• Memo To Yanks Fans By The River: Snap Out Of It!

    Posted by on February 2nd, 2008 · Comments (15)

    Here’s a scouting report on a 23-year old pitcher:

    …His stuff is exceptional: blazing fastball, inhuman slider, outstanding command of the strike zone. Tough, hard-nosed, intelligent. Healthy. If you can find a hole in his statistical record, please drop me a line. He has great control, he gets lots of strikeouts, he doesn’t give up many hits. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best in [Double-A] last year, 195 percent above league average, and it didn’t deteriorate very much when he moved up a level. Think about command and control of that magnitude, combined with his stuff. Everything in his record indicates that [he] will be a star…

    Joba Chamberlain? Nope, it’s from the STATS Inc. 1996 Minor League Scouting Notebook. It’s a report on Paul Wilson (then of the Mets).

    Here’s a scouting report on a 22-year old pitcher:

    …[He] is probably the best pitching prospect in baseball, and will earn a rotation spot [this season with his big league team]. [He] has everything you look for in a young pitcher: velocity, control, intelligence, a record of success. He was bothered by bicep tendonitis in spring training but when he took the mound at [Triple-A], he was outstanding. He was named the Best Prospect in the International League by Baseball America. [He] has a 94-MPH fastball, a very good slider, a good curve and a pretty good changeup. He throws them all for strikes, and there were no dents in his numbers; his K/BB in particular was wonderful at +125 percent…

    Phil Hughes? Nope, it’s from the STATS Inc. 1998 Minor League Scouting Notebook. It’s a report on Carl Pavano (then of the Expos).

    Here’s a scouting report on a 21-year old pitcher:

    …He has the complete package: 90-MPH fastball, curve, slider, changeup, command, control, intelligence, and good mechanics. His stats at [Double-A] were great: K/BB +108 percent, K/IP +53 percent, H/IP +23 percent, all near the top of the scale for [Double-A] pitchers. He was named the league’s No. 2 prospect by Baseball America and was rated the best pitching prospect and the pitcher with the best control in BA’s midseason survey of managers. He also has a good move to first base…

    Ian Kennedy? Nope, it’s from the STATS Inc. 1999 Minor League Scouting Notebook. It’s a report on Bruce Chen (then of the Braves).

    Where am I going with this? Just some food for thought.

    A pitching prospect can have a great pedigree – and can be dominant in the minors – and appear to be ready to contribute at the big league level, immediately, and for the long term. But, then, something happens. Maybe they get hurt? Maybe they just can’t translate that minor league success to the major leagues on a consistent basis?

    I can discount what Phil Hughes did in the minors during 2004 and 2007 because we’re talking about just a handful of games in those seasons. But, without question, from 2005 to 2006, Hughes was the king of minor league pitchers. The numbers that he posted, and his age, scream out that he was dominant – as dominant as dominant can be on the mound. But, still, that was 43 games worth of pitching – half of them in A-ball.

    Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, in 2007, were like Hughes in 2005-2006. The numbers that they posted, and their age, scream out that they were dominant – gain, as dominant as dominant can be on the mound. But, 2007 was Chamberlain’s first and only season in pro-ball – and that was only 112 innings pitched on the year. Kennedy did pitch in 2006 – but, that was only one game. Basically, he’s like Joba – with 2007 being his first and only true season in pro-ball. And, last year, Kennedy threw 165 innings on the year.

    Think about this for a minute. Based on 43 games in the low minors from Hughes, one season and 112 innings pitched from Chamberlain, and one season and 165 innings from Kennedy, many Yankees fans are willing to take the “dominance” from those minor league experiences and label these pitchers as being major league stars in the very near future.

    By doing so, are they making the same mistake that some once made with Paul Wilson, Carl Pavano and Bruce Chen?

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy are the next Wilson, Pavano and Chen. And, if they do turn out to be the next Wilson, Pavano and Chen, it would be a nightmare for me – as I am a Yankees fan. But, still, I think we, as Yankees fans, have to realize that it is possible that one, two, or maybe all three of these prized prospects of ours just may end up injured and/or not able to repeat their brief minor league “dominance” at the major league level for a prolonged period of time.

    At one time, Paul Wilson, Carl Pavano and Bruce Chen, based on their great pedigree and dominant numbers in the minors, appeared to be ready to contribute at the big league level, immediately, and for the long term. It didn’t happen. At that time, very few expected that it would not happen for them. How could anyone, then, have expected it? There were no clues. They were as close to “can’t miss” as you can get – in terms of young pitching prospects. But, they missed.

    Hey, it’s great to believe in young arms. Heck, it’s great to believe in anything. But, at the same time, one should always try and learn from the past – even those situations which seemed like they were impossible probabilities. Anything is possible.

    And, any Yankees fan who doesn’t realize that anything is possible, good, great, bad or terrible, when it comes to the big league careers of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy is living on that famous river in Eygpt, Denial.

    Comments on Memo To Yanks Fans By The River: Snap Out Of It!

    1. Sonny M
      February 2nd, 2008 | 9:45 pm

      You could have actually done this same article totally in house with some yankees over the years.

