Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pleading The Fifth (Starter)

So far this spring, we've tried valiantly to steer clear of the 5th starter conversation, mostly because it's so far from being decided and thus is prone to baseless speculation. In fact, on Monday we used it as an example of the type overplayed subject that we typically try to avoid after a certain point of saturation. However, at the risk of boring you all to fucking tears, I'm going to run down some of the thoughts I have about this that go against the conventional New York tabloid wisdom.

First, regardless of what Joe Girardi and Dave Eiland would like you, Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin to believe, the 5th slot in the rotation is not an open competition. Obviously, it's in the best interest of the Yankees' coaches to try to convince Mitre or Gaudin that they are competitng for a spot as a motivational tool. Those two might find their way into the bullpen or increase their trade value as a corollary. In the short term, it might make even some sense to seriously consider one of them for that 5th spot. But in the big picture of the franchise, looking beyond 2010, it makes no sense.

As Joe from RAB pointed out last night, there's almost nothing in Sergio Mitre's track record that suggests he could be successful as a starter for a team in the AL, much less the AL East, much less the Yankees. The same probably could be said for Gaudin, but he has had better results thus fan into his career and has the ability to float between the rotation and the bullpen when needed. Either guy would be a decent option as a spot starter or in the case of an injury, but I don't think they should be the first choice when camp breaks regardless of how well they've been pitching. Small sample sizes and all of that.

As such, this is a essentially a two horse race between Hughes and Chamberlain with Alfredo Aceves being the only other candidate with a real shot. Considering that arming the top four places in their rotation cost them $62.75M this year, the Yankees should understand the value of a starting pitcher as well as any team. Hughes, Chamberlain and to a lesser extent Aceves are young, have high ceilings and several years of team control remaining. They are the ones who have the best shot at becoming low-cost rotation options for years to come.

The Yanks should be concerned with winning this year, but since their top four starters are so solid, they can probably afford to give that last spot (at least initially) to one of the players who is most likely to help the franchise in that role long term even if they haven't been the best this spring.

So what happens to the two guys out of the top three who don't get the first crack at the 5th spot? River Ave. Blues already discussed why it would be a waste to send Hughes and Aceves back to the minors, so they go to the bullpen. But what about Joba? Might he benefit from a trip down to the farm if he doesn't find his groove by the end of Spring Training?

Here are the two most oft-cited arguments against sending a player who has already achieved MLB success back to AAA:
  1. They have nothing left to prove.

  2. You are wasting their production by leaving them off the Major League roster.
As for the first one, this is more of a mental issue than a statistical one and probably varies on a case by case basis. Joba may take umbrage with being sent back to Scranton and that in turn could harm his production. More importantly though, I don't think that this platitude even applies to the 2010 version of Joba.

The last time Joba pitched in the minors, Doug Mientkiewicz was still on the Yankees. He's only thrown 88 1/3 innings down on the farm and only 8 in AAA. Compare that to Phil Hughes, who has 330 MiLB IP under his belt.

More importantly - as we so often remind ourselves when trying to reason with those who think Joba was born to be a reliever - he's not the same pitcher he was in 2007. He's not working with the same velocity and is now attempting to mix in his curveball and his changeup significantly more often. I doubt Joba would be happy with a demotion, but I'm fairly certain it might help him work on some of the skills it takes to be a starting pitcher, i.e. being efficient with his pitch count and refining his curve and change.

In regards to the second point, it's probably true that stashing Joba in Scranton would result in a lesser pitcher taking his spot in the Major League bullpen. However, due to bullpen chaining, it's not likely to make that much of a difference. That drop off appears even less significant when weighed against the positive benefits it could have on his long term development.

All things considered, Joba starting the year in AAA might be the best case scenario. Hughes winning the job and pitching well while Joba learns some important starting pitcher skills in Scranton might set the Yankees up the best for next year when both Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez could potentially be gone.

While most of the mainstream commentary on the 5th starter has focused on the 2010 season alone, I think it's important to focus on how the decisions that are made this Spring factor into the fate of the franchise over the next couple of years. Because you can be sure that's what Brain Cashman is doing.


On Monday, we asked you Fackers for some feedback in hopes that we could better align the content of this blog with your preferences as the readers of it. Most of the time, blogging is a one way interaction. The writer churns out content while the audience takes it in. Sure, commenting is an option, but it's only utilized by a small fraction of the readership and it typically focuses on the subjects within a post and not the overall style and approach of the site.

In principle, I think it's better for the parties involved in an interaction to know what's going on, so we want to give you an idea of what you can expect from us in plain terms. I'm going to go through a few of the things that were brought up in that last post and subsequently in the comments regarding the way we do things around here. I'm sure there are some of you who could care less about this meta-bullshit, but for those who do, here we go:
  1. First off, thanks to everyone who responded. It's always good to hear from some of the people who read the site but don't usually comment. We like being reminded that you are more than a bunch of numbers on Google Analytics. Hopefully we can build up the community around here a little more when the regular season rolls around and increase the depth of the discussion in the comments.

  2. Bad news for those who said they enjoy the humor they get here. All jokes, sarcasm, witticisms, bad puns, photoshops, wisecracking, mock-righteous outrage, flippancy, shenanigans, tomfoolery, jocularity, and other various forms of levity are STRICTLY FORBIDDEN FROM NOW ON.

  3. The amount of content - This was the biggest hang up for me, but most of you say you are a lot more concerned with the quality of what is written than the frequency with which it is posted. I, like many bloggers, have a borderline compulsive urge to create new content likely exacerbated by Google Analytics, so it's nice to know that you guys will come back even if we don't post 5 times a day like we did for the better part of last season.

  4. Until the regular season starts, we are going to try to put together at least one post every weekday and aim that for 9 AM. It might not be right on time and there might be additional ones after that or on the weekends, but one every morning seems doable. Hopefully more during the regular season.

  5. As far as our game-to-game coverage, we are going to continue with our song previews. We'll do our best not to repeat the stuff from last year, but we reserve the right to bust out something like "Going Out West" from time to time and avoid out-thinking ourselves.

  6. There were a lot of folks who said they enjoyed them so we are going to keep up our game recaps in some capacity as well. We'll knock out something in essay form if the occasion is called for, but will probably do something shorter like bullet points on most nights. No guarantees on weekends.

  7. Linkarounds will continue. Glad that you guys like them because I look at them to be win-win-win. They're relatively easy to put together, it gives you a lot of optional reading material and also drives a small amount of traffic to the other sites I'm linking to. I might start adding some non-sports like the stuff I share on Google Reader as well, but we'll see what happens.
Okay, that's about it. As always, your inputs are welcome. Leave some comments, send us an email. We'll be around.