The Yankees and their young pitchers

The RAB Radio Show: March 23rd, 2012
Austin Romine and D.J. Mitchell win 2011 Kevin Lawn Awards
(Warren by J. Meric/Getty; Phelps by Mark LoMoglio/; Mitchell by Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

Following the conclusion of the chapter about the Yankees in the 2012 Baseball Prospectus Annual — a tome edited by The Pinstriped Bible’s (and now Bleacher Report’s) Steven Goldman, and, given his expertise, presumably also featuring his contributions to the chapter devoted to the Bombers — I was inspired to do some research in response to the seemingly endless number of accusations leveled at the team regarding its supposed reluctance to deploy its young pitchers in favor of established veterans.

Now, anyone who reads Steve over at the Pinstriped Bible with any regularity — and lest this post come across as derisive, I’ve long been a big fan of Steve’s work, and have enjoyed his intellectual, verbose and witty take on the state of the Yankees at the Pinstriped Bible ever since I discovered the wonderful world of Yankee blogs back in 2004 — is no doubt familiar with this particular war cry, which seemed to come to a boiling point in the aftermath of Brian Cashman signing journeyman Brian Gordon to spot start against the Rangers on Thursday, June 16, instead of letting one of Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, David Phelps or D.J. Mitchell make their first career Major-League start (and in the case of the latter three, first Major-League appearance). Brien Jackson of IIATMS wrote an eloquent rebuttal at the time (and as also noted by our own Moshe, the Gordon decision was likely entirely driven by not wanting to add a player to the 40-man roster just to make  two starts), but in light of this favored Goldman criticism littering not only the team overview in the Annual, but basically the capsule for every pitcher in the Yankees’ system, I was curious to see just how much water it actually carried.

The below chart lists the number of starters Age 25 or below by team that made their Major League debuts in the last decade. This data was compiled utilizing Baseball-Reference’s Play Index.

As you can see, the Yankees, with nine hurlers, ostensibly fall in the middle of the pack when it comes to letting youngsters make their MLB debuts as starting pitchers. Toronto has debuted the most starting pitchers under 25 during this time frame, with 16, and Seattle the least, with five. The MLB average? 10, or just one more than the Yankees have. This means that, on average, an MLB team will debut one starter under age 25 per year.

There were also cries of despair a little over a month after the Gordon incident, when it looked like Adam Warren might get a shot to start the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles, but that plan was ultimately scuttled when Ivan Nova — who to that point had already somewhat established himself as a viable, under-25-year-old pitcher — was deemed fit to start. Now I’m not trying to argue that Warren, Phelps, et. al. shouldn’t have been given the opportunity to start one of these games, but rather, in a historical context, Goldman was twice looking for the Yankees to do something — let an under-25 pitcher make his MLB debut as a starter — that many teams let happen maybe once a season.

Further expanding on that point, it seems to me that if the Yankees truly believed that if one of Phelps, Warren or Mitchell were indeed ready to toe the MLB rubber last June, then they would have had that happen. Not that I don’t want to see a young kid be given a chance to succeed, but on the flip side, no one knows these players better than the Yankees. There’s an assumption being made here that just because the AAA pitchers have youth on their side they are going to automatically perform as well or better than hypothetical alternatives.

As much as everyone’s been talking about the starting pitching depth the Yankees have, both at the Major League level and at AAA, it’s being conveniently overlooked that the Warrens, Phelps and Mitchells of the world have all continually been scouted and described as #4/#5-type starters at best. For all the hand-wringing the Brian Gordon decision seemed to result in last year, clearly Cash felt that particular move gave the Yankees a better chance to win at that moment in time than bringing up a kid with back-end starter potential. Gordon gave the Yankees two starts, and they went 1-1 in those contests. Could one of the kids done the same thing? Perhaps, but what happens to, say, Warren’s development if he comes up and pulls a Chase Wright, whose career essentially ended after he gave up four consecutive home runs to the Red Sox? The only reason they went to guys like Wright and Matt DeSalvo that season to begin with was because they had no choice, not because they were stud prospects lighting the world on fire at AAA and forcing their way into the MLB picture.

