Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Just Say NO! to Hughes for Johan (The Yankee Discount)

Ed Whitson, Javy Vazquez, Jeff Weaver, Denny Neagle, Jose Contreras, Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, the list goes on and on of pitchers that were better than average before coming to the Yanks and then absolutely folded under the pressure of NY. It happens to almost EVERY pitcher the Yanks acquire. Look at (arguably) the best pitcher of all time - Roger Clemens. Rocket was 20-6 with a 2.65 the year before coming to NY, and was 14-10, 4.60 his first year in pinstripes. Thankfully, Roger was able to overcome and posted 3.70 and 3.51 ERAs the 2 yrs after his first, but the point is, EVERY pitcher that comes to the Yanks encounters a Yankee Discount in at least his first year, and many are not able to recover as Roger did.

There is no doubt Johan is a great pitcher; the best pitcher in baseball in my opinion. But he has become the pitcher that he is pitching for the Twins - NOT the Yankees. In the only obvious example of pressure pitching (5 postseason series), Johan has a 3.97 ERA including 35 hits in 34 innings pitched. Not terrible, but certainly not dominant. Apply the inevitable Yankee discount and we could probably expect something like a 17 or 18 win season with a 3.50 - 4.25 era from Johan in 2008. The question is, though, does he rebound after his first year to become dominant again, or does he do what so many have done before him and never recapture what he had before coming to the Yanks?

Cashman has realized the Yankee Discount exists too. The Yankee GM has spent vastly increased resources in an effort to develop pitching rather than trading for or signing it since the Vazquez/Weaver/Brown debacles.

Obviously, this change in philosophy is paying off. Not only do the Yanks have our own version of the Big Three in Joba, Hughes and Kennedy, but we also have the double A pitcher of the year (Alan Horne), 3 top rated arms coming off TJ (Humberto (The Dirty) Sanchez (World Team starter in the '06 Futures Game), Mark Meancon, and our '07 1st round pick Andrew Brackman), and a bevy of arms that would be at or near the top of most organization's list of top prospects (Ty Clippard, Russ Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens, Steven White, Jeff Marquez, Delin Betances and the list goes on...).

So the Yanks are stocked; what does this mean in terms of Johan coming to the Bronx? It means we should have enough pieces to get the trade done without including Hughes or Joba.

Joba seems untouchable - in all of the articles I've read the main name being mentioned is Hughes. Phil Hughes was born on June 24, 1986 - meaning that he won't be 22 until the '08 season is well underway. Hughes has been the Crown Jewel of the Yankee organization for the past 2 years and has proven his incredible potential at every stop in the minors. Phil arrived in the bigs in '07 and performed well, if not spectacularly. A 4-2 record with a 4.46 ERA is nowhere near mind-blowing. A closer look, however shows a 21 year old who in his last 29.2 ip gave up only 25 hits and 9 er (2.77 era). A 21 year old who logged the only win this past postseason pitching to a 1.59 era in 2 games. Phil Hughes is 7 (SEVEN!!) years younger than Johan (who will be 29 before the start of the '08 season).

Compare Hughes' first year with other top of the rotation starters - in 1988 John Smoltz pitched 64 innings to a 5.48 ERA. The next year he was 208/2.94. Roger Clemens had a very Hughes-like 1st year posting a 4.32 era in 133 innings at 21 his first year. Johan himself had a 6.49 era over 86 innings as a 21 year old rookie in 2000. Very rarely does a young pitcher come to the Bigs and dominate from the beginning like Pedro or Doc Gooden. More typically it takes a little time to adjust to the higher level of competition.

While Joba had the more memorable 1st year, it can be argued that Hughes' year was far more productive from a long-term growth perspective. While Joba has yet to start a game, Hughes has seen what the competition is like and began showing signs of being the top of the rotation starter everyone expects him to be. While it is a stretch, I firmly believe that it is possible that Phil Hughes, from this point forward, could actually be a better pitcher for the Yanks beginning as early as the '08 season.

I am all for getting Johan if possible. However, when you consider the Yankee Discount the 1st year, another year worth of growth for Hughes, and the age difference between the 2, I believe including Hughes in any trade for Johan would turn out to be a HUGH mistake.

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