Duchscherer on the mend from ailments physical and mental

What Went (Mostly) Right: New Yankee Stadium
Yanks sign outfielder Jon Weber to a minor league deal

Before the 2009 trade deadline, with the Yankees seeking a fifth starter, Justin Duchscherer seemed like an interesting option. He was in the last year of his team control, so even Billy Beane probably couldn’t get a huge return for him. Further suppressing his value, he hadn’t thrown a major league inning since August 18, 2008. He was on a rehab assignment before the trade deadline, so it appeared his return was imminent. While there were clear risks with his health, Duchscherer had proven over the past few years that he can succeed in the rotation and in the bullpen.

On deadline day, we learned that Duchscherer would miss his final rehab start. That always starts the trade speculation, but it turned out that Duchscherer missed his start for personal reasons. The deadline then passed, and we tucked away the Duchscherer talk until the off-season. Now that it’s here, the talks have started back up. But there could be an issue beyond injury that teams should consider when considering Duchscherer.

The personal issue that caused Duchscherer to miss his rehab start, Jerry Crasnick writes, was clinical depression. It’s a great read, not only on Duke, but on how depression affects ballplayers. We’ve seen it occur in a number of players in recent years, including 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. Thankfully, it appears that Duchscherer is over those issues, and is ready to pitch again in 2009. He hopes that is in a starting capacity.

Many teams are presumably interested in Duchscherer. He won’t require a lengthy and expensive contract commitment like John Lackey, and he provides plenty of upside. He was excellent out of the bullpen in 2005 and 2006, and then, after an injury shortened 2007, thrived in the rotation in 2008. He keeps his walks and his home runs low, always attractive attributes for a starting pitcher. In the bullpen Duchscherer displayed the same qualities, and even struck out over eight batters per nine innings. It appears he can work in any role a team has for him.

As Crasnick notes, Duchscherer’s depression might not be a big issue for interested teams. His agent, Damon Lapa, is optimistic that teams will see his depression as “more a ‘technicality’ than an ‘obstacle’ to overcome.” Duchscherer is ready to pitch, and that’s what matters to most teams. It also helps that he has come to grips with the disorder, saying he has embraced “unconditional self-acceptance.”

Even if depression isn’t a factor in signing Duchscherer, certain teams might not be a good fit. As friend of RAB Jonah Keri noted last week, small market teams might have an advantage with introverted players. While many of them can overcome social disorders, playing in a big market — especially in New York — might not be an optimal situation. Then again, Duchscherer has expressed a desire to spend more time with his six-year-old son Evan, who lives in New Jersey. The proximity could work in the Yankees favor.

From a pure pitching standpoint, I’m a Duchscherer fan. He’s not going to replicate his 2.54 ERA from 2008 — he’ll surely surrender more than 6.8 hits per nine innings, which will raise his sterling 0.995 WHIP. Even so, he had a 3.69 FIP in 2008, and a 4.28 tRA. He also keeps the ball on the ground, which means low home run totals. He’s no guarantee as a top of the rotation arm in 2009, and chances are he’s more of a mid-rotation guy. But the Yankees can use someone like that.

Can a pitcher diagnosed with clinical depression thrive in New York? I have no idea, but I don’t think that should hinder the Yankees if they want to pursue Duchscherer. If he thinks he can handle the spotlight in New York, he’s certainly one of the free agent pitchers worth the gamble. His ability to pitch both in the rotation and the bullpen can make him a valuable piece of the 2010 Yankees.

What Went (Mostly) Right: New Yankee Stadium
Yanks sign outfielder Jon Weber to a minor league deal
  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

    Just in case anyone read this before I edited it, I misread the Crasnick article and thought Duke’s son lives in Texas. I fixed that fact and the speculation that goes with it.

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    I thought Greinke had social anxiety disorder?

    Unless that’s a form of depression?

    • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

      Yes and no. One could certainly lead to the other or aggrevate it. Like alcoholism and depression. But each one can exist exclusively. And yes, as far as I know, Greinke mainly suffered from social anxiety disorder.

      • whozat

        yup. Being anxious around people -> avoiding people -> loneliness -> depression. I’m sure also that not being able to do his job (and the thing by which his life was defined throughout his youth) as a result of his disorder led to feelings of worthlessness, which again -> depression.

    • Greg C

      I have lived my entire life with severe social anxiety. I have also been depressed for much of that time. In my case the depression is pretty much an effect and it’s really a never ending cycle- anxiety makes you depressed and the depression keeps you from overcoming the anxiety. This is pretty common among people I know from support groups. Most of my childhood there was really no recognition of social anxiety as a specific disorder and the common action was to treat the depression, if there was treatment at all.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    The Mets sound like the perfect team for J-Douche to play for. The fans don’t care and the park is nice and quiet.

