any number of virginal relievers, relievers who might now be promotable to more important roles, something that clearly isn’t going to happen with the 36-year-old, home run-happy Tomko. That theoretical pitcher might have enabled the Yankees to feel more comfortable about elevating Hughes or Aceves. Instead, they have blocked themselves. Much as with the bench space wasted on Angel Berroa until quite recently, Tomko demonstrates that there are no small roster spots, only small players.

To put the matter in proper perspective, one sentence: The loss of Wang expresses itself as a bullpen problem, not a starting pitcher problem. Corollary to the foregoing: the Yankees need to do more to solve their bullpen problem.

In the long term, one interesting starting option within the organization might be right-hander Zach McAllister, currently of Double-A Trenton. If you take his work from the second half from last season, spent at Tampa of the Florida State League, and add it together with that of this season, from Double-A Trenton, you get a stunningly good line: 28 starts, a 13-9 record, 169.1 innings, 139 hits, 36 walks (1.9 per nine), 128 strikeouts (6.8 per nine), just nine home runs, and an ERA of 1.81. The strikeout rate should be a clue that McAllister is not a 95 mph burner. He’s actually somewhat Wang-like, getting by on a sinking fastball. It seems unlikely that a jump to Triple-A, or over it, would be much of an impediment. McAllister may seem like a long shot, and given the organization’s nervousness about the untested, he probably is, but the Yankees owe it to themselves to investigate these possibilities before they start throwing out good players for the detritus of other organizations.

MORE TO COME…
With the Yankees having reached the 81-game mark, the PB hands out the dreaded midterm report cards.

Burning Burnett

BURNETT: ON
The only complaint you might make about A.J. Burnett’s last four starts is that he started his hot streak five days after he lasted less than three innings against the Red Sox. Other than that little complaint, he’s 3-1 with 28.1 innings pitched, 16 hits, 12 walks, 33 strikeouts, and an ERA of 0.95. With the exception of the aforementioned start at Fenway on June 9, all of his starts going back to May 27 have been of the quality variety, six innings or more, three earned runs or less. The one loss came courtesy of the offense and an ill-timed, game-ending Robinson Cano groundball double play (some themes just keep reinforcing themselves, even if I don’t want to go there). Burnett basically can’t get any better except to conquer the Red Sox, but he won’t get another shot at them until August. For now, he’ll make one more start before the All-Star break, presumably Wednesday night at Minnesota.

I don’t know if a guy who is 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA will merit a look for the All-Star game pitching staff, but Burnett would be nicely set up to pitch that game, as his next start after the Twins’ appearance would fall during the break. For what it’s worth, he’s fifth in the AL in strikeouts, and if he wins on Wednesday he’d be in the top three in wins.

hughes250_070309.jpgTHE KEY TO HUGHES
… And maybe Joba Chamberlain as well. There was a lot of discussion of Jimmy Key on today’s YES broadcast of the Yankees game, a natural given that Key split most of his career between the two teams doing battle. Key, it was acknowledged, had a great career, one that would have been even better had it not been cut short by arm problems. This is inarguably true. Key was a four-time All-Star, had three top-five Cy Young award finishes, led his league in ERA, strikeouts and wins, had terrific control, and generally posted ERAs that were well ahead of the league average. He pitched on six postseason teams, two of which won the World Series. Key won’t be going to the Hall of Fame, but he had a very successful, memorable career.

The one aspect of Key’s career that wasn’t discussed was how he started it. The answer is, “in the bullpen.” A third-round pick in the 1982 draft, Key was a starter all the way through a brief Minor League career that saw him make the Blue Jays out of Spring Training in 1984. Manager Bobby Cox and general manager Pat Gillick never saw fit to give him a start that year. Instead, he made 63 appearances out of the bullpen. He was up and down in terms of results, as rookies often are, but he finished the season strong, putting up a 2.93 ERA in the last two months, and in 1985 he made the move to the starting rotation. Not coincidentally, the Blue Jays improved their record by 10 games and won the AL East.

