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Hughes goes with ol’ No. 1, and it works

If Phil Hughes is going to develop into an ace, or even a No. 2 starter, he will have to further develop his secondary pitches. Last year, pitching out of the bullpen, he could survive mostly with his fastball and his cutter, since he’d face so few hitters. But when facing a lineup three or four times he’ll need another pitch or two, preferably off-speed, that will prevent hitters from timing his fastball.

Hughes does have an advantage here. His fastball can stymie major league hitters and his cutter has turned into an above average pitch, so he can still attack opposing hitters with effective pitches while he gets a better feel for his curveball and changeup. Sometimes that backfires and hitters get a feel for the fastballs, but for the most part Hughes has been able to avoid major trouble. This was the case yesterday.

In June and July we started to see Hughes employ the curveball more often, but he has laid off it a bit in his last two starts. Yesterday he threw it just 10 times out of 84 pitches, and four of those came in the first inning. One of them, of course, was Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer, the only damage the Tigers inflicted off Hughes. One of the others was Will Rhyme’s single. In other words, half the time he threw it in the first he got beat. Yet he still went back to it six more times in the next five innings.

While it might seem like the first inning results might have caused Hughes to shy away from the curveball later in the game, that might not have been the case. Sure, there’s a chance that he lost confidence after giving up a base hit and a homer, but there was something else at play yesterday. Of those 84 pitches, 57 were four-seam fastballs. Why so many fastballs? It was the same reason he leaned on the pitch so much earlier in the season. Opposing hitters just couldn’t do anything with it.

Hughes threw the four-seamer for strikes, 39 out of 57, which certainly helps. What helps more is the rate at which Tigers hitters swing and missed. Nine times they couldn’t even make contact with his fastball. That helped Hughes along to six strikeouts, the most he’s had in a start all month. The fastball it self, according to PitchFX, didn’t look too out of the ordinary. It averaged 91.36 mph, which is a bit below the season average of 92.5, and it had a 9.85 inch vertical break, which is right at his season average of 9.9. The horizontal break was a bit more pronounced, -6.93 inches compared to a season average of -5.7, so maybe there’s something there. Though, as we learned in a few Burnett starts, more horizontal break is not necessarily a good thing. (E.g., it could mean the ball is tailing.)

The Tigers’ lackluster offense certainly helped out Hughes, as the only player who hurt him was an MVP candidate. But that shouldn’t take away from his start, which can’t be classified as anything but excellent. Miguel Cabrera will hit homers, and apparently he really likes hitting them against the Yankees. Hughes not only kept down the rest of the Tigers hitters, but he also did it in an increasingly efficient manner, using just 40 pitches in his final four innings after using 44 in the first two.

At a time when he’s pitching more innings than he has in four years — and he’s even approaching that old benchmark — Hughes has continued to impress. He’s not mowing down hitters like he did earlier in the year, but that’s understandable. He’s still just 24 and is learning how to harness the repertoire that will complement his already excellent fastballs. That gives the Yanks an excellent combination: solid middle of the rotation starter this year, with the chance of an emerging ace next year. If, when the Yankees drafted Hughes in 2004, they were told this was how he’d develop, I don’t think there would have been a single complaint in the room.

Mailbag: Venditte, Draft Contracts, Signing Bonuses

We skipped the mailbag last week, but don’t worry, we’re back in full force today. Among the items on today’s menu is the amazing Pat Venditte, or really the Yankees decision to keep him cooped up in A-ball. There’s also a little draft talk, with an explanation about how those kinds of contracts work. And last, but certainly not least, we play off Mike Ashmore’s latest and greatest to see which Yankee farmhands received the largest signing bonuses, allowing them to live a little more comfortably in the minors.

Steve asks: Pat Venditte continues to have terrific numbers at each minor league level. While the ambidextrous pitcher is a great curiosity there doesn’t seem to be much interest to test him at the next level. He’s now 25 in A+ Tampa, which is on the old side. While it’s been written that the Yankees may not have him projected as a true prospect, somewhere along the line they will need to find out how far he can go. What is the hesitancy at this point?

I think it’s just a matter of the team not believing he’s an actual prospect, so he’s low on the totem pole. Other guys get moved up first because they’re of higher priority, so to speak. There’s no arguing the numbers, obviously, but he’s not the only reliever to perform well in A-ball history. His stuff is better from the right side but still nothing special, and he’s a nice gimmick for minor league teams always looking for funpromotions.

