Can Phil Hughes re-emerge in the bullpen?

(AP Photo/ Bill Kostroun)

It appears the Yankees are getting a head start on their postseason roster construction. Earlier today ESPN NY’s Andrew Marchand reported that Phil Hughes will work out of the bullpen during the season-ending series in Tampa Bay this week, and will likely fill the same role in the playoffs. The decision further limits the Yankees’ options for Game 3 in the ALDS and then Games 3 and 4 in the ALCS. But it does present them with an intriguing addition to their already strong bullpen.

Hughes’s success in the bullpen is unfamiliar to no one. After an up-and-down start to the 2009 season, the Yankees moved Hughes to the bullpen, where he won the setup role on merit. Throughout that summer he decimated opponents, holding them to a .172/.228/.228 slash line while striking out 65 and walking just 13 in 51.1 innings. That earned him a spot in the rotation for 2010, and for a while he shined. Through his first 11 starts he had a 2.71 ERA and even through his first 23 he kept his ERA under 4.00. But a propensity to surrender home runs, plus an inability to put away batters with two strikes, doomed him to a mediocre finish.

After more of the same this year, perhaps it is time the Yankees moved Hughes back into the role in which he dominated two seasons ago. Many of his problems have stemmed from diminished stuff, whether it’s the cutter in general or the manner in which he loses velocity on his fastball throughout a start. A move to the pen could re-focus him on those aspects of his game that made him so dominant in 2009. There are no guarantees, of course, but it does seem as though he’d at least maintain a high fastball velocity while in the pen, which would solve one of this most glaring issues.

At this point, there seems to be no downside. There is little chance the Yankees would allow Hughes to start an ALDS game anyway, so placing him in the bullpen gives him a chance to contribute. There are still questions about the Games 3 and 4 starters, given the September performances that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have turned in. Having Hughes as something of a caddy will only help the bullpen absorb innings if one or both of them pitches poorly. If he does play the caddy and the Yankees advance, perhaps they would then consider him for a starting role in that round.

All of this we saw coming from miles away. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that the move didn’t come earlier, when the Yankees were trying to transition out of a six-man rotation. Hughes might not have been the weakest link, but his bullpen experience, combined with the Yankees unwillingness to remove A.J. Burnett from the rotation, made him the obvious candidate. Now it will happen, and just in time for some big performances. They won’t need him in the later innings, since those are well covered by David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. But one more arm in the bullpen, especially one who can throw multiple innings, might be a boon this October.

Weekend mailbag spillover: Roy Oswalt

Man we’re an overzealous group. The 2011 regular season hasn’t officially concluded yet, the postseason is right around the corner, and yet the questions regarding next year’s rotation continue to fly in! It’s all good though; that’s part of being a fan and it makes for entertaining conversation! Anyway, RAB had a number of questions submitted regarding Roy Oswalt and whether or not he’d be a good fit for the Yankees rotation come 2012. Remember to use the always handy Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send in any questions.

As it currently stands, Roy Oswalt is in the process of concluding his five year, $73M contract.  There is a $16M mutual option for 2012 with a buyout cost of two million (which I imagine the Phillies will likely take advantage of).  That’s not to say though, that the Phils wouldn’t be interested in bringing him back on a more team friendly contract if that option were possible — although a lower cost would certainly warrant more potential suitors.  Unfortunately for Oswalt (who’s now 34 years old), he’s faced some setbacks this season due to back injuries.    However, the right-hander has mentioned that he’d like to continue pitching beyond this year, after speculation regarding his retirement arose while he spent significant time on the  disabled list earlier on in the season.  Should the Phillies allow him to test the open market this offseason, he’ll likely qualify as a Type-A free agent.

