2013 Midseason Review: Grade D’s

We’ve spent some time dissecting the team’s performance through the first half of the year. Mike wrote about the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s. Notice he left me with the scrubs – the D’s!* Well, at least the D’s aren’t the F’s. Am I right?

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

David Phelps
I know some of you might protest our decision to give Phelps a “D” grade. Whether you’re lobbying to give him a “C” doesn’t make much of a difference though — it doesn’t change reality. He’s not been great overall despite some solid starts. It’s also funny, in a peculiar kind of way, how quickly the shine wears off of a guy.

Anyway, Phelps has pitched to a 5.01 ERA (3.85 FIP) and has been worth 1.1 fWAR thus far. He’s struck guys out at a decent rate (8.17 K/9) and hasn’t given up too many long balls (0.87 HR/9). Phelps has allowed a few too many free passes though (3.48 BB/9) and gives up more hits throughout his starts than one would ideally prefer.

Consistency has been the issue here. Despite several quality starts, Phelps has seen his numbers balloon thanks to some really awful games (particularly of late). He allowed four earned runs in 6.1 innings against Minnesota, nine runs against Baltimore (in 2.1 innings!), and four runs to the Mets in a third of an inning. On one hand you can look at Phelps a bit less critically when you consider that he is and always was expected to be a back of the rotation type of arm. One other hand, results are results. Sorry, David.

Phil Hughes
Getting tired of reading about Phil Hughes yet? Well, we all know the story here – frustrating inconsistency topped off by too many home runs surrendered (1.58 HR/9, here’s the list of pitchers with the most HR surrendered — good to know the Yankees have two guys cracking the top 15). Through 102.1 innings, Hughes has pitched to a 4.57 ERA (4.48 FIP), and has been valued at 0.9 fWAR. In terms of peripherals, he’s striking out 7.74 batters per nine and has limited the walks (2.29 BB/9).

Despite very legitimate concerns over next year’s rotation, it seems pretty clear the Yankees are willing to part ways with the once-heralded Hughes. If they don’t trade him for a bat by the deadline, they’ll give him the qualifying offer after the season, which he probably won’t accept. The funny thing is, as maddening as Hughes has been, he’s still capable of throwing the occasional gem and should he string together some solid starts through the remainder of the season, you know some team will decide he’s worth committing a lot of dollars and several years too. It’s a shame it hasn’t really worked out in New York but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Chris Stewart
This is a tough break for Chris. He’s basically producing at a reasonable level, I argue … for a backup catcher. The problem is he isn’t a backup catcher. After the Yankees elected to forego Russell Martin for Francisco Cervelli, the most obvious predicament in the world occurred. Cervelli was injured and the team had to figure out where to go from there. That’s when Chris Stewart stepped in as the every day guy.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

So what happens to a guy like Chris Stewart when he’s forced to play day in and day out? Well over 197 plate appearances he’ll hit .241/.316/.306 (.282 wOBA, 77 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR). He’ll take a decent number of walks (9.1 BB%) and will put the ball in play frequently (14.2 K%). He’ll also hit for no power whatsoever (three home runs, 0.65 ISO). Defensively, I think he’s generally regarded favorably. Again, I would argue that none of these stats are necessarily bad, they’re just not good.

To put it in perspective, the Yankees catchers collectively rank twentieth in all of baseball in terms of fWAR (1.1), twenty-fourth in wRC+ (68), and twenty-fifth in wOBA (.275). Obviously, not all of this production is Stewart’s doing, though he’s logged far and away the most innings behind the plate. Basically, the production the Yankees have received from their catchers ranks in the bottom third of all of baseball in just about every meaningful category.

Vernon Wells
Remember when Wells hit .300 with six home runs through April? Remember when folks were wondering whether Cashman was actually a genius for taking on one of the worst contracts in all of baseball? Yep, that didn’t last long. In completely predictable fashion, Wells turned back into the pumpkin he’s been for years — that is to say a grossly overpriced fourth outfielder.

Overall, Big Vern has batted .238/.276/.371 (.282 wOBA, 73 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR). On the plus side, he’s been generally pretty good in the outfield defensively despite a few questionable plays of late. On the down side, he’s managed to hit only four home runs since April. He’s also hit in the heart of order basically all season, even during his putrid May slump.