Not to sound harsh, but if it wasn’t for the whole switch-pitcher thing, no one would think twice about Venditte. He is what he is, a 25-year-old senior sign schooling younger batters. Think of it as a redux of Colter Bean or Chris Britton; the guy has such great numbers in the minors and we all want him called up, but when he does we watch him and say “oh … ewww.” Most of the time the Yankees are right about these kinds of guys, with the only obvious exception being John Axford. If they don’t believe Venditte has a future in the big leagues, he probably doesn’t.

Matt asks: Hey, I was wondering what the contract value of a draft pick actually means. When someone says a player signed for five million, is that just the bonus? Also when the details say that someone signed a five year, 9.9 million dollar contact, does that mean that player gets that much money for five years in the minors or is that when he reaches the majors?

It depends on the type of contract. If it’s a minor league deal, which most are, then it’s a straight bonus and the player gets all his money up front. At some point in June, the Yankees handed Cito Culver a check for $954,000, less taxes and what not. That must have been a cool feeling for Cito.

Major league deals are different, but they’re just like free agent contracts. The player receives a signing bonus and an annual salary set forth in the contract. They could receive the bonus up front, or it could be paid out over time. The guaranteed portion of the deal is the bonus and salary, incentives are not guaranteed, obviously.

Since we don’t have the full breakdown of Bryce Harper’s deal just yet, let’s use David Price as an example. He signed a six year deal worth $8.5M guaranteed after being the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, with the majority of that money coming in the form of a $5.6M signing bonus paid out in annual installments from 2007 to 2012. The contract also set his salary each year from 2007 to 2012, both in the majors and minors. The minor league salaries are the guaranteed money he’ll receive no matter what, the big league salaries will push the value of the deal to $11.25M. These deals are rare and are generally reserved for elite prospects, but this is a typical breakdown.

Like I said, the big league deals are the same as free agent contracts. There’s the guaranteed money plus incentives that can be earned on top of that. The only difference is that the player is optioned to the minor leagues for some length of time, and they don’t have the service time to refuse the assignment. For the player, the benefit of a big league deal is he goes right on 40-man roster, theoretically bringing him closer to the bigs, but it also puts the player in the union and gives them those benefits (like better health coverage and miscellaneous royalties).

I wrote this post at MLBTR back in April about the largest major and minor league contracts in draft history, but it obviously doesn’t include this year’s signees.

Tyler asks: Mailbag: Reading Mike Ashmore’s godfather minor league piece, I got to wondering; who are the players in the Yanks organization, not on the 40-man, who have received the largest signing bonus?

I’m sure you’ve seen it, but in case you haven’t, here’s Ashmore’s great article on minor league life that Tyler’s talking about. Don’t miss it, truly great stuff.

I thought this was a pretty neat question, and it was fun researching it. Unsurprisingly, most of the players who received large signing bonuses without going on the 40-man roster are high profile draft picks or international free agent signings. Andrew Brackman‘s $3.35M bonus is the largest the Yanks have ever given a player out of the draft, but of course that was part of a Major League contract. Ian Kennedy’s $2.25M bonus is the second largest overall and the largest they’ve ever handed out in a minor league deal, but he’s no longer in the organization, obviously.

This is the completely unofficial list I came up with. I can’t guarantee its accuracy, I think I got it right. The list is after the jump for space reasons, and I limited it to players who received $500,000 or more.

[Read more…]

Robbie, Phil power Yanks to 11-5 win

Before the Tigers came to town, the Yanks had been scuffling through August, and even after Monday’s tough loss, the Bombers’ fearsome offense had managed just one run over its previous 18 innings. Bad pitching though is the cure for what ails you, and powered by a Derek Jeter triple and a Robinson Cano home run, the Yanks sent 13 hitters to the plate in the sixth inning en route to an 11-5 blowout win. Over their last three games, the team has scored 26 runs or as many as they had plated in their eight prior contests.

Phil’s early troubles and late domination

AP Photo, Kathy Willens

The tale of Thursday afternoon will be about the offense, but Phil Hughes‘ pitching is what stole the show. He didn’t open the game sharp as Will Rhymes knocked a one-out hit, and Miguel Cabrera bombed a 3-2 hanging curve ball into the Yanks’ bullpen. It took him 24 pitches to get through the top of the first, and with the sun pounding down on the stadium, it seemed as though Hughes would not be long for the game. A 20-pitch second inning didn’t help the cause.

