Checking in on Hughes’ workload

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Down to just the final dozen games of the season, the picture of how the Yankees were going to manage Phil Hughes‘ workload this season is in complete focus. They skipped two of his starts earlier in the year and took advantage of the All Star break to create what amounted to a third skipped start, and he cruises into tonight’s outing against the Rays having thrown 163 innings on the season, by far a career high.

Because lists are nice and easy, here’s a look at Phil’s workloads throughout the years for comparison…

  • 2009: 111.2 IP (majors, minors, playoffs)
  • 2008: 99.2 IP (majors, minors, Arizona Fall League)
  • 2007: 116 IP (majors, minors, playoffs)
  • 2006: 146 IP (minors)
  • 2005: 86.1 IP (minors)
  • 2004: 5 IP (minors, this was his draft year)

So yeah, the 163 innings Hughes has thrown this year is greater than any workload he’s experienced recently. He’s held up pretty well considering, with no discernible loss of velocity or complaints of a dead arm or anything like that. Of course workload related health issues usually don’t pop up until a year or two after the big innings increase, but that’s not something worth worrying about right now. The important thing is that Phil is healthy at the moment and capable of helping his team down the stretch and into the playoffs.

With the way the schedule lines up, Hughes has three more starts left. Tonight against the Rays, Sunday against the Red Sox, and then next Saturday against the Red Sox again. The Yanks have indicated that there are “no plans” to skip another one of his starts this season, so there’s no reason to expect him to miss one of those starts. If anything, they’ll probably cut one or two of them short like they did with Joba Chamberlain last September (not that I approve). After those three starts Hughes would then line up perfectly to start Game Two of the ALDS on normal rest, Game Three on six day’s rest, or Game Four on seven day’s rest. Based on how he feels and pitches the last three times out, the Yanks will have plenty of options for how to deploy him in the postseason.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that Hughes throws a total of 15 innings in those three starts, even though I suspect it’ll probably be something more like 17 or 18. That would put him at 178 for the season, right in that 175-180 range we all assumed. Didn’t even take any kind of crazy plan or Hughes Rules either, a few skipped starts never hurt anyone. The 178 innings represent roughly a 32 inning jump from his previous career high, set four seasons ago, and about a 66 inning jump from last season.

We have absolutely no way of knowing how Hughes will react to the extra work until next year or maybe even the year after, but it’s hard to consider 2010 anything but a success for the righthander. He’s held up under the workload and his overall body of work amounts to 1.9 WAR, essentially league average right now and he should finish a touch above that at the end of the season. At 24-years-old, Phil’s best years are ahead of him, and the job the Yanks did controlling his innings this year will play a major role in those years.

Clarification on Andrew Brackman’s call-up

Late last night we got word that the Yankees had recalled 2007 first round pick Andrew Brackman, but the report turned out to be slightly incorrect. Yes, the team is summoning Brackman to the big leagues, but he will not be activated and will instead work out with the team and the coaches. Dellin Betances will be doing the same thing as well.

The Yanks have been doing this for years, with guys like Phil Hughes and Tyler Clippard going through the same thing. It just gives the kids a brief taste of the big league life before getting called up to pitch, whenever that may be. Good chance for Betances to Brackman to get their feet wet and get familiar with how things are done. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Update: Jesus Montero will be there as well. Awesome.

The Forgotten Relievers

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

As predictable as it was, the trio of Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, and David Robertson have emerged as Joe Girardi‘s trusted righthanded setup crew over the last few weeks while Boone Logan has taken advantage of Damaso Marte‘s injury to become his go-to-lefty. With the Yankees still in the division race and a few wins away from clinching a playoff spot, he’s leaned heavily on those four plus Mariano Rivera in the late innings of close games. Heck, even Chad Gaudin seems to emerged as that next guy, the one who’s just outside of the regular setup crew that sees plenty of work in what we’ll call “various” situations.

