Josh Phelps can help this team

You might have read this already, you might not have (and you might not have the subscription that is required to do so), but Baseball Prospectus ran an article back in December on the career of Josh Phelps. Instead of just glossing over the numbers, Marc Normandin tries to put them into context and tries to explain why Phelps was disappointing at times on the major league level.

For instance, he was a terrible disappointment for Toronto in 2004, but he sported an ungodly low he .276 average on balls in play, which is in stark contrast to his expected level of .317 (based on the percentage of line drives he hit). Then you have 2005 with Tampa, when Sweet Lou handed him a mere 177 plate appearances. His 2006 season in AAA for the Tigers looked stellar, as he posted .308/.370/.532 averages. In addition, he walked in 7.2 percent of his plate appearances, hit a line drive in a little over 20 percent, and got his groundball percentage down to around 40.

He obviously has the skills to succeed, but has faced a few unlucky breaks — injuries included. I don’t think that Phelps is beyond repair by any sense. In fact, if he can translate some of the skills he displayed in AAA to the major league level and stay healthy, he’ll contribute far more to the 2007 Yankees than Andy Phillips and Doug Mientkiewicz.

Then again, I may be over-arguing here. Does anyone really think that Phillips or Mientkiewicz can make a meaningful contribution? And please, spare me the Pete Abraham “Minky will save an error a week.” That’s a load of anecdotal horse shit.

When can Hughes help?

Damian at Project Prospect took a crack at answering that question, and concludes with this:

It’s not until we start looking at some of the all time greats – Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens… – that we see pitchers called up this young without struggling. Of course, it is possible Hughes will end up being an all time great but it’s far more likely he’s going to struggle a little in his first season or two. Yankees fans need to keep this in mind as they watch him grow.

New York can be a very difficult place to struggle. Jose Contreras comes to mind as an example of an extremely talented pitcher who couldn’t get it together in pinstripes. Hughes is likely going to have his ups and downs before he settles in as the pitcher he’s going to be throughout his career.

Have some patience with him. He’ll be a fine pitcher some day.

The whole piece is well worth the read, and really puts one key fact into perspective: almost all young pitchers struggle early on in their careers.

FYI– If you think Hughes dominated Double-A last year, take a quick look at the numbers put up by Rick Ankiel at that level at the same age, cited in the article. Can’t help but wonder just how good he could have been.

What to do with all these pitchers

Phil Hughes. Humberto Sanchez. Tyler Clippard. Steven White. Ross Ohlendorf. Matt DeSalvo. Jeff Karstens. Darrell Rasner. Steven Jackson.

That’s 9 guys vying for 5 Triple-A rotation spots. Even though most of us would prefer the Yanks to have that dearth of pitching at the big league level, none of these guys are that far away from contributing to the Bombers. Before we start to shake out this situation, let’s take a quick look at which each player did last year to put themselves in contention for a AAA rotation gig:

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Farnsworth developing not one, but TWO new pitches

Possibly lost among the “Moose had a good outing” and “Giambi is ready for the season” fodder is an interesting article in the Daily News regarding Kyle Farnsworth’s expanding repertoire.

Farnsworth, one of the Yankees’ setup men, is working on a changeup and a sinker, hoping that pitches in the mid-80s can keep hitters from sitting on his fastball. It’s something that pitching coach Ron Guidry suggested at the end of last season.

I’m a bit puzzled by this. First, how effectively is he going to be able to work in two new pitches? The article mentions that he spent most of the winter resting his troublesome back, so in essence he began developing them this spring. I’m just unsure that a guy entering his 13th year in the league can develop two new and effective pitches in a little over a month.

Second, if he’s adding these two, is he removing the slider? As frustrated as we were last year with his using it in inappropriate situations — not to mention hanging it far too often — does anyone feel better with him using new and untested pitches rather than one he’s used throughout his relief career? I mean, if he can work in a splitter and changeup effectively, then yeah, I can live without the slider. It once again comes back to the skepticism about his ability to throw these pitches.

In theory, I’d love Farnsworth to throw a splitter and a change. With his devastating heat, they seem like the perfect complement pithes. I just wish he’d have come to this realization earlier, when he’d be better able to develop them, rather than rushing in.

My official prediction: he’ll stick with the fastball and slider this season.

Photo: Matthew J. Lee / Boston Globe

Curt Schilling reads our blog

As much as we don’t like Curt Schilling for his success against the Yankees, a statement in one of his recent blog posts makes me think he’s reading our site. After I criticized him for seemingly interviewing himself, Schilling wrote, “Since some people mistakenly thought that the Q&A was me interviewing myself, no idea how that could happen, I have taken to pasting questions instead of trying to paraphrase them.” Well, that’s neat. A real live Major Leaguer has read River Ave. Blues!

(Also, I think it was that confusing use of the personal I in the form of the interview, Curt. It wasn’t very clear.)

Counting down to Opening Day

As I sit here at quarter to ten today, I realize that we’re just two weeks away from the start of the season. Well, two weeks, three hours, and twenty minutes. For those of you familiar with my older work, fret not: the WPA graphs will return.

Update by Mike: Down on the Farm will also be returning, though in a slightly abbreviated format.

Another option at catcher — no, it’s not Javy Lopez

The CourierPost ran an article this morning regarding backup catcher Chris Coste’s status on the Phillies roster. He says that lack of playing time has him worried about his spot on the roster. According to the article, “The Phillies view Coste as a third-string catcher and right-handed pinch-hitter.” In my experience, it’s rare to see a team carry a third-string catcher, so yeah, I think Coste’s worries are legitimate.

This led to Steve (who also gets the hat tip for this link) speculating about a possible trade for Coste. To that I say: not a bad idea. I’m not basing that on .328/.376/.505 line in 198 at bats last season; that’s far too small a sample size. But over his storied minor league career, he holds a .805 OPS. If he can be had for a spare reliever — though that’s not a certainty, given Phillie’s reluctance to deal with the Yankees recently (you want Jason Michaels? Our opening bid is Chien-Ming Wang) — I say go for it. Coste should provide a better bat than the pitcher-esque skills of Todd Pratt and Wil Nieves.

I’m just having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of Philly jettisoning this guy. He’s had a solid minor league career and played well once finally called to the majors. And now his backup job — once again, backing up Rod Barajas, who very well may hit worse than Coste — is in jeopardy? Carlos Ruiz (who I blindly assume is the leading backup candidate) is going to be that much better? I just don’t see it.

If Pat Gillick is looking to shed Coste for a middle reliever, Cash should jump on it; he’ll looks to be an upgrade over our backup catchers from years past.

Photo: Kathy Willens/AP