Curt Schilling validates my opinion

I’ve been saying that the cold weather, the bone-chilling cold weather we’ve had, isn’t good for pitching in particular. I think Phil Hughessubpar start tonight had a lot to do with the weather. And words from the keyboard of Curt Schilling, of all people, support my theory. Said Curt earlier this week: “I hate cold weather from a feel standpoint.” As I’ve said, in the cold, pitchers have no feel for their pitches. Don’t judge one bad Phil Hughes start because it was 40 degrees with a threat of snow. Baseball is a warm weather sport for a reason.

It was a good idea, in theory

In theory, Communism works. In theory.

Phil Hughes tonight: 5.0 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 1 K

His control looked a bit off. He was falling behind guys and using his best fastball to catch up, but eventually guys are going to wise up to that. I still don’t think he has much, if anything, left to learn in the minors. I just think he’s having some control issues right now.

Not that it really matters, anyway. Pete Abraham is reporting that Mike Mussina won’t hit the DL. This, of course, means that we’ll be seeing Darrell Rasner once more. I’d be less concerned about that if the start wasn’t coming against the Injuns.

So it’s Igawa, Pavano, and Pettitte against the A’s, followed by an off-day, then Rasner, Igawa, and Pavano against the Indians. Hopefully, this means Pettitte, Moose, and Wang against the Red Sox. For that to happen, though, Wang would have to make his one rehab start on Tuesday, and everything would have to go perfectly thereafter. Not looking too good…

How to handle Phil Hughes

As we all know, the Yankees are taking a very conservative approach to handling Phil Hughes. He’s the top pitching prospect in baseball, and the last thing the team wants is to let him loose and risk an injury. To an extent, this makes sense; there have been studies that demonstrate the negative effects of increasing a young pitcher’s workload by more than 30 innings a year. True, you have to throw more to get stronger, but the Yankees are just trying to moderate how much more Hughes throws.

At what point, though, do the Yankees cut bait and let him pitch as many innings as he can handle? He’ll be limited to around 180 innings this year, 30 more than he threw in 2006. Are they going to impose a 210-inning limit in 2008?

Perhaps we’re not asking the best questions here. After all, 180 innings for Phil Hughes is much different than 180 innings for Chien-Ming Wang. The typical reaction here is to revert to pitch count, which has been the trend as of late. But does pitch count even give us an adequate idea of a pitcher’s workload?

For a quick rundown of the Pitch Count Phenomenon, check out Tom Verducci’s article from this week’s SI (I don’t know why I still subscribe to the magazine if they make everything available online). Yeah yeah, I know some Yanks fans still have a sour taste in their mouth from Verucci’s recent article bemoaning the Yankees philosophy, but the Matsuzaka/pitch count article is a good read.

Now, head over to CBS Sportsline and check out the article about how the Mariners are handling King Felix. Most of the article is fluff, but there are some interesting tidbits in there, including:

As for Hernandez’s workload, the Mariners still will monitor him closely. But if it’s the seventh inning and Hernandez is dominating, you probably won’t see him automatically yanked from the game like he was so often last year.

Instead of simply counting innings, manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Rafael Chaves will place more emphasis this year on total pitches thrown and, particularly, on the stress of those pitches and innings.

If Hernandez is sailing, his delivery is in sync and everything is smooth, the green light will remain in place.

I couldn’t possibly react to that revelation better than Jeff at Lookout Landing, who pointed out the CBS article:

That’s not stupid – that’s perfect. It’s exactly how a young pitcher should be treated. Counting innings is what’s silly; 200 frames for Gil Meche are way different than 200 frames for, say, Roy Halladay, and the total barely even gives you an approximation of workload and stress level. It’s something of a barometer, since a guy with 100 innings will generally have less wear and tear than someone with twice as many, but it’s incredibly inefficient, to the point where it’s not even worth monitoring when there are better alternatives available. Which there are.

Innings sometimes provide a ballpark estimate, but pitch context and mechanical consistency tell you much much more. If Pitcher A throws 90 pitches and allows ten baserunners in five innings, while Pitcher B throws 110 pitches and allows six baserunners in seven innings, Pitcher A’s going to be doing more damage to himself, since he’s working in more stressful situations. That’s what wears a guy out and puts him at risk for injury – having to focus on every individual pitch with men on is way more tiring than cruising through the bottom of the order with the bases empty. That much we know. So why not account for it when you’re keeping track of a young pitcher’s progress?

If coaches and front offices are going to be so mindful of a pitcher’s workload, does it not make more sense to try to get as micro a view as possible of said workload? The more you generalize, the more vague your findings are going to be.

If Hughes dominates AAA, there seems little reason to keep innings limits on him. Then, once he gets to the majors, you can monitor him in the same way. This will provide a better view of his workload and possibly clear him to work beyond the 180-inning limit imposed on him. You never know, the Yankees may need some extra innings from him down the stretch.

Mike, I know you’ve got two cents about this.

Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

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.

Get to know Phil Hughes (even more)

Nice little puff piece about Phil Franchise (hat tip to Pete Abraham for the moniker) over at the Worldwide Leader:

[Hughes agent, Nez] Balelo tells a story about the day in 2004, when the Yankees invited Hughes — their new No. 1 draft pick, out of Santa Ana, Calif. — to meet them on a trip to Dodger Stadium.

They gave him a uniform, then marched him out to the bullpen before a game to throw for Joe Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

When a group of fans around the bullpen began hooting at him, Stottlemyre walked over to Hughes and asked: “Is all the yelling bothering you?”

“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Hughes replied.

Sounds like pitching in the Bronx won’t be a major obstacle for the kid. All I know is that when I was 17 and muttered “I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” there was a damn good chance I new exactly what you were talking about, and I was just trying to hide it.

Live Phil Hughes blog

Hughes is on the mound right now facing the Indians, here’s how it’s going:

First Batter: David Delluci walked

Second Batter: Ryan Garko struck out

Third Batter: Shin-Soo Choo GIDP’ed. Inning over.

Update: My bad, Dellucci was picked off first…

And we pick it up in the 5th (tied 2-2, Kevin Reese with a 2-run job):

First Batter: Hector Luna slapped a single

Second Batter: Mike Rouse GIDP’ed (no mistake this time)

Third Batter: Grady Sizemore good morning, good afternoon, good ni…ground out

Days likely over for Phil, who dropped his spring ERA from 8.18 to 2.70. His line: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 4-0 GB/FB ratio.