Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stop The Knee-Jerk Reactions

We're all guilty of it, and some more than others. I'm certainly no stranger to letting my emotions get the better of me. During the last offseason, when it was clear that Nick Swisher was not going to return to the Yankees, I wasn't happy. It wasn't because I thought it was dumb that the Yankees weren't bringing him back from a baseball standpoint (although that can certainly be argued), I was upset because I personally think Swish is a great guy.

Swisher batted .268/.367/.483, and averaged just over 26 home runs a season, during his four years in pinstripes. But his attitude is what really stood out to me, which can be seen here while accepting the 2012 Good Guy Award at the BBWAA dinner in April. So it was tough to see him go.

But while that's an emotional response built up over time, there's one type of emotional response that I strive not to let happen, and that involves the knee-jerk reaction to a player having a bad game. You've seen it a lot if you've hung out at any message board, comment section, bar, or on Twitter during a Yankee game. You may even see it in your living room while watching the game with friends.

You see, if Curtis Granderson strikes out people will bring up the 195 strikeout total from last season, and say they can't wait for the end of the season when his contract is up. Or they may say it was stupid for the team to pick up Grandy's option for 2013. Never mind the fact that those same people will point at Vernon Wells as the reason why Curtis is not needed, as if the Yankees or anybody else had any idea Vernon was going to be hitting .301/.357/.538 with 10 home runs in the middle of May. I highly doubt those Granderson-haters realize that the 12.5 WAR (per Fangraphs) he's put up between 2010 and 2012 is 4th among qualified American League outfielders. Yeah... 4th!

And speaking of Wells, I don't recall many people liking the trade that brought him to New York in the first place. I will freely admit that I was one of those that took issue with the deal because I thought the Yankees were paying too much, despite the fact that the Angels took on $28.1 million of what is left on Vernon's contract. But I digress...

The reason I bring up this issue today is because of what I saw on Twitter last night during and after the game against the Mariners, in which Phil Hughes imploded right away, giving up 7 earned runs without getting out of the 1st inning. Yes, it was horrible. I didn't go all the way through his career, but I'm willing to bet that it was the worst of his 111 MLB starts. However, that shouldn't overshadow the fact that Phil's ERA going into last night was a very respectable 4.43. And it doesn't erase the fact that Hughes had a four game stretch in which he threw to a 1.93 ERA, averaging 7 innings a start. 

Another thing to keep in mind about Philthy (yeah, I'm still calling him that) is that his ERA last season was a very good 4.23 (EDIT: I failed to mention that I'm comparing Phil to other #4 pitchers here, not in general), and that includes a 4.12 ERA in the second half (15 starts). Yes, there were some stinkers during the 2nd half, including his August 12th game against the Blue Jays, in which Phil gave up 7 earned runs over 4 innings. Or his final start of the season on September 30th, also against the Jays, in which Hughes gave up 5 earned runs in 4 innings. But those two poor starts don't make his final two starts against the Red Sox, in which he gave up zero earned runs in 14.1 innings, including 11 strikeouts to only 2 walks, disappear. 

Phil Hughes is not the ace or #1 starter for the Yankees. Phil is not the #2 starter, either. Nor is he even the #3 starter. Phil Hughes is the Yankees' #4 starter. And as such, nobody should expect Hughes to carry the team with his pitching. I don't think the Yankees do, otherwise Girardi (or his binder) wouldn't keep putting him out there. When it comes to a team's #4 starter, getting a double-digit win total from them would be great. For proof, the only other American League team whose #4 starter had double-digit wins was Detroit, where Doug Fister got 10 of them. Oh, and I used the term "other" because the Yankees' #4, Ivan Nova, had 12 wins (Hughes was the #3 starter, and won 16 games).

"Despite the 12 wins last year, I still don't like you."

Furthermore, Phil has gotten 39 wins over the previous 3 seasons (he only had 5 of them in 2011, but that was in just 14 starts). You might be interested to know that during that time, between 2010 and 2012, only 9 other pitchers in the American League have more wins than that. And those pitchers are hardly "nobodies"... Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, Jered Weaver, David Price, CJ Wilson, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Felix Hernandez.

Now, I imagine people are sitting there thinking "wins are no way to gauge a pitcher". And they're right. If I were just trying to convince you Hughes is good, I would go beyond his ERA which I talked about earlier, and get into his strikeout and walk rates, or his velocity and control. But I'm not doing that. Nor am I saying Phil Hughes is better than Miguel Gonzalez (Baltimore's #4 starter) or JA Happ (Toronto's #4 starter), although I actually would say that if asked. I'm simply talking about what Phil Hughes can do for the Yankees. And since a team's win total is the only thing that matters (believe it or not, playoff teams are not chosen based on their total WAR), then it boils down to putting the team in position to win. And Phil Hughes has done that, as the team has won 66 of the 111 games he's started. For reference, if a team's winning percentage was .600, that would equal 97 wins. Again... that's a #4 starter, not the team's "ace".

So be upset if Phil Hughes throws another stinker. Curse him out. Express your desire to see somebody better in the #4 starter's role. But until the team loses more games than wins with Hughes on the mound, then don't try and tell me the Yankees need to remove him from the rotation.

I said don't try.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)