      Remember the late 80′s, and early 90′s? lol (I try not to).

      That said, its always a risk, you minimize or maximize based on various things including the organizations ability to develop (something the Mets appear to be having a problem doing) and scouting (something the A’s of moneyball fame appear to have lost the touch for).

      Also, as for Pavano, his nickname in the minor leagues was “Glass”, which should have been a bad sign. This type of stuff happens in the majors too, how many good quality established players, solid MLB players with all star appearances and the whole 9 yards have come to NYC and failed so miserably, that it is pathetic.

      Pavano, Bonilla, Saberhagen, Kenny Rodgers, Farnsworth (oops), etc.

      Stuff happens, and everything is baseball is a risk, the question is what is a higher risk, or a lower risk and how do you minimize that.

    2. j
      February 2nd, 2008 | 10:37 pm

      One thing that you might be discounting with this article is that Cashman pushing to hang on to Hughes, Chamberlain and Kennedy, and specifically Hughes and Kennedy when it came to acquiring Santana, was not 100% because of what Cashman thought Hughes or Kennedy might become. I think, and you’ve pointed this out well in a recent post, that Cashman is sick of getting burned by pitchers in the free agent market that not only don’t live up to their expectations, but come at an ever increasing price tag. It’s been proven that developing pitching in your organization is a good strategy for winning in this league, and that’s what Cashman is doing. Not trading these guys has something to do with what Cashman thinks they’ll become, but it also has somehing to do with what seems like a new philosophy within the organization. This is amplfied when you see guys like RJ and Sheffield dealt for young pitchers that still have some time before they’ll contribute to a big league club (Sanchez, Ohlendorff) and drafting players that come with similar caveats (Brackman.)

      Yes, every single one of these prospects can fall flat on their face.. anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that is living in a dream world. But this philosophy is sound and most informed Yankee fans would agree that it’s giving the club the best chance for a sustained run at the WS.

    3. baileywalk
      February 2nd, 2008 | 10:55 pm

      Yeah, well, I don’t understand why you’re going here AGAIN. If they fail, you have an ‘I told you so’ waiting. But why continue to hammer home this point so often? Yes, prospects fail. But prospects also work out. And in recent years, there have been many great pitcher full of potential — Kazmir, Verlander, Cain, etc. — who have excelled on the big-league level.

      Obviously your opinion is valid and what you predict is possible, but I don’t see any reason to continually bring it up other than to rile the inmates.

      Wang wasn’t on anyone’s top-prospect list, as far as I remember, and he turned out just fine. No one hemmed and hawed about him — it’s like we’re using the expectations of these pitchers against them. And at this point it’s not just about scouting reports. We’ve seen these guys face major-league hitters. And we know that, AT WORST, Joba is a dominant setup man. And probably at worst Hughes is a three starter. The only big question mark is Kennedy, whose stuff isn’t really that great. But I think he can hold his own and be a solid back-of-the-rotation guy.

    4. Andrew
      February 2nd, 2008 | 11:05 pm

      However, Steve, this kind of thing can be said for ANY PLAYER IN BASEBALL. Example: Sox fans are expecting Beckett and Dice-K to be as good as they were last year. Indeed, it could be said that much of the Sox success next year RELIES on that. But, there have been many, many pitchers like Beckett and Dice-K that have fallen flat on their faces, even though everyone expected something better. Beckett the next A.J. Burnett? Dice-K the next Irabu? Hey. It could happen.

      Yes, it would suck if these three top-tier pitching prospects turned out to be guys like Pavano or Wilson. But, like Beckett being Burnett, or Dice-K being Irabu, it’s not really very likely, is it?

      Hand-wringing over the fact that there have been some top pitching prospects that have failed is akin to hand-wringing because there have been some top-tier major league talents that have fallen off the table. Oh no! What if A-Rod is the next Griffey!? How can we rely on him??? Baseball, by NATURE, is never without risk. Worrying about every single tiny risk in baseball like it’s actually more likely to happen then not, and what if it happens, is very silly. Yes, it would suck if the worst possible thing happened to our young pitchers, and yes, it’s possible because it has happened before. We get it. It’s stupid.

    5. unger
      February 2nd, 2008 | 11:17 pm

      I am cautiously optimistic about the Fab 3 (but would not have been upset if one were traded to land Santana). I certainly understand, however, that prospects often fail to succeed – let alone reach their projected ceiling. The one thing I think Steve fails to recognize (as do most of the comments I have read concerning speculation about the chances of success of these young pitchers) is that they ALREADY have shown that they can get MLB hitters out with some regularity. That is far different than I pitcher who has done well in AA or AAA only. I realize that they have not gone around the league enough to know if hitters will catch up with them, but little or no comparison between prognosticating these Yankee pitchers as compared with the prognostications given to minor league phenoms who had not yet pitched in MLB.

    6. Rich
      February 2nd, 2008 | 11:21 pm

      This just in: life involves risks. We get it.

      Guaranteeing $137.5 million to a pitcher that is nearing his 30s, who has pitched almost 220 innings in each of the last four seasons, who is not a huge guy physically, entails risks as well.