For all the talk about stalling development, it seems like Warren, Phelps and/or Mitchell would’ve been given a chance in the Majors by now if the team deemed them ready or felt like any of them had an opportunity to be a legitimate part of the future. Ivan Nova — who the team apparently thought so little of that he was actually left unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft — turned his career around and impressed Yankee brass enough to deservedly get his shot. Even Hector Noesi — though many would have liked to have seen him start earlier in the season last year — got his shot in relief. There was a fair amount of statistical evidence that supported these promotions.

The Yankees have also given Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain every chance in the world to prove themselves at the MLB level — Joba for one has never been back to the minors — even if I haven’t always been a massive fan of the way the team has handled each pitcher’s development — underscoring that when the team believes it has elite, young, sub-25 talent on its hands that need to be in the Majors now, they will get their opportunities.

While there’s certainly value in back-of-the-rotation starters, that type of pitcher is less valuable to a team like the Yankees that typically requires frontline starters to compete in the gauntlet that is the American League East. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if any or all of the members of that triumvirate found success in the National League.

Here are the nine under-25 starters that have made their MLB debuts as a Yankee during the last decade:

Rk Gcar Player Age Date ? Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit GSc WPA
1 1 Ian Kennedy 22.256 2007-09-01 TBD W 9-6 GS-7 ,W 7.0 5 3 1 2 6 1 96 63 0.090
2 1 Tyler Clippard 22.095 2007-05-20 NYM W 6-2 GS-6 ,W 6.0 3 1 1 3 6 1 95 65 0.166
3 1 Phil Hughes 20.306 2007-04-26 TOR L 0-6 GS-5 ,L 4.1 7 4 4 1 5 0 91 37 -0.133
4 1 Chase Wright 24.068 2007-04-17 CLE W 10-3 GS-5 ,W 5.0 5 3 3 3 3 1 104 45 0.030
5 1 Jeff Karstens 23.332 2006-08-22 SEA L 5-6 GS-6 5.2 6 3 3 2 2 2 93 45 -0.027
6 1 Sean Henn 24.011 2005-05-04 TBD L 8-11 GS-3 ,L 2.1 7 6 5 2 0 0 72 19 -0.462
7 1 Chien-Ming Wang 25.030 2005-04-30 TOR W 4-3 GS-7 7.0 6 2 2 2 0 0 81 55 0.259
8 1 Brad Halsey 23.126 2004-06-19 LAD W 6-2 GS-6 ,W 5.2 5 2 2 1 3 1 108 53 0.125
9 1 Brandon Claussen 24.058 2003-06-28 (2) NYM W 9-8 GS-7 ,W 6.1 8 2 1 1 5 1 105 55 0.216
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/21/2012.

Outside of Ian Kennedy and Chien-Ming Wang, none of these players went on to anything approaching sustained success as a Major League starter.

The list unsurprisingly expands if you change the input to relievers under 25 making their MLB debuts, and if you take the list and add the pitchers who have since spent their careers starting or are expected to primarily start — Ross Ohlendorf, Nova, Noesi and Dellin Betances — the Yankees’ total rises from nine to 12. And I realize we can play that game with every other team, but the overarching point is that it’s simply not true that the Yankees are afraid to give their young pitchers a shot.