Given the amount of exposure he’s seen thus far, it’s not surprising he’s shown noticeable splits either (batting .207 against righties). Back in late May, I wrote about Vernon and what we could expect moving forward. Long story short, the conclusion was that he most certainly wasn’t the player we saw in April, and hopefully also not the guy we saw in May. I think this still holds true. Unfortunately, what we can expect is a “D grade” player who was brought to the team out of necessity. Hopefully, he’ll be used more sparingly going forward when and if Curtis returns.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Travis Hafner
First, let me start by saying that I for one am shocked that Hafner has made it to this point. I was expecting Pronk to pull a Kevin Youkilis and suffer some season-ending injury after the first month or so. Surprisingly, he has generally kept himself in the lineup despite some nagging injuries here and there (most recently a foot contusion that happened during batting practice). Unfortunately (and much like Wells), Hafner has been lousy since May and he too, has shown noticeable splits as to be expected.

Overall, Pronk’s batting .218/.314/.407 (.317 wOBA, 97 wRC+) and has been worth exactly 0.0 fWAR through 277 plate appearances. He has knocked 12 balls out of the park though, which is second on the team to only Robinson Cano (though Lyle Overbay and Wells are right behind him with 11). Hafner continues to take his fair share of walks (11.2 BB%) while striking out at a fair pace (26.0 K%).

Pronk was brought on board for one thing: his job is to mash. The thinking was simple. As long as he’s healthy (or at least relatively healthy), he’ll hit the ball. This hasn’t really been the case though. He’s struggled a lot. He’ll need to turn it around for the rest of the season as the Yankees need some much needed depth in the batting the order.

*Mike did not stick me with the D’s. It just worked out that way because of timing. Actually, I claimed the F’s too.

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Sherman on the Yankees’ plans for Phil Hughes

The Yankees are said to be “aggressive pushingPhil Hughes on the trade market in hopes of landing a bat, but Joel Sherman says they aren’t just looking for a short-term fix. They want a position player they can control for multiple years. Sherman hears the team will make Hughes a qualifying offer after the season and either recoup a draft pick or get him back on a one-year deal (if he accepts), which they don’t mind. “(They) believe, at worst, he would be tradeable if that were the case,” he writes.

Hughes, 27, has a 4.57 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 102.1 innings spread across 18 starts this season. His strikeout (7.74 K/9 and 20.5 K%) and walk (2.29 BB/9 and 6.1 BB%) rates are better than the league average but not eye-popping, and, as usual, his bugaboo remains the long ball (1.58 HR/9 and 11.8% HR/FB). Hughes would almost certainly benefit from playing in a larger home park, which is why the Yankees don’t expect him to accept the qualifying offer after the season, Sherman says. Given his age and strong non-homer peripherals, other clubs are expected to offer multi-year pacts this winter. Either way, this next few weeks figure to be Phil’s last in pinstripes. It’s just a question of whether he’s traded or walk away on his own.

Rosenthal: Rockies interested in Phil Hughes as a reliever

Via Ken Rosenthal (video link): The Rockies have interest in acquiring Phil Hughes, but they want him as a reliever and only if the price is right. The Yankees have been “aggressively pushing” the right-hander in recent weeks in hopes of landing a bat.

Hughes, 27, has a 4.57 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 18 starts this year, and he hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen regularly since 2009. Obviously his homerun issues would only be exacerbated in Coors Field, but that wouldn’t be the Yankees’ problem. The Rockies don’t have many realistically available bats to help New York outside of someone like Tyler Colvin (7 wRC+) and maybe infielder Jordan Pacheco (46 wRC+). Meh. The Yankees would be better off just sticking Hughes in the bullpen themselves in that case.

Rosenthal: Yankees are “aggressively pushing” Joba and Hughes

2:16pm: For what it’s worth, Rosenthal says the Phillies are not one of the teams pursuing Joba. The turntables have … turned.

12:49pm: Jon Heyman says the Yankees have been talking to teams about trading Hughes for a bat, and the Angels might have interest. “I think he could fetch quite a bit,” said a rival executive.

11:30am: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees are “aggressively pushing” both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes on the trade market. He hears Joba could be moved to an NL club soon. Another source says that while the team is talking about both, nothing is imminent. The non-waiver trade deadline is exactly three weeks away.

The Giants, Braves, and Phillies are among the clubs who are said to have interest in Chamberlain. There have been rumblings of a salary dump trade involving Michael Young and/or Carlos Ruiz with the Phillies, but that’s one I’ll have to see to believe. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says the Yankees are planning to make Hughes a qualifying offer after the season and therefore seek something worth more than a supplemental first round pick in a trade. Plans change of course, and what the team says and what they actually do are two different things. It’s all posturing.

Poll: Is it time to trade Phil Hughes?