    • Steve H

      The fans don’t care and the park is nice and quiet and the air is just right for drinking. Nice job quoting that yesterday, what a great (and terrible) movie.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        That was the first time I ever saw Jagermeister.

  • Souter Fell

    I’d still be for this guy for a low price. I followed him intently in 08 after I picked him up off waivers and I think his versatility of starter or bullpen if he stumbles works. He should be at least a mil cheaper than offering wang arbitration.

  • JMK aka The Overshare

    I’d take a flyer on him ONLY if we can get J.D. Sallinger on a minor league deal as insurance.

    But seriously, provided he psyche can handle it, why the heck not? He’d make a ton of sense.

  • pat

    You forgot to mention the spastic IBS. I hope he’s past that as well.

    • JMK aka The Overshare

      Maybe that’s the stressor?

    • Steve H

      He’s not, he’ll just have some skid marks to go with the pinstripes.

  • Richard Deegan

    Why not? Can’t be as bad as Manny, only guy in the league who needs PMS meds.
    With the maturity and class of the Yankee clubhouse, I don’t see aproblem.

    • Lanny

      When has Manny ever been depressed??

      • http://www.facebook.com/dougchu Doug

        He can’t hear the laughter anymore.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dougchu Doug

        He can’t hear the laughter anymore.

      • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Best Lanny comment ever.

  • Rob D.

    I’ve hoped since the end of the season that the Yanks would target this guy. He seems to have been lost in the risk/reward shuffle behind Sheets, Harden, and Bedard, but he could help a team in a variety of roles.

  • MattG

    Swingmen and outfielders for one year commitments. That’s the meme for the 2009 off-season. As such, Duchscherer fits the bill.

  • radnom

    Pitching signings (by priority)

    1. Pettite
    (big gap)
    2. Sheets
    (medium gap)
    3. Duchscherer
    4. Harden
    (medium gap)
    5. Bedard

    Harden is as low as he is because of likely competition/cost, but if the price ends up being right he could move up just below sheet very quickly.

  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    In the light of this story http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/internationals/8353964.stm I can only admire Justin Duchscherer to talk about his problems in public. It will only help other players in the future. Kind of reminds of when A-Rod talked about seeing a psychologist.

    • IRememberCelerinoSanchez

      Great point. I’m a soccer fan, and being the #1 goalie for the German national team is like being a rock star there. Shows you how powerful depression can be.

      If Duchscherer feels like he would thrive in New York, I think he’d be a great pickup (if the price is right). I would like to see CC, AJ and Andy joined by a guy like Duchscherer. If Phil and Joba pitch great in the spring, Duchscherer can slide to the pen. If one of them falters, Duchscherer can move to the rotation and let the falterer (new word, copyright IRememberCelerinoSanchez 2009) work things out in Scranton or the pen.

  • http://www.wiredtowns.com Short Porch

    Loved Crasnick’s piece. I think he can help. The Yanks can help him back.

    I say ‘sign the guy.’

    Fear Strikes Out


  • CB

    Can a pitcher diagnosed with clinical depression thrive in New York?

    New York City likely has the highest percapita rate of high priced psychiatrists and psychologists in the entire country. And it has many of the most “high stress” professions in the entire world. And it seems like the Wall Street “thrives” fairly well.

    • JMK aka The Overshare

      While I agree that NYC likely has the highest per capita rate of high-priced psychiatrists and psychologists in the entire country, and also the most “high-stress” professions, I’m not sure your last statement meshes well.

      I’m not in any of the professions listed but I often deal with many Wall Street guys (and gals) and my step-father works in finance. As a personal anecdote, depression certainly runs quite high in those fields, for many of the reasons you’d expect. How are you qualifying “thrives”? Sure, many make very good money and are quite productive, but the I’m not sure the link you’re connecting is quite there. Emotionally and psychologically, there are many struggles people in those industries face. Some deal better than others but I’m not sure I see your point still.

      Could you elaborate further?

  • http://www.wiredtowns.com Short Porch

    New York? Clinically depressed? He’d fit right in.

  • JM

    So… He’s pretty much emo? In all seriousness, though, I would definitely pursue him as a 4/5 guy (assuming Pettitte is back). That would be a sick rotation of:

    1. C.C.

    2. A.J.

    3. Pettitte

    4. Duchscherer
    5. Joba/Hughes

  • Grammar Police

    As someone who is in the process of becoming an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), I deal with people struggling with depression daily. Depression and anxiety disorder can exist together, as ClayLovesLaptops said, but they don’t have to, and are completely different.

