Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Innings Limit Will Land Joba Back in the Bullpen

Organizations are all about protecting their young arms. They heavily monitor pitch counts and usually set an innings limit so that there is less chance of them over working their prized arms. 

Joba Chamberlain is considered to be a future No. 1 starter for the Yankees, which is why the team has been so careful with him. He went from being a starter in the minors to a reliever, to limit the number of innings he was throwing. 

The following season, Chamberlain was being stretched out in the bullpen to be converted back to a starter. By going about it in that manner, Chamberlain's innings total wasn't as high as if he had started the season in the rotation. 

Despite their best efforts not to overwork Joba, he ended up on the DL last August with a tired shoulder. Maybe he really wasn't cut out to throw 200 plus innings in a season? 

Chamberlain started the 2009 season in the starting rotation, and for the majority of his starts, he hasn't lasted past the fifth inning. As a result, his innings total is not as high as it would have been if he had been able to go deeper into his starts.

Still, the Yankees have Chamberlain on a tight leash, and have his total number of innings for 2009 around 160. That total is what's going to end up taking him out of the rotation, and land him back in the bullpen. 

With Chien-Ming Wang likely lost for the rest of the season, the Yankees need to fill his spot. As of this moment, Sergio Mitre has been filling in for Wang, but if Chamberlain is taken out of the rotation, the Yankees are going to have to try to find someone to fill his spot as well. 

There's nothing wrong with organizations trying to protect their young pitchers from injury, but does the constant switch from starter to reliever and vice versa help or hurt them? 

Some players aren't able to make the transition from starter to reliever or the other way around. A lot of the time, these young pitchers aren't taken out of a role because the organization feels that they would be better suited doing something else, but because of keeping the innings total down. 

Chamberlain was great as a reliever, and one of the best set-up men Mariano Rivera has had in years, but he has also had success as a starter. While it's clear that he can succeed in both roles, all this back and forth seems unnecessary. 

Being cautious is one thing, but perhaps being too careful is also a detriment to the team. If the Yankees put Joba in the bullpen for the sake of his innings total, they are going to be down another starter, which would put them in a worse position. 

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Nobody Does Tradition Like the Yankees:Old Timers' Day Still a Hit

When it comes to traditions in baseball, no other organization is as well-known for their way of keeping with traditions like the Yankees. 

Some of the greatest players in the game have worn a Yankee uniform at one time or another, and it is because of the reputation the Yankees have for bringing the best to the Bronx that past and present players have said that donning the Yankee pinstripes is like nothing else. 

One of the greatest traditions the Yankees have is Old Timers' Day. Yankee greats of the past gather where they are greeted with loud applause from the fans who remember what they did in their day or who have heard all the stories. The former players are split into two teams, and they play a short game. 

No team could hold an Old Timers' Day and have the likes of Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Yogi Berra and countless others on the same field. 

John Sterling and Michael Kay shared the MCing duties, and it's pretty remarkable when they read the list of accomplishments of the Old Timers. At today's celebration there were four Hall of Famers on hand (Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Goose Gossage, and Reggie Jackson). Not to mention two pitchers who pitched perfect games and one who pitched a no-hitter during their time in pinstripes (Don Larsen, David Cone, and Doc Gooden). 

Beyond their personal accomplishments, once the cameras panned to the dugout, it was clear to see why they all love coming back for this particular tradition. These guys really enjoy being around each other.They love talking about their glory days and swapping stories about their experiences while playing for the Yankees. 

Just because these guys have officially hung up their cleats, it doesn't mean that they've stashed their competitiveness away. They are out to have a good time, but they also want to prove they still have it, which is why Ron Guidry threw Lee Mazzilli a slider to strike him out instead of giving him something to hit. 

At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter who wins the game, they are all Yankees, and will forever be a part of the organizations' great history. Each year brings new faces to the celebration, and this year, for the first time ever Old Timers' Day wasn't played at 161st Street and River Ave, but at the new stadium across the street. 

