Yankees sending Hughes to the disabled list

Update (4:11pm): Scratch that, Joe Girardi told Marc Carig that Hughes is going to be placed on the disabled list and remain with the team, not sent to the minors. They called it a dead arm phase. “Something had to be done,” said Hughes. “My velocity’s just not there. My arm feels dead. This will able me to build arm strength and get this right.” Get well soon Philbert.

Original Post (3:54pm): Via Brian Costello, the Yankees are sending Phil Hughes to Triple-A Scranton to work out whatever the hell is costing him velocity and command. It’s pretty obvious that the team had to do something here, sending Phil out there every fifth day to get shelled isn’t in the best interest of him or the club. I figured they would give him one or two more starts, but I applaud them for acting quickly and not screwing around (i.e. phantom disabled list, bullpen, etc.). I’m sure Hughes is disappointed, but he can right this by getting back on track in a structured environment where results really don’t matter.

Right-hander Lance Pendleton is being called up to replace him on the roster, though it’s unclear who will fill the vacated rotation spot. My money’s on Hector Noesi. I assume Pedro Feliciano will be shifted to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster.

Series Preview: Texas Rangers

For years, the Angels were the one team in baseball that gave the Yankees fits. For whatever reason, Mike Scioscia’s team just had their number. Now that the Halos are getting older and are heading down baseball’s power rankings, they’ve apparently handed the torch of “AL West team the Yankees can’t beat” to the Rangers. After sweeping Texas in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in April, Joe Girardi‘s team lost four of their five remaining regular season meetings, all of which took place in Arlington. The ALCS was a completely one-sided affair; that the Yanks forced six games is a minor miracle.

But this is a new season. There’s no Cliff Lee looming nor is there an Andy Pettitte to fall back on. Vlad Guerrero has been replaced by Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman has been replaced by Russell Martin, things have changed. The weather looks to be gorgeous but a little chilly this weekend, when the Yankees take on their toughest opponent to date in 2011.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers started the season looking like baseball’s best team, and reality they probably are at the moment. They won their first six games and outscored their opponents 42-20 in the process, but they’re just 3-3 since. Prior to Thursday’s off-day, Texas dropped back-to-back games against the Tigers, losing the first on a Miguel Cabrera walk-off single and the second on a Brandon Inge walk-off homer. For whatever reason, Neftali Feliz was nowhere to be found in either game. Their +32 run differential is the best in baseball and nearly two times greater than the second best mark in the AL (Toronto’s +17). If there’s such a thing as momentum, the Yankees would appear to have it. They’ve won their last two while the Rangers lost their last two in demoralizing fashion.

Rangers On Offense

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Yankees caught a very big break this series, both literally and figuratively. By now you’ve heard that Josh Hamilton, last year’s AL MVP, broke his arm sliding head first into home during Tuesday’s game and is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks. It was a weird play, Hamilton was on third when a pop-fly went into foul territory, but no one covered the plate and he broke for home after the catch. After the game he threw third base coach Dave Anderson under the bus, though he later apologized. Bottom line: The Yankees won’t have to face arguably the best player in the league this weekend.

Of course, Texas’ offense is still extremely good. Designated Yankee killer David Murphy (.418 wOBA in limited action) steps in for Hamilton, and Nelson Cruz’s boomstick is still fully operational (.451 wOBA). Ian Kinsler torched the Red Sox in the first series of the year, but he leadoff guy is hitting just .152/.243/.273 in the nine games since. Adrian Beltre has hit .350/.381/.750 with two doubles and two homers in his last five games after a very slow start to the season, while Michael Young owns a .474/.476/.579 line over the same time. Mitch Moreland is a perpetual pain in the ass near the bottom of the lineup (.389 wOBA), though Elvis Andrus (.291), Julio Borbon (.297) and Yorvit Torrealba (.275) haven’t done much yet this season. I’m willing to bet Andrus gets his fair share if crap infield hits this weekend like he did in the ALCS. Mike Napoli looms on the bench as a lefty-masher, though that should only come into play when CC Sabathia starts on Sunday.

Rangers On The Mound

Game One: Matt Harrison, LHP: Part of the Mark Teixeira trade back in the day, Harrison has been in straight up Beast Mode in the early going this year. He held the Red Sox and Orioles to one run over seven innings in each of his first two starts, allowing just seven hits and three walks total with seven strikeouts and 50% ground balls. He’s not some soft tossing lefty either. Harrison’s four-seamer has averaged 93.7 mph this year and has topped out at 97 while the two-seamer sits about a mile-per-hour or two below that. He uses each about 30% of the time. A low-80’s changeup is his next best offering and he doesn’t have a real knockout breaking ball, but will throw both a slider and curveball and the occasional cutter. If Joe Girardi was ever going to employ Danks Theory, this would be a good game to do it, taking that changeup away. Harrison has gotten smacked around pretty good in five career appearances (two starts) against the Yankees (7.53 ERA, 4.40 FIP in just 14.1 IP), but that was before he showed up to camp this year bumping 97.

