Phil Hughes and his waivers problem

One of the popular themes during this slow time of the offseason is trying to figure out what happens to the loser of the fifth starter competition. Since most assume that Joba Chamberlain is going to win the job, it means the Yankees must decide what to do with their other young righty, Phil Hughes. I would prefer to see him sent to the bullpen so he can continue to develop against big leaguers while improving the team’s relief corps, but others want him sent to the minors so he can work as a starter and build up his innings. Either way, there’s going to be a point during the season that sending Hughes down to Triple-A Scranton to work on things isn’t going to be as easy as it seems.

As best as I can tell, Hughes still has one of his three option years remaining. He didn’t use one in 2007 because he was on the Major League disabled list after popping his hammy in Texas, and the handful of rehab appearances he made before rejoining the team in August don’t count as an optional assignment. However, the Yanks did burn an option on Hughes in 2008 when they kept him in the minors for about a month after he came back from his rib injury, and they burned another last year when they sent him to Triple-A to start the season. That’s all well and good, but there comes a time in a player’s career when time in the Majors trumps option years.

Whether he has that one option left, or even two or three, at a point early in the 2010 season, the Yankees will be unable to send him to the minors without first passing him through waivers. From Keith Law’s guest post at Baseball Analysts

There is a rule rarely invoked in baseball that creates a situation where a player who has options remaining still has to clear waivers to be sent on an optional assignment. If the assignment is to begin at least three full calendar years from the date of the player’s first appearance on a 25-man roster, then the player can not be sent on an optional assignment without first clearing major league waivers.

Obviously, KLaw’s article is more than three years old, but I checked the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and the rule is unchanged. As for Hughes, he first appeared on the Yankees’ 25-man roster on April 26th, 2007, the day he made his first big league start against a current teammate at home. So according to this rule, if the Yanks wanted to send Hughes to minors at any point after April 26th of this year, he would first have to clear waivers.

The good news is that these waivers are revocable, so if a team were to claim Hughes, the Yanks could pull him back without a problem. However, Hughes wouldn’t be able to go to the minors since he didn’t clear waivers, and if the Yanks were to place him on waivers again, well those are irrevocable. It’s the same deal as trade waivers in August. First time a player is put on waivers, they’re revocable, but the second time, not so much. So if someone puts in a claim that first time through, the Yankees wouldn’t be able to send Hughes down to the minors the rest of the season because he would surely be plucked off irrevocable waivers, likely by the team with the highest waiver priority. No one in their right mind would risk losing a 23-year-old pitcher like that.

KLaw mentions in the article that players usually clear these revocable waivers without incident, which is good. However the same could be said about trade waivers in August, yet the Yankees went ahead and screwed with the Red Sox (and Mets) by claiming Chris Carter last year. That move forced the Sox to designate another player for assignment a week later, something they surely didn’t want to do. After that episode last year, perhaps the Red Sox brass would look to return the favor (so to speak) by claiming Hughes and ensuring that he’s stuck in the bigs the rest of the year.

The Yanks will face the same issue with Joba Chamberlain this year as well, except his target date is August 7th. In the end, this probably isn’t really a big deal, because chances are the Yanks won’t be sending Hughes or Joba down at any point during the season. But it’s something to keep in mind, because once these two reach their three-year anniversaries, sending them to the minors isn’t going to be as easy as everyone thinks. Like it or not, Phil Hughes is probably in the big leagues to stay after April 26th.

Photo Credit: Tony Dejak, AP

Fan Confidence Poll: February 15th, 2010

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

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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 new and improved Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

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The best Yankee hitters to each field

We now know, thanks to FanGraphs splits, that Derek Jeter posted better power numbers to right than Albert Pujols. In fact, he posted better numbers to right field than almost any right handed hitter I could find. Jeter’s prolificacy stems not only from what happens when he does hit a ball to right field, but also that he does it so frequently. It made me wonder how the other nine regulars fared when hitting the ball to each field. Who were the best Yankee hitters to right, left, and center? In addition to their rate stats, I’ll also factor in overall production, using linear weights based on BaseRuns.