The faces may change, the location may change, but what will never change is the way the Yankees' honor those who have meant the most to their organization and to their fans. Sometimes tradition is severely overlooked especially in these current times, but Old Timers' Day gives fans as well as players a chance to remember those who were a part of something special. 

You really have to appreciate the past in order to appreciate the present as well as what's to come. Without traditions such as this, things and people tend to be forgotten, and seeing all of those players out on the field today is a strong reminder as to why those things and those people should never be forgotten. 

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Fate of Phil Hughes: Will the Yankees Make the Same Mistake Twice?

Three years ago, the Yankees were all a buzz about one of their farm hands named Phil Hughes. Hughes was drafted out of high school, and was considered to be the future of the Yankees' starting rotation. 

Hughes got his call up to the big leagues, and had flashes of brilliance, but ended up going through some growing pains and battled some injuries the past two seasons. 

At the start of this season, Hughes began his season in Scranton as the Yankees had a fully stocked rotation with newbies CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett as well as Andy Pettitte and Chien Ming Wang with Joba Chamberlain filling in the fifth spot. 

However, Wang was on the DL after just three starts, and the bullpen was a living nightmare. Hughes was called up to fill Wang's spot for at least a two-week time period, and went 3-2 in seven starts with a 6.59 ERA. 

While those numbers are less than stellar, at the start of the season it seemed that every Yankee pitcher had an inflated ERA. Wang returned in June, and Hughes was moved to the bullpen. The Yankees figured they could keep Hughes' inning total down if he came out of the pen rather than go down to Triple A. 

It seemed like once again the Yankees were taking a pitcher that they planned to be the future of their starting rotation and putting him in the bullpen (i.e. Joba Chamberlain). 

Chamberlain was masterful as Mariano's set-up man, dazzling radar guns with fastballs that reached sometimes 99 m.p.h. and keeping hitters off balance with a nasty 87 m.p.h change up.

The Yankees were determined to make Joba into a starter and used the 2008 season to stretch him out enough so that he would be able to go back to starting. Joba's had mixed success as a starting pitcher. There are some nights that he looks amazing, like the night he struck out 12 Red Sox hitters, but more often than not he can't make it out of the fifth inning. 

Hughes has made the most out of his time in the bullpen lowering his ERA from 6.59 to 3.76. Against the Tigers on July 17, Hughes' fastball topped out at 96 m.p.h., and in two innings of work, he didn't surrender a run. He has easily been one of the Yankees' most reliable relievers. 

So now, the question arises yet again... does Hughes stay in the bullpen where he's had so much success or does he get put back into the fold to be a starter? 

Brian Cashman has already said that the organization sees Hughes as a starting pitcher, and the only reason he's in the bullpen is because of his innings limit and to fill in due to the various injuries. 

Last season, the Yankees felt as if they had stretched out Joba Chamberlain enough before re-inserting him into the starting rotation, but lost him to the DL in August with shoulder soreness. 

Some people thought that after over a year of coming out of the bullpen, trying to push Chamberlain to throw 80 or even 90 plus pitches was too much for his arm. The argument is that Chamberlain has the make-up of a starting pitcher with at least four different pitches in his arsenal, and keeping him in the bullpen would almost be a waste. 

Then again, there is the argument that the Yankee bullpen would be a lot stronger with Chamberlain setting up for Rivera based on the numbers he put up as a set up man. The argument could be the same for Hughes. 

He has the make-up of a starter, but at times has showed that like Chamberlain, he has difficulty being economic with his pitch count, resulting in him not lasting past the fifth inning. A starter is supposed to be durable enough that they can pitch six or seven innings per start, not barely make it to the fifth inning. 

The Yankees are going to need to do some serious thinking where Phil Hughes is concerned. Keeping him in the bullpen might be what's really best for the team, instead of trying to push him into the rotation because that's where they initially said he belonged. 

It just might be better for the Yankees to say they were wrong in this particular case, and not try and make Hughes into a starter at this point. He's helping the team win games and having great success as a reliever, so why mess with a good thing? 