      Cash and many of us are going into this with our eyes wide open, and we still prefer to keep the kids.

      These “pitching prospects” have already proved to varying degrees that they can succeed, at least to an extent, at the ML level, so the degree of projection required is somewhat attenuated.

      If Santana underperforms or experiences a serious physical problem, it’s a lot harder to overcome would be the sunk costs of his record setting contract than it would be for three kids who will be paid near the league minimum.

    7. unger
      February 2nd, 2008 | 11:27 pm

      ***These “pitching prospects” have already proved to varying degrees that they can succeed, at least to an extent, at the ML level, so the degree of projection required is somewhat attenuated***.

      That is what my above ramblings meant…I just wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to write it cogently into one sentence.

    8. Rich
      February 2nd, 2008 | 11:52 pm

      That is what my above ramblings meant…I just wasn’t smart enough to figure out how to write it cogently into one sentence.
      ___

      Thanks, but if I had seen your post before I hit “submit,” I would have removed that sentence.

    9. dpk875
      February 3rd, 2008 | 12:15 am

      With the price of pitching, and the risk involved the only option that you have to build a constant winner is stockpile as much as you can. That being said, I can already see next off season coming, weather the yankees win the World Series or not, with the $84 million coming off the books, including Pettite, and Mussina. The Yanks are going to throw Santana money at Sabathia, and probably pay the posting fee for Yu Darvish that will make $52 million seem resonable. But hey, you can never have too much pitching.

    10. Yu Hsing Chen
      February 3rd, 2008 | 12:21 am

      So you throw out one of the greatest prospect bust case in the last decade, a guy who just never manage to stay healthy and was usually effective when he actually was healthy, and a guy who was actually pretty good early on in his career before losing even more velocity due to injury as example?

      should I use Doc Gooden and Mark Fidrych (the Bird ) as example and then suggest we should just trade any young pitcher who dominates at a young age too?

      IF you don’t remember, Paul Wilson was hurt in his first season then became a real mental case, he was essentially Zach Grinke times 100 .

      We all know that Carl Pavano was actually reasonablly good when he was able to be truely healthy. which just happens to be way too rare.

      Bruce Chen was actually very good early in his career, he then got hurt and lost even more zip on a already mediocare fastball.

      so you essentially raise 3 cases where they got hurt and lost their stuff as example?

      I might just as well look to the other extreme and say that Joba / Phil / Ian could be

      Clemens (fell in the draft due to INJURY CONCERN and had SHOULDER SURGERY IN THE MINORS and also just happen to have the same size and repetory and domiance and attitude)

      Mussina

      and

      Maddux

      it’s highly unlikely, but it’s actually more likely for one of them to turn out like that and the other two doing reasonablly well then all 3 blowing out their shoulder and/or developing mental cases.

    11. February 3rd, 2008 | 8:55 am

      ~~it’s highly unlikely, but it’s actually more likely for one of them to turn out like that and the other two doing reasonablly well then all 3 blowing out their shoulder and/or developing mental cases.~~

      You’re mistaken. The ratio of prospects busting to prospects starring, for pitchers, is very heavy on the former, rather than the latter, side. I would not be shocked if it was 10:1 in favor of busting.

    12. Raf
      February 3rd, 2008 | 9:24 am

      But, at the same time, one should always try and learn from the past – even those situations which seemed like they were impossible probabilities.
      =============
      Yep, 2004 season was a prime example. Who saw Mussina, Brown, Duque, Vazquez, among others getting hurt?

      Who foresaw the injury problems the Yanks had last year?

    13. DownFromNJ
      February 3rd, 2008 | 9:47 am

      Basically, you just summed up the problem of finding pitching in general. There are few “safe bets” in pitching in the majors. Santana for 7 years is a really unsafe bet. Carl Pavano was given a green light by Will Carroll before we signed him.

      I think that however it is a pretty safe bet that we’ll be able to piece together a very good pitching rotation over the next two years with Pettitte, Wang, Mussina, Kennedy, Hughes, Chamberlain, Horne, Marquez, White, Igawa, McCutchen, and the rest of the crew once some are weeded out.

      Also, the major league success seen already by the big three is a very positive sign. They could still have injury problems, but I don’t think that its unreasonable to say that they’ve shown that will be assets if healthy.

    14. February 3rd, 2008 | 9:58 am

      ~~~Yep, 2004 season was a prime example. Who saw Mussina, Brown, Duque, Vazquez, among others getting hurt?~~~

      I would disagree. It’s much easier to project for a pitcher when he has many big league seasons on his belt – than it is to project for a prospect with one or two seasons in the minors.

    15. Yu Hsing Chen
      February 3rd, 2008 | 8:16 pm

      -You’re mistaken. The ratio of prospects busting to prospects starring, for pitchers, is very heavy on the former, rather than the latter, side. I would not be shocked if it was 10:1 in favor of busting-

      yes, except that the chances of 3 very good onces ALL blowing out their shoulder (which was what i said) on the same team is not the same as one of them busting.

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