The year of magical pitching

2011 Draft: Yankees sign Dante Bichette Jr.
Saying the Right Thing, Part 1

You could almost taste it. Cliff Lee was going to sign, Andy was going to come back, Hughes would take a step forward, the bullpen would stay healthy and the Yankees would have one of the most dominant pitching staffs in baseball and march towards a 100-win season. It sounds idealistic in retrospect, but at certain junctures this winter it didn’t seem all that far off. Of course, it didn’t quite play out that way. Cliff Lee signed up for the inferior transit system and culture of Philadelphia, Andy retired, and Hughes got hurt and took half of the bullpen with him. And then something funny happened. Brian Cashman made a bunch of little moves, earning screams from the haters, and a lot of them actually worked. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but in 2011 the new market inefficiency has been whatever Cashman says it is.

In the bullpen, Cashman picked up Luis Ayala on a minor-league deal, and while Ayala did make a brief trip to the disabled list in April he’s pitched very well out of the pen. He’s given the Yankees 22.2 innings, giving up 19 hits, 8 walks and striking out 18. He’s getting groundballs at a very nice rate, almost 50%, and he has an ERA of 1.25. Even though his BABIP is relatively normal he has a super-high strand rate and a lower HR/FB ratio, which means his xFIP of 3.77 is likely more predictive of his future performance than his ERA. Regardless, he’s been a useful cog for the team so far nonetheless. The other surprising reliever has been Cory Wade, profiled extensively by Mike here. As Mike noted, he has obvious limitations but he’s a very nice minor league depth move at this time of the year. He’s found his way to the major league roster and he’s pitched perfectly so far, allowing no hits over 3 innings and striking out 3.

In the rotation the hot story right now is Brian Gordon, who pitched 5.1 innings of two run ball against Texas on Thursday, walking three and striking out three. Some wanted Hector Noesi to take this spot, but the organization didn’t feel that he was able to provide the necessary length for a starter given that he has been pitching in relief. Others wanted one of David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell or Adam Warren didn’t get the opportunity to start the major league level. In a piece reviewing Gordon’s performance at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe quoted his fellow Pinstriped Bible author Steven Goldman as getting quite upset about this, saying, “The only possible message is that they will never be good enough, that the Yankees are so deeply suspicious of their own prospects that they would rather take someone else’s trash over their own treasure.” Yet as Jaffe so aptly noted, this isn’t the only possible message the organization is sending the young bucks:

The glass-half-full take on Gordon’s addition is that at no cost, Cashman alertly added another arm to the organizational larder at a time when the Yankees have two starters and two key relievers on the disabled list, with zero guarantee that Colon, Phil Hughes, and Rafael Soriano will be effective and bulletproof the rest of the way

The other two scrap heap rotation pickups are obvious. The first is Freddy Garcia. Despite the fact that he always seems on the verge of getting lit up, Freddy Garcia has been an entirely serviceable fifth starter for the Yankees this year. He has a strikeout rate of 6.38/9 and a walk rate of 3.25/9 to go along with his ERA of 3.63. He doesn’t get a lot of fly balls, and so he lives and dies by his ability to command the ball well and command it low in the zone. He’s managed to throw 72 innings for the Yankees so far this year, and he threw 157 for the White Sox last year, so Sweaty Freddy may be able to keep chugging along all summer long.

And of course there’s Bartolo Colon, arguably the best pitcher on the Yankees until he got hurt. That isn’t meant as disrespect to staff ace CC Sabathia, but it’s remarkable how similar their lines have been. Sabathia has a 3.28 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 3.50 xFIP, a 2.89 K/BB ratio and a 47.3 GB%, whereas Colon has a 3.10 ERA, a 3.34 FIP, a 2.99 xFIP, a 4.00 K/BB ratio and a 47.3 GB%. Colon has struck out more than a batter per nine innings more than Sabathia, but Sabathia has an obvious edge on innings over Colon. But whether or not he compares favorably to Sabathia only demonstrates how spectacular Colon has been on the year. For $900,000 the Yankees have gotten some of the best pitching in baseball this year. To say that he’s exceeded expectations is an understatement. He’s been the $2 scratch-off ticket that wins you a cool grand.

After an offseason that saw the Yankees throw yet another gigantic contract at yet another highly regarded free agent, only to see him go elsewhere, Brian Cashman has shown a remarkable ability to create and preserve depth in the rotation and the bullpen by picking up starters on the cheap and snatching other extraneous pitchers off the lower rungs of the depth charts of other teams. 2011 is a season in which a lot could have gone wrong so far. At times it feels like this team is walking a high wire. But it’s also a season in which a lot of what Brian Cashman has touched has turned to gold. It’s true that you don’t count on these things lasting forever. Is Cory Wade really a shutdown reliever? Is Brian Gordon anything but an organizational arm capable of filling in for a few starts? Will Sweaty Freddy’s stream of junkballs really baffle hitters for another hundred and forty innings? It doesn’t seem likely, and that’s why it’s good to hear that the front office isn’t resting on its laurels and counting on the current crew to take them into October. But it shouldn’t obscure the fact that the contributions of the cast-offs have proven vital to this team’s early season success.

