Open Thread: Taking back the comments

I can't believe they didn't make this place more football friendly! (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Okay, look. We have to do this every so often because the commenting sections of our posts get unwieldy as hell from time to time, especially when there are lots of trade rumors like there are right now. Please take a second to look over our basic Commenting Guidelines, which just ask you to be courteous more than anything. We have a perpetual Off-Topic Thread available for you to talk about anything at literally any time. The link is  right under the 1976 frieze in the banner, and in addition to that feel free to use the daily Radio Show posts as an open thread in the afternoon. Right now there are far too many off-topic comments and thread hi-jacking going on, and it’s scaring away new readers, which is bad for us. So please oblige. Thanks in advance.

And with that, here’s the night’s open thread. The Rangers, Isles, Knicks, and Nets are all in action, plus I’m sure there’s college basketball on somewhere. You guys know what to do, so have at it.

Where were the league’s best pitchers at age 24?

He might not have finished with the sexiest numbers, but Phil Hughes had quite an eventful 2010. In his first full season as a starter he made his first All-Star team and started his first playoff game. He also crossed his personal innings ceiling. In 2006 he threw 146 innings, but barely topped 100 in the following three seasons. In 2010 he threw 176, plus another 15.2 in the postseason. But it wasn’t all positive. Hughes did struggle at times, especially with the home run. It makes it difficult to project him going forward.

Thankfully for him, the home run problem is a new development. It might not even be a big concern going forward. For starters, seven of his 25 homers came against the Blue Jays, and six of those came in just two games. Furthermore, 12 of those 25 game during an eight game stretch during which Hughes struggled mightily. It’s the kind of stretch that many pitchers his age experience.

Before: 11 GS, 69.2 IP, 56 H, 21 R, 21 ER, 20 BB, 68 K, 4 HR

During: 8 GS, 47.2 IP, 53 H, 33 R, 32 ER, 14 BB, 34 K, 12 HR

After: 10 GS, 59 IP, 53 H, 29 R, 29 ER, 24 BB, 44 K, 9 HR

While he did recover a bit after the homer barrage, he still did struggle at times. Is that a concern the Yankees should have going forward? I tend to say no, since he those last 10 starts were innings he hadn’t pitched in four years. But it still has to be a concern that Hughes started off so well and tapered at the end.

This got me wondering where the best pitchers in the majors this season were at age 24. It is, after all, still a young age for a pitcher. Many guys come along slowly, and considering his past injuries and journey through the bullpen, Hughes could certainly rank among them. Here are the top 10 by FIP, and where they were at age 24.

Josh Johnson: Pitched just 87.1 innings because of injury. He had Tommy John surgery and pitched only 15.2 innings in his age 23 season.

Cliff Lee: 3.61 ERA and 4.35 FIP in just 52.1 innings. He wouldn’t be a full-time starter until the next season, during which he had a 5.43 ERA and 4.97 FIP.

Francisco Liriano: After missing his entire age-23 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Liriano pitched well enough in 2008, but managed just 76 innings.

Adam Wainwright: Basically doing the same thing Hughes did at age 23, pitching out of the Cardinals bullpen. Hughes actually might have been better at it, too. But all the same, he threw just 75 innings that season before transitioning to the rotation and throwing 202 as a 25-year-old.

Just to note, that’s the top four pitchers, per FIP, this season, and Hughes threw far, far more innings than any of them — the closest was 90 IP away.

Justin Verlander: Absolutely rocked, pitching 201.2 innings to a 3.66 ERA and 3.99 FIP in a super follow-up to his AL Rookie of the Year Award season.

Mat Latos: Yeah, he was only 22 this year.

Roy Halladay: He was actually very good, a 3.16 ERA and 2.34 FIP. But he pitched only 105.1 innings, because he was so bad in his age-23 season that Toronto had to send him all the way down to the bottom of the minors to start over.

Yovani Gallardo: 2010 was his age-24 season, and he managed just nine more innings than Hughes. He was pretty good, though, a 3.84 ERA and 3.02 FIP.

Felix Hernandez: He was also 24 in 2010. We need not make the comparison.

Jered Weaver: The Angels passed on Hughes in the 2004 draft in order to take Weaver. In 2007, his age-24 season, Weaver threw 161 innings and had a 3.91 ERA and 4.06 FIP. Those are pretty Hughes-like numbers.