Rk Gcar Player Age Date ? Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR Pit WPA
1 1 Andrew Brackman 25.292 2011-09-22 TBR L 8-15 6-7 1.1 1 0 0 1 0 0 32 0.000
2 1 Dellin Betances 23.183 2011-09-22 TBR L 8-15 8-8 0.2 0 2 2 4 0 0 27 -0.004
3 1 Steve Garrison 24.316 2011-07-25 SEA W 10-3 9-9f 0.2 0 0 0 0 0 0 9 0.000
4 1 Hector Noesi 24.112 2011-05-18 BAL W 4-1 12-15f,W 4.0 4 0 0 4 4 0 66 0.450
5 1 Ivan Nova 23.121 2010-05-13 DET L 0-6 7-8f 2.0 2 0 0 0 1 0 30 0.002
6 1 Michael Dunn 24.104 2009-09-04 TOR L 0-6 7-7 0.2 0 2 2 3 0 0 19 -0.002
7 1 Mark Melancon 24.029 2009-04-26 BOS L 1-4 7-8f 2.0 1 0 0 1 1 0 22 0.024
8 1 Anthony Claggett 24.277 2009-04-18 CLE L 4-22 2-3 1.2 9 8 8 2 2 2 60 -0.108
9 1 Humberto Sanchez 25.113 2008-09-18 CHW W 9-2 8-8 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0 11 0.002
10 1 Alfredo Aceves 25.267 2008-08-31 TOR L 2-6 8-9f 2.0 0 0 0 0 3 0 19 0.014
11 1 David Robertson 23.081 2008-06-29 NYM L 1-3 6-7 2.0 4 1 1 0 1 0 33 -0.025
12 1 Ross Ohlendorf 25.034 2007-09-11 TOR W 9-2 9-9f 1.0 0 0 0 0 1 0 11 0.002
13 1 Joba Chamberlain 21.318 2007-08-07 TOR W 9-2 8-9f 2.0 1 0 0 2 2 0 33 0.006
14 1 Jose Veras 25.289 2006-08-05 BAL L 0-5 7-8f 2.0 0 0 0 1 0 0 24 0.005
15 1 T.J. Beam 25.293 2006-06-17 WSN L 9-11 6-7 ,H 1.1 3 2 2 0 1 1 33 -0.065
16 1 Jorge De Paula 24.299 2003-09-05 BOS L 3-9 8-9f 2.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 23 0.003
17 1 Jason Anderson 23.295 2003-03-31 TOR W 8-4 9-9 0.0 2 2 2 0 0 0 8 -0.015
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/21/2012.

Whether or not they merit that shot is clearly a different story. In the cases of Warren, Mitchell and Phelps, simply being young doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” especially if the Yankees ultimately don’t see these players fitting into their long-term plans.

There have also been some rumblings about how the return of the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte to the rotation will further impact the development of the AAA contingent (my pal Brad Vietrogoski has a typically well-thought-out response to that development), to which I say, great — hopefully the rotation crunch will motivate Warren, Phelps and Mitchell to pitch their butts off, throw to mid-2.00 ERAs in the International League, and absolutely force the Yankees to have no choice but to give them a chance. I’d love to see them make it to the Show, but make it because they absolutely deserved/earned it, not just because they’re young. We’ve seen the Yankees bring young guys up when they weren’t ready and after a couple of turns, the results were less-than-pretty and derailed careers. Maybe, just maybe, the team is learning from its mistakes.

The RAB Radio Show: March 23rd, 2012
Austin Romine and D.J. Mitchell win 2011 Kevin Lawn Awards
  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Not bad for the 13th Best Minor League system…

  • LiterallyFigurative

    Good research by RAB, as always.

    My main contention when it comes to Warren, Mitchell and Phelps is that they are viewed as 5th starters.

    Are the Yankees really going to give 5th starter-ceilinged prospects a real chance to pitch and compete for spots?

    I wish they would, given that projections can change as players develop new pitches and mature. But I seriously have my doubts that they will. It’s different for a Banuelos or Betances. They are seen as high-ceiling arms, just like Hughes and Chamberlain. The AAA trio don’t come with that label, so crazy things would have to happen for them to get a legit sniff on this team.

    I hope I am pleasantly surprised. I just don’t see the Yankee 2013 (or 2014)rotation being CC, Nova, Pineda, Hughes and one of the three. Even if Nova and Pineda were strong, and Hughes was good, they would still go out and sign a veteran, back-end, innings-eater to a guaranteed contract (or go big on Cole Hamels!).

    • Ted Nelson

      They can give them a chance in the bullpen as well as the rotation.