2011 Draft: Yankees sign Dante Bichette Jr.
Saying the Right Thing, Part 1
  • Yardisiak

    I think Goldman is right on and Jaffe misses the point. The issue with the Gordon move is really the following;

    1. The upside of these cast offs is significantly less then letting a prospect get a chance. What is the best case with Gordon? A year or two of league average performance? While a Phelps or Noesi will never be an Ace they do have a larger upside.

    2.At some point you have to let your prospects take their lumps and grow at the major league level. By giving these filler starts to people like Gordon you are taking valuebale experience away from long term options like Phelps and Noesi.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Maybe I’m being pessimistic myself here, but what’s the upside to most of the guys who would’ve gotten this start? Noesi probably has the most and he may just be Ivan Nova with better control and a few more strikeouts at best. Phelps, Mitchell, Pendleton, etc. aren’t exactly Banuelos or Betances here.

      The most important thing to worry about when players go down is depth and by using Gordon, the Yankees protected their depth. They added someone as a buffer that can be easy replaced and/or supplemented if he doesn’t perform well.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      We should also note that a move to fill a few starts ’cause of a 15 day DL stint probably isn’t going to be about upside, especially when the guy being replaced has pitched as well as he had. If Colon had been awful this year and the Yankees were looking for something more permanent, going w/someone other than Gordon who offers a bit more upside would be prudent. But, Colon’s replacement is going to make what? Three to five starts at the most? Not going with big upside isn’t inexcusable in that scenario.

      • China Joe

        I might agree if we were talking about a regular #2 starter, but Bartolo is just as likely to never pitch again as he is to come back in 15 days and pitch to his 2011 level. I know the Yankees never want to take their lumps with young guys, but they have a rotation full of ticking time bombs right now, and unless Cash pulls some mega-deal no one sees coming it will be pretty much the same in 2012

        • Matt Imbrogno

          If the rotation is full of ticking time bombs, signing Gordon is the right thing to do. It just adds more length to the proverbial fuse, doesn’t it?

      • Yardisiak

        Right now it is 3 starts but why give it to someone with less of a track record AND less upside? Noesi has the ability to be a valueable innings eater. The “depth” Gordon adds is not something you cannot acquire easily if Noesi and Phelps dont work out.

        I just don’t see the value in giving innings to pure filler. Give them to your propsects, maybe they will turn into a long term asset.

        • Stephen Rhoads

          Noesi wasn’t an option, they didnt feel like he was stretched out sufficiently at the time.

          • CP

            Except he clearly was an option, until they signed Gordon.

            • Stephen Rhoads

              Was he an option per se? Yes, but the org thought he was a bad option due to not being sufficiently stretched out. This from Jaffe’s piece explains it:

              “Noesi, who followed with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, was one of the Yankees’ in-house options to take this start; the short list also included three-fifths of the team’s Triple-A Scranton rotation, namely David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, and Adam Warren, the same slate Cashman cited as being candidates to join the team’s bullpen in the wake of Joba Chamberlain’s season-ending injury. The Yankees felt that Noesi—who has now made five relief appearances totaling 17 innings, including a six-inning effort last week against the Red Sox—could only give them a maximum of 75 pitches, and that Gordon offered a better chance of pitching deeper into the game.”

              • CP

                Again, he was clearly an option. Not a perfect option, but from everything I’ve seen he was the preferred in house option. Then they signed Gordon because they thought he would be a better option.

                I don’t have a problem with the move, but don’t say things like:

                Noesi wasn’t an option

                When that’s clearly not true.

                • Stephen Rhoads

                  What an incredibly asinine nitpick.

                  • CP

                    Really? You’re trying to refute a point, and making a statement that’s just not true.

                    That’s not nitpicking.

                    • Stephen Rhoads

                      It’s semantics, and its a waste of time. I made the argument clearly in the original post that the org didnt think Noesi wasn’t stretched out enough, so when I said “he wasn’t an option” to someone complaining about Noesi not getting the nod I meant “the org didn’t consider him a good option”.

                    • CP

                      It’s semantics, and its a waste of time.

                      Everything is semantics and gray area. If you have a point to make, then make that point – not something else.

                      when I said “he wasn’t an option” to someone complaining about Noesi not getting the nod I meant “the org didn’t consider him a good option”.