A few days ago, I asked my Twitter followers if they had any requests for my next post topic. I considered a few of the responses but ultimately chose this one: “Make the case that the Yankees should trade Phil Hughes right now.” Well, I’m not sure I personally agree with this proposal, but for the sake of discussion, I’ll give it a shot.

Phil Hughes
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Hughes is out of here at the end of the season anyway! At this point, it seems inevitable that the Yankees will allow Phil Hughes to walk once the 2013 campaign ends. I discussed some potential contract outcomes for Hughes back in mid-May; he figures to have a decent payday coming his way even if he is mostly mediocre for the remainder of this season. You know some team will give him an Edwin Jackson-esque contract. If he finishes the season strong, who knows, maybe he gets even more. Despite the obvious question marks surrounding next year’s rotation, it seems like the presumed austerity budget will prevent the Yankees from re-signing him once he hits free agency. Although Buster Olney thinks a qualifying offer could happen, I wonder whether it actually will happen considering that the price tag would be pretty high if he actually accepted, which could strain the budget.

He’s a perennial underachiever! He was supposed to be a future Yankees ace. Instead he’s a middle-to-back of the rotation type of arm with the potential for the occasional hot streak. He owns a career 4.41 ERA (4.27 FIP) and has never been valued at more than a 2.5 fWAR. Is that useful? Sure. Is it that hard to replace? Questionable, especially if he’s being paid Edwin Jackson money. He also has shown the propensity for giving up the long ball. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher in a hitter’s ball park. His skillset just doesn’t make sense for New York and their stadium. Let the kid find a niche elsewhere. He’s 27 years old. Maybe he’ll figure things out in another season or two. Maybe he won’t. To make matters worse, he’s also had some obvious durability concerns over the years.

Perhaps a decent player in return is plausible! To follow up on the first argument, the team could potentially use Hughes to acquire a player who could help the team now and down the road since he probably won’t be back after the season. Some team will be looking for more starting pitching down the stretch and heading into the playoffs (whether that’s due to their own rotation’s ineffectiveness or injury), and if Hughes continues to put up quality starts he may draw some interest. While I’m not sure that Hughes could bring back a useful player by himself, maybe if he were packaged with one of the team’s better prospects, a quality trade could be possible. If the idea is to shed team salary, then trying to find a young MLB ready position player with a few years of team control would make a lot of sense – especially if the team has soured a bit on some of their own prospects. For what it’s worth, the team has already begun testing the market with him and Joba.

The rotation will be fine without him! With the exception of the last few starts, Hughes hasn’t been one of the team’s more consistent contributors this year. He could become one down the stretch, but who knows how that’ll play out or if it’ll ultimately even matter. The team could potentially piece together some decent starts in Hughes’ absence with Ivan Nova – not to mention Michael Pineda, who will be available soon as well. Frankly, given the offensive woes, it may not make one bit of a difference who pitches anyway unless they’re prepared to throw a shut out every start.

Would you look to trade Phil Hughes right now?

Mailbag: Hughes, Bullpen, A-Rod, Pena

Four questions in this draft-free mailbag. If you’re interested in the draft though, check out today’s open thread. Otherwise, think up some questions for next week’s mailbag and send them to use with the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Kenny asks: What are your thoughts on re-signing Phil Hughes next year to close? Granted, he’d have to want to close and it would take a few other things like Michael Pineda coming back strong, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps continuing to progress, but he could dominate there.

Barring injury or a complete performance collapse, there’s no chance Hughes will re-sign with the Yankees as a closer. Zero. None. Not unless they pay him like a starter. Some team(s) will offer him a nice contract and a rotation spot, and that’s where he’ll go. He has no reason to come back as a reliever.

I do think Hughes would be awesome in the bullpen though, and in fact we already know he would be. We’ve seen him do it in 2009 and remember, he was dynamite out of the bullpen late in 2011 and during the postseason. If for some unexpected reason the Yankees don’t need a starter next year, sure, bring him back a reliever. He wouldn’t be open to it, however. The money is in the rotation.

Nick asks: Why not have an eleven-man pitching staff? They have several guys in the pen who can throw multiple innings, and a long man in Adam Warren so I think they can handle it. The 12th guy on the staff seems to go weeks between games (at least for the last few years). The extra bench player could allow them to do more of a platoon with several of their veterans, who are old and have platoon splits.

The easy answer is that a seven-man bullpen is commonplace these days and teams always hesitate to go against the grain. It’s been a while since the Yankees used a six-man bullpen and I don’t see them going back anytime soon. Having the extra arm is always nice, really.