To left field

Best hitter for average: Nick Swisher, .401
Best hitter for power: Nick Swisher, .402 ISO
Best overall contribution: Alex Rodriguez, 49.252

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

The Yankees didn’t hit that well to left field. In The Stadium that makes a degree of sense. Balls fly out of the park to right, and the Yankees built their team with that in mind. They did stock up on switch hitters, though, and two of them, Swisher and Mark Teixeira, did fare well when hitting the ball to left. That .402 ISO on Swisher is just insane. Most of it came from the right side of the plate, of course, where he posted a .493 ISO in 67 AB.

Yet Swisher couldn’t match A-Rod‘s overall production while hitting to left. A-Rod hit 22 more balls to left field than Swisher, which accounted for much of the difference in their linear weights numbers. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano also added more than 40 BaseRuns, both because they hit the ball in that direction so often. It might seem odd to see Jeter on the list, but pitchers aren’t going to feed him outside pitches all day. He has to do something with those inside ones if he’s going to succeed, and he did that well in 2009.

Overall the Yankees hit .345 to left field with a .210 ISO and 313.780 BaseRuns.

To center field

Best hitter for average: Brett Gardner, .425
Best hitter for power: Alex Rodriguez, .315
Best overall contribution: Robinson Cano, 52.429

Credit: AP Photo/Winslow Townson

It makes sense that team power isn’t as high to center field. It’s the deepest part of the park, and some fields have ridiculously long fences. Still, the Yankees hit well for average that way, led by Brett Gardner. He was at his best hitting to center. In fact, he didn’t hit over .300 to either of the corners, but was up at .425 to center. A-Rod came close at .405, and Jeter hit .398.

Power-wise it was A-Rod with a decent amount of space between him and the second best slugger to center, Nick Swisher. A-Rod hit a ridiculous nine home runs to center field, which is even more remarkable because, again, he missed the first month of the season. Swisher showed good power to center, though his average dropped off markedly. Still, five homers and 10 doubles on 105 balls in play (plus homers) is damn fine production.

People call Robinson Cano a pure hitter. If being a pure hitter means taking the ball back up the middle, then Cano fit the definition. His .373 AVG ranked fourth on the team, and his .151 ISO ranked fifth. But, as with A-Rod to left, Cano benefitted by putting so many balls in play to center field. Derek Jeter put in play the next most, with 198, but after them it was a long way to No. 3, Mark Teixeira with 168.

Overall the Yankees hit .344 to center field with a .162 ISO and 317.191 BaseRuns.

To right field

Best hitter for average: Jorge Posada, .425
Best hitter for power: Jorge Posada, .473
Best overall contribution: Johnny Damon, 77.029

Credit: AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams

Before assembling the list, I expected to see Johnny Damon’s name atop the average mark and Mark Teixeira with the best power numbers. I didn’t realize that Jorge Posada hits the ball to right like Nick Swisher hits it to left. That .473 ISo is the best mark of any Yankee to any field. Jorge also tied for the top batting average to any field. Best of all, he did it from both sides of the plate, hitting .427 from the left side and .423 from the right, with a .539 ISO from the left side and .231 from the right.

Of Damon’s 24 home runs, 23 sailed over a right field wall, and the majority of those came at Yankee Stadium. Yet he had only the fourth highest ISO on the team, as Hideki Matsui ranked second at .461 and Mark Teixeira ranked third at .459. Damon, at .450, added the most overall because he really tailored his swing to the short porch, putting 220 balls in play to right field. Swisher also finished well here, with a .377 ISO mark. The lowest non-Gardner ISO: Alex Rodriguez, with .233. I think we’ll see that increase a little bit this season.

Overall the Yankees hit .364 to right field with a .368 ISO and 445.068 BaseRuns. It pays, it seems, to build your team around your stadium.

In case you’re interested, here’s the whole spreadsheet. You know. For the nerds among us.

Valentine’s Day Open Thread

There’s nothing to say about Valentine’s Day that hasn’t already been said. Some people adore it, some people hate it. It depresses some and excites others. Whatever. While Valentine’s Day happens but once a year, our open threads happen every night. I think that makes them a lot better.

If you want to use the open thread to rant about a current or former lover, go ahead. If you wan to profess your love for one of our esteemed commenters, this would be the time to do it. But really, anything goes. Enjoy it, folks.

