Would Wang have been so bad in the bullpen?


Yesterday the Yankees announced their first solution to the good problem. With six starting pitchers for five rotation spots, the Yanks opted to place Chien-Ming Wang back in his rotation spot at the expense of Phil Hughes. The latter will go to the bullpen for the next two weeks while the Yankees make sure Wang is back to his former self. If he is, Hughes heads back to AAA Scranton to get consistent starts and innings. As far as solutions to this problem go, it’s tough to argue against this one.

Since starting pitchers are more valuable than relievers, the Yankees want their five best pitchers in the starting rotation. How they define “best” is clear. First you have established guys, then your reliable vets, then your high ceiling guys. CC and A.J. fit the first descriptor, Wang and Pettitte fit the second. That leaves Joba and Hughes. Chamberlain’s ceiling is probably a bit higher than Hughes’s, but in any case Joba wins on performance this year. So Hughes is the odd man out. But rather than just option him now, they’re holding onto him just in case this solution doesn’t work out. It seems like the smart thing to do, as it 1) keeps Phil around in case the plan doesn’t work out, and 2) holds in back just a little, which is okay given his innings ceiling for the year.

What’s wrong, some might ask, with keeping Hughes in the pen? It’s a weakness, and he could help out. While both statements are true, it doesn’t mean that Hughes is the man to fill that role. He’s young and still has parts of his game which need to develop. This includes working his innings up to over 200. Installing him in the bullpen will only serve to limit his innings beyond what the Yankees have planned for him this season. So while they might get a bump in the short term, they do it at the expense of the long term.

(This isn’t to say that you always sacrifice the short term for the long term. There’s a balance for sure, but I’m not so sure Hughes and Joba are the guys you want on the short term side of that equation.)

The only alternative to the current solution (or one exactly like it) is to place one of those vets in the pen. If that seems unconventional, well, it is. When that vet is a two-time 19-game winner, it’s even less conventional. But, from a baseball standpoint, what if it’s the optimal move? What if your two high ceiling guys are among your five best pitchers. Do you dare move one of the vets to the pen?

Michael Salfino of SNY wonders if Chien-Ming Wang would work in the bullpen. Most fans don’t consider this, because we’re used to seeing Wang start games and go seven, eight strong innings. Clearly, that’s more valuable than a bullpen arm. The only way for it to make sense is if Wang is not among the Yankees five best starters. In any case, it appears he would work well out of the bullpen. This uses work from Harvy Pavlidis and the inimitable Tom Tango, based on a formula by Dan Szymborski. So how does it work for Wang?

My Wang conversion (based on how he’s pitched as a starter for his career) is a 2.89 ERA, 5.71 K/9, and 1.08 WHIP (baserunners per inning). Of course, he’d still be an extreme groundball pitcher. (Note: my conversion formula is based on how a sampling of modern starters turned relievers actually performed through 2006.)

Szymborski says Wang as a reliever would have a 3.09 ERA with 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.21 WHIP.

That’s not bad at all. Of course, it’s all theoretical. We can’t expect a computer to definitively predict a player’s performance in a foreign role. I like to think of it as “should be able to.” Wang should be able to attain these marks out of the bullpen. Of course, those numbers are based on his numbers as a starter, and if he can put up his normal starter numbers he’s more valuable in the rotation.

The advantage of having Wang in the pen is that the Yankees are no longer developing him. They can use the starting innings on Joba and Hughes, who both are pitching well at the major league level. Wang can spot start and eventually take over when Joba hits his innings limit (whether he’s shut down or transitioned to the bullpen). In other words, not getting Wang enough innings isn’t a big deal, but not getting Hughes and Joba their innings is.

The point is pretty much moot at this point. The Yankees have moved Wang into the rotation, and I’d be hard pressed to argue that it’s not the best place for him to be. With Andy Pettitte struggling lately (and possibly being injured), the Yanks should certainly be focused on getting their best guys the ball every five days. Who knows; maybe Pettitte hits the DL and comes back in relief. Yes, Andy Pettitte is a starting pitcher, but the Yanks have shown that they’re not reluctant to try different solutions to their good problem.

