Friday, March 26, 2010

Phil Hughes "Wins" The Competition

  • The Yankees make a decision....sort of:

The Yankees have promoted their young starting pitchers (to the extreme); overprotected them (to the point of paranoia); and played this silliness to the nth degree with a "competition" that was said to include everyone from Joba Chamberlain to Phil Hughes to Alfredo Aceves to Chad Gaudin to Sergio Mitre and possibly even Don Gullett, Ed Whitson, Sam Militello and Britt Burns.

Now they've announced that Phil Hughes will be the fifth starter to start the season. How long that lasts; whether there's going to be a series of constraining "rules" for his use; or if he's always going to be game-to-game; pitch-to-pitch; and wobbling on the precipice of a demotion if he has two bad games in a row, remains to be seen.

Clearly Hughes is the right choice. He's got the motion, stuff and temperament to be a starter; while Chamberlain----despite massive ability and a more dominating array of power pitches than Hughes----belongs in the bullpen.

The Yankees will never admit this, but Chamberlain's chance to be a top starter was sabotaged not by their decision to use him as a secret weapon out of the bullpen in 2007, but the absurd rules they placed over his head as they transformed him from a swaggering and frightening force of nature into a brow beaten child, petrified of getting hurt.

This debate was much ado about nothing.

This Yankees team could win 90 games with me as their 5th starter. Of course they're better with Chamberlain in the bullpen as a set-up man; but his true value won't be seen until the playoffs if he's back to his 2007 form. The question that has to be asked is if they've truly committed to putting him in the bullpen and leaving him there; if they're going to let Hughes be the fifth starter even if he struggles.

In most circumstances, I'd say the decision has been made and Chamberlain is finally being placed in the situation best suited for his mental and physical talents; that they've ended the charade and determined that the "Joba As Starter" won't work and has been scrapped once and for all.

I'm still unsure.

The Yankees are maintaining the veneer of challenging their young pitchers; trying to put forth this message that no one's spot is guaranteed and there was a true battle between the group of pitchers considered for the last spot in the rotation. But after everything, is it out of line to think that the Yankees are again going to revisit Chamberlain as a starting pitcher?

Let's say hypothetically that Hughes gets blasted in his first five starts (something not unheard of for a young pitcher); or if A.J. Burnett gets hurt; are they going to turn around and again stick Chamberlain in the starting rotation? Will they jerk him around even more than they already have?

Unless Hughes got tattooed throughout the spring as Madison Bumgarner did for the Giants; and had Chamberlain pitched masterfully from start to finish, Hughes was going to win the job. The question now revolves around the length of rope Hughes is going to get and if they're still trying to force the round peg that is Chamberlain into the square hole of the starting rotation.

The Yankees are still floating the spin that has been a hallmark of the organization as GM Brian Cashman transforms the organization into the brutally cold, corporate entity that he envisioned as he took over as club architect and stepped to the forefront as the boss.

Cashman in command has its benefits and drawbacks.

No longer are there the fits of pique from an impatient owner, George Steinbrenner; everything is plotted and thought out for now and later; but it's also created this mess with their young pitchers not knowing whether they're coming or going. It's added to the perception that manager Joe Girardi is a puppet who has to be watched carefully to make sure he doesn't bring down the whole empire with one stupid strategic maneuver.

If you listen to Girardi's statements regarding the decision to go with Hughes, there's a certain O.J. Simpson "searching for the 'real' killers" quality to the sludge:

"We evaluated the whole spring and we were very excited with the improvement in his changeup."

Um. Okay.

Well, that sounds like a load of junk to me; it's crud that Girardi doesn't even believe is the real reason for the call unless he's been so indoctrinated by organizational hypnotism that he's unable to use his substantial intelligence and experience as a player to admit the reality that Chamberlain is a reliever. Period.

Why the Yankees are so desperate to save face is beyond me. Why they can't come out and admit the evaluative miscalculation in force-feeding Chamberlain into the starting rotation is a flaw in the club's thought process that's on a level of arrogance with Mike Francesa; with seeing the admission of being wrong as a character flaw that can't be faced and would diminish a non-existent credibility.

In fact, it's the opposite. Admitting and correcting a misjudgment or gaffe is a show of strength; not weakness. We'll see if they get it or if they're still screwing up after Chamberlain's role is established, if it's established.

Ordinarily, I'd say that the Yankees will have learned their lessons from mistakes past; but the statements suggest otherwise. I wouldn't be surprised by anything at this point. After the litany of errors they've made in handling their young pitchers, what's another few in the perpetration of the JOBA RUINATION that never, ever seems to end?

  • The Dodgers opening day surprise:

Dodgers manager Joe Torre's selection of Vicente Padilla as his opening day starter has been greeted with everything from bewilderment to rage. It's an understandable and understatedly bright choice. If you think about it, you'll realize the following:

A) Who cares?

B) Padilla pitched brilliantly for the Dodgers last September.

C) It's the smart move considering the rest of the starting rotation.

The opening day start is more of an honor than something with a redeeming value. Over the first few weeks of the season, when there are so many off-days, that a 5th starter won't be needed until the second or third week, the top four starters are all going to get the same number of starts (33 or so) over the course of a season; so who starts the first, second or third game is relatively meaningless, so starting Padilla or Chad Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw makes do difference in the long run.

For all his issues, Padilla pitched great for the Dodgers from the time they signed him at the end of August last season and was in a groove through two playoff starts until the Phillies finally got to him in game 5 of the NLCS. He's always had great stuff with inconsistency being his big sticking point. He's mean too, which got him in trouble with his Rangers teammates because he'd throw at people and place a target on his hitters' backs. That won't be an issue in the NL because if someone wants to throw at Padilla, they'll be able to throw at Padilla when he bats.

The Dodgers are trying to avoid putting too much pressure on young lefty Clayton Kershaw. It appears as if Torre has recognized the mistake he made in starting the youth in game one of the NLCS last year and wants to avoid making him the focal point of the rotation. Although Kershaw is expected to become one of the best pitchers in baseball this year, he's still only 22. Shining an even greater spotlight on him is not needed, especially when the opening day start is a negligible honor.

Letting Padilla start is the right thing to do.

  • The Prince unleashed:
My book, Paul Lebowitz's 2010 Baseball Guide, is now available on I-Universe and Amazon. Purchase it now....if you have the nerve. And the brains.


She-Fan said...

Love your last line - despite the misspelling of "purchase." You're challenging people to buy the book if they have the brains. Interesting strategy. So if they're stupid, they should just walk away?

Jeff said...

Mmmm... BRAINS! *CHOMP CHOMP* Yum, yum....mmm.... BRAINS!

Good for Torre usin' Flopsweat Padilla to start day one. What's more intimidating than a guy willing to shoot HIMSELF!?!?

Brilliant move.

theBrooklynTrolleyBlogger said...

We share a brain on the Joba/Hughes debate. The Yankees have proven again they are better at paying the premium for other team's pitching than they are developing their own. In The Boss Era they have developed 4 starting pitchers who've done anything worth speaking of in a Yankee uniform; Guidry, Righetti, Pettitte and I'll be generous and say Wang. There is no other in over 35 years. Cashman is the one who looks bad in Joba's development. I've never seen such a thing. The Yankees were like little spoiled kids who opened their X-Mas gifts too early and broke them all (Joba, Hughes and Kennedy all DL'd). That's what you have minor leagues for. Joba called-up after only 88 minor league innings? C'mon! Yankees are still better buyers of pitchers than producers. And even then, only they can afford to make all the mistakes they've made.