The pursuit of Curtis Granderson

For the Yankees, the last log on the hot stove has turned to ash. The team appears completely set as players begin reporting to the Tampa camp. We’ve reflected on the 2009 season, reflected on the moves the Yankees made in an attempt to repeat, and even reflected on the moves they didn’t make. There doesn’t seem much left to do before spring training begins.

Still, we can find some tidbits about the off-season to fill the gap. For instance, when Brian Cashman spoke at the University of New Haven last Thursday he revealed something about his pursuit of Curtis Granderson. The conversations that led to the Yankees acquiring the All-Star center fielder actually began before they won the World Series — began, in fact, just before the first pitch of Game 1. It might sound like odd timing to you and me, but not to Brian Cashman.

“I said, ‘Dave, we set our roster, so there’s nothing left for me to do now except for turning the page and talk about next year.’ That’s when he first mentioned Curtis Granderson might become available.”

At that point, 28 general managers had nothing to worry about except rebuilding their teams for 2010. It’s nice to hear that Cashman started working on the 2010 Yankees once his obligations to the 2009 team ceased. In that type of competitive landscape, he can’t really afford to fall behind.

After the jump, as to hide it from everyone who’s sick of the story, a bit about Damon.

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These Rules belong to Phil

For much of the last three years, we’ve heard more than we ever wished to about the Joba Rules. First, these rules dictated how often Joba could pitch out of the bullpen. Then, they dictated how many innings he would pitch in preparation for becoming a starter. Then, they dictated how many innings he could pitch in a single season as a starter. Then, they dictated how many pitches he could throw in one outing as the Yanks tried to keep him under his innings count. It was quite the process.

In 2010, Joba will no longer have rules. He’s passed all the tests, some with better results than others, and the Yanks are prepared to let him go this year. He’ll throw as many innings as the Yankees need him to. However, one of the Yanks’ other young guns — Phil Hughes — won’t be as lucky. As the Joba Rules exit stage left, the Hughes Rules enter stage right.

In an interview on WFAN available here, Yanks’ pitching coach Dave Eiland spoke about the Hughes Rules, and Steve S. at The Yankee U offers up a transcription of the interview. First, Eiland noted that Joba’s lack of innings limit does not give him a leg up in the fifth starter race this spring, and then, he addressed the Hughes question.

“You’ve got to remember,” Eiland said, “Joba had restrictions because he never had a full season in professional baseball as a starter. Phil Hughes has had several minor league seasons as a starter. So there’s going to be restrictions, but they’re not going to be as strenuous as Joba. And I’ll just leave it at that, right there. There’s restrictions, and we’re on the side of caution with all our guys.”

As Steve notes at TYU, Hughes’ career innings high came in 2006 when, as a 20-year-old, he threw 146 innings, all at the minor league level. I doubt the Yanks will let Hughes exceed that total by 30 innings, the generally accepted increase for a young starter, because he hasn’t reached that level in three full seasons. However, the Yanks would probably allow Hughes 150 innings. It’s tough to see him reaching that as a sixth starter/bullpen guy, but he’ll have to outpitch Joba in Spring Training to earn that rotation spot.

In the end, the Yankees have a problem many teams would love to have. They have too many good young pitchers and not enough rotation spots. Somehow, I imagine, this will all work out in the end but not after we hear about the Hughes Rules over and over again.

Jesus Montero has the audacity to work on his defense behind the plate

Anthony McCarron wrote a great piece about Yanks’ top prospect Jesus Montero yesterday evening, chronicling the youngster’s workouts behind the plate in Tampa last week. He’s fielding fungos to simulate wild pitches, working on shortening his throwing motion, things of that nature. More importantly, McCarron notes that the Yankees are committed to seeing if he can stick behind the plate long-term, which would obviously boost his value. There’s no harm in letting him in try.

Make sure you check it out, it’s a great article. Aside from all the defense stuff, McCarron also touches on Montero’s hobby of building race cars, which he inherited from his father. My favorite quote: “I hope they don’t trade me because I want to be with them the rest of my life.” Same here Jesus, same here.