Originally written on Mike Silva's New York Baseball Digest  |  Last updated 11/16/14
New-york-yankees-starting

The Yankees were a distant second in the news this weekend. Imagine that, the Mets dwarfing their big brother. It’s important to note, however, yesterday’s pitching performance by Phil Hughes

Hughes beat Justin Verlander 5-1, but even more impressive was the fact he threw 123 pitches and a complete game- the first nine-inning CG of his career. At the end of April, Hughes had a 7.88 ERA. Many fans and prognosticators were counting the days till Andy Pettitte could replace him in the rotation. When Mariano Rivera and David Robertson went down, it reasoned he should be moved to the bullpen. Don’t forget, his best big league season came in 2009 (1.40 ERA) after being moved to the pen mid-year.

I have criticized the Yankees for their handling of young pitchers. The “Joba Rules” was a bad joke. The organization’s inability to allow young kids to struggle even in the most low-leverage situation is borderline criminal. Any other season Hughes would have been banished to the bullpen very quickly. The Yankees were forced into displaying patience because of the injury to Michael Pineda and Freddy Garcia‘s ineffectiveness.

The brain trust understands that removing Hughes from the rotation puts an end to his days as a starting pitcher – at least in pinstripes. They have been determined from the first day of spring to allow him every opportunity to prove himself. It appears they are finally being rewarded.

Hughes is like their version of Mike Pelfrey. He has outstanding talent, teases you with his performance, but always seems to leave you wanting. Like Pelfrey, he struggles with his secondary pitchers, which makes that mid-nineties fastball very ordinary. It’s still possible his repertoire translates better in the bullpen. There is no time for that as the Yankees need him in the rotation. What choice do they have?

Pineda is out, Garcia appears to have reached his expiration date and David Phelps has no track record. If you are thinking about calling on other prospects, think again. The Killer B’s aren’t close to being ready, and Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell have been ordinary. You can turn to a veteran (see Nelson Figueroa), but is that really an upgrade over Hughes? Is Phelps an upgrade? I am not so sure.

Hughes’ May ERA is 4.66. It would be even better if not for a stinker in Anaheim. The secondary numbers indicate he is pointing in the right direction. An 8.5 K-Rate and 2.2 walks per nine innings are very solid for any big league starter. He still is primarily a fastball pitcher, but if he could locate and mix his curve and change effectively, the Yankees should be able to rely on him in the backend of their rotation.

See what a little patience can produce?

***

Joe Girardi told Hughes that Brennan Boesch was going to be his last batter of the game. “I just told him, this is your last hitter,” Joe Girardi told reporters after the game. “This is it. This is as far as I’m pushing you. Empty it out.” Hughes was able to strike him out to earn his first career nine inning complete game.

Personally, I think this is silly. It was also silly of Terry Collins to be so concerned about Johan Santana after Friday’s no-hitter.

I am not an injury expert (will leave that to a certain Sports Illustrated Writer), but I have discussed pitching mechanics with various industry experts. Bad mechanics will ultimately lead to injury, regardless of pitch count. You could blow out your arm throwing 60 pitches a start just as easily as 120.

We are at a point where teams are carrying 13 pitchers on a roster. This is because of managers holding their starters to 100 pitches. It’s, quite simply, not enough.

I have seen research that suggests a pitcher is far less effective when they go north of 100, but each individual’s drop-off is different. You can’t treat Freddy Garcia’s 100 to 125 pitches the same as Hughes.

It also seems that organizations are afraid to have their manager’s and pitching coach’s think critically. If a hurler is tired at pitch 101 and compromising his mechanics to the point of injury, then take him out. If not, do you really think 30 more pitches will hurt him? If Santana’s season ends due to the fact he went an extra 30 pitches on a warm June night, then he probably isn’t going to make it to September anyway. Even my novice eye could tell he was healthy and sound. He was as strong in the ninth as he was during the first three innings. Pitch counts are not a simple “if-then” template.

It’s time that Terry Collins and Joe Girardi push their hurlers deeper into games. I understand keeping Santana around 100 pitches due to his surgery. I’ll add Andy Pettitte to that equation, as well. But Sabathia, Dickey, Hughes, Niese, Gee and Kuroda should be around 115 to 130 pitches every outing. A knuckleballer like Dickey could be pushed even further.

Bullpens can’t continue to be taxed. It’s funny that no one cares that Tim Byrdak is on pace to pitch well over 90 games and warm up in another 30. He can warm up multiple times each night, but Phil Hughes and Jon Niese can’t throw 130 pitches once every five days?

We are seeing offense regress to pre-steroid era levels. Maybe we can get pitcher utilization back to what we saw in the 1980s.

***

The whining out of St. Louis about the missed call on Carlos Beltran‘s double during Santana’s no-hitter is comical. The same town that has called the Mets “pond scum” since the mid-eighties, has embraced the notion the no-hitter is tainted. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch even played it up by placing an asterisk next to their “no-hitter” headline.

If we put an asterisk next to every game with a blown call we won’t have many “real” outcomes. There are questionable calls every night throughout the league.

Why are calls are botched every game? I believe the reason is three-fold

1- Incompetent umpires that don’t seem to be held accountable nearly enough.

2- The pace of the game is too fast for umps to react, think and make the call. Maybe it’s time to take an extra second before rushing the call. It will allow the brain to process what it just saw. I realize the players need an outcome quickly, but why not get it right instead of causing chaos.

3- Complicated dimensions and ballpark quirks.

I can’t fault Adrian Johnson for missing the Beltran play. It was a screaming line drive that landed on the left hand side of the chalk. He was trying to make the call and keep himself out of harm’s way. It’s easy for us to second-guess when we are sitting home or in a press box with slow-motion replay and cameras zooming in.

Instant replay is something that should be implemented. The powers that be in baseball complicate everything; they could complicate making a cup of coffee. Let’s make this simple: put an umpire up in the press box that has the authority to overturn blatant missed calls on foul balls and safe/out. You could give them the authority to make judgments on home runs, as well. That would eliminate the whole delay we see now on home run reviews.

I know some will say that umpires won’t like their colleagues judging their work; that’s silly. Umpires seem to be the most sensitive of all sports. You still don’t get replays at the stadium during the game. Meanwhile, NFL and NBA refs are subjected to instant critique by fans and coaches. How many times have you heard the Garden crowd groan seconds after a bad call? It’s about improving the accuracy of the outcome, not protecting someone’s back.

Make replay like the NFL: you have to be “without a doubt” convinced of the call before its overturned.

Also, keep the strike zone subjective. We will have nine-hour games if we put that on replay.

Why is it so hard to come to this conclusion?

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