    Any mood disorder that Duchscherer may have had can come back at any time, but if treated properly, he can overcome them. It’s completely up to the individual. In my professional opinion, I would be much more concerned with a player like Greinke, because social anxiety disorder is much more difficult to treat. I didn’t read the article, but the depression could have been about numerous things, but probably wasn’t about any one thing, more a combination. Before he signs with any team, I assume he will consult with his therapist about it. Depression is something that often times comes back with or without medication. With the New York media, Greinke would possibly struggle (especially considering he already said he wouldn’t want to pitch here, he is already setting himself up for failure if he did). Duchscherer quite possibly pitched through a mild depression in 2007 and it worsened in ’08. I would guess that being injured actually could have been a factor in developing the depression, but unless he is very open about all facets of his life, most wouldn’t know about what really caused it. I wouldn’t be concerned about him pitching in New York anymore then in any other city.

  • theyankeewarrior

    The question is what will the Sox be willing to offer this guy? They are in the same position as the Yanks in terms of wanting to either add a big-time guy like Halladay for the right price, or smaller pieces with big upside like this guy.

    I’ll bet that Cashman and Theo both know who they really want already and will go out of their ways to disguise it through the media and at the winter meetings.

    There will be a lot of propaganda/bs articles with solid sources saying that “the Yanks love player X” and “the Sox are going hard after player Y” when they are really both thinking about trying to get players Z and W for cheap.

  • Brian

    What type of deal do you think it would take to sign him?

  • Richard Deegan

    Jimmy P ROCKED in NY. City stress got him high enough to hit .300 in tow short tours in La-La Land.
    I can still see him running around the bases backwards.

  • mustang

    What is it with you guys and Billy Beane players or any ex A’s players?

    • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      Hold on… What other ex A’s are people pining away for? (I’m not being sarcastic, it’s an honest question.)

      • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

        I guess he could be including Swisher?

        • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Yeah, I guess… Doesn’t make much sense, though.

      • mustang

        There was a love affair with Mark Kotsay before he fell of the map Chad Gaudin and yes Swisher he did play 4 years in OAK before his cup of coffee in Chicago now Justin Duchscherer.

        Those 2004 to 2007 Championship Billy Beane team members seem to be a big hit here.

        • mustang

          Just wondering why?

        • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          “There was a love affair with Mark Kotsay before he fell of the map…”

          I don’t remember people here at RAB having some sort of candlelight vigil for Mark Kotsay. There may have been interest, but you’re misrepresenting the intensity of that interest.

          “Chad Gaudin…”

          When were people pining away for Chad Gaudin and hoping the Yankees would acquire him? He came here and did a nice job. Are people supposed to not acknowledge and appreciate that? More importantly, acknowledging and appreciating that is a totally different concept than hoping the Yanks would acquire the guy.

          “.. and yes Swisher he did play 4 years in OAK before his cup of coffee in Chicago…”

          Again, when were people pining away for Nick Swisher and hoping the Yankees would acquire him? And, again, more importantly… Acknowledging and appreciating performance while with the Yanks is a totally different concept than hoping the Yanks would acquire the guy.

          Look… You made what you thought might be a decent joke about fans pining away for Oakland guys, seemingly because you have some sort of problem with the A’s and Billy Beane, but your joke really has no basis in reality and doesn’t make any sense. Just admit as much and let it go, don’t stubbornly tie yourself to a sinking ship.

          • mustang

            Pining away or not it does seem like many of Mr. Beane castaways seem to somehow look great pinstripes here.
            Again just wondering why?

            No problem with the A’s and NEVER understood the greatness of Mr. Beane.

            • http://threequarters.cementhorizon.com/archives/kool%20aid%20man.bmp The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              Why what? Why do people want to see some of those guys in pinstripes or why are some of them good as Yankees?

              I think the answer to both is that there’s no special phenomenon happening here, I think you could pick out a team at random and have a pretty decent chance of thinking of a few decent Yanks who had played for that organization at some point in their career.

              On second thought, one of your examples doesn’t even really qualify… Gaudin came into MLB as a Ray, then went to Toronto, then Oakland, then Chicago (North Side), then San Diego, then New York. It’s not like he’s a product of the Oakland system, he just happened to pass through there the same way he has passed through a number of organizations. That’s what journeymen do.

              Actually, Kotsay falls into that category, too. He came in with Florida, then spent time in San Diego, then went to Oakland, then Atlanta, then Boston, then Chicago (South Side). He was a product of the Marlins’ system and he spent more time in the Marlins’ organization than he did with Oakland.

  • Greg

    Oh yea. Clinically depressed should play well in ny or bos

  • Meat Loaf

    Does he represent an immediate upgrade over Phil Hughes? Probably.

    Does he represent an immediate upgrade over Joba Chamberlain? Possibly.

    Does his history of mental health issues bode well in the most scrutinized sports franchise in America? Uh, no.

    I’d probably rank him up there in the pitchers market, but it’s just too painfully obvious NYC does not fit him.