Categories : Pitching
  • JRVJ

    I don’t much agree with this artice, because: 1. Phil has pitched 34.2 MLB innings and 19.1 AAA innings. That totals 54 innings.

    Phil pitched 70 MLB and minor league innings last year (plus some more in Arizona).

    Assuming the Yankees will take the Verducci 30 inning per year increase seriously, Phil will hit his innings limit this year, easy.

    2. Joba pitched 100.1 MLB innings in 2008, and is already up to 53.1 innings this year.

    Joba will also hit his innings limit this year (in some ways, that fluke game where he had to leave in the first inning may have helped him), and in fact, it might do him good to be skipped once or twice in favor of Phil.

    (Together, Phil and Joba should be able to throw approximately 260 innings this year).

    3. One of the non – Phil / Joba starters will eventually go on the disabled list, even if only for a bit.

    Arguably, those innings will go to Phil.

    4. CMW only threw 40 pitches in his last game.

    He may or may not be able to extend to 80 pitches today, but it’s surely a good idea to have Phil shadow him for this and his next start.

    • kunaldo

      Together, Phil and Joba should DEFINITELY go 300+ actually…you don’t look at the last years innings for the +30, you look at the highest theyve ever pitched…both of them are on a limit of about 150, with Phil being a little more i think…

      • JRVJ

        I should have explained the Verducci reference a little more clearly, but the joint 260 innings number was a number I used because there’s a legitimate chance that one or both of Phil and/or Joba will not be available all of the regular season (or alternatively, September comes, the Yanks look strong to make the playoffs, and then Phil and/or Joba’s work is reduced to have them available for the playoffs).

        • kunaldo

          ohh…yeah i think the yanks would rather get the innings mostly over with before the playoffs…b/c you cant guarantee how long the playoffs will go…so they may not be able to hit their limits then

          • JRVJ

            Yes, but neither Phil nor Joba profile as starters in the playoffs (perhaps Joba, but almost certainly not Phil).

            If they don’t go deep in the playoffs, they will probably be in the ball park of their innings limit for this season.

    • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      The Verducci rule recommends no more than about a 30 inning increase over the pitcher’s previous career high, not the previous season’s innings total.

      • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        My bad, didn’t see that kunaldo had already mentioned this point.

      • JP

        Does anyone think this “rule” is too simplistic?

        A _flat_ number, 30 innings? For everyone? So if your career high was 120, you can increase that by 25% to 150, but if your high was 210, you can increase that only 14%, almost half, proportionally?

        Why do they count pitches to regulate effort during a game, but innings for work during a season? Joba goes 4 innings, 100 pitches, and that counts only half toward his total as an 8-inning, 100 pitch outing?

  • Manimal

    I still think Pettitte should sit out a couple starts to get healthy and Hughes could get a couple more starts.

    • A.D.

      That still may happen.

    • kunaldo

      agreed…he says he feels fine physically, but then why has he not pitched his last few bullpens? he needs to rest up

      • cult of basebaal

        the downside of incentives based contracts …

    • Chris

      I wonder if there would be some push back from Pettitte because of the incentives in his contract. Unless there is a clear injury (say an MRI showing something torn), then there could be some arguments about him going on the DL.

      • Manimal

        I’m pretty sure Girardi would force him to sit out if thats the case

      • Doug

        and that’s the problem with the contract he signed. saw this coming when he signed the damned thing.

        the yanks have to do what’s best for the team. if that’s removing pettitte from the rotation, so be it.

        • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

          Surely they can agree to pay out the bonus even if the innings number isn’t reached to keep him happy

          • Doug

            and you really think the yanks’ brass will do that, just out of the goodness of their hearts?

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

              Yeah really. Just look how they stuck to their guns financially when Andy was a free agent this offseason.

      • Dave M

        That could be the case with the incentives. I also wonder if he thinks that if he misses a start, that Hughes will pitch so well that he won’t get his spot in the rotation back?