It’s still September though, and the Yanks have a full arsenal of relievers on hand aside from those six mentioned above. They’ve called up three extra arms this month, and remember, they had a 13-man staff before that with Lance Berkman on the disabled list. The call-ups and spare long men haven’t seen much action at all (as you’d expect), so let’s recap where each of those guys stand…

Jon Albaladejo

The Triple-A relief ace hasn’t appeared in a game since Sept. 12th, which is when he worked the final 1.1 innings of a game in which the rest of the team was busy getting shut down by Cliff Lee and the Rangers. Since being recalled at the start of the month he’s appeared in four games, throwing three innings and allowing a pair of hits and a walk while striking out three. Those three baserunners each reached in his last appearance, so the three before that were pretty solid except for some hit by pitches. Albie seems to be the favorite among the extra, sparsely used relievers, probably because he has seniority.

Sergio Mitre

Girardi’s love affair with Mitre always seemed questionable at best, especially since their relationship dated back to their time in Florida and Serg never really did anything on the field with the Yanks to stand out. He last appeared in a game on Sept. 13th, when he gave up the walk-off homer to Reid Brignac, the only batter he faced. Prior to that he had appeared in just one game since August 27th, and two since August 20th, so that’s three total appearances in the last 32 days. Clearly, he’s just a “break glass in case of emergency” long man right now.

Dustin Moseley

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

To be perfectly honest, I had completely forgotten that Moseley existed until Ben mentioned his name last night. The last time he pitched was his start in Texas against Lee, the same date as Albie’s last game, when he pitched admirably for six innings before turning back into Dustin Moseley in the seventh. His only other appearance this month came on Sept. 4th, which is when Girardi brought him in with runners on the corners and two outs against the Blue Jays only to watch him give up a double to Lyle Overbay to tie the game. You remember that, it was the mother of all second guess moves.

Royce Ring

Recalled last Wednesday, Ring has yet to appear in a game for the big league team. The lefty last pitched on Sept. 9th, when he faced two batters in Game Two of Triple-A Scranton’s playoff series with Columbus. He walked one and got the other to ground out. Ring is the definition of a LOOGY, so his appearances-to-innings pitched ratio is well below one this year. At some point Girardi will call on him to get a lefty out, maybe even tonight since Logan has faced multiple batters in each of the last two games.

Romulo Sanchez

Sanchez was promoted over the weekend and Girardi hasn’t called on him yet. Before that he was recovering from an apparently minor elbow injury that had him on the Triple-A disabled list, so he hasn’t pitched in an actual game since August 24th, his only outing in the last 32 days. For a guy that’s wild as it is, I can’t imagine that’s a good thing. Luckily he won’t be seeing any high leverage work anytime soon.

(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Javy Vazquez

Oh Javy, how the mighty have fallen. It’s seems like ages ago that the righty posted a 2.75 ERA during an 11 start stretch from mid-May to mid-July, but now he’s so out of favor that he’s nothing more than a highly paid mop-up man. Vazquez hasn’t pitched since starting in Texas on Sept. 10th, when he allowed four runs in five innings of work. He has warmed up a few times since then, but Girardi seems completely disinterested in using him. Given his disappearing fastball and hit-me-breaking ball, can you blame him?

* * *

The Yanks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to just five, so any combination of Yankee wins and Red Sox losses totaling that number will put the Yanks in the postseason for the 15th time in 16 years. Barring another epic slump, they’ll clinch that spot by the end of the weekend, giving Girardi a chance to rest his regulars and line up his rotation and all that. That’s when Albaladejo and Ring and Mitre will really start to see some action, and chances are Moseley and Vazquez will make some spots starts as they try to line up CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes for the ALDS.

“I liked the matchup.”

When it comes to bullpen management, we’re all armchair tacticians. It seems as though this tendency has intensified in the past few weeks. Joe Girardi has made a number of questionable decisions when calling on his bullpen, which inevitably rouses a flurry of second guessing. Sometimes the moves have been justified; when certain pitchers are unavailable it becomes difficult to make the right decision. But last night Girardi made one of the worst possible decisions, given the situation.