Key is just one of dozens of successful starting pitchers who broke in this way. For this reason it’s always a little humorous when commentators and fans act nervous about pitching Phil Hughes out of the bullpen, or, for that matter, promoting Chamberlain out of it. Every pitcher is different, so there’s no ironclad rule that says, “Jimmy Key did it, so it must be okay,” but you can point to more stories like Key’s than you can the other kind, the one where a pitcher was somehow destroyed by the diversion into relief work.

MONTERO MANIA
Cue up the hype machine, because the 19-year-old mutant slugger in the making homered in his fourth straight game on Thursday. He’s now batting .325/.395/.571 with five home runs in 21 games at Double-A Trenton. He’s also thrown in nine walks, which is actually a better rate than he had down in the Florida State League. Combine his numbers for the two levels and you get a teenager who is batting .346/.403/.580 in 69 games. Here’s the best thing about the numbers: Trenton is a tough place to hit. Jesus Montero is hitting “only” .314/.368/.457 with one home run there. On the road, the Boy Wonder is batting .333/.417/.667 with four home runs in 42 at-bats. In other words, the numbers are artificially depressed.

This is getting ahead of things, but let’s dream: With a strong conclusion to the season at Trenton, Montero will be in a good position to get a long look from the Major League staff in spring training next year. He would then be a hot streak and an injury away from a call to Scranton. His position is still a problem — Montero threw out just 13 percent of basestealers at Tampa. He’s done a bit better at Trenton, with a 28 percent caught stealing rate, but it’s early days yet. Despite this, if Montero’s bat is ready, the Yankees could use him at the designated hitter spot with occasional spot starts at catcher against those teams that are less inclined to run.

With Hideki Matsui likely to leave town after the season, they’ll have the opening on the roster and a chance to save some money by using a young player in the spot. This is something that teams are generally reluctant to do, as there seems to be the thought that if you let a young guy DH you’re hurting his chances of someday developing into Ozzie Smith. That seems like an unnecessary worry in Montero’s case. 

To the mats with reader comments

veras_250_061609.jpg1: FROGPEN
Frogs worldwide are dying off at a high rate, which is depressing. Add in the state of Yankees’ middle relief and I am almost unbearably sad. Reader Ben is too:

Honestly Steve, your comment about the Yankees overusing Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves and Mariano Rivera are not well-thought out. Jose Veras is as inconsistent as can be. His stuff is so great, yet never can stay in the strike zone on the first pitch. I swear, it is a loud exhale every time when he throws ball one and you see 15,000 beads of sweat on his face with that deer-in-the-headlights look and it’s like Kyle Farnsworth all over again. Great talent, no clue how to pitch.

I don’t mean to pick on him, but Jonathan Albaladejo and David Robertson can at least claim they have not had much Major League experience. The Yankees have no one else dependable to go to. Maybe things are different with Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte healthy, if that ever happens. But right now, they don’t have depth, because of health and ineffectiveness.

Ben, I don’t see how my observation and your point are incompatible. I said Joe Girardi was turning to certain relievers with frequency because the others had been unreliable. You seem to agree with that reason. I didn’t say that Girardi was wrong to do this, but merely pointed out that there can be consequences to overusing certain relievers (call this the Proctor Rule). If there was any criticism even implicit in what I was saying it was meant not for Girardi but for the front office for not shuffling the bullpen deck again: “Given that the Yankees have other options in the Minors, it would make far more sense for the Yankees to try something new than to continue to burden Girardi with options he’s already discarded.”

By that I meant (at minimum) giving Mark Melancon another shot rather than persevering with Veras — and the Yankees have just taken a step in that direction by designating Veras for assignment. No doubt that move was prompted by the need to keep Phil Hughes around should Chien-Ming Wang fail to pitch well on Wednesday, but with any luck it means that when the club finally is able to have one starter for that spot (as opposed to the tandem starter Chien-Phil Hughes), the resultant opening in the pen will be filled by a fresh face.

