The Yankees and their young pitchers

(Warren by J. Meric/Getty; Phelps by Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com; 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 Baseball-Reference.com: 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 Baseball-Reference.com: 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

We missed a couple weeks for various reasons. But we’re back and ready to run down what’s up in Yankees’ camp.

  • We missed last week, because the Andy Pettitte news broke as we were recording. Mike and I run down what happened and what it means for the 2012 Yankees.
  • Most importantly: Dude, Andy Pettitte.
  • We move on, then, to Joba Chamberlain. He suffered a rather gruesome injury, and chances are he’s going to miss the season.
  • There are other stories in camp, too, such as Michael Pineda. Mike and I talk about why that’s a bit overblown.
  • Finally: which lefty reliever will break camp with the Yankees?

Podcast run time 40:16

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

[audio:http://riveraveblues.com/podcasts/TheRABRadioShow032312.mp3]

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

ST Game Thread(s): Split Squad

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Only in Spring Training could one team play two games in two different cities at the same time. Half of the Yankees are at the home base in Tampa to take on the Twins while the other half is a few miles up the road in Clearwater to face the Phillies. Eighteen innings of Yankees baseball squeezed into three hours. Should be fun. Here are your lineups…

Home vs. Twins
SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
1B Mark Teixeira
3B Alex Rodriguez
C Russell Martin
DH Andruw Jones
2B Eduardo Nunez
LF Bill Hall
RF Justin Maxwell

RHP Ivan Nova

Available Pitchers: RHP Mariano Rivera, RHP Rafael Soriano, LHP Boone Logan, LHP Clay Rapada, LHP Juan Cedeno, RHP Kelvin Perez, LHP Kramer Sneed, and LHP Rigoberto Arrebato are all available if needed.

Available Position Players: C Gus Molina, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Walt Ibarra, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Jayson Nix, CF Mason Williams, and RF Dan Brewer will replace the starters. C Kyle Higashioka, IF Ronnie Mustelier, and OF Eduardo Sosa are available if needed.

Road @ Phillies
LF Brett Gardner
C Frankie Cervelli
2B Robinson Cano
1B Eric Chavez
3B Brandon Laird
RF Chris Dickerson
CF Dewayne Wise
DH Colin Curtis
SS Doug Bernier

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Available Pitchers: LHP Mike O’Connor, RHP Ryan Pope, RHP Ryan Flannery, LHP Vidal Nuno, RHP Chase Whitley, and RHP Mariel Checo all made the trip and are available. RHP David Phelps was scheduled to travel to Clearwater for the game, but I’m not sure if that actually happened after his wife gave birth yesterday.

Available Position Players: C Jose Gil, 1B Addison Maruszak, 2B Jose Pirela, 3B Dante Bichette Jr., and LF Cole Garner will replace the starters. C Jeff Farnham, IF Kelvin Castro, and OF Abe Almonte all made the trip and are available if needed.

Both games start at 1:05pm ET time. The home game is available on YES and both games are available on MLB.tv. MLB Network will broadcast replays of both games later on today or tomorrow morning. We’re going to try to chat through all this madness, so join in the fun after the jump.

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2012 Season Preview: Midseason Help

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Last year we all expected the Yankees to go out and make a significant midseason move to bolster a questionable pitching staff, but that move never came. Starters Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and Ivan Nova performed better than expected while David Robertson and call-up Hector Noesi emerged to shore up the bullpen when Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano went down with elbow injuries. Eduardo Nunez performed well enough off the bench that no outside help was needed when Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez missed weeks at a time with lower body injuries.

That was the exception and not the rule, however. Most contenders need to go outside the organization to improve their roster over the course of the summer, and the 2012 Yankees don’t figure to be any different. Before they do that though, the club already has a trio of pitchers due to return at various points of the season to help boost their staff. All the midseason pitching help they need could end up coming from within.

Andy Pettitte (May-ish)
I have to admit, I didn’t think I would be writing about Pettitte’s return like, a week ago. The veteran southpaw decided to give it another go though, and now he just has to get himself back into playing shape over the next few weeks before returning to the rotation. The Yankees were very clear about that last part as well, Pettitte will be in the rotation as soon as he’s ready. The plan calls for six or eight weeks of “Spring Training,” which will surely include some minor league starts to get ready.

There’s no way of knowing how a near-40-year-old pitcher will return after a year-long hiatus, especially in the AL East. There are reasons to be skeptical about just how successful Pettitte can be this season, though I don’t think he would go through all this trouble if he didn’t think he could get back to being the guy he was just two years ago. Whether he can physically be that guy is another thing entirely, but it’s also possible that the year off does his body good. I have a hard time betting against Andy, but it will be some comeback if he gives the Yankees four or five strong months.

(Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

David Aardsma (mid-August)
The forgotten free agent pickup, the Yankees signed Aardsma to a ridiculously cheap one-year, $500k contract with a $500k club option for 2013 about a week into Spring Training. The 30-year-old right-hander didn’t pitch at all least season because of a torn labrum in his hip and later Tommy John surgery. He has his elbow procedure in late-July but comments from the team last month indicate that mid-August is a more realistic target for his return.