Mariano Rivera started out in the organization as a starter and got moved to the bullpen for one reason or another. It's a safe bet that no one in the Yankee organization regrets leaving Mo in the bullpen, and Hughes has a shot at being really successful in his current role if the Yankees would leave well enough alone. 

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Magic of the Home Run Derby

Each year, when the All-Star break comes around, a lot of fans take the time to catch up on the TV that they miss during the baseball season. There are also a lot of fans who enjoy the majority of the All-Star festivities from the Home Run Derby, to the Celebrity Softball game, to the All-Star game itself. 

Over the past several years, the Home Run Derby has probably ranked last on my list when it comes to the All-Star break. Sure, you get to watch guys hit monster home runs, but a lot of the time you see guys try too hard, and their time is up before they've even had a chance to dazzle the crowd with their home run prowess. 

I always enjoyed watching the players interacting with each other on the field while there was someone hitting, or seeing the players' kids in miniature replicas of their fathers' jerseys on the sidelines more than watching them hit home runs. 

However, last year I got completely sucked into the Derby. Maybe it was because it was taking place at Yankee Stadium, or because there was so much hype surrounding the Rangers' outfielder named Josh Hamilton. 

Josh Hamilton's story had been spread around baseball like wildfire in 2008. He was a great prospect when he was drafted, and was thought to have a lot of promise as he worked his way up. 

Hamilton ended up going down the road of drugs and alcohol, and was out of baseball quicker than he made it up to the big leagues. Yet, somehow he was able to pull himself out of that black hole, and find his way back to baseball. 

Hamilton had an incredible start to 2008, lighting up pitchers all around the league. He earned a starting spot on the AL roster for the All-Star game, and was more than happy to compete in the Home Run Derby. 

He was one of the last guys to hit in the Derby, but it quickly became a case of saving the best for last. For almost 45 minutes, Hamilton hit balls into the deepest parts of Yankee Stadium racking up a record breaking 28 home runs in the first round. 

I couldn't tear my eyes away from the TV; it's always impressive to see a player hit the ball over 500 feet, but what Hamilton was doing was much more than just hitting balls out of the park. It was like magic every time he swung his bat, and all of the All-Stars sitting on the field as spectators watched in complete awe as Hamilton advanced to the final round of the Derby. 

One of the major flaws in the Derby is that once a player qualifies for the second round, their total from the first and second round get combined, and their total propels them into the third round. However, once they reach the final round, the slate is wiped clean and both players start at zero. 

Hamilton ended up going against the Twins' slugger Justin Morneau, and while his total was higher in both rounds, Morneau ended up winning the Derby because he hit more in the third round. 

It would seem that the person with the most home runs overall should win the Derby, but either way that night was all about Hamilton and how he managed to fight his way to the top. 

For once, watching the Home Run Derby was about so much more than just taking up TV time during the All-Star break. There will probably never be another Home Run Derby like it, but like tonight, I'll keep watching, because you can never be sure just when that bit of magic will come along and dazzle you in ways that you never thought possible. 

Sunday, July 5, 2009

70 Years Later, Lou Gehrig's Farewell Speech Still Resonates

70 years ago, a man stood on the field at Yankee Stadium and told the world that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. That man was dying, but no one knew it.

He told them that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. He spoke about the great teammates and managers he played with, how blessed he felt for the family he had, and how good the game of baseball had been to him. 

That man was Lou Gehrig, and on July 4, 1939, the man more commonly known as "The Iron Horse," had to walk away from baseball. 

He'd been suffering with what is now known as ALS; a disease that causes muscles to twitch and eventually paralyze the individual. Something as simple as combing one's hair becomes impossible; forget about playing baseball. 

Gehrig never once mentioned all the pain he'd been in or the fact that he couldn't even lace up his own cleats. Doing that would have been giving into the disease, and Lou Gehrig was too much of a fighter to do that. 

For years, Gehrig had protected Babe Ruth in the Yankees' line up. He had taken a backseat to the Great Bambino, but never made a fuss about it. He was a team player, who went out and did his job every day. 