  • http://www.freewebs.com/ps3tf2/ Double-J

    We can’t leave Wang in the bullpen.


    • radnom

      Take it easy on the guy. He is probably still reeling today from the McLouth trade.

      • http://www.freewebs.com/ps3tf2/ Double-J

        Another Cashman failure, McClouth is like Joe D and the Mick combined!!11!1111!! [/Francesca]

  • Doug

    is anybody else concerned with hughes’ health if, let’s say he stays in the pen 3 weeks, then goes back to AAA and starts. you’re playing around with a 22-year old arm there. starting, relieving, then starting again.

    • kunaldo

      yeah i dont like it…look what happened to joba last year…i’d much rather be safe than sorry…so hopefully the yanks dont make him too much of a short man in the pen…

      maybe he’ll pitch out of the pen, and get extra work on the side?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Nah, they wouldn’t just throw him right back out there and expect 100 pitches out of him. they’d gradually build him up over three or four or however many starts it takes. Teams do this kind of thing with young pitchers all the time, really.

      • Doug

        mike, do you see hughes as a 1 inning guy or do the yanks use him for longer stretches (2+ innings)

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          I hope they use him in the most efficient way possible, which would be multiple innings at a time. Say the 7th and 8th.

          I wonder if they’re willing to bring him into a game in the middle of an inning. He did it in the playoffs a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean much of anything.

          • Doug

            agree with you on using him multiple innings (30+ pitches). again, it comes back to when he returns to SWB. if he’s only throwing 12,15,18 pitches here then goes back to being a starter there, just concerned about his health. and i hear you when you say they will build him up. of course they will. i dunno, maybe i’m overreacting here

            • http://mantisfists.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/julius-carry-aka-shonuff.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              Not overreacting… IF there was reason to believe the Yankees wouldn’t be careful with him, it would be a valid concern. I agree with Mike, though. There’s really no reason to think they won’t handle the transition(s) with care.

            • Bo

              The Yankees treat these young pitchers like fine china. They won’t “Dusty Baker” Hughes in the pen

              • Sweet Lou

                Dusty Baker, along with Billy Martin and Dallas Green might be the three worst managers to handle young starting pitching the last 40 years. I was a Billy Martin fan but what he did to those A’s pitchers in the early 80′s and Al Leiter was criminal.

        • JP

          I’ll bet you they use him sparingly, if at all, in the pen. They will err toward using him in long relief, so as to keep him as much as possible in starting pithcer mode.

          The bullpen move is just a cover story for keeping him on the MLB roster until they are sure Wang is back on form, and Pettitte is healthy. This move is more about other pitchers than it is about Hughes.

  • Dave M

    “My Wang conversion (based on how he’s pitched as a starter for his career) is a 2.89 ERA, 5.71 K/9, and 1.08 WHIP (baserunners per inning). Of course, he’d still be an extreme groundball pitcher. (Note: my conversion formula is based on how a sampling of modern starters turned relievers actually performed through 2006.)”

    Sorry but the Wang conversion part just sounds funny to me.

  • Doug

    As to the point of the article, don’t like Wang in the pen long-term as he puts too many balls into play. You can work around that as a starter, not as much as a reliever in high-leveraged situations.

    • JP

      Are swing and miss pitchers better than groundball pitchers in high leverage situations? Seriously, asking…does anyone know data on this?

      Obviously, if you are a swing and miss pitcher and you don’t walk guys, that’s the ideal for a leverage situation. But if you walk lots of guys, I’m not sure that a groundball guy like Wang wouldn’t be better out of the pen. You get double plays…

  • Doug

    For anyone with ESPN Insider access, there’s a new Baseball Prospectus article on the whole Joba/Hughes/Wang issue. Very well written and informative, coming to the conclusion that Joba and Wang belong in the rotation, with Hughes the man for the pen.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    I guess I wouldn’t have much of a problem leaving Wang in the ‘pen the rest of the year if he struggles again as a starter. But that, of course, leaves him vulnerable next year when he (presumably) re-enters the rotation. The same could be said for Hughes, but his innings cap somewhat mitigates that fear.