      If they give a chance to Banuelos and Betances… why do they need a veteran innings eater in 2013 if the other guys stay healthy and productive?

    • Havok9120

      If both of the B’s pan out as starters, then theres probably no room for those three as starters. Bullpen, yes, permanent rotation, no. But the 2014 rotation will not include Hughes (FA) and I think the most likely outcome is CC, Pineda, Nova (or not, have to see if he sticks), a B, and one of the trio.

      And if Nova implodes this year or next? Another one of the trio gets a shot in at a rotation spot in ’14. We can’t afford rentals and keep most of the roster intact.

      • Samuel

        Betances has absolutely no shot at being an effective major league pitcher, especially as a starter.

        He is never consistent with throwing strikes, he has no command which then leads to way too many walks. As a starter in the major leagues, Betances would rarely even qualify for a win as Girardi would pull him so quick afte rthe walk brigade begins.

        All three of Phelps, Warren and Mithcell (even tho he is not consistent enough with strikes) are all better options as a starting pitcher than Betances.

        • Needed Pitching

          “He is never consistent with throwing strikes, he has no command which then leads to way too many walks”

          In fairness, all of this could be said about Randy Johnson early in his career. He turned out to be a pretty good starter.

          • Plank

            Randy Johnson always gets brought up when discussing giant pitching prospects with control problems. The problem is the list of pitchers with that career development path begins and ends with Randy Johnson.

            • Needed Pitching

              I agree.
              I’m not saying things will work out for Bettances. I’m very skeptical that they will. I just think it still a bit too early to say he has absolutely no shot to be an effective major league starter.

          • DM

            Also in fairness, baseball is littered with once promising hard throwers with control problems that never quite put it all together. RJ is far more the exception than the rule. From his odd body to his stuff and the ability to come back from serious back problems over and over — and still pitch to that age as a starter, he was an anomaly to the say the least.

            • Plank

              He derived the majority of his pitching prowess from his Nascar hairdo. Fact.

              • DM

                A freak no doubt. If he didn’t pitch he would’ve been swallowing swords while having dwarves (dwarfs? I’ll let you decide) do pull ups on his outstretched arms at the carnival or something.

                • Plank

                  I see alternate universe non-pitcher Randy Johnson as the daytime bouncer at a truck stop strip joint who sells meth out back. That’s also how I see myself in this universe.

            • Needed Pitching

              agree 100%
              but I still think its too early to say he has absolutely no shot to be an effective major league starter.
              Unlikely – sure
              Impossible – not even remotely

              • Plank

                Agreed. Are there any other pitchers above 6’7″ who displayed control problems who put it together other than RJ? I’m having trouble coming up with names. Surely there must be a few.

                • Needed Pitching

                  CC somewhat, BB/9 over 4 in each of his first 4 pro seasons, but he wasn’t as wild as Bettances

                  JR Richard is the only other one I could come up with that seems like he could match Bettances wildness, and went on to be an effective starter

                  it’s a short list regardless

              • DM

                I’m not saying he has no shot. They’re doing the right thing. Try-try-try to see if he sticks as a starter then switch to short relief and simplify things when/if it comes to that — but that’s not a lock either. He seemed to have a little trouble pitching from the stretch last time.

                • Needed Pitching

                  “I’m not saying he has no shot”

                  Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you were. That was in reference to Samuel’s comment.

                  On a related note, one could argue that Bettances is ahead of Johnson at this point in his career anyways.
                  Johnson’s age 23 season: AA, 3.73 ERA,8.2 BB/9, 10.5 BB/9, 1.27 K/BB, 1.629 WHIP
                  Bettances age 23 season: AAA, 3.70 ERA, 5 BB/9, 10.1 K/9, 2.03 K/BB, 1.361 WHIP


                  • Plank

                    This season feels like make or break for him. He’ll either rise up (Ivan Nova) or crumble horribly (Brackman).

                    A year ago most prospect watchers would have taken Brackman over Nova in a heartbeat.