It wasn't as if Gehrig was just an average player. It was somewhat unfortunate for him to be on the Yankees at the same time as Babe Ruth, because if Ruth wasn't there, Gehrig would've been noticed a lot more than he was. 

He won two MVPs, and six World Series championships with the Yankees. However, Gehrig's most impressive stat is probably his 2,130 consecutive game streak, a record that wasn't broken until 1995 by Cal Ripken Jr. 

Gehrig's "Farewell Speech" is one of the most recognizable speeches not only in sports, but in history. He had nothing prepared before he got up to the microphones, he simply spoke from his heart.

What makes his speech so compelling is that he praised everyone from Miller Huggins, to his family, to the grounds crew, because somehow they made his career. 

He ended his speech by saying, "I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for." If that doesn't give you chills or bring a tear to your eye, I don't know what will. Two years later, he was gone. 

70 years later, Major League Baseball is honoring Gehrig and raising awareness for the disease that now bears his name. Gehrig meant so much to baseball, but his impact goes beyond the game, it extends out all over the world. 

Lou Gehrig was a great baseball player, but the words written on his monument really say it all about who he was... "A great man, a great teammate, and a great baseball player."

He's honored today more for being a great man and teammate than anything else. 

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Yankees Give a High School Softball Team Something To Smile About

On Tuesday night, the damp crowd at Yankee Stadium was eagerly waiting for the start of the game after a 50 minute rain delay.

Michael Kay, Paul O'Neill, and Ken Singleton were announcing the game for the YES network, and as they were talking, the camera shots seemed to be avoiding shots of the field. Kay eluded that the Yankees had something special planned for the first pitch. 

To honor Mariano Rivera for notching his 500th career save the other night against the Mets, the closer was going to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The crowd roared with delight and the inconvenience of the rain delay and being soaked by the downpour was erased. 

Mo threw his pitch like he does on most nights to Jorge Posada, and after a hug from his catcher, Rivera waved and headed off the field. 

As nice as that tribute to Rivera was, what happened before Rivera threw the first pitch was pretty special in its own right. 

A couple of weeks ago, the Westhill High School softball team from Fairfield County, Connecticut was playing in the state tournament when they fell victim to a technicality that led to them being eliminated from the tournament.

Yankees' GM Brian Cashman, who happens to be a resident of Fairfield County, got wind of the girls' situation. He and several other Yankee officials live in the area, and decided to pull some strings for the team. 

Westhill's athletic director, Mike King received a call that the Yankees wanted to invite the softball team out to the stadium to take the field with the players for the National Anthem. 

King thought someone was playing a prank on him, but it turned out to be the truth. The team was going to go to the stadium on June 18, but a five-hour rain delay pushed back the team's visit to the Bronx. 

Last night, after only a 50-minute rain delay, the Yankees took the field accompanied by the Westhill softball team at their respective positions for the playing of the National Anthem. 

To their credit, the girls kept their composure, and stood next to the Yankee players with their hands over their hearts like consummate professionals. 

Once the National Anthem was over, the girls got handshakes from the Yankees before they headed off the field. Business as usual resumed, and the Yankees got their warm-up throws in before Joba Chamberlain threw his first pitch. 

There is no way that missing out on a shot to win a state championship can be erased by getting the opportunity to stand on the field at Yankee Stadium with the Yankees, but it can certainly ease the pain. 

Westhill's catcher, Lynette Martinez grew up watching Jorge Posada, and she was so overwhelmed standing right next to him that she couldn't even recall what the catcher said to her. 

The Yankees did a good thing by acknowledging the Westhill High School softball team, and even though they couldn't change the outcome of what occurred in their game, they were able to give the girls a night they won't forget. 

Sometimes it's important to not only recognize when people win, but when they manage to come through a difficult situation with poise and maturity. 

Even big league players like the Yankees recognize that in sports things aren't always fair, and because they recognize that, those girls will not have to look back on their season with such disappointment.