Turning into Pumpkins

Here’s a general formula: If you’re considered a talented pitcher–regarded highly by scouts, executives, prospect experts, those in the know–and then you put on a Yanks uniform, you suddenly lose your talent. On the other hand–and this formula doesn’t work as well as the first one–if you are not regarded highly by the baseball experts, and you put on pinstripes, you suddenly become a very effective and wily pitcher.

Formula 1 examples:

  • Javier Vazquez: He comes to the Bronx during his peak age seasons. He experiences his worst year in baseball as a Bomber. It takes him a couple of years to rid himself of the Bronx stink and now he’s the ace of the ChiSox.
  • Jeff Weaver: He starts out his career as a top prospect in Detroit, where he pitches well until he comes to the Bronx. His career has not been the same since Bomber fans (tried to) cheer for him.
  • Jose Contreras: There was no denying his talent and yet he has only shown this talent in a White Sox uniform. Awful with the Yanks. Good, awful, good again with the White Sox.
  • Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy: Yes, it is still very early to put these two in this group, but their extremely poor showings are getting me to wondering. You take all those pre-season projections and did any of them predict these crappy performances? Yes, we knew they might struggle, but this? I fear they have too much talent and that doesn’t mix well with these uniforms.
  • Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson’s declines coincide with their time in New York. Coincidence or something else?
  • Carl Pavano is mediocre when he pitchers and is injured all the other times.

The second formula yields pitchers such as Aaron Small, Darrell Rasner and Shawn Chacon. And while Chien-Ming Wang was considered a decent prospect at the time of his call-up, no one thought him a front-line starter. It seems the lower the expectations, the better the results.

Why is this happening? Is it the pressure of New York? Is it a failure of coaching? Is it the defense? And a larger question: Are the Yanks behind most teams when it comes to getting the most out of their pitching talent?

This is what I think about when I’m in a bad mood.

23 comments… add one
  • where does latroy hawkins fit into this?
    I thought he’d suck before he came to new york and he has sucked since he has been in new york.
    Rule 3?

    Sam-YF May 28, 2008, 1:05 pm
  • I’ve often thought this myself (particularly with the who-dat-turned-savior phenomenon, because those instances really irritate me). But I don’t think there’s any real pattern to it:
    Vazquez was just one season and he was as bad, if not worse, in Arizona the next year.
    Weaver probably never was going to be any good.
    Contreras: New country acclimation blues?
    Hughes and Kennedy DID show some of that promise last year, so now they’re being lumped in with losers after 2 horrid months? Seems pretty harsh.
    Brown and Johnson were picked up by the Yankees when they were clearly past-prime. No mysterious agencies at work there.
    Pavano… well, yeah, maybe there is something uniform-related to be said about that fiasco.
    As for the other guys, they all seem to be right-place-right-time situations. I mean, we remember them because they were unexpectedly good, but I don’t remember as well (YFs probably do though) the guys from whom nothing was expected and they did exactly that.
    But you know, I’m more than willing to entertain your hypothesis. There’s only one answer then: New Uniforms!

    FenSheaParkway May 28, 2008, 1:05 pm
  • put it this way, it seems like there are teams (the WHote Sox, Braves, Padres) who are able to turn pitchers around. The Yanks don’t seem to be one of these teams.

    Nick-YF May 28, 2008, 1:14 pm
  • I agree that’s too early to throw Hughes/IPK on the suck pile, but what I find amazing is how much better a lot of people thought they were than Lester/Buchholz.
    My conclusion? Nobody knows a damn thing until the games are played.

    LocklandSF May 28, 2008, 1:24 pm
  • I think FSP picks out some of the problems here. Is this about the problem of Yankee dud prospects, or FA acquisitions? The aged trio of Brown/Johnson/Clemens can’t really be compared to young prospects like The Big Three. Even guys like Pavano, Igawa, Vazquez, and Contreras came to the Yanks with considerable mileage.