But Hughes found his rhythm and his command. After the first nine hitters knocked out seven foul balls with two strikes and after the Tigers had a good look at the Yanks’ youngster, Hughes settled down. He needed just seven pitches to dispatch the top of the Detroit order in the third, 14 in the fourth, 11 in the fifth and just eight in his sixth and final frame. He threw 61 of 84 pitches for strikes with six Ks en route to his 15th win of the year. It was a very solid start for Hughes.

The right-hander’s innings limit came into play this afternoon too. Once the Yankees scored nine runs in the 6th, it seemed a fait accompli that Hughes would see no more action. The score stood at 11-2, and the Yanks had spent 34 minutes at the plate. So Hughes, on a roll through six, would see no more action, and his innings would be saved for another day. It was an obvious and wise decision by the Yanks.

So many runs in the sixth

Robinson Cano, do you know him? Credit: AP Photo, Kathy Willens

As a spectator, innings such as the sixth are a sheer pleasure to watch. Throughout the first third of the game, the Yanks’ bat had been dreadfully silent. Rick Porcello needed just 43 pitches to get through the first three innings, and the Yanks didn’t knock out a hit until Mark Teixera singled in the fourth. Three more hits that inning plated two runs for the Yanks, and with the score knotted at two, Teixeira came to bat to start the sixth. The merry-go-round would not stop for 13 batters.

Walk, double, walk, single, walk, wild pitch, double, ground-out, walk, triple, ground out, home run, walk, ground out. 34 minutes, 13 batters, nine runs, six hits. It was a thing of beauty, capped by an Austin Kearns double, Derek Jeter’s triple off the wall and a towering Robinson Cano home run into Monument Park, his second extra-base hit of the inning.

The Tigers needed four pitchers to get through that mess, each worse than the last, and for the Yankees, it seemed as though the great offensive dam had broken. After nearly a week or just a hit or two with runners in scoring position, the team went 6 for 10 in those situations, and the early August slump seemed to be but a memory. For the Yanks, only Brett Gardner and Ramiro Pena did not get base hits.

A save to end all saves

This actually happened. Photo by Amanda Rykoff

With the score at 11-2 and Phil Hughes in showers, the Yanks handed the ball over to the only reliever who didn’t appear in Wednesday’s game. By hook or by crook, Sergio Mitre would finish up the final three innings of an 11-2 game and finish it he did. I will charitably say that Mitre pitched to the score.

He started his appearance out on a high end, striking out Johnny Damon. Jhonny Peralta, though, took Mitre deep, and while the crowd groaned, I appreciated Mitre’s willingness to throw strikes. After a single and a double though, Sergio needed to do something. Dan Kelly struck out, and then Austin Jackson knocked in a run. After a mound visit from Dave Eiland, Mitre got Will Rhymes to fly-out to end the 7th.

The Tigers plated a run in the top of the 8th to pull with six, but by then, the regulars had long since departed. Miguel Cabrera, Yankee killer, was off for the rest of the day, and a variety of other Tigers popped in for a cameo. Mitre settled down and induced two double plays over the final two frames. It was, as the stadium scoreboard proudly, broadcast his first career save and the Yanks’ 75th win of the season.

The Box Score

Is nice. I like. Fan Graphs/ESPN

Up Next

The Cliff Lee-less Mariners come to town, but they’re coming out with guns blazing tonight. Felix Hernandez, 1-5 but with a minuscule 1.93 ERA since the Infamous Joba Meltdown in Seattle, will face off against A.J. Burnett at 7:05 p.m. King Felix’s last start in New York was a dominant one.

Christian sets a record among several pro debuts

Fourth rounder Mason Williams, who received the largest signing bonus given out by the Yankees this year, will make his pro debut with the GCL Yanks tomorrow. Meanwhile, 15-year-old righty Luis Heredia signed with the Pirates for big bucks, so the Yanks lost out on him. Oh well, not the end of the world. Remember Michael Ynoa?

Oh, and both Corban Joseph and Austin Romine are headed to the Arizona Fall League.