2: PESSIMISM, DEAR LIZA, DEAR LIZA
They say I tend to look at the glass as half full. Reader Kevin here sees a hole in the bucket. Truncated some for length and several ill-considered word-choices:

This is not a special team yet. But it is need of some special help. We are seeing this far too often for a Yankee team: 1. Derek Jeter. The “Captain” of the team. He is hitting ok. Every once in a while he is ok in the clutch. But more than not, when he gets up to the plate you are waiting for him to hit that pop-up or hit into the double play. I don’t get it.

2. Johnny Damon. He is hitting “ok” but not clutch. He looks like a nine-year old boy in a little league game every time the ball is hit towards him in left field. No confidence… Wang. Why he is still with the team and not down in AAA I don’t know… Joba. Needs to be a reliever. Bottom line. Pull Wang, insert Hughes. Joba in the bullpen as a reliever. Girardi is acting too optimistic as a manager right now… We went 13 years in a row making the post season until….2008. Common denominator…Girardi. He is too much like a buddy than a manager. It’s obvious to me due to a lot of the decision making that is going on by him.

Jeter is batting .308 with men on, .316 with runners in scoring position, .476 with two outs and runners in scoring position, .375 late and close… What do you want from the guy? Damon is batting only .254 with men on, but has hit six home runs with runners on base, is hitting .355 late and close, and had a memorable walk-off homer against the Twins exactly a month ago. I can’t defend his defense, but he’s 35. He’s still far from a Pat Burrell out there given his speed… Wang isn’t in Triple-A because he’s out of options. Get over Joba as a reliever. He’s about 1.5 changes of role short of becoming Neil Allen. Just relax and let him settle in, try to suppress your panic every time he doesn’t pitch well. Joba has made 24 career starts and has a 3.29 ERA. I don’t have an exact list on hand, but my guess is that very few starters have begun their career with those kinds of results. True, he has only averaged five innings a start, but that’s partially due to the way the Yankees have chosen to manage him. It might also be better to have a starter who throws five strong innings than a pitcher who throws two, no matter how dominant, though I don’t know that for sure.

3: BATTING ORDERS AND THE INTIMATE LIVES OF YOUR FRIENDS DON’T MATTER MUCH…
…But they sure are fun to talk about, as reader Alightningrodfan shows:

I have been critical on these blogs in the past of Robinson Cano, but only regarding his hitting behind A-Rod. I think Jorge Posada hitting behind A-Rod would lead to better protection for A-rod and that might help A-Rod get better pitches, fewer walks, and a chance to more quickly get his groove back after surgery. However, Cano can sometimes do very well. And it seems as if A-Rod, despite his .234 average, keeps finding ways to help his team win and provides inspiration. Even through a pop-up! In any event, since it seems that Joe is going to keep Cano in fifth, I will cheer Cano on to have a successful season.

One of the better things to come out of the Mets-Yankees series was Cano going 5-for-12 with two doubles and two home runs, as he really hadn’t yet taken advantage of Yankee Stadium II. Even after his hot weekend, he’s still batting just .278/.324/.452 at home, compared to .301/.350/.534 on the road… The average AL No. 5 hitter is batting. .269/.340/.456, with a home run every 24.5 at-bats. Yankees No. 5 hitters are batting .241/.285/.425 with a home run every 26.1 at-bats. On the whole, Joe Girardi’s choices for the fifth spot haven’t worked out, but Cano isn’t the major part of the problem, having hit .301/.316/.484 in the spot. His other choices, primarily Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui, and Nick Swisher, have bombed there. The sample is small enough for each that it wouldn’t be useful to read anything into that. In the long run, Posada is the better choice. It’s fascinating that Posada has spent most of his career batting fifth or lower — the Yankees have given up a lot of Posada plate appearances over the years by keeping him buried. I’d be very curious as to if Girardi or Joe Torre think they see something emotional in Posada that makes him a bad choice to bat up in the order. In his career he’s been much better when batting sixth (.295/.400/.518) instead of fifth (.277/.378/.460), so maybe there’s something to that.