    YF May 28, 2008, 2:37 pm
  • This from Pete A. (Very Funny, but true)
    “2008 isn’t over. But as the Yankees look at 2009, they really have some pitching issues. The three kids (Remember when people wanted to give them a nickname? What would it be now? “Generation MRI?”) will have limitations and Moose and Pettitte could be long gone.
    People assume that the Yankees will throw bags of money at C.C. Sabathia. But if they didn’t do that with Johan Santana, why would that suddenly change?
    This “develop the kids” stuff is hard work.”
    Also, Pete is reporting IPK is out for awhile with a “strained latissimus dorsi muscle.” He could be out until roughly the time Hughes returns.

    John - YF May 28, 2008, 3:01 pm
  • put it this way, it seems like there are teams (the WHote Sox, Braves, Padres) who are able to turn pitchers around. The Yanks don’t seem to be one of these teams.
    Having a pitcher’s ballpark (like Petco) certainly helps. Chris Young is an ace at home but mediocre everywhere else.

    Atheose May 28, 2008, 3:18 pm
  • This is off topic, but the guy on 1st and 10 just said:
    “Pedro Martinez has a ton of talent but is a weak person. He was always weak, even on the Red Sox, and he’s weak now. Out two months with a pulled hamstring, while his team is collapsing around him? Weak.”
    What a load of bullshit.

    Atheose May 28, 2008, 3:23 pm
  • Yeah, throwing six innings of no-hit baseball with a hurt back and a fastball 5 mph off its normal speed in a must-win playoff game: Real weak.
    To add to Nick’s list: Hideki Irabu, Kei Igawa, both of whom had some measure of positive hype.
    So do the “say what?” performances of Aaron Small, et al. cancel out the “Oops” performances of Pavano, et al.?

    Paul SF May 28, 2008, 3:32 pm
  • the yankees farm system in general is a conundrum to me. cano and melky were unhyped minor leaguers who have managed to stick on the big league club. while guy’s like drew henson, eric duncan, hughes, and ipk were labeled “can’t miss” prospects and have floundered.
    i can’t discuss yankee prospects without dropping bronson kiheimahanaomauiakeo sardinha’s name. that has to be the sweetest middle name ever, making him my all time favorite former yankee prospect.

    sf rod May 28, 2008, 3:44 pm
  • I would point out that this team had frequently brought in pitchers from NL teams coming off of very good years, especially in terms of ERA. Pavano and Jaret Wright were coming off at least one or two solid seasons in the NL. Vazquez as well. Randy and Brown too. Brown, Pavano and Wright had extensive injury histories and the team should have known better on all of them. RJ was on the verge of joining the HasBeens Club at his age. Javy and Weaver… no explanation there, though I don’t think Weaver was ever a good fit personality/ temperament-wise and Vazquez had a great first half. But somebody fell in love with the NL pitchers who sported good ERAs in that lower-ERA league.
    Too soon on Phil and Ian, though as far as I’m concerned, if Joba and Rasner can do the job, let ’em both do AAA for the year.

    ChrisYF May 28, 2008, 4:02 pm
  • I don’t know what the big mystery is. For a long time, the Yanks let their MiL system languish as they went the FA and Intl route with signings. That’s where Soriano and Wang came from. Naturally, given the numbers, they’ve had a few players develop “surprisingly”–Cano and Melky, for example. The better drafting and building through youth is a recent phenomena, and it’s going to be a while before we see what fruits there are. For the record, IPK was actually not a particularly well-received draft choice at all by many if not most draft experts. There was a great deal of concern about his potential upside, and we’re seeing that now (possibly). Fans got carried away with “The Big Three” crap.

    YF May 28, 2008, 4:02 pm
  • I thought Melky was considered highly? I remember during his disastrous initial call-up people talking about whether he had been overrated.