It's Derek Holland's year. Eno Sarris told him so. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Game Two: Derek Holland, LHP: You probably remember Holland from his stellar relief work in the ALCS (5.2 scoreless innings), but now he’s back where he belongs in the rotation. He allowed three runs in six innings to the Mariners in the first start before shutting the O’s down for six frames last time out. He’s very much like Harrison in that he’s fastball-changeup heavy, sitting 93.2 with the former and the mid-80’s with the latter. Holland’s slider is a quality third offering though, a pitch he can use to get swings and misses. He’s another guy the Yankees have crushed in the past (9.49 ERA, 8.07 FIP in 12.1 IP) but again, that’s no guarantee of future success. Holland’s a dynamite young pitcher.

Game Three: Alexi Ogando, RHP: In the rotation only because Tommy Hunter strained some fat at the end of Spring Training, Ogando was never a full-time starter until the Rangers stuck him in that role in Spring Training. Sure enough, he fired six shutout innings against the Mariners two weeks ago and followed that up with seven shutout innings against the Tigers earlier this week. Ogando has allowed just four hits and three walks in those 13 IP, striking out eight. It doesn’t make sense, but for whatever reason it just worked. The right-hander sits 93-94 with the fastball and mixes in a few 95’s and 96’s, but he’s a two-pitch pitcher. If you don’t get the heat, your getting the slider, that’s it. His changeup is an afterthought. Ogando made just six relief appearances against the Yankees last year (four regular season and two playoffs), throwing a total of 4.2 IP. For all intents and purposes, they’ve never really seen him before.

Bullpen: Well, at least Feliz is well rested. He hasn’t pitched in four games, but at we also know that Washington won’t use him in a tie game on the road. Score one for the good guys. Yankee favorite Arthur Rhodes joins Darren Oliver to give the Rangers not one, but two lefties that are a handful of outings away from a forced retirement. Darren O’Day is a sidearm/submarining righty specialist, and Mark Lowe (a throw-in in the Lee trade) throws hard and that’s about it. Rule 5 guy Mason Tobin is unspectacular, and Pedro Strop is essentially another Lowe. It’s not exactly a bullpen that strikes fear into opponents, but you’ve got to get to them before the ninth inning. Otherwise you’re probably out of luck.

2011 Draft: Draft Details Announced

Via Conor Glassey, details for the 2011 draft have been announced by Major League Baseball. MLB Network will broadcast the first and supplemental first round at 7pm ET on Monday, June 6th. A one-hour draft preview show will precede it. Rounds two through 30 will take place via conference call on Tuesday, and the final 20 rounds will take place on Wednesday, so it’s just like last year. The Yankees have just one pick on Day One, the 51st overall selection that will probably take place at like, 10:30pm ET. That’s a shame.

The RAB Radio Show: April 15, 2011

The Yanks had their first walk-off win last night, which always brings the good vibes. There were a few critical moments in that game, but Mike and I aren’t sure the respective managers made the optimal moves. We discuss why they did what they did, and why we disagreed in these instances.

Plus, you can probably guess that there’s plenty of Phil Hughes talk. Something’s gotta give.

Podcast run time 26:27

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Mailbag: Colon, Options, Nady Trade, Big Three

I’ve got five questions for you this week, each bringing something unique to the table. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go if you want to send in questions.

Like a boss. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Findley asks: What are the chances that Bartolo Colon makes a start for the Yankees this season? And how would he fare?

I will say small, maybe 10% or so. The Yankees seem to like him in that Al Aceves role (even though we’ve only seen him in long relief so far), the versatile bullpen guy that could give you three outs or three innings. We also have to remember that his velocity has declined steadily during his outings (here’s his velo graph from game one, game two, and game three), maybe from lack of conditioning/fatigue, maybe from being physically unable to hold that velocity over 80-100 pitches. The guy had some major shoulder problems, you know.

I suspect that if he did start, Colon would be average at best. Six innings and three or four runs seems like a reasonable best case scenario, and finding a guy to do that shouldn’t be too hard. I wanted Colon to start the season in the rotation and think he should be there, but that’s only because I think he’s better than Freddy Garcia.