If you want to add in some ERA leaders who were not FIP leaders:

Clay Buchholz: The Red Sox kept Buchholz in the minors in 2009. In the majors he threw 92 innings to a 4.21 ERA and 4.69 FIP. So Hughes threw more and was better.

David Price: Another age-24 pitcher in 2010. He was considerably better than Hughes.

Roy Oswalt: He was a stand-out 24-year-old.

Tim Hudson: Hudson pitched 202.1 innings in his age-24 season, but managed a Hughes-like 4.14 ERA and 4.33 FIP.

Ubaldo Jimenez: 198.2 IP, 3.99 ERA, 3.83 FIP.

There were plenty of pitchers who were already stars at age-24, but there were plenty who didn’t even spend a full season on the major league roster, or, in Wainwright’s case, were in the bullpen. Phil Hughes’s season might not have blown us away, but his 2010 performance certainly bodes well for his future.

The RAB Radio Show: November 17, 2010

It’s been a pretty crazy 24 hours thanks to the Juston Upton trade rumors. We heard the Yankees inquired, but that’s just a formality. Of course they’re going to be interested in a player of Upton’s caliber. That means trade proposals. Mike and I don’t necessarily make one, but instead discuss some of the players who have been mentioned.

Then it’s onto the relief pitcher market, which just took a turn when the Tigers signed Joaqin Benoit to a three-year, $16.5 million deal. I approved of the Yankees pursuing Benoit, but not for a contract worth nearly that much. What does this mean for other free agent relievers? How does it affect the Yanks’ situation?

And then there’s the Manager of the Year. Girardi actually got one third place vote.

Podcast run time 29:34.

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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Gardenhire, Black take home Manager of the Year honors

Ron Gardenhire of the Twins and Bud Black of the Padres were named the Manager of the Year in their respectively leagues this afternoon. Gardenhire received 16 of 32 first place votes and beat out second place Ron Washington by a sizable margin. Joe Girardi received one third place vote. It was much closer in the NL, where Black received 16 first place votes and Dusty Baker took home 13. Black totaled 104 points, Baker 103. So that was close, congrats to both guys.

The Obligatory The Justin Upton Post

Every year right around this time the hot stove seems to kick it up a notch, and 2010 is no different. Players that were previously thought to be untouchable are suddenly on the market and having their names mentioned in trade talk, and such is the case with The Justin Upton*. “I’m open to listening on anybody,” said new Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers. “We got more hits on Upton and [Stephen] Drew. They’re difficult to move, but sometimes to make your club better, you have to move good players. You never know when a deal might present itself.”

While the D’Backs are indeed listening to offers for their franchise player, it’ll take a king’s ransom to acquire him according to various reports, as it should. Both the Yankees and Red Sox have already inquired, and although their interest appears to be nothing more than due diligence, it’s enough to get everyone all worked up. As Ben explained in his now infamous Carl Crawford post, the Yanks aren’t really desperate for outfield help, but that’s not going to stop us and Upton is a special case anyway.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The very first pick in the 2005 draft, B.J.’s younger brother reached the big leagues a little more than two years later. He was three weeks shy of his 20th birthday at the time. That 43 game cameo in 2007 resulted in just a .277 wOBA, but that was fine. No one expected the kid to come up to the show and start raking two years out of high school. Upton started the next season as the team’s every day rightfielder and more than held his own. He wOBA’d .347 in 417 plate appearances, missing almost two months due to a left oblique strain. Combined with his defense, which was decidedly below average according to various metrics, Upton was just a half-a-win player that season, but again he was just 20. He should have been a sophomore in college, not playing everyday in the big leagues.

The next year, 2009, was Upton’s masterpiece. He hit .300/.366/.532 (.388 wOBA) with 26 homers, and performed well enough on defense to be a 4.6 fWAR player. In all likelihood, TJU would have eclipsed the five-win plateau as a 21-year-old had he did missed three weeks with another oblique strain (this one on the right side). Just 26 players in the history of baseball have performed at a five-win pace at that age, 20 of which are either in the Hall of Fame or will be some day. The kid was that good already, and as a reward the D’Backs gave him a six-year contract worth $51.25M, buying out all of his arbitration years in addition to two years of free agency.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

As awesome as he was in 2009, Upton was just pretty good in 2010. He dropped down to a .349 wOBA and 3.1 fWAR, which is still well above average, but just not up to the lofty standard he had set the year before. A sore shoulder originally suffered on a swing bothered Upton during the season’s final month, and a visit to Dr. James Andrews after the season reveal a small tear in his labrum. He didn’t need surgery and is rehabbing this winter, which brings us to these latest rumors.