  • BklynJT

    You don’t put a proven starter (who when is right, is a #2 pitcher on most staffs) in the bullpen because you believe you might have a good potential future starter in Hughes. When Wang is right, neither Joba nor Hughes is better than him at this point.

    • Chip


    • http://forums.projectcovo.com/images/smilies/e6omir.gif OmgZombies!

      I think Joba is better than Wang already. He can surely match or beat Wangs career 4.06 ERA 1.32 WHIP as a starter this year.

      • BklynJT

        There is no doubt that Joba should be better than Wang in the future, but when Wang isn’t hurt, he is 19 game winner and puts the Yankees in a position to win every game he pitches while saving the bullpen. Joba, like many young pitchers, struggle from consistency issues and going late into the game. Wang does not have that problem (outside of this year).

    • JP

      You don’t put a proven starter (who when is right, is a #2 pitcher on most staffs) in the bullpen because you believe you might have a good potential future starter in Hughes. When Wang is right, neither Joba nor Hughes is better than him at this point.

      Maybe, but there’s a bunch of ifs in there. Wang, this year, judged on his starts so far, is the worst pitcher on the team.

      There is some logic to sort of dipping your toe in the water with Wang, and not just making a wholesale move and announcing he is a starter again.

      Again, a veteran player does something to hurt the team….like Jeter insisting on playing last year with the wrist injury (hurting the team in the process), Pettitte was uncharacteristically wild last night probably due to his back stiffness. If he had agreed to sit out, they could have started Wang and gotten a glimpse of his progress to this point, without upsetting anything else in the rotation for the moment.

      But I’m sure Andy’s clout carries the day.

  • Chip

    On a related note, how perfect would it be if Wang went out and threw a no-hitter next week in Fenway? I mean, he’d simply be regressing to the mean right? :)

    • A.D.

      I like this line of thinking.

    • Doug

      and his ERA would still be about 15, right? :-)

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    I love Phil Hughes, maybe a little too much, but I definitely do define “best” as “two-time 19-game winner whose only fault here was getting injured.”

    Wang should get every reasonable opportunity to get his rotation spot back. As long as the Hughes bullpen move is extremely short-term, which I think it will be, all will be fine.

  • Bo

    Wang won’t have too many chances to cement this spot in the rotation. The Yankees mentioned the next 2 weeks Hughes will spend in the major league pen. Means Wang has about that many starts to prove he is healthy and ready to pitch.

  • gxpanos

    I think the Yanks’ move is the best one. I was happy to hear this last night. I would hate leaving Wang in the bp the whole year, and I think it’s absurd to say Phil should start because he’s still developing while Wang isn’t. Why do you develop guys in the first place, then? When Hughes is winning 19 games in 2011 should they let Betances pitch in the Bigs because at that point Hughes is “no longer developing?” AAA can develop guys too, and that’s where Phil should be, if he’s not the best big league option.

    You don’t take a guy as good as Wang and not use him in his optimal position.

    • JP

      You don’t take a guy as good as Wang and not use him in his optimal position.

      That’s the question, though, isn’t it? How good is Wang?

      Please, let him prove me wrong, but I say he never wins 19 games again, and is never more than a 3-4 starter…

      • gxpanos

        Well. I guess it’s been settled then…Wang’s mediocre now.

        I mean, “how good is Wang?” really ISNT the question here. He needs to have the 2-week “tryout” no matter what. We’re arguing over what the best course of action is with 6 effective big league starters. Obviously, if in these 2 weeks Wang bombs, Hughes slides back in.

        Also, if Wang at first looks like a back-end guy, that is to say, worse that the 19 game winner we’ve seen, you can’t automatically ship him off. Hughes this year would be a back-end guy, too. Furthermore, it seems like Wang needs regular innings. He needs to trust his plant, get a feel for his release, and build his arm strength back up.