In terms of results, Roy has pitched to a 3.86 ERA/3.50 FIP/3.96 xFIP this season, spanning over the course of 133 innings pitched (good for an 8-11 record for the preordained NL World Series representative).  He’s averaging 6.02 K/9 (down from his career average of 7.35) and 2.17 BB/9 (which is basically right in line with his career average).  He’s also mitigated the long ball quite well (0.68 HR/9) in what is otherwise considered to be a fairly favorable hitter’s park.  He’s also maintained his reputation of forcing a respectable number of ground balls (44.8 GB%).  Oswalt’s .321 BABIP is certainly higher than his career norm of .297; that said, he’s done a pretty good job of stranding opposing baserunners ( 73.4 LOB%).  In terms of pitches, he primarily throws a plus fastball (11.6 wFB in 2011)  which hovers around 91 miles per hour, and a change up (which hasn’t been quite as effective this season, -4.1 wCH) approximately 20%  of the time.  He’ll also mix in a slider or curveball  occasionally, although neither pitch has been particularly impressive this year.In general, Oswalt’s been a fairly reliable (if not excellent) starter for the vast majority of his career.  Over the past ten seasons, he’s only failed to produce at least 30 starts twice.

For what it’s worth, he’s also been an All-Star three times and a Cy Young candidate six times.  That said, I would probably be in favor of the Yankees passing on Oswalt.  His contract would probably have to be reduced to approximately $8-10M (perhaps with some incentives), in order to make his likely 2-2.5 WAR justifiable.  Injuries can absolutely plague any pitcher, but by age 35, I’d assume the Yankees would be especially leery of those nagging back injuries that have become quite persistent over the years.  While I typically do not put a whole lot of stock into the whole NL pitcher narrative, there is that to consider as well.  Mostly what deters me from Roy, though, is the prospects that would have to be surrendered for what would undoubtedly be a short term agreement.

Yanks place five on BA’s Top 20 NYPL prospects list

(David Schofield/

Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued with the Short Season NY-Penn League today, and the Yankees are very well represented. Mason Williams unsurprisingly topped the list, and in the subsciber-only scouting report, they say he “stays through the ball well with a simple lefthanded swing.” His “quick hands generate surprising bat speed,” which should allow for average power down the road. “Williams has plus to plus-plus speed that plays on the bases and in center field, though he’s still refining his basestealing ability and his outfield routes,” they added. “He has a solid-average arm and projects as a plus defender in center fielder.”

Cito Culver, the team’s first round pick last year, placed sixth. “He stood out most with his defense, showing smooth actions, average range and a well above-average arm at shortstop,” said the write-up, which also backed up previous reports that he’s a switch-hitter but better from the right side. Tyler Austin was two spots behind Culver at number eight, and is lauded for his plate discipline and ability to handle offspeed stuff. “He has above-average raw power and is capable of hitting balls out of the park to all fields,” said BA. The move to third base (from behind the plate) has been successful so far, but they note that Austin has to improve his footwork and become more aggressive.

Ranking 14th is Angelo Gumbs, last year’s second rounder. “[An] athletic, high-energy player with electric bat speed and a quality all-around toolset,” Gumbs has the bat speed and strength to hit for good power. A former shortstop and centerfielder, he’s working on learning second base, though some think he’d be better off in the outfield because his strong arm is a waste on the right side of the infield. The fifth and final Yankee farmhand on the list is Branden Pinder, a 16th rounder this year that ranked 19th on the list. “He streamlined his repertoire in a relief role, attacking hitters with a lively 93-94 mph fastball that topped out at 96.” Pinder is also said to have a sharp slider and a long delivery with good deception.

Very nice showing for the Baby Bombers, who won their league title this year. The next top 20 list of interest to the Yankees is the Low-A South Atlantic League, which will be  revealed on Wednesday. I’m not sure if Slade Heathcott, Rob Segedin, and J.R. Murphy spend enough time with Charleston to qualify for the list, but Gary Sanchez, Ramon Flores, Nik Turley, and Tommy Kahnle all have a chance to make an appearance.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 26th, 2011

Record Last Week: 6-2 (46 RS, 33 RA)
Season Record:
97-62 (855 RS, 639 RA, 102-57 pythag. record), clinched AL East and homefield advantage
Regular Season Opponents This Week:
@ Rays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF
Playoff Opponents This Week: ALDS Game One vs. TBD (Fri.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Yanks split doubleheader against Red Sox

Two recaps for the  price of  one, eh? Some deal. Let’s start with the afternoon game…