Since the season ended the D’Backs have hired a new GM, one affectionately known as the Human Trade Rumor. That’s just how Towers seems to operate, in a very public way. As if putting a package together to acquire Upton wasn’t hard enough already for Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees’ brain trust, it’s made even more difficult by the fact that KT knows their players and farm system better than just about all opposing GM’s after working with the team in 2010. Pulling a fast one with a great stats/meh tools minor leaguer like say, a Zach McAllister before he was dealt to Cleveland, is improbable.

What makes Upton so special is the raw talent and especially the power. When Baseball America ranked him the second best prospect in the game in 2007, they said he “does everything exceptionally well and already has the body and composure of a big leaguer,” noting that he “whips his bat through the hitting zone and has great leverage in his swing, which allows him to sting the ball like few players can and gives him plus power potential.” In his three full big league seasons, TJU boasts a .205 ISO, which is slightly off from the .215 ISO that Robbie Cano put up this year. That’s the kind of power we’re talking here. Take a look at his spray chart below, the power is to all fields as well, especially important in Yankee Stadium. It’s not like he’s pull happy.

Now, as good as Upton is, he’s not without his flaws. He strikes out a ton, once every 3.36 trips to the plate during his three full seasons. Of course there are the injury concerns, namely the shoulder, and he also has a sizable platoon split (.388 wOBA vs. LHP, .343 vs. RHP). Upton has also been much better in hitter friendly Chase Field (.384 wOBA) than he has been on the road (.326). Remember though, we are talking about someone that didn’t turn 23 until this August; Upton’s more than two full years younger than Ramiro Pena and just a month older than Brandon Laird, for example. The fact that he hasn’t fully figured out how to consistently hit on the road and against same-side pitchers yet should be no surprise.

Dave Cameron figured that based on his contract, Upton has an excess value of $70M if he develops into merely a very good player (3.5-5.0 fWAR) and over $100M if he turns into a superstar (4.5-6.5 fWAR). Both totals seem a little outrageous, but let’s roll with it since the legwork is already done. Towers is a smart fella, so you can bet he’s going to market him as a superstar. A trade with the Yankees would unquestionably start with Jesus Montero, and even then you’re adding two or three quality pieces. Including guys like Laird and Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova won’t cut it. Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances will have to be involved, maybe Brett Gardner, and then even more. Players of Upton’s caliber don’t come cheaply, especially when they’re this young and signed at a below market rate for the next five years.

I’m a big Justin Upton fan and he’s the kind of player you move mountains to acquire, so I hope that talks with Arizona progress from due diligence to legitimate discussions. It’s sounding more and more like a trade is possible, too. As solid as the Yankee outfield is now, Upton makes it better and he instantly becomes the centerpiece of the offense going forward, a surer thing than Montero because he’s shown he can do this and this in the big leagues (seriously, click that first link). It’s a long shot, and it would be extremely costly to make it happen, but man, The Justin Upton in pinstripes would make the Yankees demonstrably better both now and in the future.

* In case you’re wondering, the The Justin Upton nickname came about from a reader typo in one of Keith Law’s ESPN chats like two years ago. TJU is a great nickname, so it stuck.

Yankees have contacted a dozen free agents

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have contacted the agents for about a dozen free agents, though we don’t know exactly which ones. Well, we know about Cliff Lee and Pedro Feliciano, then there’s Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Does Andy Pettitte count? Probably. Sherman mentions that they’ve also checked in on Rafael Soriano, so that’s half the group right there. I suspect the others were just part of due diligence, backup plans and backup backup plans. It certainly doesn’t seem like any significant moves are coming, but remember, Brian Cashman is a ninja.

Check out the rest of Sherman’s column for some more dope on Soriano, who the team views as strictly as a backup plan should Rivera not re-sign for whatever reason. He adds that teams have called the Yanks about Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and/or Nick Swisher, but right now they have no motivation to move them.

