Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Trying To Control Their Little World

  • You have all these rules and you think they'll save you:

Without getting into a Tony Robbins-style course in positive thinking and empowerment, one of the "life coach's" favorite sayings is that success leaves clues. I'm a believer in placing the success of others into its proper context, sifting through it and applying that which worked; dispatching that which was arbitrary to the end result.

Practical application is more important than theoretical analysis.

Are the Yankees aware of this as they repeat the same self-immolating process of taking a developing young pitcher out of his groove on the basis of an arbitrary number of pitches, innings and whatevers to "protect" him?

Much derision was aimed at the Mets for their admittedly silly slogan in the spring, "Prevention and Recovery", but the Yankees strategy with their talented young arms seems to be of a similar vein----except it can be altered to "Paranoia and Growth-Stunting".

Without providing details of the "Hughes Rules", the Yankees are taking steps to limit the 24-year-old's innings by skipping him from his next start. Hughes, 10-1 with across-the-board numbers that will send him to the All Star game, is bound by the same self-destructive constraints that emanate from GM Brian Cashman's lust for calculations and formulas.

The same style of gaudy plans and schemes that in 2007 spurred Cashman to hire a baseball outsider name Marty Miller and led to a series of injured backs, ignorance of his program and Miller's eventual firing; the same idea that inspired him to sign Nick Johnson to be the DH despite Johnson's extensive injury-history; are part of the same template and need control that has manager Joe Girardi fending off the questions of why the young pitchers are being handled in this way when it didn't work with Joba Chamberlain and it, historically, has not been the way to develop durable, successful pitchers.

It's cringeworthy to listen to Girardi as he parries the questions and addresses differing philosophies by parroting the company lines. There doesn't appear to be an actual "plan" in place, but a frightened and spin-doctoring decision to not be held responsible if the pitcher does get injured. Development has become secondary to not being perceived to be at fault for what can happen to a young pitcher.

Here are the relevant quotes from this ESPN Story:

"Innings. Innings,'' manager Joe Girardi said by way of explanation. "He's made 13 starts and averaged over six innings per start. This is a hard guy for me to sit because of the way he's pitching for us, but we can't be shortsighted on this. We have to think of this year and next year and we have to think of his future. We want to make sure we have him for a long time.''

I have no idea whether Girardi's on board with this. As a player, he caught Greg Maddux when Maddux---at age 23 and after already having logged a very heavy workload in his first 2+ years in the big leagues----would regularly throw 120 pitches per start, sometimes on short rest during the stretch run in 1989.

There's a dichotomy with the Yankees manager that is palpable. Referred to as "Don Zimmer with stats" it's implied that he's an old-school gambler and a stat zombie all rolled into one. I don't see much gambling in the way Girardi manages; and I'm definitely missing the Zimmer bluntness in the way he channels upper management in justifying why these pitchers are being babied.

There also a slight bullying aspect in the George Steinbrenner/Billy Martin school of "we're the bosses" as they chose to skip him on the weekend in which the Orange County raised Hughes was scheduled to pitch in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. On a human level, the game against Joe Torre and the Dodgers in front of his family and friends is not the time to skip him; and on a practical level, it's arbitrary.

It's trendy to say that Hughes is a different pitcher than Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain is pure power, a stressful motion and emotionality; Hughes is smoother, gentler and Southern Cal subdued.

Since that's the case, why are they both being handled in an identical manner as if they're coming off an assembly line?

While I'm on the subject of Yankee pitching, A.J. Burnett has been Oliver Perez-bad in June. As the Diamondbacks ripped shot-after-shot into space, I wondered if Burnett had wound his watch back too far on the trip to Arizona; if the time read 5:00 rather than 8:00 and he thought he was pitching batting practice.

The easy answers would imply that Burnett is tipping his pitches, but even if that was true, his stuff is so good that many times he can tell the hitter what's coming and they still wouldn't be able to hit it.

