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This is a guest post from friend of the blog Jamal Granger. It is an excellent and thorough read, and I could not agree more with his conclusion.

In April 2008, the New York Yankees opened the MLB season with a rotation of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Employing two first-round picks that never pitched a full season at the major-league level, the Yankees were set to embark on a new era in their starting rotation. After pitching just 116 innings in the previous campaign due to multiple injuries, Hughes was likely slated to throw 170-180 innings because he had a career-high of 146 IP over his 2006 campaign at High-A Tampa (30 IP) and Double-A Trenton (116 IP). As for Kennedy, the restrictions were likely off in 2008 as he threw 165.1 innings across three minor-league levels (A+ through AAA) and the majors in 2007. The final piece of the Big Three, Joba Chamberlain, was on the strictest of limits with regards to his innings because he pitched just 112.1 professional innings in ’07 (he started his season a month late on May 7th due to a hamstring injury suffered in Spring Training) as starter down on the farm and a reliever in both the minors and majors, and that was only bested by the 118.2-mark in his sophomore season at Nebraska in 2005. All things being considered-Chamberlain having experience as a reliever and Hughes and Kennedy being able to throw 170 and 200 innings, respectively-the Yankees made the correct decision by starting Hughes and Kennedy in the rotation and Chamberlain – expected to make a transition to the rotation later in the year – in the bullpen.

Unfortunately, things do not always work out the way you would like. After performing abhorrently in a twenty-two-inning sample to begin the year (5.78 xFIP, 1 K/BB and 2.14 WHIP), Hughes was placed on the disabled list for the second year in a row (hamstring injury in 2007) due to a fractured rib cage, and the 2004 first-round pick would not return until September. Kennedy’s 6.00 xFIP, 1.13 K/BB and 1.75 WHIP in his 37.2-IP sample was quite awful as well. To make matters worse, the USC product suffered a strain to his latissimus dorsi muscle (that huge back muscle) and was optioned to Triple-A Scranton after his rehab assignment – a start each in the Gulf Coast League and Florida State League – was completed; he would make his final start and second-to-last appearance as a Bronx Bomber on August 8th, a two-inning, five-run outing in Anaheim (funny, his final appearance as a Yankee – a scoreless, one-inning relief appearance in 2009 – was also in Anaheim).

Somewhat fortunately, these injuries opened a spot for Chamberlain in the major-league rotation, and the son of a Winnebago American Indian went from a bull in a china shop to a cow in the meadow before our very eyes: 2.64 FIP, 3.3 K/BB and a K% of 27 (the MLB average for a starter is 16%) in 58.2 IP that spanned June 13th through August 4th, or when he was fully stretched out as a starter in Houston until his injury in Arlington. Included in that ten-start sample was the dominating performance against Texan Josh Beckett (non-steer division) and the Boston Red Sox in Fenway on July 25th: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 9 K and a .515 WPA (his career high).

However, that start against the Rangers is where the fate of Chamberlain and Hughes would be completely altered for the next three years. Tendinitis in his right rotator cuff forced Chamberlain to the DL and although he would return to the Yankees just four weeks later, it would be as a reliever for the remainder of the 2008 campaign. So, in a season in which the Yankees planned to give Hughes 170-180 innings and Chamberlain 150-160 innings, the two highly-touted prospects pitched 69.2 and 100.1 innings, respectively.

Entering 2009, Chamberlain joined free-agent signees A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia and leftovers Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang to form one of the best rotations the organization could call their own since 2003; Hughes, cut from major-league camp just prior to the final week of March, would start the year in Scranton as the #1 replacement starter. Absolute suckitude by Chien-Ming Wang that was caused by conditioning issues regarding his hip led to an opening for the south Cali kid in the major-league rotation. A 4.96 FIP in his 34.2 IP as a starter in New York (yes, I know most of that damage came from an eight-run outing over 1.2 IP in Baltimore, but I’m not going dilute an already ridiculously small sample just to make a point) and a rushed reactivation of Wang due to an Adam Jones line-drive that hit Chamberlain’s knee versus the Orioles led to Hughes being placed in the major-league bullpen for the rest of the ’09 campaign. A healthy Chamberlain was able to hit his innings ceiling (163.2), but a starter-turned-one-inning-reliever Hughes pitched just 92.1 innings.

As we enter the 2010 campaign, the Yankees have decided to place Hughes in the major-league rotation with Chamberlain possibly headed to the bullpen. As you have read, Hughes has yet to top 116 IP in three years, and potentially would have not in 2010 if he were not placed in a rotation. On the other hand, if Chamberlain pitches the entire season as a reliever (multi-inning or not), his career high of 163.2 IP would had been reached as recently as 2009, much unlike Hughes’ career high of 146 IP that was reached nearly a half-decade ago. Essentially, the Yankees had to balance starting the year with their best twelve-man pitching staff and the best way to give Chamberlain and Hughes a chance to be unrestricted starters in 2011 and beyond. Moshe Mandel brought this point up just yesterday and I could not have agreed more.

