The Yankees have an opening in their starting rotation now that Bartolo Colon is on the 15-day DL. Colon’s turn in the rotation next comes on Thursday. During the press conference after Sunday’s game Joe Girardi said that he would make a decision about Bartolo’s replacement when the time came.
Hector Noesi is the most likely candidate to be given an audition, but nothing is set in stone. In this environment it is only a matter of time before there are calls for the Yankees to give Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances an opportunity to pitch for the open starter’s job. That would be a terrible idea.
It’s not that Banuelos and Betances haven’t pitched well enough to merit a shot at the big leagues. Quite the opposite, in fact, each one has pitched well so far. Banuelos has a 2.84 ERA, a 3.83 FIP and a 1.456 WHIP in 50.2 innings of work according to Fangraphs and 56.1 innings of work according to Baseball Reference in AA Trenton this year (I have no idea why they disagree). Betances, meanwhile, has been even better. Also in AA Trenton, he’s pitching to a 1.75 ERA, a 3.22 FIP and a 1.110 WHIP in 51.1 innings of work (both sites agree this time). The two pitchers are showing incredible promise for the time when they eventually break into the Bronx, they just aren’t strong enough yet.
According to Baseball Reference, Manny Banuelos has never pitched more than 109.0 innings in a standard minor league season (I’m using B-Ref for this because it separates regular season data from winter ball better than Fangraphs). Last season he pitched only 64.2 innings of work. Betances, meanwhile, hasn’t gone much further. His max was 121.2 innings, which he accumulated in 2008. Last season he pitched only 85.1 innings. Neither pitcher has come anywhere near the total workload a playoff bound team (which the 2011 Yankees probably are) requires in the majors. Putting that kind of pressure on their young arms risks injuring them.
The different professional experiences of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ivan Nova offer strong evidence that the surest way to develop a young starting pitcher is to give him enough work in the minors to be able to call him up to the majors and not constrain him with innings limits or other restrictions. The Yankees did not do this with Hughes or Chamberlain. While only medical professionals are qualified to argue whether or not this contributed to their spate of injuries, anyone who follows the team knows that both pitchers were called upon at young ages, neither responded well to the innings limits put upon them and both have accumulated impressive medical dossiers.
In contrast, Ivan Nova was never a superstar Yankee prospect. The team never felt that it was desperately in need of his services. As a result, he was allowed to accumulate quite a few innings in the minors. Nova’s Fangraphs page paints a picture of a young pitcher whose workload increased gradually. He tossed 43.0 innings in 2006, 99.1 innings in 2007, 148.2 innings in 2008, 139.1 innings in 2009, and had tossed 145.0 innings in the minors in 2010 before the Yankees asked him to pitch 42.0 innings in the big leagues (for a total of 187.0 in all of 2010).
Nova’s work load has increased incrementally each year. While it is fair to argue that he is not as talented as Hughes, Chamberlain, or either of the Killer B’s, and therefore wasn’t as important to the team, the fact remains that he doesn’t appear to be at risk of getting injured this season either. ESPN currently projects Nova to pitch 175 innings this season. That would be less than his total last season. The Yankees could call upon him for that, and still have ample room to use him as needed out of the bullpen for the playoffs, or as a starter if better options are not available. Other pitchers may be more valuable options than Nova (whose 97 ERA+ is acceptable from a 5th starter) but only if they are healthy enough to pitch, which he is.
Unless the phrases “Banuelos rules” or ”Betances rules” appeal to you, the best option for these two is to remain in the minor leagues until they’ve accumulated enough innings for the Yankees to be able to call them up and pitch them without restrictions. That threshold is probably something in the ballpark of 150 innings, which, realistically, neither will reach until at least the end of this season and possibly the 2012 season. As frustrating as it may be to have to wait before we as fans can see what these two are made of, the Yankees have a terrible track record of developing starters, particularly starters they’ve rushed from the minors to the majors. If either of these two can turn into reliable, young, cost-controlled starters then it is worth it waiting for them to build up their strength in the minors, and not stressing their arms simply because the Bombers have an opening.
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