David asks: It seems like so called “toolsy” guys are a dime-a-dozen in the minor leagues. Athletic shortstops who have a great glove but nobody is real sure if the bat is ever going to show up. Obviously some of these guys even make it to the bigs (like Nunez/Pena). So, is it safe to say that predicting what a guy is going to be able to do in the field is a helluva lot easier than predicting his hitting ability? IE if you see a slick fielding high school guy, is it a much smaller leap to assume that guy will be able to do the same things in the big leagues? By comparison, some guy who can hit home runs off HS pitching (or hit for average for that matter) seems like much more of a crap shoot to project (hell, I even hit a few dingers in my day).

Hitting a round ball with a round bat is the hardest thing to the do in sports, so yeah, projecting offensive ability is tough that projecting defense. That doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk though. Players get bigger and might have change positions, which has a big impact on their future defensive value. The professional game is faster than anything these guys saw in high school and in college, so routine grounders aren’t so routine anymore. That said, the athleticism and reflexes needed for fielding a little more obvious than those needed for hitting. When it comes to batting, you’re talking about guys seeing breaking balls for the first time, getting pitched inside for the first time, using wood bats for the first time, etc. There’s a lot that can do wrong there.

But then again, I’m no expert, so I wouldn’t take my word as gospel. It just seems like projecting defensive ability would be a helluva lot easier than projecting whether or not a guy could hit Major League caliber pitching.

Charles asks: Is it possible for a team to exercise future club options early? For instance, is it possible to exercise Buchholz’s club options now, then trade him to another team if they could receive a good deal in exchange? Strictly hypothetical, not logical.

Just about all of these options have windows during which they must be exercised/declined, and that’s usually within ten days after the end of the World Series. Sometimes the contract will stipulate that the team has to decide on an option a year ahead of time, like the Blue Jays had to do with Aaron Hill’s 2012, 2013, and 2014 options this year. They had to either a) pick up all three before the start of this season, or b) forfeit the 2014 option all together. They passed this time around, but can still exercise the 2012 and 2013 options after this season.

Sometimes there’s no window and it’s anytime before the player becomes a free agent. I know the Phillies picked up Jimmy Rollins’ option a full year before they had to. Frankly, I think Buchholz would have more value without the options picked up in your hypothetical scenario. Instead of trying to trade a 26-year-old with five years and $30M coming to him with two club options, they’d be trying to trade a 26-year-old with seven years and $56M coming to him. I’d rather not have the options picked up and keep the flexibility.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Brian asks: So apparently the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is already calling the Pirates the winners of the Nady/Marte trade of a couple years ago. Is it still too early to tell who won? Granted Nady is gone and Marte likely wont pitch again this year, but Tabata has only played MLB level ball for a couple weeks now. And we did get that magical post-season out of Marte in 2009.

I think the Pirates won this trade rather convincingly. Xavier Nady predictably turned back into a pumpkin after the trade, and then he missed basically all of 2009 with the elbow injury. Damaso Marte‘s been a complete non-factor for New York outside of two weeks in October and November of 2009. If you want to fWAR this, the Yankees acquired exactly one win the trade.

As for Pittsburgh, they’ve already gotten two okay (1.1 and 0.9 fWAR) seasons (285 IP total) out of Ross Ohlendorf, not to mention a pair of up-and-down arms (393.1 IP combined) in Jeff Karstens (0.8 fWAR) and Dan McCutchen (-0.7 fWAR). Jose Tabata’s the real prize as a legitimate everyday outfielder. He’s not (yet?) the star we thought he’d become and probably won’t ever turn into that guy since he’s a corner outfielder with little power, but he can hit (career .336 wOBA) and is dirt cheap for the foreseeable future. He’s already been worth 2.7 fWAR by himself, and has a good chance of being a four win player this season.

The Yankees probably don’t win the 2009 World Series without Marte’s great relief work, so in that respect they “won” the trade. But in terms of value added and subtracted, the Pirates kicked their asses, even if none of three pitchers turns into anything better than what they are right now.

Tucker asks: Who would you say has been the most productive big leaguer out of the old big three (Joba, Hughes, Kennedy)? I’m leaning Kennedy but Hughes is right there.

