Current Hughes, Joba Situations are not Unique
Much has been made of late surrounding the struggles of Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain and whether we are seeing the last of them in a Yankee uniform. With both performing below expectations and about to enter free agency, one has to believe neither will be wearing pinstripes come 2014.
Many people, myself included, have been riding the Yankees hard for their seeming inability to develop prospects, especially pitchers. I was in a conversation on a Yankees blog earlier this week and after some surface research determined that opinion is not entirely true.
Since the major league draft began in 1965, teams have selected 814 pitchers in either the first round or supplemental first round. Four hundred and eighty one of these went on to make at least one major league appearance, a success rate of 59%.
Over this same time period, the Yankees have selected 25 pitchers, with 12 making the major leagues. While that comes in at below average at 48%, it’s too early for three of them. Jeremy Bleich was drafted in 2008 and missed a year and a half recovering from Tommy John surgery; Ty Hensley and Ian Clarkin were selected in the last two drafts respectively. And a fourth prospect, Cito Culver, was converted to another position after the draft, so we won’t count him since he has never pitched as a pro.
So that makes 12 of 21, which is 58%, almost right on major league average.
Here’s where the number start to skew, however.
The top two pitchers in appearances, Scott McGregor and Eric Milton, combined to make zero appearances in a Yankee uniform.
The next three on the list have all been drafted since 2004, which shows there has been some development within the system, although the best of them, Ian Kennedy, has had all of his success in Arizona and San Diego.
The other two? Joba and Hughes.
From a sabermetric standpoint and focusing on WAR only, Joba and Hughes are the top two pitchers ever developed by the Yankees (who have spent their entire career in the Bronx).
Which clearly shows a historical inability to develop pitching. It’s great they are at major league average in getting guys to the show, but they have returned underwhelming performances.
Going one step further, outside of the previous two, the top pitcher in WAR for a guy who spent his whole career in New York is Andrew Brackman, who posted a 0.1 over three appearances, with Jeff Marquez being the career appearance leader with four.
My theory to why this has been such a long term problem goes 1973 and the beginning of the George Steinbrenner era.
Not much happened during the first two years of his administration, the Yankees were playing their home games eighteen miles away in Queens while Yankee Stadium was being remodeled. Free agency came into play after the 1975 season however, and George’s personal candy store was open for business.
He immediately got down to shopping, signing Oakland ace Catfish Hunter to a then unheard of five year, $3.25 million dollar deal. Steinbrenner followed up the next season by signing future Hall of Famer and ticket seller extraordinaire Reggie Jackson to an even bigger contract, and despite George turning the team over to his two sons before passing away in 2011, it’s a trend that’s continued uninterrupted for almost forty years.
What does all this have to do with the draft you ask?
There is a residual trickle down effect in play. The average time period for a draft pick to make the major leagues is slightly more than four years. Obviously first rounders make it in less time, but four off-seasons is a long time to build a team through free agency and whatever holes are remaining can be filled with trades.
The bait for these trades?
Your now positional surplus in the minor leagues.
If the current Yankees hierarchy is serious about avoiding the luxury tax next season, they are going to have to figure out a way to hack about $60 million off the current payroll. With a handful of bad contracts already on the books and potentially facing another one this off-season, bringing back to guys who could earn in the ten million range wouldn’t be feasible even if they were performing as first rounders.
What many people don’t know is the longest modern era gap between World Series appearances (1982-1996) also took place during the Steinbrenner adminstration, his tenure hasn’t all been roses and puppies. (The deadball Highlanders/Yankees went 20 years in the pre-Yankee Stadium 1901-1920 era).
I’m afraid there may be another Sahara on the horizon, the Yankees’ core group is aging, underperforming and expensive, the farm system is barren, especially at the top and especially in pitching.
I became a baseball/Yankees fan in the barren late sixties, early seventies, and while I have great memories of Mel Stottlemyre and an at the end of the line Mickey Mantle, I also remember the Bill Burbachs and Thad Tillotsons and Frank Tepedinos too. I can’t help now seeing those guys when looking at the Yanks’ current crop of minor league “talent”.
Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, who have been successful with a smaller payroll, have done so because of their resources obtained through the draft. They take the time to develop them, they take the time to nurture them and grow into productive major league players. By drafting well you build a surplus over time, and if a trade becomes necessary you can do so without gutting the organizational depth, so in case of an injury you still options to fallback on.
This isn’t to say the Yanks haven’t been successful in the draft, more than half of second rounder Al Leiter’s career appearances came as a Yankee, same with fourth rounder Stan Bahnsen. There have been successes from the bottom half of the draft as well, Andy Pettitte came from the 22nd round.
The expecations for Joba and Hughes were high at one time, that they haven’t met them isn’t entirely on their laps.