…A walk is obviously not as valuable as a home run, but as long as Rodriguez keeps taking those walks while mixing in the odd home run, he’s going to be productive at the plate regardless of where his batting average ultimately falls.

4: THE UNSUBTLE PLUG
Charlief writes:

The thing to remember about the Nats is the hitting is actually quite good. You say average, but up until the last two weeks – when Guzman, Dunn and Zimmerman all fell into slumps, they were 3rd in the NL in scoring. I think that will tick back up at some point. Throw in future Met Nick Johnson, plus Josh Willingham’s .891 OPS, they aren’t slouches with the bats… In terms of pit
ching, it’s just not there. All rookie starters other than Lannan means a rough go. Lannan vs. Wang should actually be a great matchup. They are similar in more ways than they’re different, strikeout rates aside. I think from a Nats fan point of view it’s good that Detwiler and Zimmermann don’t start in this series. They will be needed in 2010 along with Strasburg, and the Yankees at home can mess with pitchers heads. Also needed are some people who can field, if you know any. This may be Manny Acta’s last series, and Mets fans, he could be sitting on a bench near you in the near future..
.

I purposely left Josh Willingham out of my evaluation because he’s currently on the bereavement list due to the sad death of his brother in an auto accident, and I wasn’t sure if he’d be back in time for this series. It is true that the Nats were hitting a bit better just a couple of weeks ago, but I’m reluctant to say that that was their true offensive level. I think it more likely that Zimmerman, Dunn, Nick the Greenstick, et al were playing a little over their heads, and what we’re seeing now is a return to a more realistic level of production.

I wish Manny Acta all the best, and hope he gets another chance with a real ballclub, should the Nats pull the trigger as was rumored. No manager could have overcome a bullpen as poor as that of this year’s Nats club. As always, whenever Acta comes up I feel proud to point out that he has cited the book I edited and co-authored, Mind Game as having been an important influence. Someone should get him a copy of Forging Genius as well, given that it’s about a manager who gets fired a lot before going on to greatness. It could be therapeutic… And he’ll probably be more careful about looking both ways before crossing the street. Four things Winston Churchill and Casey Stengel had in common: (1) late-career success after they had been written off; (2) handy with a turn of phrase; (3) enjoyed alcohol, perhaps a bit too much; (4) hit by cars while attempting to cross a street in a major American city. I’m sure there are more…

5: SCARCITY
…Or is that Scar City? Midcoaster asks:

My big question about Jesus Montero is – if he is not expected to be a catcher in the big leagues why is he still catching? Should’t he be learning how to be, at least, adequate in a position he will be playing? Looks like the Yankees are making a career DH. Please no more DH only types. Get him to learn a position he will be playing while he is still on the farm. Yes a big clunky guy could play the outfield if he gets gets experience and is well coached. The way ball are flying out of the new stadium it might be a good idea to keep him.

Jesus Montero is definitely a keeper. The reason he’s still catching is that the Yankees know how hard it is to find a top bat to stick behind the dish. If they can keep Montero back there, he’ll be infinitely more valuable than if he’s a first baseman, left fielder, or designated hitter. They’ve made a determination that until he proves that he absolutely cannot catch he’s going to stay, and it’s a good call, especially since Mark Teixeira has him blocked at first base for the next hundred years. His Tampa numbers this year are equivalent to his hitting .301/.325/.470 in the Majors as a 19-year-old. He could be Mike Piazza for the Yankees, with all the associated pros and cons. There’s no rush to move him.

MORE OF ME–TV
I’ll be on the YES’ Yankees Batting Practice Today show tomorrow, Wednesday, at 6 p.m.. Hope you see me then. 

Wangery X

wang_250_061109.jpgThe first thing to note is that before you begin arguing that Chien-Ming Wang can make another start because his opponent would be the historically poor Nationals, take a moment to peruse their lineup.