  • Triple-A Scranton won. Jorge Vazquez, Brandon Laird, and Colin Curtis each doubled, but the really star of he offense was Chad Huffman. Dude picked up three hits including a homer. David Phelps was rather ordinary, allowing seven hits and five runs in six innings of work.
  • Double-A Trenton won. Justin Christian reached base three times and stole three bases, setting the franchise’s all time record with his 103rd steal. Congrats to him. Dan Brewer and Austin Romine went hitless in a combined eight at-bats, but both Marcos Vechionacci and Luis Nunez went deep. D.J. Mitchell continued his strong pitching, allowing two runs while striking out a half-dozen in 6.1 IP.
  • High-A Tampa won. Jose Pirela, the man with three total homeruns since 2007, went deep twice in this one. What’s that thing they always say? Bradley Suttle, Zoilo Almonte, and Myron Leslie also went yard. Dellin Betances struck out six in just four innings, and was sitting 94-95.
  • Low-A Charleston lost. Slade Heathcott singled once, J.R. Murphy twice. And that’s all the team got on offense. Not exciting on the pitching side, though Jose Quintana is up from the GCL and started.
  • Short Season Staten Island lost. Casey Stevenson doubled and homered. Cito Culver did not play, but Rob Segedin picked up a pair of hits including a double. Gary Sanchez DH’d and singled in five at-bats. 12th rounder Dan Burawa made his pro debut, walking one in an otherwise scoreless inning.
  • Rookie GCL Yanks won. Second rounder Angelo Gumbs made his pro debut at shortstop and as a leadoff hitter, going hitless in three at-bats with a strikeout. There are questions about his ability to play short long-term, but it’s worth trying. Tenth rounder Ben Gamel also made his pro debut, picking up a single in three trips to the plate while playing right. Ramon Flores had three hits while Fu-Lin Kuo and Anderson Feliz each went deep. Some guy named George Isabel, a 6-foot-6 20-year-old righty from NYC made his pro debut with a scoreless inning. He must have signed as an undrafted free agent.

Open Thread: Back in the saddle again

Now, that’s more like. Powered by a nine-run sixth innings, the Yankees confidently downed the Tigers this afternoon 11-5 to win their first series since downing Cleveland in late July. At the least, the Bombers will maintain their share of first place and could move into sole possession of the AL East lead if the Rays lose against the A’s tonight.

We’ll have more on the game later tonight, but for now, let’s bask in the glow of an offensive explosion. Before we jump into the fun of the Open Thread, I’d like to take care of a few housekeeping items. First, please note the addition to the commenting guidelines. We are respectfully requesting that game threads and open threads remain somewhat focused on baseball and that political discussion of the kind that inspires rancorous and often bitter debate on the Internet remain in the Off Topic Thread.

Second, we had a busy news day as the Yanks were going about their business this afternoon. Roger Clemens is facing an indictment alleging that he perjured himself when he testified to Congress in 2008 on his use of PEDs. On the field, Alfredo Aceves is almost ready to return to the Bronx.

Finally, allow me to plug our social networking. You can follow River Ave. Blues and its three writers on Twitter at the following accounts: @RiverAveBlues, @bkabak, @joepawl and @mikeaxisa. Find us also on Facebook where we send photos, videos and pithy Yankee-related status messages to your News Feed.

Das it. The Red Sox, 9-0 against Los Angeles this year, play the Angels, and the game should air on MLB Network this evening. The alternate in some areas is the Phillies/Giants NL Wild Card showdown. San Francisco starters haven’t won a game in 15 tries. The Patriots and Falcons square off in some pre-season football action at 8 p.m. on FOX; the Rays play the A’s tonight at 10:10 p.m.; and of course, Jersey Shore, the pinnacle of American culture, is new this evening as well.

The photo of Derek Jeter awkwardly congratulating Robinson Cano on the latter’s two-run home run comes to us via the Kathy Willens of the Associated Press.

Aceves not yet ready to rejoin the Yankees

Shortly before the game, work leaked out that Alfredo Aceves was alive and well and in the Yankee clubhouse. I had fleeting thoughts that he would be activated after a lengthy stint on the DL due to back problems, and we would be saved more appearances by Chad Gaudin (or Sergio Mitre). The Yankees, however, have different plans. As MLB.com’s Tim Britton reported, Brian Cashman is not quite ready to activate Aceves yet, and the team hopes to have him make at least one more rehab start and possibly two. “He’s a guy that’s just knocking out the rust,” Cashman said before the game. “The belief is he’d benefit and therefore we’d benefit from him getting a few more outings.”

So far, in 5 innings for AAA Scranton and AA Trenton, Aceves, who may still need surgery this winter, has looked sharp. He’s allowed a run on one hit while striking out six. Although Aceves may be ready to go, the Yankees are probably trying to stretch out his rehab to maintain some roster flexibility. By holding him back until September 1, the Yankees can activate Aceves without having to sacrifice Gaudin’s or Mitre’s spot on the Major League. Since Aceves’ back appears to be a ticking time bomb, keeping those two sacrificial lambs around gives the Yanks some depth during the pennant drive.