                    • Needed Pitching

                      I don’t see Bettances really crumbling like Brackman did. I think he’ll either improve his control and take the next step on the path to being an effective MLB starter or he won’t improve his control and likely end up in the bullpen down the road. Brackman really only ever had one somewhat effective full season. Bettances has managed to be mostly effective despite his wildness throughout his career so far. Not improving is probably more likely than falling apart like Brackman.

                    • Plank

                      I feel like Brackman would have been fine if he didn’t grow an inch over the last offseason. He finally got his mechanics in tune (no small task) and the extra inch threw everything out of whack and he needed to relearn his mechanics. Too bad.

                      Do you think Betances with a slightly lower BB rate makes an effective reliever? I honestly don’t know.

                    • Needed Pitching

                      I think in a kind of pull your hair out while your watching him kind of way, he might be OK. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to bring him in with runners on base though. Maybe a Carlos Marmol type.

                  • DM

                    “Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you were.”

                    I know. I was just distinguishing my view from his.

                    Another thing to remember about RJ’s development is the organization he was with (Seattle, I mean). It’s much harder in NY where there’s not as much patience. But Betances is a better personality than RJ who was pretty much a prick until he retired.

        • Ted Nelson

          Just about everyone would agree his control is a big problem; however, saying he has no shot at becoming an MLB P is ridiculous.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          When will people learn that absolutes like this don’t drive an argument and do the opposite for the credibility of the argument being presented?

          I didn’t even bother reading any of this after the first sentence.

  • Elmgrovegnome

    It is in every fans nature to think that their teams best prospects are the’Next big thing’. So many of us want that lightning in a bottle type scenario that happened with Mariano Rivera to repeat itself. We beg for another blastoff in the majors like that of Sam Millitello.
    None of those dreams can come true if these guys languish in the minors forever. Dreaming is a big part of being a baseball fan.

    Realistically though, you are right about the Yankees knowing what they have.

    • JohnC

      I once dreamed of a rotation led by Brien Taylor, Mark Hutton and Bobby Munoz

  • jsbrendog

    next yr they will get their shot. kuroda and pettitte and garcia are gone. nxt year you have cc, pineda, nova and possibly hughes. one or 2 of the 3 guys mentioned above will get a shot as will betances and banuelos. one of those 5 guys will be in the rotation next yr and i bet at least one of the 3 above will get a stat or two this yr, prob whoever is already on the 40man. that is what they call giving them a shot.

    • Samuel

      Pettitte will definitely want to return next season. He is not coming back this early in 2012 to be a one and done. And he will want more than $2.5 million, too.

  • CJ

    Convert one to a reliever to replace Joba? DJ? Keep one, trade one.

  • Lou

    I love this website, but I also expect better from RAB. I wouldn’t get this phrase out of my head the entire time I was reading your piece. Try not to use this argument again.

    Argument from authority (also known as appeal to authority or argumentum ad verecundiam) is a special type of inductive argument which often takes the form of a statistical syllogism.[1]

    Although certain classes of argument from authority do on occasion constitute strong inductive arguments, arguments from authority are commonly used in a fallacious manner

    The appeal to authority may take several forms. As a statistical syllogism, it will have the following basic structure:[1]

    Most of what authority a has to say on subject matter S is correct.
    a says p about S.
    Therefore, p is correct.
    The strength of this argument depends upon two factors:[1][2]

    The authority is a legitimate expert on the subject.
    A consensus exists among legitimate experts on the matter under discussion.
    These conditions may also simply be incorporated into the structure of the argument itself, in which case the form may look like this:[2]

    X holds that A is true
    X is a legitimate expert on the subject.
    The consensus of experts agrees with X.
    Therefore, there’s a presumption that A is true.
    [edit] Fallacious appeals to authorityFallacious arguments from authority often are the result of failing to meet at least one of the two conditions from the previous section.[1][2] Specifically, when the inference fails to meet the first condition, this is sometimes called an “appeal to inappropriate authority”.[3] This occurs when an inference relies on individuals or groups without relevant expertise or knowledge.[3]