He looks lost. Apparently healthy, his mechanics are clearly out of whack, but that wouldn't account for the way the hitters are squaring up on him and teeing off. Maybe he needs to drill someone to lessen their feeling of security at the plate.

One positive for the Yankees is that Burnett can't get much worse than he's been over the past two starts....I don't think.

  • Replace the "genius" label with a dunce cap:

Without going into my familiar anti-Moneyball rant, it's somewhat ironic that seven years after the book's publication that Billy Beane's golden touch has turned everything to stone---stone that's crumbling from the laser-precise hits he's deservedly taking.

After a solid start, the Athletics are tumbling into the standings and declining into mediocrity----just like the reputation of their baseball boss, Beane.

It's ironic that the Athletics----major proponents of on base percentage----are 9th in the American League in OBP; that they want hitters who have power-----and are 13th in the AL in homers; are always on the hunt of undervalued talent----but are carrying and overpaying for the likes of Ben Sheets (2-7, 4.95 ERA) and Coco Crisp (he's played in 2 games).

Sheets was signed to be the anchor to a young pitching staff and, in a Twilight Zone-level of irony, has been the one weak spot for a young and respectable starting rotation.

People who are anointed in the way Beane was by Moneyball tend to think they're infallible; but it was the book itself and Beane's participation in the way he was portrayed that has directly led to those waiting in eager anticipation for his downfall. People are under the impression that I'm one of those waiting for his baseball-level destruction; I'm not. I knew at the time the demagoguery of Beane as the vessel of the stat zombie revolution was doomed to fail and fail miserably.

Said mediocrity (and worse) that has befallen the Athletics as Beane has made one mistake after another is the end result of what Moneyball is and isn't----it's a strategy, but not the strategy. The last vestiges of Moneyball apologists are still clinging to the narrative and subtly twisting it to make it seem more retrospectively viable; but with each loss, another chunk is hacked off of Beane's carefully crafted reputation; like a sculptor who continually hammers at the same spot with little discernible progress, eventually the repeated chiseling yields the collapse (or the undesired result in this case); the cracks are showing and it won't be long before the entire foundation comes crashing down.

He asked for it and he's getting it.

  • Viewer Mail 6.22.2010:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Carl Pavano:

From what I can tell, Yankees fans (whom always seem to be bitter about something, even as they hoist the WS trophy high above their winning heads) LOVE to expound their disgust with Pavano. Can't say I blame them, but I'm glad Pavano has found glimpses of his former self.

I can empathize with their frustration at Pavano. It'd be like Oliver Perez getting released and going to Dave Duncan in St. Louis and figuring everything out and blossoming into his potential. You want to ask what the problem was and why he couldn't pitch that way with the Mets. The money they gave Pavano went right down the sewer and there's no one to blame aside from Pavano because they thought they were getting a big, tough, durable innings-eater with a mean streak. It didn't work.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Carl Pavano:

Yankee fans are bitter about Pavano, Jeff, because he never worked a day in his pinstriped life. Even the other players hated him, so it wasn't just a fan thing. He took the money and sat on his ass.

People might feel differently if he came out and explained why he didn't look like he wanted to pitch. If he was having a personal issue----depression or whatever----then he might not be seen as such a pariah; there's never been an answer.

And in that clubhouse? With Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens; Andy Pettitte; Mike Mussina----warriors----they don't want to see a teammate who doesn't want to compete regardless of his salary. Part of what made that group champions contributed to their disgust with Pavano.

My podcast appearance with Jeff at Red State Blue State is up, so is last Thursday's appearance with Sal at SportsFan Buzz. Click on the site link or click here.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and Noble.com. It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

You want my opinion? You need to LIGHTEN up!!!


Jeff said...

"if the time read 5:00 rather than 8:00 and he thought he was pitching batting practice."

This little bit made me LOL.

She-Fan said...

The Hughes situation is different from Joba's. And I know it would have been sweet for him to pitch in front of his family in CA, but baseball is a business. They must have figured it was better to skip him against an NL team. I don't have any problem with it.

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