The situation begins in the top of the sixth. Ivan Nova had already gotten through the dreaded fifth inning with ease, allowing just one hit and walking one to that point. The inning didn’t start off well, as the Rays went single, walk, single to load the bases with the heart of the order coming up. It looked as though the Yanks caught something of a break when Carl Crawford hit a dribbler to third, but it turned out that his bat hit Francisco Cervelli‘s glove. It was the sixth time this season that Crawford has been awarded first base on a catcher’s interference call. It also put the Rays on the board for the first time.

Considering the results last time Girardi stuck with Nova, I’m surprised he didn’t turn to the bullpen right there. But apparently he wanted to stick with the righty-righty match-up of Nova against Evan Longoria. This time the call paid off. Nova got ahead 0-2 with a changeup and curveball, and then dropped another curve, this one on the low-outside corner, to induce a 5-4-3 double play. That brought up the lefty Dan Johnson, which signaled the end for Nova. With three straight lefties due up Girardi made the fairly obvious call and went to Boone Logan.

Had Logan succeeded in his job we might not be talking about this situation. He needed to just get one of the three lefties, but instead he allowed two singles and walked a guy. That put the Rays to within one and re-loaded the bases. With the righties B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett due up Girardi had another obvious decision. This was a tailor-made David Robertson situation. He has been the fireman this season, coming in when the leverage is highest and the team needs an out or two. But instead Girardi turned to Chad Gaudin.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

At first it seemed as though Robertson might not be available. He had thrown 23 pitches on Sunday against Tampa Bay. Kerry Wood had thrown 25 pitches on Sunday in addition to the 15 he threw on Saturday. Joba Chamberlain would have been a good choice, too, since he had thrown just 11 pitches combined in the previous two days. If Robertson and Wood weren’t available maybe Girardi didn’t want to burn his only setup man in the sixth inning. But even then it seemed like strange decision. Why go with Gaudin in a bases loaded situation? I’d far rather have him pitch the eighth with a clean slate than in the sixth with the bases loaded.

As we learned after Gaudin walked in the tying run, both Wood and Robertson were available. Robertson started the seventh and recorded two outs before Wood came on to get the next four. Why, then, would Girardi go to Guadin when the lead was on the line? After the game he gave the most predictable answer ever:

“I liked the matchup,” he said. “I liked his stuff against Upton and Bartlett, and that was the rationale basically.”

Matchups are fine and all, but baseball is a game where anything can happen in any given at-bat. That’s why it’s preferable for the manager to go with his best overall guy when the game is on the line. It might have been only the sixth, but the Rays had already rallied and could have added a ton more. Girardi has gone to Robertson in similar situations before, so it seemed baffling that he would go to Gaudin when Robertson was available. That Wood was also available makes the situation even more questionable. Unsurprisingly, going with the lesser guy blew up in Girardi’s face.

That’s not to say that he was wrong about the match-up. In his career Chad Gaudin has been hell on right-handed hitters. He has struck out nearly one per inning and has held them to a .253 batting average. His slider has been a particularly effective weapon. That works well against Upton, who has hit sliders poorly in his career and particularly poorly this season. Bartlett has similarly flailed this season when the opposing pitcher throws him a slider. That might make the match-up seem attractive. Unfortunately, Guadin’s slider has not been as effective this year, and he hasn’t been as effective overall against righties. As much as I like to preach career numbers, if a guy isn’t doing something well in a given year it’s tough to expect him to turn it around just because he has done better in his career. In the micro world of individual match-ups recent trends do matter.

Had both Robertson and Wood been unavailable, the choice to go with Gaudin based on match-ups would make sense. He is certainly a better choice than Sergio Mitre, Jon Alabaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, et. al, in that situation. The Rays had two righties coming up, and Gaudin has proven that he can succeed against those guys, at least to a greater degree than anyone else in the bullpen has. But once we knew that Robertson and Wood could have pitched in that situation, it made the decision seem that much worse. When the other team has the bases loaded and you’re up by one and need just one more out, you go with your best available guy. Girardi did not do that.

Addendum: The only silver lining of this decision is that once the playoffs start Girardi will not have so many choices. With the off-days built into the schedule the relievers should be, for the most part, well-rested. Chad Gaudin will also not be an option. Given the relievers who will make the postseason roster, Girardi will find it difficult to make a bad call when going to the bullpen.