    Secondly, because the argument is inductive (which in this sense implies that the truth of the conclusion cannot be guaranteed by the truth of the premises), it also is fallacious to assert that the conclusion must be true.[2] Such an assertion is a non sequitur; the inductive argument might have probabilistic or statistical merit, but the conclusion does not follow unconditionally in the sense of being logically necessary.[4][5]

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

      • CJ

        Best WTF ever. Never saw that before. Haha

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Care to explain what you’re talking about rather than just ripping off Wikipedia?

      • Plank

        Your rebuttal contains too many errors in logic to reply to.

      • Rainbow Connection

        Should he add more subway info?

    • Plank

      He provided a complete list of every young recent Yankees debut. How is that a logical fallacy?

    • FIn

      I was told to let you know, that RAB has its legal team on it, and will respond to you in a timely fashion.

      • jsbrendog

        ::ben makes wanking motion::

        • Plank

          I picture Kabak in the courtroom being eerily similar to Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters 2. That is to say, the finest barrister the world has ever known.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    “Hopefully the rotation crunch will motivate Warren, Phelps and Mitchell to pitch their butts off, throw to mid-2.00 ERAs in the International League, and absolutely force the Yankees to have no choice but to give them a chance.”

    +1,000,000 on this. Bring it, guys.

  • yardisiak

    I think it is ultimately pretty simple. Why choose a 40 year old with upside of a 4/5 over a 23 year with the same upside and 6 years of control? Andy’s time has passed, I love him but let’s move on.

    • Brandon

      We’re talking about this year, right? You wanna know why we took Andy back and it could possibly diminish a chance for these guys to start with the log jam we now have? There is a pretty simple answer. The answer is because he is Andrew Eugene Pettitte. Arguably the most clutch pitcher to ever don the pinstripes. He’s clutch, he is a stopper, he also is proven that he is more than able to go at the MLB level. Warren, Phelps and Mitchell are not proven. Plus, these Yankees are still Steinbrenner’s Yankees. Its pretty freaking clear that nothing has really changed around the organization. The main objective is to win. You have a chance to get back the best postseason pitcher in baseball, one of the best stoppers in baseball that can evidently still pitch(seems like the year off didnt really diminish his stuff by all the reports…), you take it! The fact that Andy is a fan and clubhouse favorite is just an added bonus.

    • Needed Pitching

      the young guys MIGHT be good enough to EVENTUALLY be a 4/5. Andy has spent most of his career being better than that. There’s always a chance the year off and advanced age will prevent Andy from getting there again, but for this year only, he probably has a better chance of pitching well enough to be at least a 4 than any of Phelps/Warren/Mitchell.
      Also, they are not losing any of those 3 because of this. If anything, it gives the Yankees even longer control of them.

    • Plank

      His upside is more like a 2. If he isn’t better than the AAA guys, he’ll “retire”. There’s no downside.

  • AC

    Seen Warren 1st hand on Thursday vs the Sox in Ft Myers. Looked real good. Went against a full Sox squad no less.

  • Rainbow Connection

    Well now I’m convinced. An internet warrior approved.

  • DeLisle

    The fact is, whether Koestler’s arguments can, in his words,’carry water’,or not, the Yankees now find themselves in the unenviable position of being saddled with one of the oldest rosters in MLB. They have long pursued a questionable if not flawed strategy of trading or denying their young players,not solely pitchers, their time on the big stage. Now it has suddenly dawned on Hal Steinbrenner that by hook or by crook the Yankees need to stop footing the annual South Beach getaway that Major League Baseball enjoys on their dime. How will this be accomplished? By letting the Warrrens, Phelps, Mitchells, Monteros, (oops! did I say Montero)have their place in the sun. Imagine if the Yankees had not only held on to but promoted some of these youngsters that Hal now insists must now do the heavy liftng.

    • CS Yankee


      (due to the DH limits)