        Rationally speaking, why would a foot injury make him throw 3-4 mph less? It’s not an arm thing. He just needs to trust his plant, and get his mechanics back. It’s mental. It seems like he’s already better than the 25 ERA guy from April.

        • JP

          Come on…Wang had 2 starts where he was as effective as a pitching machine lobbing 80 mph straight fastballs.

          Since then, he has had 5 effective relief innings.

          It is a question of how good he is now. If he gets lit up tonite, would there be any doubt they would put him back in the bullpen? Maybe they’d give him one more start.

          People are talking as if he is a known quantity. He isn’t.

          He was a 3-4.00 ERA guy with front line stuff before he was injured, although at the beginning of last season he was getting hit hard. But still…if he comes back from injury this season and struggles, maybe with a 6.00 ERA for 3-4 starts, fine.

          But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a guy who was literally a batting practice machine. I think it’s very legit to go real slow before you decide what to do.

          Giving him a start for Pettitte last night would have been perfectly reasonable.

          • TomG

            Yeah, I guess you can question whether any pitcher will return to form following an injury, but I still think he’s more of a known quantity at this point than you’re giving him credit for. The guy pitched six dismal innings in April when he clearly was not finished his rehab. The five effective relief innings outweigh those six in April because they’re more in line with his career numbers.

          • gxpanos

            I absolutely grant you most of this. Hence why I said, “that’s not the question.” The question under discussion is, “IF the Yanks have 6 effective big league pitchers, what should they do?” OBVIOUSLY, if Wang is as bad as he was early on, Phil slides back in.

            We all know that if Wang isnt any good, Phil fills out the rotation, and Wang goes to the bp or on the fake DL.

        • UWS

          A foot injury would make him throw slower because he may not be able to plant properly and his mechanics are all screwed up.

          • gxpanos

            I know, I said that. I didn’t really word the rest of it well, though. All I meant was, the doctors and Yankees seem to be implying that Wang’s foot is structurally OK. If that’s the case, he just needs to trust it when he plants and get his mechanics back. And that takes innings. It’s mental, and also about repetition and feel.

            As a result of it being mental, I think there’s a decent chance he can regain his old velocity and movement. If it were an arm thing, and he physically could not ever regain the power sinker, the Yanks would obviously have a bigger problem (though it’d be easier to solve–Phil would be a big leaguer for good).

  • JP

    I agree with Joe Paw–I sorta liked the idea of Wang in the bullpen, since he’s not being “developed,” doesn’t fall under the Verducci rule (what a stupid name…), and is an iffy proposition at the moment.

    I think it’s best if Hughes and Chamberlain get their innings in the majors.

    But I can understand the team preferring Wang, who has a proven track record. I just think the guy is probably on a different track than he was a couple of years ago…

    I still envision the possibility that all 6 of them stay on the ML roster all season and do all of their pitching there. I realize there’s a logistical problem…ideally, you’d like to treat the “development” guys as perfectly as possible, meaning regular starts; but if we’re talking about a “6 guys for 5 spots” type thing, we are goint to be shuffling guys around to account for various innings limits, filling in for injuries, etc., and you’re going to get inconsistent work for Hughes and/or Chamberlain.

    I just have a bad feeling about Wang, and would rather see him be the guy to pitch out of the bullpen and be “jerked” around. But I guess I can understand the decision to go with Wang…

  • e mills

    well with Burnett getting suspended, the problem resolves itself for at least a week (barring his appeal)

  • Nick L.

    The one good thing about Hughes going to the bullpen is that Mariano can help him with his still develpoing cutter.

    • e mills

      Can’t he help him regardless of where he is sitting during the games?

  • mustang

    LMAO… Leave it up to RAB to try and find away to keep Hughes in the rotation even at cost of putting a 29-year-old 2 times 19 game winner in the pen.
    At least you put a few rational escape clauses in thread.
    Nice try.

    Caution- regardless what argument your using your coming close to the B-Jobber and B-Hughesers of the world.

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