For Torre and the Yanks, an ambivalent reunion

In the history of hugs, this one ranks up there on the awkward list. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The unveiling of a larger-than-life George Steinbrenner plaque in Monument Park wasn’t about any single member of the so-called Yankee family last night. While the typical luminaries and club veterans made their ways to Yankee Stadium, the only people who warranted introductions were the members of the Steinbrenner family. David Wells simply walked down the field; Don Mattingly, alone, strolled out to Monument Park; and Joe Torre and his wife Alli, making their return to the Bronx for the first time since 2007, were pelted with cheers only after a camera found them.

Yes, last night was about George M. Steinbrenner, and the way he turned the Yankees and himself into something (and someone) who towered over the baseball and city landscape for the better part of four decades. But earlier in the afternoon, the day was about reconciliations for Joe Torre, the one man who, during his prime, was capable of taking the backpage away from the Boss, and the Yankees, an organization which spurned him and which he spurned in return.

For Torre, a George Steinbrenner memorial just a few days he called it quits in Los Angeles served as the perfect excuse for a homecoming. Based on the narrative of the time, Joe Torre was, by the end, Steinbrenner’s guy through and through, but by 2007, the Boss wasn’t living up to his nickname. After another first-round playoff exit, the Yanks wanted a change at the helm, and they brought it about by low-balling Torre. The four-time World Champion manager repaid the favor by burning every bridge he had built by writing a largely unnecessary book. He returned yesterday not to make nice with the men who fired him, but to honor the guy who gave him a chance back in 1996.

Joe Torre responds to questions from the New York press. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The media response to Torre’s turn in the Bronx is as any Yankee fan would expect. The press embraces Torre as they always did, but the writers and columnists note, as Tyler Kepner did, that this isn’t Torre’s time any longer. No one knows that better than baseball fans 3000 miles away. After Torre was ousted from the Bronx, he headed into the sunset and found himself in Los Angeles, atop another franchise struggling through years of mediocrity.

The Dodgers haven’t won much of anything since 1988, the longest such drought since the team fled Brooklyn for Hollywood, and Joe Torre was supposed to change that. He took the job in Los Angeles to turn around a stagnant franchise just as much as he did to try to teach the Yankees a lesson. I’ll win anywhere, he wanted to tell them, and he fell just a few wins short of his goal.

In his first two years with the Dodgers, Torre’s team reached Game 5 of the NLCS before petering out. This year, the team is bound for fourth place and a sub-.500 record. Come March, Don Mattingly, another former Yankee great, will be at the helm in Chavez Ravine, and although Torre, 70, says he’ll listen if the Mets come a-knockin’, his managerial days are probably behind him.

Joe Torre and his wife Alli step out of the dugout at Yankee Stadium for the first time. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Yesterday, at Yankee Stadium, Torre and Cashman seemed to bury the hachet. “When I left, that was a very dark time for me,” Torre said. “I was hurt, and yet if you try to be rational about it, you had two parties not knowing how to say goodbye. That’s what it turned out to be.

Cashman, who Torre acknowledged was hurt by the book, is ready to let bygones be bygones as well. “I think we’ve agreed to just put it behind us,” the Yanks’ GM said. “We had a long, terrific run. I would put our relationship while we were working together up against any GM/manager combination in the game. We both agreed it’s just not healthy. It’s time to turn the page. Whatever happened on that side, it’s a small sample compared to the huge sample of all the good stuff that took place.”

The Yankees can afford to let Torre’s words slide. They’ve won a World Series without him, something they could not accomplish in his any of his last eight seasons as manager. They’ve ushered in a new stadium and feature a young core of players who can lead the team more wins. Plus, they’re doing so with their own Joe who just so happens to be a disciple of Torre’s at the helm.

So the Yankees can turn the page. Last night, when the camera found Torre, the crowded roared in recognition. They know that Torre will be back, maybe even next year, for a ceremony retiring number 6. They know Torre will probably be enshrined with a Yankee cap on in Cooperstown for his work as the team’s manager. They know they don’t need to carry much of a grudge because life and baseball have gone on without Torre.

Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten the same round of applause if he had been formally announced. Maybe the boos would have been there. But why not send him off in style? When all is said and done, it is what Joe Torre deserves.

Granderson homers twice as Yanks extend AL East lead

Depending on your point of view, the Yankees and Rays started the biggest series of the season on Monday evening. It’s critical in the AL East race, but rather unimportant in the race for a playoff spot. After a classy and emotional tribute to George M. Steinbrenner III and the unveiling of a small, unassuming monument* in his honor in Monument Park, the two AL East powerhouses met for the fourth time in eight days. Much like last series in Tampa, it was a close game that went back and forth, except this time the Yanks blew it open late and held on for a much needed win.

*yeah right (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Biggest Hit: Granderson Part One

One thing that’s been lost among the recent RISP failure is the power outage plaguing the Yankee lineup. They had hit just ten homers in the 13 game slump, and eight of those came in the last five games. Curtis Granderson obviously came to park with the intention of fixing that, even if he had to do it singlehandedly.

The score remained tied at zero through the first two innings and one batter before Frankie Cervelli laced a single back through the middle in the third. Derek Jeter grounded out to third to move Cervelli up into scoring position, setting the stage for another RISP FAIL. Instead of getting the run in, Grandy did one better. He drove Cervelli and himself in with a two run homer into the Yankee bullpen. Those two runs increased the Yanks’ chances of winnings by close to 19%, though it’s never that easy these days.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Honorable Mention: Granderson Part Deux

As they’re wont to do these days, the Yanks blew their once comfortable four run lead in the middle innings and were faced with the task of pushing across a few runs to avoid another demoralizing loss. Brett Gardner, Cervelli and Jeter led off the bottom of the sixth with consecutive singles, scoring one run and getting the Yanks back on top. But Granderson wasn’t satisfied with that, nor was he satisfied with shortening his swing up and trying to hit a sac fly to get the man in from third. No, he got greedy.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Joe Maddon mercifully lifted Matt Garza after Jeter’s single, bringing in the fastball heavy Grant Balfour. His first three offerings were (yep) heaters that led to a 2-1 count. The fourth fastball never made it to the catcher. Grandy jumped all over the high pitch and yanked it right off the rightfield foul pole, high enough that he probably was going to land in the upper deck. If not, it was going to come damn close. The Yanks had their four run lead back, and Curtis proved once again that he’s a bad, bad man.

The Grandy Man is now hitting .274/.369/.578 with 11 homers in 149 plate appearances since reworking his swing with Kevin Long in Texas last month. Extrapolated out over 162 games, it’s a 49 homerun pace. That’ll do.

Biggest Out: Longo’s GIDP

Ivan Nova‘s starts have become all too predictable. The young righthander starts out strong, very strong in fact, and then suddenly loses it later in the outing when the lineup turns over for a second time. After a meaningless Carl Crawford single in the first, Nova retired 13 of the next 14 men he faced, the last six on a total of 13 pitches. And then the sixth inning happened.

Yanks were up four-zip, then bam, Jason Bartlett singles to left to lead off the inning. John Jaso follows that up with a walk, and Ben Zobrist completed the trifecta by loading the bases with no one out on a single. Here it comes, the game-tying grand slam and the same sad story that’s played out over the last week and a half. No, Tampa decided to drag things out.

The first run came in on a catcher’s interference, putting Crawford on first and forcing Bartlett in. Now a granny gives the Rays the lead. Quite the opposite happened though, as Evan Longoria got caught out in front on a changeup and bounced the ball to Alex Rodriguez at third, who started your standard 5-4-3 double play. A run came in to score and Zobrist moved up to third, but those two outs cut the Rays chances of winning by 14%.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Wait, He’s Bringing In Gaudin?

Another game, another questionable bullpen move by Joe Girardi. Boone Logan relieved Nova after the Longoria GIDP to face three straight lefties, but that’s not the questionable move. Logan failed to retire any of the three men he was brought in to face, which is rather awful since his job description is rather simple and straightforward (get the damn lefties out). With another run in and the lead down to one, Girardi went to one of his three trusted setup men to escape the bases loaded, two out jam. Wait, no he didn’t.

