Ben, Mike, and I have made no attempt to hide our sincere opinion that Phil Hughes should be called up in the wake of the Yankees recent pitching injuries. Over the course of the season, they will face even more injuries and find that certain pitchers — I won’t even sugar coat it: I’m talking about Igawa — aren’t going to be consistently effective. Therefore, if called up now, Hughes should manage to stay in the rotation for the remainder of the season. People claim that he still has stuff to learn in the minors, but he can learn all of that in the majors. And he’ll learn it against bona fide competition, not the retreads that fill AAA rosters.
Yet, the Yankees decided to call up Chase Wright as a temporary replacement. The reasoning: he impressed them in the spring, and he’s had two dominant outings so far in AA. All of which, of course, means that he’s a better option than the guy with the most talent. At least that’s how the Yankees brass — and many fans — are assessing the situation.
People often cite psychology as a reason to not promote Hughes. He’s not ready, they say — though I wholeheartedly contest that. If you bring him up now and he gets rocked (they say), you can mess up his head and ruin our blue chip prospect. However, if we’re going to talk psychology — which is often an exercise in futility — we have to bring up the damage the Yankees are doing to him right now. First was Spring Training, when they flat out told him he wouldn’t make the team. And now we have him passed over promotion by Chase Wright. How do you think he feels now? At least if he got the call and got smacked around, he could make a learning experience of it.
He says he’s ready, the scouts say he’s ready, but for some reason, the Yankees organization is obsessed with babying its pitchers. Yeah, you don’t want to see your blue chipper bust, but holding him back is going to have adverse effects at some point. He’s mentally ready, and his stuff is ready (and if I hear that he needs a dominating changeup one more time, I’m going to put a fist through my freakin’ wall). Call him up and let him help this team. Keeping him on pitch counts in AAA isn’t doing him any good — or at least compared to the good that can come from a stint in the majors.
I digress, though. My objective wasn’t to campaign for Phil Hughes — again. If management is going to be set in their ways, I’m doing nothing but wasting breath. My objective is to debunk this Chase Wright myth. Even if they are refusing to call up Hughes, there are four other options in the Scranton rotation that are better than Wright.
Let’s take a quick look at Chase. And by quick look, I don’t mean cherry picking one-liners from Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. Yes, BP said that he “has a great curve and little else.” (Thanks, Steve, for pointing to his player card). The little tidbit at the end, though, reads: “He’s bullpen bound.” So if we are to believe one, we must believe the other right? Great curveball, headed for the bullpen. We’re not starting out on a good foot here. And, if we’re going to make mention of Baseball Prospectus, we should also mention that their prospect guru, Kevin Goldstein, makes no mention of Wright in his AA preview.
Ah, but let’s look towards a source that is dedicated solely to the analysis of prospects. From Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook:
…and could play better if he could [learn to use] the same arm slot for his curve as he does for his other pitches.
So we have one source, with a one-liner and nothing else on Chase, saying that he has a great curve (and nothing else, by the way). We have another source — which has written a comprehensive report on the pitcher — saying that he doesn’t use the same arm slot for said curve. He’s going to be using this arm slot against the Indians, who know a thing or two about exploiting the weaknesses of a pitcher.
However, the BP comment could be a typo. They could have meant “great changeup,” because that’s what the BA guys are talking about. Well, one guy from BA mentioned it, in his blog, in passing (another hat tip to Steve):
Chase Wright has one of the better changeups in the minors.
One line in one blog entry. Yet, the guy paid to write the player evaluations in a highly acclaimed book wrote that Chase’s stuff is “just solid.” Solid does not mean “one of the better changeups in the minors.” Solid means just above average. And that’s what Chase Wright has: three average to above-average pitches. And he has yet to use those to dominate above the A+ level.
Wait, you say. He dominated in his first two starts for Trenton this season: 14 innings, 19 strikeouts, and no runs. This guy is awesome!
Let me add a caveat or two to Chase’s first two outings. First is that of the small sample size, which we should all be aware of. Two starts don’t mean much, which is why I haven’t really started dumping on Kei Igawa yet (it’s coming, though).
The second is level of competition. If Igawa went out and dominated the Nationals, many fans would say, “yeah, that’s nice, but it’s the Nationals. Igawa just did what 110 other pitchers will do this year.” And those fans would be right. Nearly any pitcher can handle the Nats, but that doesn’t much matter when he’s getting bombed by the Blue Jays.
In Chase Wright’s two outings, he has faced the AA affiliates of the Orioles and the Nationals. These organizations rank 17 and 30, respectively. Hell, I’d be tempted to take Trenton over the Nationals Major League roster. Anyway, how many future major leaguers did Chase face in those two outings? One: Bill Rowell of the Orioles. This is not surprising, considering the Nationals’ second best position player prospect is older than me — which really doesn’t make him a prospect at all. But hey, Baseball America has to name 30 prospects for each team, so sometimes they have to stretch the definition.
Yet, despite all of this readily available information, the Yankees have decided to go with Wright, and many fans have followed suit. In fact, one fan went so far as to compare him to Erik Bedard (sorry, Steve, for piling it on). Before I even launch into an analytical debunking of this terribly misconceived comparison, let’s just point out one thing: Erik Bedard would be safely at the top of the Yankees rotation.
Steve points to the following to justify his comparison: size, handedness, types of pitches thrown, speed, and experience level met before first big league game. So let’s run through those really quick.
Bedard: plus fastball (92-94 m.p.h.), plus plus change, plus curve
Wright: average fastball (88-90 m.p.h.), plus change (and that’s being generous), average curve
Experience before first big league start
Bedard: spent parts of five seasons in the minors. Never really got rolling because of injuries (topped out at 111 innings in his 2000 season). Dominated AA over 12 starts in 2002 (injury-shortened season). Missed most of 2003 with injuries. Debuted in 2004 to a 4.59 ERA over 137.1 innings.
Wright: Entering his eighth season in the minors. Didn’t break 100 innings until 2005 because he was always placed in short-season leagues (though I’m not sure of his injury history). Managed a decent season despite very bad peripherals in 2005 (not even a 2:1 K:BB ratio). Dominated A+ ball as a 23-year-old for 14 starts.
No, no, no. These guys aren’t comparable at all. Bedard has three plus or plus plus pitches (and his fastball really is plus plus for a lefty), and Wright has three average or slightly above average pitches. Bedard had tons of talent that was marred in the minors by injury, which is why he never climbed the ranks before his big league debut. Wright has marginal talent and never climbed the ranks because he simply wasn’t good enough to do so.
As is perfectly clear, I am very frustrated over this move. I can’t help but think back to Sean Henn in 2005. Before being called up early that season, he started four games for Trenton, allowing just two home runs, striking out 21 and walking nine in 25.1 innings. And we all know what he did for the Yanks. (Warning: I’m not sure if he made all four starts in AA before his initial call up, though I think he did. He was sent back to Columbus, where he also pitched well: 3.23 ERA in 86.1 innings, with 64 strikeouts and 27 walks). And you know what? Henn was also 24 at the time.
So, before we start comparing Chase Wright to a top of the rotation starter, let’s step back and look at the Yankees prior misdoings. I would certainly compare him to Sean Henn before I compared him to Erik Bedard (even though Henn, as well, has — or had — better stuff than Wright).
Of course, I’m still hoping for the best. I may say, “I hope the Yanks get crushed” out of frustration, but I obviously want them to win as many games as possible, even if that means me eating crow. I just don’t have a good feeling about Tuesday…
Photo: Mark LoMoglio, Scout.com