That said, I do think teams could get away with it as long as they have three or four relievers capable of throwing two innings at a time. It also means having no lefty specialist. The Yankees have more platoons than they know what to do with — seriously, pretty much the only positions they aren’t platooning in some way this year are catcher, first base, second base, and center field — so having that extra position player would be nice.

Considering how important the pitching staff is for this team, carrying the extra pitcher (Joba Chamberlain? Shawn Kelley? Preston Claiborne?) over the extra position player (Brennan Boesch?) isn’t the end of the world. I do think a six-man bullpen is more doable that most realize, however.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Biggie asks: If an Alex Rodriguez suspension comes is he suspended without pay? If so, does his entire salary count against the salary cap or is it adjusted? We are almost 60 games in and suspensions sound two weeks away. Add an appeal and this can possibly carry over into next year. What would that mean to the 2014 $189 budget if anything. Thanks!

Well, the suspensions are nowhere close to two weeks away. The appeals alone will probably take months, especially if they do indeed go after 20 or so players. If A-Rod gets suspended, it won’t happen anytime soon.  This labor war party is just getting started.

Anyway, yes the salary Alex forfeits during a suspension would not count against the luxury tax. Ken Davidoff was nice enough to spell it all out today, so I strong suggest reading that. We’re talking upwards of $15M in savings if he does get the 100-game ban MLB is seeking, so it’s a big chunk of change. That can fill a lot of roster holes.

Ariel asks: With our replacement shortstops playing abysmally, do you think the Yankees regret giving up on Ramiro Pena? Do you think he would be playing as well as he has with the Yanks?

You can file this under questions I never thought would be asked. New York has gotten a .216/.286/.289 (67 OPS+) from their shortstops this year while Rakin’ Ramiro has hit .318/.372/.506 (143 wRC+) in 95 plate appearances as utility infielder with the Braves. What the hell is that about?

Now, obviously Pena won’t maintain that pace. It’ll be a minor miracle if he does. A 50.0% ground ball rate and 16.7% HR/FB rate in that ballpark just don’t make sense considering the type of hitter he is, plus the .353 BABIP is a bit above what you’d expect even if he was a true-talent .320 BABIP guy. Pena could always pick it defensively, so that wasn’t the issue.

Considering who the Yankees have used at short and what they’ve gotten out of the position this year, I definitely think they want him back. Of course this kind of production was completely unforeseen, and I don’t think he’ll maintain this at all. He might hit better than he did in the Bronx, but Pena didn’t suddenly become Troy Tulowitzki.

Mailbag: Perez, Hughes, Catchers, Promotions

Six questions and five answers this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions or anything else at any time.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Nick asks: Could the Yankees target Chris Perez as a trade candidate? A deal similar to the Joel Hanrahan trade?

My first thought was no way, but my first thought is often wrong. Not only is Mariano Rivera retiring after this season, but Joba Chamberlain is likely to leave as a free agent too. David Robertson is awesome, but I think the Yankees should add some kind of Proven Veteran™ backup plan to the Shawn Kelleys and Preston Claibornes of the world. My preferred choice as of today is impending free agent Grant Balfour, but that is subject to change.

Perez, 27, owns a 2.25 ERA and 5.72 FIP in 16 innings this year. He’s run into some serious homer problems of late, serving up three to the last eight batters he’s faced. Since getting the closer’s job outright in 2010, Perez has pitched to a 2.80 ERA (3.88 FIP) with a strong strikeout (8.11 K/9 and 21.6 K%) rate but mediocre walk (3.53 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) and ground ball (34.7%) numbers. He managed to cut his walk rate to 2.50 BB/9 (6.6 BB%) last year, but that hasn’t stuck so far. I think we can say Perez is what he is at this point.

The Hanrahan comparison is perfect. Perez will be a free agent after the 2014 season, so acquiring him this winter means you’d be getting one year of a two-time All-Star, Capital-C Closer like the Red Sox got with Hanrahan. Would the Indians take a package of four spare parts like the Pirates did? Who knows. The Yankees could slap together a package of Dellin Betances, Zoilo Almonte, Eduardo Nunez … guys like that if the Indians will take quantity over quality. Perez has had some run-ins with the Indians brass over the years and could be available, but I want to see how he performs the rest of the season before going all-in.

Johnny asks: How would you handicap the chances of Yankees trading Phil Hughes before deadline?

I think they’re very, very small. This team lives and dies with its pitching as presently constructed, so I don’t see them giving up a rotation arm even if Hughes will be a free agent (and likely leaving) after the season. Maybe if Michael Pineda comes back strong, Ivan Nova figures things out in Triple-A, Vidal Nuno continues to impress in the show … maybe. I’d want a bat in return, preferably at shortstop or catcher. Someone who can help the team today, not prospects. Prospects suck.