The Nats’ problem is not hitting, but pitching, particularly bullpen pitching. Washington pitching is allowing almost six runs per game (5.88), which bodes well for Yankees hitters, but they’re also scoring 4.55 runs per game, a hair above average. Nick Johnson, Christian Guzman, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Elijah Dukes have hit quite well this year.

Second base has been a season-long problem for Washington, as the team’s keystoners have been miserable, and a potentially season-ending injury to Jesus Flores has left catcher in the hands of ex-Yankee Wil Nieves, which is a problem given that Nieves is not a replacement level player, but whatever comes after that. It’s the floor on the elevator that doesn’t get a number, just a black button. The point being belabored here is that Washington can mash a struggling Wang just as well as any other team.

The second argument that should be dispensed with is “Wang won 19 games twice, three and two years ago.” Two years ago, George W. Bush was president. Three years ago, the economy was, if not cooking, looking a whole lot healthier than it is now. Three years ago GM and Chrysler were not bankrupt. Three years ago has zero relevance to what is happening now. Two years ago has only slightly more relevance. Ron Guidry won over 20 games three times, so surely he must have the right to get a few cracks at the Major League rotation. Obviously that’s not realistic — Guidry could do it back in the 1970s and 80s but he’s 59 now. He can no longer do it. Exactly. There is also a chance that, because of his injury, a loss of mechanics, or a loss of confidence, Wang can no longer do it either. At the very best, he can’t do it right now.

Wang is now 0-4. For all intents and purposes he is the difference in the American League East race. Yes, the Yankees have lost every game they’ve played to the Red Sox, but they’ve outplayed the Sox everywhere except head-to-head — their records independent of each other are 34-18 for the Yankees and 28-24 for the Red Sox. Sure, there have been injuries and some other burps along the way. The point here is not to fix blame, but only to underscore the fact that in a close race, and this race should continue to be close, every decision the team makes can have an outsized impact. The Yankees can continue to gamble with Wang and maybe they’ll win that gamble. Wang maintains velocity, so there’s always a chance.

On the other hand, Phil Hughes waits behind door number two, and it’s possible that, with the very good strikeout rate he’s shown thus far, he can make huge strides. All it would take is a slight uptick in his command and some new pitching patterns against lefties, who are having little trouble thwacking him (righties have barely laid a glove on him). That makes it sound all too easy — there are few more loaded phrases in life than, “All that needs to happen is” — but if you have two pitchers, Wang and Hughes, both needing to make adjustments, you might want prefer the guy with the big-time upside who you have to get established anyway because Andy Pettitte might not pitch forever. Or to put it another way, you might choose the pitcher who has had at least one quality start versus the guy who has yet to survive the fourth inning.

Let us be clear that no one knows what will happen. Dave Eiland has insisted that Wang can come back. We can take his word for that, that Wang CAN. That he will come back is a different matter. Things might click for him or they might not. Hughes too might take a step forward, a step back, or a step into the old Yankee Stadium construction site and vanish into the spot where all the construction animals were killed in a cave-in back in 1922. (Don’t do it, Phil. That’s not the way to become a winner.) Anyone who claims to have a definitive answer is lying. What remains is really a question, and then, perhaps, an argument: Can the Yankees afford to give Wang more chances?

DON’T LET HIM STOP
I have to credit Kyle Farnsworth for having had a nice little stretch of pitching for the Royals. New York’s favorite reliever has seemingly turned a corner. In a run of 17 appearances going back to April 21, Farnsworth has pitched 17.2 scoreless innings. He’s allowed nine hits, two walks, and struck out 17. Obviously those pesky home runs have not been a problem. Don’t know where this version of Farnsworth was in New York. Perhaps KC is more his speed. I figure I’ve been picking on the guy for years, so it’s only fair to acknowledge it when he does well.

MORE OF ME
Wholesome Reading has some new bits, with more to come. Warning, innocents! Politics!

In a baseball vein, those with a pass to Baseball Prospectus can check out some historical notes about the draft.