TAMPA, Fla. – It's easy to forget that beneath the $200 million payroll, the roster teeming with Hall of Famers and the stadium that houses a full-service butcher's shop – because what's a stop at the ballpark without rib eye to take home on the train? – the New York Yankees fancy themselves an old-fashioned baseball club. Up to the tippy-top of their management chain, they love the idea of constructing a team through developing amateur talent.
They love it so much, in fact, they have fallen for the idea that they're still doing it with the best teams in the game. Ask Yankees general manager Brian Cashman about his ability to grow pitching depth from within and graduate it to the major league team, and he will wax on about the abundance of Yankee triumph.
"I feel we're having a lot of success," he said. "We have produced pitching. Phil Hughes, a 16-to-18-game winner two of the last three years. Ivan Nova. David Robertson. Joba Chamberlain. Last year was David Phelps. This year is it Adam Warren?"
It might be. Warren made one start for the Yankees last season and returned to Triple-A with a 23.14 ERA. He is, these days, what passes for a Yankees pitching prospect.
Because it won't be Manny Banuelos. He was once the Yankees' great pitching hope. Then he struggled all 2012 and blew his elbow out at the end of the season. It probably won't be Michael Pineda, either. Cashman traded for him before the 2012 season, giving up a young masher in Jesus Montero. Pineda's shoulder went kablooey, and nobody knows when he'll be back. Nor will it be Dellin Betances, the 6-foot-8 monster who once looked like an ace-in-waiting and then forgot how to throw strikes.
Sure, there is Mark Montgomery, the reliever with a wipeout slider, and maybe Warren plays better than his middling stuff. For a team with practically unlimited resources – especially in lieu of the expected payroll cut to $189 million, the excess of which they could easily reinvest in their farm system – the Yankees' near-ready pitching depth is shockingly thin. And it continues a trend that a Yahoo! Sports study shows has gone on now for five years (see table below).
Over the last half-decade, the Yankees have developed pitching depth almost as poorly as any team in the major leagues.
For this study, we tallied the pitchers who debuted between 2008 and 2012 and tied them to the team with which they arrived. Then we compiled their Wins Above Replacement, via Baseball-Reference, with that first team only. By this measure, actually, the Yankees actually are one of the better teams in baseball, with 16.4 WAR, more than three-quarters of which come from reliever David Robertson, since-jettisoned Alfredo Aceves and Nova, who will compete for the fifth-starter job with Phelps.
Beyond that is mostly a pitching wasteland, and that is where the last five years get so damning. Robertson, Aceves and Nova are the only pitchers who debuted with the Yankees to throw more than 100 innings for them. Just as bad, Phelps (99 2/3 innings) and the departed Phil Coke (74 2/3) and Hector Noesi (56 1/3) are the only others with 25 or more innings. Only one other team has fewer than six homegrown pitchers with 25 or more innings: the Boston Red Sox, with five.
Don't view this data in a vacuum. Coke was part of a trade that landed Curtis Granderson. Noesi went to Seattle for Pineda. The innings cutoffs are arbitrary, too. And considering the Yankees lock up a roster spot every time they spend big money in free agency, it is ostensibly tougher to crack their roster than most.
Still, it puts in perspective the Yankees' stated philosophy – develop pitching, especially starters – and the inability to do so that prompted them to pursue Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte for the last two seasons in free agency. The average starts from homegrown pitchers over the last five years among the 30 major league teams is 197.9. The Yankees have 82.
This study is neither predictive in nature nor damning for the next five years. Phelps or Nova or Brett Marshall or maybe all three could thrive. Even just a year makes a difference. Go back to 2007, in fact, and the Yankees universe looked entirely different.
Following the 2007 season, Cashman felt vindicated. For years he had philosophized the New York Yankees would lard themselves against the rising cost of free-agent pitching with homegrown starters, and it seemed as though they had found three dandies: Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy.
Then came 2008, an all-around disaster in which the Yankees so babied Chamberlain's arm it needed a pacifier to sleep at night, and Hughes and Kennedy combined to go 0-8 with a 7.45 ERA. Cashman's system wasn't dead. Just on hold for the winter, when he spent nearly a quarter-billion dollars on CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and was rewarded with a championship ring a year later.
Still, pervading the organization was Cashman's ideal that guaranteeing so much money to aging players was not just too risky but inefficient compared to a player coming at 1/50th the price of Sabathia if only the organization could rear such talent. Cashman forged ahead. The Yankees' future, even if Hughes was a mid-level starter, Chamberlain an oft-injured reliever and Kennedy, now an Arizona Diamondback, would be with pitchers developed in the organization. The Yankees' future would be with pitchers developed in the organization.
The draft handicapped them. The best chance at finding an impact pitcher comes at the top of the draft. Four of the top five pitchers who arrived in the last five years were top 10 picks. So landing an ace -- a pitcher who changes the climate of an organization -- from the bottom third of the first round is trying. At the same time, the Yankees had plenty of advantages, particularly before the new draft rules limited the amount of money a team could spend. Domestically and internationally, the Yankees could toss around their financial might and load their system with so many top-end arms one was bound to hit. They chose not to, and now that the rules have changed, it makes hitting on late-round picks like Robertson (17th round) all the more important.
Because it's been five full years since that Hughes-Chamberlain-Kennedy group ascended the minor leagues. And the Yankees have done far better at getting rid of talent than nurturing it.