Seeing as how the Yankees wanted to bring their twelve best pitchers with them to New York and they had to give Hughes a starter’s workload (he’s averaged about 103 innings over the last three seasons, and his innings have decreased by 15.2 from ’07 to ’08 and 8 from ’08 to ’09) just to ensure that he could be a full-time starter when Pettitte and Javier Vazquez are free agents, what other logical decision could Brian Cashman and his people have made to best facilitate this plan? Personally, I see none. The unfortunate injuries of 2008 and the favor the organization placed on winning in 2009 (i.e., making Hughes into an one-inning reliever) caused the plans for Chamberlain and Hughes to be altered quite a bit in 2010 and 2011. So, yes, I do think the Yankees have a plan and I do think it is the right one; injuries and decisions that aided a 2009 championship run just changed things up a bit.

7 Responses to “Guest Post: Awful 2008 Still Impacting The Yankees”

  1. I don’t look at this like everyone else does. I look at it from the viewpoint that the Yankees didn’t make the wrong move by putting Hughes in the rotation. They made the wrong move in burning Joba in the pen. If they had him work innings 6-9 every time Hughes started a game this year, he would at least be stretched out a bit more in case of emergency.

    My problem, and I know I keep repeating it, is that once Vasquez was brought aboard the team didn’t have a spot for one of the guys. Having too much pitching is never a bad thing. That said, since they won’t send Joba down, he is being wasted. The idea of having young up and coming pitchers is the cost controlled nature of it. That’s what the sales pitch has been all along. Once free agency begins, someone will offer at least one of the two a larger contract. Not that the Yankees can’t afford it, but the idea of cost controlled is that they are cheap. What I have preached is dealing one of the two to fill a hole. Instead, the team now has a starter in the pen, and a weak spot in left field (I’m a fan of Gardner. I’m just trying to think of a spot that can be upgraded). I said last night, if they could have done Joba and Montero for Sizemore (even though last night I was told he is just like Hafner since they came off the juice, I stand by it), or Joba for Nelson Cruz, or Hughes or Joba for Colby Rasmus, etc… I think it would have worked better. That’s just me. However, next year you will still have Hughes who has an innings limit, Joba transitioning BACK to the rotation, and another year of “cost controlled” pitching burned. You just can’t keep moving Joba. It’s not fair to him; it’s Aaron Heilman all over again, and it’s going to cost Joba on the free agent market (although you could argue he might get paid more as a closer for someone then as a starter, I don’t know…)

    It’s just not how a good organization runs their team.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Reggie C. Reply:

    I’ve never read anything reputable hinting at the possibility that the respective teams for Sizemore or Rasmus were ever considering a blockbuster trade. The indians have carlos santana nearly ready so they’ve got no need for Montero. Sizemore remains the face of the Indians franchise and he’s signed to a very team friendly contract. Rasmus remains under team control for the next … who knows … its a long time.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Jay Reply:

    I’m not a general manager. I have zero experience at making trades. I read MLBTR like the rest, and that’s it. The idea I was getting it is that sticking Joba in the pen is a waste of his talent. Quite frankly as a father, if I was Harlan I would be pissed that my son misses out on the massive financial windfall that befalls starting pitchers.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  2. 32 starts, figure about 6.5 innings average for the starter, gives you 208 innings. We need to give Joba and Phil 160 innings each to set them both up (total 320), with the least risk, for no restrictions in ’11.

    I can see a situation where, if starters 1-4 stay healthy, both Phil and Joba end up with split seasons in the bullpen and as starters. Evenly divided, 104 innings for starts, 56 innings for relief. That’s my guess as to what we’ll see unfold throughout the year. Unless Phil is stellar right from the get-go. Then, it looks like we have to get two free agents in ’11.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  3. Damn fine read. Good god Jamal. How old are you again?

    Alright, I wonder if the front-office decided that the risk of injury to Joba due to the 60 inning jump from ’08 to ’09 was too high to ignore. Though Joba seemingly entered spring training fully healthy, perhaps the doctors and the executives conversed and came to a different conclusion: that Joba’s continued reduced velocity and mechanics made his FB all too hittable. Joba could still end up tossing over 100 innings if he’s sent to Scranton, and as of this post date, that remains possible.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

    Jamal G. Reply:

    I turned 21 on March 8th. Thanks for the kind words.

    Rebecca Glass of This Purist Bleeds Pinstripes wondered the same thing just yesterday, but I did not hear any reports of diminished velocity during the stretch run nor did I hear of anything regarding his mechanics suffering from fatigue. However, I do subscribe to the theory that the reason he struggled so mightily down the stretch had much more to do with him significantly surpassing a career-high innings ceiling of 112.1 innings as a professional in 2007 than any mental drawbacks he might have had due to the shortened starts in August and September.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

  4. “Texan Josh Beckett (non-steer division) ”

    Hahahahah! I’m glad somebody else liked that. Sean Forman posted in my thread that he already took it down, which is understandable on his part.

    BTW-Nice piece Jamal, as always.  (Quote)

    [Reply To This Comment]

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