Alex asks: Do you think that the Yankees’ preference for bat-first catchers has hindered the development of their minor league pitchers? The Yanks have seemed to be notoriously poor at bringing pitchers up to reach their ceiling for the past decade-plus.

It could be a factor, but I don’t think it’s a big one. Most minor league catchers stink at defense, and it’s not like Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy — the teams’ two most notable bat-first catchers — are atrocious defenders. Reports over the last 18 months or so have been very positive about their defensive improvement. Jesus Montero was a miserable defender though, and he did work with most of the team’s top young arms over the years.

I suppose having no confidence in the catcher blocking a breaking ball in the dirt or throwing out base-stealers could alter pitch selection, but pitchers are usually given a set number of pitches to throw per game. A team will tell their guy he needs to throw 25 curveballs or whatever per start as part of his development. Maybe bad defensive catchers have contributed to the team’s lack of success with starting pitching prospects, but I feel like it would be just a small part of the problem.

(David Schofield/Lakewood Blue Claws)
(David Schofield/Lakewood Blue Claws)

Mike asks: Is it time for some promotions in the minor league system? I know Dietrich Enns is 22 already, but he is blowing away the competition in A-ball (along with Rafael DePaula). These guys, along with Murphy and Sanchez, need to go up a level. Right?

Shep asks: Given his early success in Low-A and his “age,” how quickly do you think DePaula will climb the ladder? What is your prediction for his MLB debut?

Gonna lump these two together. We’re starting to approach promotion season, which usually takes place from mid-June through July, when the draft provides some new players to fill roster spots. Enns has been awesome — lefty with a 0.71 ERA (1.34 FIP) and 43/11 K/BB in 25.1 innings for Low-A Charleston — and I expect him to get bumped up to High-A Tampa at midseason. Murphy and Sanchez are repeating levels and have performed plenty well enough to earn midseason promotions. Some other obvious promotion candidates include (stats don’t include last night’s games):

  • C Peter O’Brien: His defense is awful, but he’s hitting .328/.392/.586 (165 wRC+) with five homers for Low-A Charleston.
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: Hitting .335/.440/.451 (~158 wRC+) and has already been promoted once. Bumping him up to Double-A Trenton allows Angelo Gumbs to play second everyday with High-A Tampa as well.
  • RHP Tommy Kahnle: 1.77 ERA (3.50 FIP) with 23 strikeouts and 13 walks in 20.1 innings. Another few weeks of that and he should be ready for Triple-A Scranton.
  • RHP Shane Greene: Repeating High-A Tampa with a 3.07 ERA (2.36 FIP) and a 53/8 K/BB in 55.2 innings. Get this man to Double-A Trenton.

DePaula is another animal entirely. The numbers — 2.38 ERA (1.96 FIP) with a 74/19 K/BB in 45.1 innings — are outstanding for Low-A Charleston, but he’s also short on pitching experience because of his various layoffs (suspension, visa) despite being 22 years old. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman told Chad Jennings a promotion isn’t imminent because he’s “got to develop secondary pitches. He hasn’t pitched that much competitively.”

I do think DePaula will get moved up to High-A Tampa at midseason, but he might spend another four or six weeks with the River Dogs first. Let’s see what happens when the league gets a second and third look at him, how he holds up physically under the workload, stuff like that. DePaula is on a weird development schedule and I’m generally not a fan of promoting starters after 50 or so dominant innings. As for his big league debut … second half of 2015 at the absolute earliest? DePaula will get promoted eventually, there’s no rush.

Travis asks: With the upcoming roster crunch (when DL players start coming back), is there going to come a point where is may make sense to bring Manny Banuelos up from the Triple-A DL to put him on the 60-day DL for MLB? I know they didn’t want to lose a year of control, but at the halfway point, would it be a lost year?

The Super Two date is sometime in early-June, so yeah, there’s a definitely a point where calling him up to clear a roster spot makes sense. Banuelos’ free agency has already been pushed back and they’re only two or three weeks from avoiding Super Two. They might actually be passed that date already since he’s not going to be in the big leagues on Opening Day next year.

There’s still some dead weight on the 40-man roster that can be trimmed — Ben Francisco, Reid Brignac, Melky Mesa, Francisco Rondon, etc. — but the Yankees have six guys expected to come off the 60-day DL in the next two months. Letting Banuelos accrue just a few weeks of service time would be no big deal under the circumstances.