[I wrote this post on my site, but feel that it deserves a forum where it can be discussed, whether you agree or disagree]
Today’s inevitable Joba/Hughes debate, and the resulting arguments, one might come to realize, beg a question that’s much larger than who is the Yankees’ fifth starter in 2010.
Can the Yankees develop, successfully, a starting pitcher?
The answer, one that I’ve avoided very often, is that it’s been a very, very long time.
Since Andy Pettitte came through the system in the mid-90s, what starting pitcher has come up through the Yankees system, you are hard pressed to find a pitcher who came up through that same farm system and went on to have sustained success with the Yankees.
If you think about it, almost every 1-4 Yankee starter over the past decade, with very rare exception, from David Wells and David Cone to CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, have come to the team via another team, whether it be trade or free agency.
The Yankees have developed pitchers in that time–but none that’s had any sustained success.
The closest we can come is probably Chien Ming Wang, who pitched great for a couple years before hurting his foot in Houston, effectively ending his career as a Yankee. It should be worth noting here that it might have not been the actual foot injury, per se, that derailed his career, but rather his rushed return.
The Yankees, in recent seasons, have not been without their prospects.
Let’s take a look at the prospect list presented in the 2007 Baseball America Prospect Handbook and see how it breaks down, pitchers in bold:
J. B. Cox
Of that list, Hughes, Chamberlain, Betances, Sanchez, Whelan, Garcia, Melancon, Horne, Kontos, and McAllister remain in the Yankees’ system.
Sanchez, Garcia and Horne have injuries almost on cue annually; Kontos is just coming off Tommy John and Melancon is strictly a reliever.
That leaves Hughes, Chamberlain, Betances and McAllister as remaining pitchers who were in the Yankees system in 2007, and remain with the Yankees as starters; Betances and McAllister have not pitched on a Major League level yet, though I believe it’s assumed McAllister will debut at some point this season.
While both Hughes and Chamberlain have had success out of the bullpen, the closest either has had to real success in the rotation is the way Hughes pitched in the rotation just before the Yankees rushed Wang back and shuttled Hughes back to the bullpen. Neither has had what we could consider sustained success as a starter; though it’s not for lack of trying with Joba, but with the exception of a week after the All Star break in 2009, his starts have generally been marred by high pitch counts and nibbling. The same kind of nibbling that got Mussina pulled from the rotation in 2007.
Now, of course, most prospects do not become superstars and it’d be erroneous of us to expect that. There are a number of teams that don’t have a solid #2 starter–heck, the Dodgers earlier named Vicente Padilla their Opening Day starter, so by this measure the Yankees shouldn’t have any reason to complain, right?
Not so fast.
There was a reason, in the mid 2000s, that the Yankees kept signing the high-priced free agents, or trading for the old(er) stars, such as Randy Johnson: the Yankees did not have the farm to be self-sufficient.
In the ideal world, of course, a team’s farm system is so stocked that they don’t need to make trades or sign free agents; but do so only because it takes their team say, from an 89 win team to a 95 win team–the crucial difference between playing in October or watching football on TV.
The Yankees, however, needed to make those trades and sign those free agents just to be competitive enough to make the postseason.
The year they didn’t do it–2008–is, not coincidentally, the year they missed the playoffs.
Around 2006, it’s widely considered that the Yankees began to draft decently, again, taking Chamberlain/Kennedy, among others (with Hughes drafted in 2004)
It takes time to see results, and it may be a while before we see the results of the 2008 and 2009 drafts, but, as one commenter on River Ave Blues phrased it, the current brain trust has yet to produce one pitcher who has come up through the Yankee farm system and gone on to have sustained success with the team.
It’s widely believed that Hughes and/or Chamberlain will go on to do this, but that is contingent on two things:
1) that they remain healthy–original injuries are not the fault of the brain trust, but injuries that occur as the result of rushing a pitcher through rehab or over use are (at least in part), and
2) that the shuttling of the pitchers between the rotation and the bullpen stops. Just, stops. They have to decide if Hughes and Joba are starters, and then commit to it. The point is fast approaching where Hughes and Joba will simply be too old to go back and forth between the two positions.
One commenter phrased it thus: where would the Yankees be had CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett not been available as free agents after the 2008 season?
One can, of course, argue that all of the Yankee moves starting in the 2007 off-season were predicated on the likelihood of Sabathia, at least, being available, but there was never any set-in-stone guarantee, nor was there a guarantee Pettitte would come back for one more year in 2009, or that his arm would not fall off.
In that sense, the Yankees ended up being the luckiest of all teams, because both Sabathia and Burnett decided they wanted to play for the Yankees.
The fact, however, remains that we’re still waiting for the Yankees to develop a successful starter. Maybe it will be Hughes.
We have to hope it will be, anyway.
A successful team isn’t the team that wins the World Series one year; it’s the team that can remain a contender every single year, not just because they have money, but because they can successfully manage all levels of their organization. They’re the team that can lose their #1 starter due to injury and come up with enough resources on their own to overcome it.
The Yankees can not and will not achieve any sort of sustained success, this decade or the next, if they cannot develop their own players–and, with everything else in baseball, it starts with the pitching.
View the original here: http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com/2010/03/smoke-and-mirrors/
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