Joba, Ivan Nova and the fifth starter

Oh, hey. It's Joba again. (Andy King/AP)

For the last four seasons, we’ve watched the Yankees attempt to figure out what they had in Joba Chamberlain. He was the 41st pick of the 2006 draft, and the Yankees expected big things from him. When the team had the Big Three — Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy — all on the way, Chamberlain was the one with the highest ceiling who profiled as a true ace.

For a little while, in 2008, he got there. He had a sub-3.00 ERA as a starter when he was just 22 before a shoulder injury robbed him of his velocity. He struggled through 2009 and was then toyed with by the Yanks as he neared an innings limit. He spent 2010 in the bullpen where his velocity and strike outs returned but his consistency did not.

Now, it seems that the Yankees are content with sending Joba to bullpen for good. “Joba to the pen,” Yanks GM Brian Cashman said to reporters yesterday. “We made that decision after spring training. We’re not looking to put it back. We told him in the spring, you’re a reliever now. That’s it.”

That’s it. It’s all over. Joba will be a bullpen while the Yanks, as Chad Jennings reported, now consider Ivan Nova to be a potential rotation candidate. For those of us not privy to the Yanks’ internal conversations and who are inclined to take Cashman at his word, this is quite a development. The team is giving up on a high-ceiling pitcher after he struggled thanks to their kid gloves and inability to chart a clear path or at least so it seems.

As I come to terms with this decision, I realize Joba the Starter has become my Moby Dick. I want the Yankees to believe they can turn a guy who they considered to be good enough to be a first-round pick (and who would have gone higher but for some health and signability concerns). I want to see the Yankees turn the promise of Joba into results as they deal with the looming departure of Andy Pettitte, the decline of A.J. Burnett and a thin free agent class. But that’s not what happened.

What’s going on here? The team can’t actually consider Nova a better option. Compared to Joba, Ivan Nova is small beans. He had a just a 5.6 K/9 IP in 2010 and a poor walk rate: 3.6 BB/9 IP. Generally effective the first two times through the order, Nova couldn’t handle a third trip through the starting nine, and players in their third plate appearances of the game hit .400/.531/.480 against him. He’s a work in progress, and his ceiling is far lower than Joba’s is today.

So I have four theories:

1. Player Failure: It’s quite possible that the Yankees watched the Joba progress and determined that he just couldn’t make it at the Major League level. They looked at 2008; they gave him a second chance in 2009; and he failed. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a high-ceiling pitcher failed to reach the sky. But I don’t buy it, and that brings me to…

2. Team Failure: The Yankees watched Joba progress and didn’t give him enough time or had a set plan. They had too many layers of kid gloves on, and Joba couldn’t withstand the yo-yo of the bullpen shuffle. It also wouldn’t be the first time a team couldn’t figure out how to bring up a top pitcher.

3. The Next Mariano: But maybe it’s neither player nor team failure. Maybe the Yankees just think Joba profiles better in the bullpen. They know that Mariano Rivera isn’t going to pitch forever, and they believe this deal Mo signs this winter will be his last. They need a replacement for him ready to take over at a moment’s notice, and Joba is the heir apparent. He has the mentality to be a closer and the stuff as well. That Joba might be nearing free agency by the time Mo retires isn’t much of a concern to the Yanks who have the resources to sign a reliever of Joba’s potential caliber.

4. Health Concerns: Finally, it’s quite likely that the Yankees simply know more than everyone else about Joba’s shoulder. Again, it wouldn’t be the first time a potential starter has moved to the pen due to health concerns (See Papelbon, Jonathan), and the Yankees would rather get their 70 bullpen innings out of Joba every year than an injury-plagued 120 starting. After all, they can keep Joba healthy over a full season out of the pen, and it’s much easier to replace an injured reliever than it is a starter.

Ultimately, that’s it, as Brian Cashman said. Joba tantalized us a starting pitcher, and now he’s going to serve as a key part of the Yankees’ bullpen. He can still be an impact player in the late inning, and if the club is willing to move forward with players of lesser caliber in the rotation, I’ll just believe they have that reasons. The alternative is simply too unpleasant to contemplate.

With that, I’ve said more than my share on Joba. Unless the Yanks trade him or he becomes news in his own right, River Ave. Blues is through with this starter/reliever debate. You know where we stand, and you know where the club, better informed than us, stands. And so it goes.