Kennedy, dealt in the Granderson trade, has 9.5 WAR for the Diamondbacks, while Coke has grown into a lockdown left-handed reliever for Detroit. Tyler Clippard, who also debuted in that '07 rookie class, was sent to Washington for Jonathan Albaladejo in one of the worst trades of Cashman's career. He has 6.5 WAR for the Nats.
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Cashman, of course, isn't the only one to make a litany of ill-advised trades. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik dumped Doug Fister, Brandon Morrow and Eric O'Flaherty for scant return. Arizona dealt Max Scherzer, Jarrod Parker, Trevor Bauer, Ryan Cook and Jordan Norberto. There are bodies strewn all across the desert of trades.
There are success stories as well, ones who did the last five years the right way, starting with a team whose numbers make the least sense.
For a team thought to be a player-development machine, the Tampa Bay Rays did something shocking over the last five years: They developed fewer major league pitchers than anyone.
Just 13 pitchers graduated from the Rays' farm system to their big league club, tied for the fewest with Milwaukee. The difference between the two: The Rays' baker's dozen produced 27.7 WAR, the fourth most in the major leagues over the last five years, while the Brewers were just 7.2. The Rays netted 345 starts out of their crew, also the fourth most. The Brewers had 39, by far the fewest, and until last year, they had all of two homegrown starts from pitchers who arrived between 2008 and 2011.
Why the Rays used so few pitchers could have a number of explanations. Was it simply poor amateur curation? Did they see a cheap market for relief pitching that would allow them to develop younger pitchers longer rather than rushing them? Was their stalwart rotation simply burying suitable candidates in the minor leagues?
Either way, the Rays' high WAR speaks to the power of individual performance: David Price, with 14.3 WAR, accounted for more than half of the Rays' mark, similar to Clayton Kershaw, who led the group with 23.7 WAR and whose team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, finished more than a dozen WAR ahead of every other team with 47.9. Kershaw himself beat 24 teams.
The teams without a single standout, meanwhile, found themselves buried toward the bottom. It's inconceivable to think a team could go five years with a negative WAR from all of its homegrown pitchers, but that's exactly what the Houston Astros (-0.1), Los Angeles Angels (-1.8) and Chicago Cubs (-5) did. Negative WAR essentially means the three teams would have been better off going to Triple-A and getting a replacement-level player – a bum, a scrub, a jabroni, whatever you care to call him – and plopping him on the major league roster. Jeff Samardzija was the Cubs' only pitcher to post more than 0.2 WAR in the last five years – and he needed 1.6 WAR last year to boost his career total to 1.7.
He wasn't the lowest team leader. Jordan Walden and Jose Arredondo, two Los Angeles Angels relievers now on other teams, hold that distinguished honor. The Angels may have $240 million to spend on Albert Pujols and $125 million for Josh Hamilton, but when it comes to developing pitching, Walden and Arredondo it is.
Robertson is the highest-achieving Yankee with 6.8 WAR, the one-inning-at-a-time jewel of Cashman's hopeful pitching empire. The Yankees, it turns out, are not the Oakland A's, who have churned out Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Brad Ziegler and A.J. Griffin. Nor are they the Texas Rangers, who reaped 15.7 WAR from Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz, the fruits of the Mark Teixeira trade, plus 6.7 from the stick-to-it scouting of Alexi Ogando and four more from Yu Darvish's first season.
Yes, there are some kinks in this method. Baltimore certainly looks better than it ought, with 6.8 WAR coming from veterans Koji Uehara and Wei-Yin Chen. A few years from now, the Orioles may be atop the list, what with Dylan Bundy primed to dominate. And the Brewers wouldn't be so embarrassing if Yovani Gallardo, Class of '07, were included.
The representation is nonetheless important. When Fister and Scherzer got traded, they both landed in Detroit, which even though it failed to develop much from its farm system from 2008 to 2012 got much better through the savvy of its general manager thieving young pitchers from other teams.
When he signed a contract extension at the end of the 2008 season, Cashman released a statement with a direct purpose: "I've got a job to finish here."
He's still working at that job, not satisfied with the '09 championship, not after watching the Yankees fall apart in the 2012 postseason and enter 2013 with its most in-flux roster since well before their dynastic 15-year reign. Free agents after this season include Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Pettitte, Kuroda, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis and, yes, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.
It's been an entire free-agent cycle since 2007, when everything seemed like it was going right for the Yankees. Hughes, as a starter, is 46-34 with a 4.68 ERA. Chamberlain is an effective reliever in fits and starts. And since then, the Yankees have found Robertson (one of the game's three best setup men), Nova (booted from the roster last year) and perhaps Phelps (solid as a rookie).
There's not much more, not much to count on. Still, it doesn't take quantity as much as quality. Just one team over the last five years developed fewer 100-plus-inning pitchers than the Yankees: The San Francisco Giants, champions two of the last three years, with standout starter Madison Bumgarner and closer Sergio Romo.
The Yankees hit with Robertson. The rest are Whammies dancing across the screen, sticking their tongues out at Cashman and blowing raspberries.
"Even though our development gets overshadowed by the CC Sabathias and Andy Pettittes of the world, at the end of the day, I think it's something we're very good at," Cashman said, and maybe it's true.
Just not the last five years.
Los Angeles (NL)
New York (AL)
New York (NL)
Los Angeles (AL)
J. Walden, J. Arredondo
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