I think it’s Joba Chamberlain and not particularly close. Let’s look at their big league resumes in general terms…

Joba: one full season as a starter (2009), one full season as a reliever (2010), one full season as a reliever/starter (2008)
Hughes: one full season as a starter (2010), one full season as a reliever (2009), one half season as a starter (2007 and 2008 combined)
Kennedy: one full season as a starter (2010), one half season as a starter (2007 through 2009 combined)

Hughes has a leg up on Kennedy because of his relief stint in 2009, and Joba has a leg up on Hughes because of the 2008 season he split between the rotation and bullpen. If you want to get technical and compare fWAR, then Joba (7.5) leads Hughes (6.0) by a sizable margin and IPK (3.0) by a mile.

Who would I want long-term? I’d take Joba if I could move him back into the rotation. If not, then give me Kennedy. Phil’s missing velocity and stuff this year raises a pretty big red flag. Four months ago I would have said Hughes without thinking twice about it. Funny how that works.

Are lost games worth the gamble on Hughes?

(Kathy Willens/AP)

The questions were coming at some point or another. I’m sure when Joe Girardi sat down for his post-game news conference he was wondering who would be the first to ask. “Joe, what are you going to do about Phil Hughes?” As we’ve seen countless times before, Girardi basically said that he didn’t know at the moment. I don’t know why he can’t just say, “That’s an important decision, guys, and it’s not one I’m prepared to make or comment on immediately after the game.” It would get the point across concretely: the Yankees do face an important decision about Phil Hughes’s immediate future.

While Hughes’s velocity did not return — his four-seamer averaged around 89 mph and topped out at just under 91 — he did appear to control it a bit better. It wasn’t great control, but definitely an improvement. He threw 46 of them, 32 for strikes and two for swinging strikes. The only time he really got hurt on it was when Cesar Izturis slapped one, and when he didn’t run it inside enough on Nick Markakis. Hughes’s curveball also broke more sharply than in his previous starts. He threw that 11 times for eight strikes and two swinging strikes. It graded out as his best pitch, per the linear weights scores on Brooks Baseball, despite its relatively infrequent use. The changeup, too, worked, at least in terms of results, as he threw it six times, five for strikes, and didn’t really get beat.

The issue, as we’ve seen in his previous two starts, was the cutter. In the two instances he got beat the worst, the Markakis homer and the Luke Scott double, he attempted to throw a cutter, but, as he said after the game, it kinda just spun and didn’t move. That is, it looked like a fat, straight, 85 mph fastball. Thankfully, Hughes threw it just seven times, so he knows that it’s not his best option. But it appears that it probably shouldn’t be an option at all at this point.

When deciding what to do with Hughes, the Yankees have to answer a number of questions. The first, and most important, is whether they think, with a strong degree of certainty, that continuing to pitch at the major league level is the absolute best way for Hughes to recover. If they aren’t reasonably certain that it’s the course of action that will lead to the best result, they have to strongly consider removing him from the rotation. Not every game will go like last night. Many times, maybe even most times, the Yanks will fall short in that comeback attempt. An ineffective Hughes is putting them in deep holes, and if he continues pitching this way it will lead to many more losses. That’s not something that any contending team can afford.

There are questions affixed to this, too. Last night the cutter was the big, and perhaps only, problem. Can Hughes get through an order two or three times with just his four-seamer, curveball, and changeup? Can he get his cutter working without throwing it live to hitters? If the Yankees think the answer is yes, or could be yes, I can see them sticking with him. If not, that’s another sign that he needs to work on his issues elsewhere.

My biggest concern is that Hughes is simply overworking himself. Last season he shouldered an unprecedented workload. I’m not sure what he did in the off-season, but if he kept his normal training regimen, he might be overtrained at this point. It would go a long way in explaining the dip in velocity. If this is the case — and at this point it’s nothing more than a pet theory — the only way he’s going to regain that strength is by backing off a bit. That means a trip to extended spring training where he can take it easy and then build himself back up. That’s kind of a dramatic measure, but if he’s overtrained it might be the only thing that gets him back on course this season.

If that’s not the case, I’m not sure what the Yankees can do. It’s clear that he’s better off junking the cutter for right now, since it has gotten battered around in his first three starts. Does that leave him with an arsenal adequate enough to get through major league lineups? I’m not convinced, since I haven’t seen it. But I think the Yankees will be curious enough to give it a shot, at least one more time through. Maybe if he’s forced into a situation where he needs to break off over a dozen curveballs and changeups in a game he can get those pitches working.

Chances are the Yankees won’t take rash action here. Hughes is an important part of the organization, and this has only been three starts. They might skip him for a few days, but that’s the most I can see them doing this time around. If he gets battered again next time, then they might have to do something. I just fear that overtraining is an issue here, since the only way to recover is to rest. That creates more holes in an already rough rotation.