The Aardsma signing is geared more towards next season, but he could definitely help late in the year assuming all goes well during his rehab. He started to harness his power stuff (averaged 94.0 mph with the fastball) after taking over as the closer in Seattle, though he’s always been a high strikeout (9.6 K/9 and 25.9 K% during his two years with the Mariners) and high walk (4.4 BB/9 and 11.8 BB%) guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees extended his rehab a bit and didn’t call him up until the rosters expand on September 1st, but having a dirt cheap and experienced power bullpen arm in your back pocket for the late-season stretch drive sure is a nice luxury.

* * *

Joba was originally going to be included in this post because he was due to return from Tommy John surgery in mid-June, but that almost certainly will not happen following this morning’s news of his dislocated ankle. There is no timetable for his return just yet, and in fact they’re still awaiting test results to determine the full extent of the injury according to David Waldstein. Even if the Yankees hear the best possible news and there’s no further damage, they can’t count on Joba for anything this year. That’s a shame, and hopefully both Pettitte and Aardsma contribute a bit more.

Joba suffered significant ankle injury, out indefinitely

Via Jack Curry, Joba Chamberlain suffered an “open dislocation” of his right ankle playing with his son yesterday and had surgery last night. They were at some kind of children’s play place. Brian Cashman called it a “significant injury” and said they “can’t put a time frame” on his return. Joba is in the hospital now and will remain there for a few days.

“We’re worried significantly about him right now for him as an individual,” added Cashman. They’re not sure if the injury is career-threatening, but right now they don’t believe it is. Joba is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but this injury will definitely delay the process. There’s a pretty good chance we won’t see him at all in 2012 now. For shame.

Mailbag: Utley, Hundley, Nova, Cervelli

Five questions this week, but the answers were a little longer than I expected. Sorry. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us something.

(REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

Zac asks: Hypothetical: if Chase Utley returns but the Phillies decide he can’t play in the field every day due to his knees, and if they decided to make him available in trade to an AL team where he could DH, would/should the Yanks be interested? If so who would you offer?

Sure, the Yankees should at least entertain the idea. Utley will make $15M both this year and next, conveniently becoming a free agent just before the whole 2014 payroll plan takes effect. His offensive production has steadily declined in recent years, and it’s not just because of the injuries. He’s also become more and more susceptible to left-handed pitchers (just a .280 wOBA vs. LHP last year), and his ability to rake same-side pitchers is part of the reason why he was such a great hitter for so long.

The Phillies trading Utley would almost be like the Indians trading Victor Martinez a few years ago, in the sense that he’s an aging but still valuable player whose best position is DH. Using the V-Mart trade as a blueprint, something like David Phelps, Dellin Betances, and Chase Whitley could work as a trade package. Utley is three years older than Martinez was at the time of his trade, so maybe knock off the third player or something. Phelps and Betances for the Phils’ long-time second baseman? That’s reasonable, though I might be biased.

Hypothetical or not, Utley is a cautionary tale of how quickly second baseman can fall off the cliff. Robinson Cano is a star right now, but when his contract expires after next season and Scott Boras is asking for six or seven or eight years at $20M+ annually for a 30-year-old? You’ll be able to make a very strong argument that letting him walk is the best thing the Yankees could do.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Levi asks: What would it take to get Nick Hundley from the Padres? They seem to want young hitters, so would a package built around Tyler Austin do it?

Hundley just signed a new extension with San Diego, a three-year pact worth $9M with a $5M club option for a fourth year. The Padres also have Yasmani Grandal — part of the Mat Latos trade — waiting in Triple-A, plus some more excellent catching prospects down in the lower minors (Jason Hagerty, Austin Hedges). Hundley is only 28, has some power (career .165 ISO), and is generally regarded as a good but not great defender, yet I could definitely see them trading him after the season if Grandal shows he’s ready to step in full-time.

I do like Hundley and would have definite interest in trading for him next offseason if Russell Martin‘s contract demands get outrageous (thanks Yadi!), but I don’t think the two teams match up well in a trade. The Padres surely want young hitters in return, and the Yankees don’t really have any close to the majors bats to give them. Brandon Laird doesn’t count. Perhaps someone like Austin or Ramon Flores has a huge year and jumps a level or two, or maybe David Adams stays healthy and gets back on the prospect track, but otherwise I don’t think it’ll work. I can’t imagine a package of Single-A bats will get it done for San Diego. Like I said, I like the idea of trading for Hundley if Martin leaves, but I’m not sure they can get it done.

Paul asks: Why does everyone assume Ivan Nova is in the top 4 of the rotation? I agree he has the potential to be, but we’re really talking about a guy with half a season of being above average under his belt, hardly enough to warrant this much confidence. I could easily envision a scenario where Freddy & Phil are both outperforming him (not to mention Pettitte in May). So why does it seem that everyone just assumes he’s the #4 or higher starter?