Out from the bullpen came Chad Gaudin. The same Chad Gaudin that had pitched in five of the last ten games and four of the last eight. The same Chad Gaudin that basically no one not named Joe Girardi has confidence in. Sure enough we walked B.J. Upton to force in the tying run before escaping the inning after damn near walking in another run. That’s exactly what you like to see, the team’s worst reliever pitching in the highest leveraged spot of the game.

The move to Gaudin would have been tolerable if the regular setup crew was unavailable of working in yesterday’s game, but no. There was David Robertson out for the seventh, and then Kerry Wood for part of the seventh and the entire eighth. If they’re giving Gaudin a chance to prove himself before the playoffs, fine, but wouldn’t it make sense to let D-Rob or Wood escape the sixth and have Gaudin start fresh in the seventh? Girardi and the Yanks are just lucky they got away with it this time.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Leftovers

Like I said, it was another meltdown for Nova the third time through the order. It happens like clockwork, and it’s what will prevent the Yanks from giving the kid a spot in their postseason rotation barring an emergency. Perhaps he’s going to his offspeed stuff too early and needs to save some tricks before using them all up early. I dunno what it is, but that’s something Nova will absolutely have to improve upon if he wants to be a starter in this league long-term.

Jeter had a pair of hits, including a ground rule double deep into the rightfield corner and the go-ahead single back through the box. Cervelli managed to go 3-for-4 from the nine-spot, so the 9-1 hitters combined to reach base five times.

I nominate Haley Swindell to sing God Bless America at every Yankee game. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yanks scored eight runs, so you’d assume that the 3-4-5 hitters would be a big part of it, right? Wrong. Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, and Robbie Cano combined to go hitless in 13 at-bats, with Alex driving in a run on a sac fly and Cano drawing a walk. Not going to win many games when those three do that, but this was one of the exceptions.

Nick Swisher is starting to get back in a groove after his knee injury related hiatus; he went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks. Strangely enough, four Yankees (Jeter, Lance Berkman, Gardner, Cervelli) saw exactly 15 pitches each on the day.

Mariano Rivera allowed a run on a ground rule double that landed on the foul line and bloop single over Tex’s head, so he was hardly knocked around. He’s still not right though; the command’s just a little off. Don’t worry, he’ll find it before you know it. I suspect he, Robertson, and Wood will be unavailable on Tuesday after working in each of the last two games. Looks like Joba Chamberlain‘s going to have his work cut out for him in the second game of the series.

The win pushes the division lead to one-and-a-half games over the Rays, and the Red Sox loss drops the magic number down to just five. It’s looking inevitable that the Yanks will simultaneously clinch a playoff spot and eliminate Boston from postseason contention when the two clubs meet this weekend.

WPA Graph & Box Score

The first thing that came to mind when I saw this graph was “oh no you don’t!” Get it? Like the Rays were trying to come back and the Yanks said “oh no you don’t!” Eh, eh? Oh screw you guys. Here’s the box score, nerd score, and video.

Up Next

Same two teams again at the usual 7:05pm ET start time on Tuesday. Phil Hughes gets the ball against changeup guru Jamie Shields.

Yankees recall Andrew Brackman (UPDATE: No they don’t)

12:22am: False alarm. Brackman himself confirmed to Josh Norris that he has not been called up, and as far as he knows the team has no intentions of promoting him this month either. Damn, that was exciting for a while.

10:54pm: Mark Feinsand says the team has denied the report and Brackman has not been called up. So much for that.

10:36pm: Via The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Yankees have recalled 2007 first rounder Andrew Brackman and will have him available tomorrow. Brackman, an Ohio native, threw 140.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year, posting an 8.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. I wouldn’t expect him to pitch any since he’s close to 40 innings over last year’s total, but he’ll have a chance to soak everything in and see what goes on around the big league team. Considering everyone that called him a bust last year, this must feel rather good for the kid.

(FWIW, Moshe had it first)