    Paul SF May 28, 2008, 4:18 pm
  • Totally off topic – I was just on the east coast for three days and I don’t know how you guys do it. If I didn’t have a baseball game to distract at 4 pm pretty much every day (earlier sometimes!), I don’t know if I could make it through the day. Waiting until 7 pm nearly killed me.

    rootbeerfloat May 28, 2008, 4:49 pm
  • Since I’ve moved to Memphis, I love central time. The games start @ 6 and are over by 9:30 usually…(central time the only good thing about living in Memphis for the record)

    krueg May 28, 2008, 5:03 pm
  • ok, ok, I understand that anecdotal evidence is not a very strong way to build your case, but the larger point (at least to me) still stands. The Yanks don’t seem to be doing a very good job getting much out of their pitching talent. Again, at least it appears this way.
    When you think of teams where pitchers improve, you think of Atlanta, the White Sox, but never of the Yanks. Why is this? Is it a matter of coaching? Scouting? Advanced scouting? The Yanks have tons of resources at their disposal, but it seems as if they can’t use them to improve pitching performance.

    Nick-YF May 28, 2008, 5:07 pm
  • rbf, I feel the same way! I’ve only been out here for three years, but I now find it difficult to wait until 7pm for the west coast games to start… nevermind staying up until 10pm for them to finish.

    Jackie (SF) May 28, 2008, 5:24 pm
  • Nick: Atlanta and Oakland are good at recognizing and developing talent. I’m not sure that you can say that for Chicago. They had one year where their pitchers all seemed to outperform expectation, or have career seasons–a kind of perfect storm that swept them through the playoffs. Aside from that, the track record isn’t really that impressive. A lot of mid rotation guys.

    YF May 28, 2008, 5:51 pm
  • You guys are having problems … over here in Europe east coast night games start at 1 am! Good thing about west coast trips is that I can catch the final innings of Sox games on MLB radio in the morning before I go to work (not so good actually if games end like the last one in Seattle).
    Oh, and wasn’t this a thread about Yankees pitchers? I think the problem started with the Babe. Never was much of a pitcher after being acquired by the New York AL team. Though I heard he turned out pretty well at the plate …
    Sorry, that’s not a serious contribution, but it is 20 past midnight here right now and I’ve been asking myself for a while am I going to watch the Celtics at 2.30 am this morning. I’ll probably pass and instead listen to Paps saving the game for Wake early in the morning, hopefully … Oh, the vagaries of following US sports from far away.

    pale blue eyes May 28, 2008, 6:23 pm
  • I feel like the Yankees, historically, have not gotten all that much out of their pitchers. But what they’ve lost with the pitchers, they’ve gained that and more with their hitters. Think of all the Yankee greats – aside from Whitey Ford, and Ron Guidry, (and Rivera…but he’s a reliever) they’re all hitters.
    Not a great gauge to be sure, but I feel the greatest Yankee teams were always based around a great offense. You always hear about the ‘golden age of Yankee pitching’ back in the dynasty years, but in reality, their pitching was merely very good, but not great. It’s always been about the offense.

    AndrewYF May 29, 2008, 12:33 am
  • Actually, I think the Yankees have often had great pitching; what they haven’t had, compared to other similarly historic franchises, is great pitchers. Which is to say, if you have a staff with a lot of guys who are very good, even if none of them are all time greats, and no weaknesses, the result is a great staff (like, say, the 1939 or 1998 Yankees).
    Boston is kind of the exact opposite. I mean, they’ve had Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Roger Clemens (in his prime), Pedro Martinez, and yet have not historically had great staffs (even correcting for ballpark).

    Blackadder May 29, 2008, 3:41 pm
  • Yeah, that 2007 Red Sox team REALLY had crappy pitching, what with their 3.87 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and .314 OBA (all best in the league).

    Atheose May 29, 2008, 3:54 pm
  • I think hope) Blackadder meant historically the Red Sox have not had great staffs, which is more or less correct, except for one major caveat.
    The Red Sox of the early ’00s and the mid-late ’10s had historically dominant pitching (look at those 1912-18 staffs and marvel, even adjusting for the dead-ball era).
    Since the 1930s (when the team actually began trying again) the Sox have been pretty much as BA describes: A team with one dominant pitcher (Parnell-Tiant-Clemens-Pedro) but nothing else. But that hasn’t really been true since the acquisition of Curt Schilling in 2004.

    Paul SF May 29, 2008, 4:18 pm

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