Well Nova did finish last year well and hasn’t done anything to lose his rotation spot over the winter. That said, he’s been the team’s worst starter this spring and it’s not particularly close. He’s really struggled with command of all his pitches, and that’s a bit of a red flag considered he has an elbow injury in the recent past. I guess everyone’s been too focused on Michael Pineda to notice that something might be up with the other young right-hander.

The Yankees sent Nova down at midseason last year and I don’t think they’ll hesitate to do it again if he’s being outpitched by everyone else on the staff. For now, he deservedly gets the benefit of the doubt.

Aaron asks: With the number of teams searching for catching depth growing (TB’s reported interest, KC’s sudden need with Perez’s injury, etc.), do you see this increasing the odds that Cervelli is dealt before the season? I know at one point last July there were rumors of a near-deal with Pittsburgh for Brad Lincoln. What would Cervelli bring back now in a deal?

This was sent in a week or two ago, but my answer would be the same anyway. Frankie Cervelli‘s not going anywhere, the Yankees need him right now to be the backup catcher. Austin Romine needs to get some regular at-bats in Triple-A and the Jesus Montero security blanket is gone. If they trade Frankie and Russell Martin gets hurt, all of a sudden they’re looking at a big league catching tandem of Romine and Gus Molina. That’s not going to cut it.

Considering that the Pirates weren’t willing to give up a borderline non-prospect like Lincoln for Cervelli, I have a hard time thinking the Yankees would get back enough to make a trade worthwhile. His trade value has probably gone down since then given the latest concussion as well. I know catching is scarce around the league, but I do think Frankie is more valuable to the Yankees right now that anything they realistically could get back in a swap. They shouldn’t overplay their hand with the catching depth, it can disappear quickly.

Arad asks: Let’s say there were to be an expansion draft, and the Yankees had to protect 15 players on their team, who would they be? This includes contract, age, ability and everything.

I’ve answered this question before, but the roster has changed a bunch of times since then so it’s worth revisiting. Maybe we’ll make a Spring Training tradition.

Just a quick primer on MLB’s expansion draft rules: Every team gets to protect 15 players, and that’s the entire the organization, not just 40-man roster guys. Players with no-trade clauses and 10-and-5 rights must be protected, which bites. Any player a) selected in the last two drafts (so 2010 and 2011), or b) signed at age 18 or younger within the last three years is ineligible for the draft and doesn’t have to be protected. Players due to become free agents after the season don’t have to protected either. Based on those rules, here are my 15 (in no particular order)…

  1. Alex Rodriguez (no-trade)
  2. CC Sabathia (no-trade)
  3. Derek Jeter (no-trade)
  4. Mark Teixeira (no-trade)
  5. Mariano Rivera (no-trade)
  6. Robinson Cano
  7. Curtis Granderson
  8. Brett Gardner
  9. Eduardo Nunez
  10. Ivan Nova
  11. Michael Pineda
  12. David Robertson
  13. David Phelps
  14. Manny Banuelos
  15. Austin Romine

I’m not sure if Cano and Granderson have to be protected since they are technically scheduled to become free agents after the season. The Yankees do hold 2013 club options for both guys though. If they don’t have to be protected, I’d take Phil Hughes and Adam Warren in their place.

Anyway, those no-trade clauses really kill the Yankees. I can see the argument for Hughes or Joba Chamberlain over someone like Phelps, but those two are going to be free agents relatively soon while Phelps has all six years of team control left. Teams can protect three additional players after each round, and the next three I would add are Hughes, Warren, and D.J. Mitchell. Joba, Dellin Betances, and Frankie Cervelli would be the next three after that.

Update on the RAB Bracket Challenge

March Madness kicks back up tonight, and by the end of the weekend we’ll know the Final Four teams. With so much swag gear from the RAB Shop at stake, it’s time to take a look at the leaderboard. The current first-place bracket is sitting pretty with seven of eight Elite Eight teams still alive and all four Final Four teams still alive. He smartly took NC State and Florida to the Sweet 16, and his score of 530 gives him a sixty point lead over the next closest bracket. Each round is worth more than the next, so his lead could evaporate in a night. One possible contender? Joe Pawlikowski, currently tied for 14th place with a score of 450. If he wins, can he still qualify for the prize? We may have to run this by the legal department.

I would like to think that I have had better brackets than this one. Four of my Elite Eight teams and two of my Final Four teams are out (Memphis and Florida State). It was fun while it lasted, Tigers and Seminoles. My current score is 380, good for 41.8% of all brackets. It’s ugly, but it’s not as ugly as the view of RAB’s Moshe Mandel. His score of 330 beats only 10.7% of all entries. They say that a chimp picking stocks blindly can do better than stock analysts. One has to think the same would have held true for poor Moshe.

Of course, things can change quickly in bracket challenges, and the most important decision you make is who you have winning the championship. There’s plenty of time for this thing to get shaken up.