                      Then you should have said that, because it certainly wasn’t clear to me that’s what you meant. And even if that is what you meant, I disagree.

                      The org did consider him an option – just an imperfect one. Guys like Betances, Banuelos, or Joba (even if healthy) were not options. Noesi was an option, just not a perfect one.

                      The organization happened to find a scrap heap acquisition that they felt could provide value. If Gordon didn’t have an opt-out or if the Phillies had added him to their roster (maybe in place of JC Romero), then I believe Noesi would have gotten the start.

                    • Stephen Rhoads

                      “so when I said “he wasn’t an option” to someone complaining about Noesi not getting the nod I meant “the org didn’t consider him a good option”.


                      “And even if that is what you meant, I disagree. The org did consider him an option – just an imperfect one.”

                      Huh. OK then.

        • Steve H

          Noesi has the ability to be a valueable innings eater.

          The Yankees disagree. They don’t think he’s stretched out to start right now. So by the time he would likely be properly stretched out, they expect Bartolo back. Also, I don’t know how he’s even closely qualified to be called an innings eater.

        • Matt Imbrogno

          Right now it is 3 starts but why give it to someone with less of a track record AND less upside?

          What great track record do the other guys have?

          Noesi has the ability to be a valueable innings eater.

          But, he hasn’t gotten much time starting this year and it’s possible that the Yankees don’t think he’s stretched out enough to give enough innings at a time.

          The “depth” Gordon adds is not something you cannot acquire easily if Noesi and Phelps dont work out.

          I agree, but I just don’t see this as a horribly big deal.

          I just don’t see the value in giving innings to pure filler. Give them to your propsects, maybe they will turn into a long term asset.

          But they’re not looking for a long term solution right now.
          It’s also worth noting that it could be to the Yankees’ benefit to have the guys they didn’t call up keep working in the minors for either future starts if Gordon does poorly or to build more trade value.

          • Yardisiak

            No great track record for Noesi but he does actually have more ml innings then Gordon did.

            Listen it isn’t a big deal for 3 starts I would just like to see the innings go to Phelps or Noesi instead of Aaron Small I mean Gordon.

  • Zack D

    I do love how every Cashman move leads to an ‘only possible message/ explanation’ from people.
    Most of these guys are who they, enjoy the 30-70 good innings but don’t pass over a better replacement just because Ayala is pitching well

    • Mike Axisa

      It’s just a depth move, that’s all. The Yankees were one pulled hamstring from having Ivan Nova, Hector Noesi, AND David Phelps in the rotation. At least Gordon gives them an alternative.

  • Bones

    The pro scouting staff is really comming together. This is an amazing run.

  • Gio0723

    When is the world going to realize that the best pitcher in baseball is wasting his talent in Seattle. King Felix is the best and he belongs with the best. The fans have faith in you Cash… make a move, make it happen… One more top class starter will give C.C and A.J some breathing room and they can relax on the mound knowing the next guy can get a W as well. As good as Bartolo( better than advertised) has been, and Freddy as well, we all know the are not in 30/200 shape anymore. Nova is been great but as well, but inconsistent. If we bring Felix, Hughes comes back at 90% and at least 2 of our guys in the lineup can stay above 300, something no one is doing right now, and start winning games in our own division, the 28th is ours. Let’s bring it home. Go Yanks…

    • Matt Imbrogno

      And how do you propose the Yankees trade for Felix who is a) not available and b) pitching for a team that’s 0.5 back in its division?

      • Yardisiak

        Felix is not going to be a Yankee. People need to let that go.

        • Matt Imbrogno

          Agreed wholeheartedly.

  • Brian

    I still think Ayala is interchangeable with Carlyle, Pendleton, Marquez, etc. and shouldn’t be depended upon in high leverage situations. I know his ERA is shiny but he needs to stay in mop-up where he’s been succeeding.

  • Bucket Cock

    Stephen is a bad weekend writer, let’s gorillas loose at the zoo, etc. Nobody likess youuu STEPHEN- NOBODY.

    • Stephen Rhoads

      Chuckles is going to be fineeeeeee and he says see you in court

  • Danimal

    I think the reason people get so worked up over Cashman’s moves is that it feels like we haven’t developed a really solid starter from the farm in a long time (Hughes…?), and that we trade them away all the time. We keep getting excited about these young bucks, and then get to see them come to fruition on other teams, when all we want is to see an Ian Kennedy or a Joba friggen tear up other teams.

    I feel like we need to throw these guys into the mix sometimes and not worry as much about length, etc. Yeah, there’s a lot of what-if’s when developing a pitcher. I think it gets worse when you flip-flop, designate starter/reliever, change roles.

    Just put the young guys on the friggen mound and let’s see how they do, eh?