  • The story of game one was clearly A.J. Burnett. The perpetually shaky right-hander struck out six and allowed five hits across 7.2 IP, giving up just two runs on a pair of Jacoby Ellsbury solo homers. His game score of 65 tied his best since June 18th, a span of 18 starts (the other 65 came in Seattle two weeks ago). I still don’t think they should give him a playoff start,  but it was good to see A.J. finish his season on a  high   note. David Robertson relieved him, and recorded the final four outs of the game without incident (three strikeouts).
  • After bunting and running their way to two runs off  Tim Wakefield in the first, the highlight of the  scoring was Jorge Posada clubbing a  no-doubt two-run homer in the third. Joe Girardi did a classy thing by batting Jorge cleanup in his last regular  season start at Yankee Stadium, and he responded with the bomb that made it 4-0. Pretty awesome  stuff.
  • Here’s the box score and  FanGraphs stuff.

That about sums it up for the first game, so let’s dive into  the second game…

  • Once upon a time, many innings before the game ended, Mark Teixeira gave the  Yankees a quick three-zip lead when his double off the top of  the wall turned into a makeshift inside the park homer. A throwing error by the catcher sure helped out as well. That was basically it for the offense though, they scored another run in the seventh on a sac fly, but they had just two hits in eleven innings after the second inning.
  • Ivan Nova started strong, but really gave up some rockets the second and third time through the order. The end result was four runs in 6.1 IP, coming on eight hits. The bullpen behind him was really good (Boone Logan, Rafael Soriano, Mariano Rivera, Raul Valdes, Cory Wade, and Aaron Laffey combined for seven scoreless innings), at least until Scott Proctor came in and promptly put two guys on base and served up a three-run homer to Ellsbury in the 14th inning. You just knew it was over as when Proctor came in.
  • The Yankees had their chances to win, of course. Austin Romine struck out with the bases loaded to end the ninth, and Brett Gardner struck out to end the 13th with men on second and third. Oh well. Alex Rodriguez, Russell Martin, and Derek Jeter remained glued to bench after playing the day game, understandably.
  • Here’s the box score, FanGraphs stuff, and updated standings.

The home portion of the regular season is over, and it’s off  to Tampa for the final three games of the 2011 season. Hector Noesi will start against Jamie Shields on Monday night.

Game 159: Bury them

The Rays did what they had to do this afternoon. If the Yankees win tonight, the Sox will have official blown their enormous lead and will be tied with Tampa with three games to go. Consider the Yankees a good samaritan, the innocent bystander that jumps in to help. Here’s the lineup…

Eduardo Nunez, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Robinson Cano, 2B
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jesus Montero, DH
Chris Dickerson, LF
Austin Romine, C

Ivan Nova, SP

The second game of the doubleheader starts at 6:30pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Game 158: All wrapped up

That's how I feel about Boston's collapse too. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have accomplished everything they set out to accomplish. They won their division on Wednesday and clinched homefield advantage (with some help from the Orioles) last night. There’s nothing left for them to do over the final five games of the season, other than to make sure no one gets hurt, anyway. I supposed they could focus on passing the Phillies for the best record in baseball (one back in the loss column), but that won’t benefit them at all. It’s a bragging rights thing, and frankly I couldn’t care less. Beating the Red Sox today would just be iciing on the 2011 season cake. Here’s the lineup…

Brett Gardner, CF
Derek Jeter, SS
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Andruw Jones, LF
Russell Martin, C
Chris Dickerson, RF
Brandon Laird, 1B
Ramiro Pena, 2B

A.J. Burnett, SP

Game one of today’s doubleheader starts at 1pm ET and can be seen on YES locally or TBS nationally. Game two is scheduled to start at 6:30pm ET. Enjoy.

CC Sabathia Update: Sabathia threw his simulated game this morning, throwing 65 pitches across four “innings.” He faced Greg Golson and Pena (batting lefty), and all went well. His next start will be Game One of the ALDS on Friday.

Reminder: Our get together with FanGraphs at Amity Hall is today. All the details are here. Stop by if you can, it’ll be a blast.