Kennedy has, indeed, very quietly matured into an Ace. He leads his contending team in wins, innings, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. Unfortunately, that team is the Arizona Diamondbacks.
For the Yankees, in 2008, Kennedy imploded in dramatic fashion. He missed most of 2009 and by 2010 was little more than a toss-in in a trade headlined by Curtis Granderson, Max Scherzer, and Austin Jackson.
Chamberlain, still a Yankee, is four seasons deep in his major-league career. His numbers are humble, made moreso by the fact it now appears unlikely he’ll ever pitch his way out of the bullpen. Following major surgery, the Yankees will get maybe one more healthy season out of him before he hits free agency. Perhaps the biggest contribution Joba has made to the game is affixing his name to a debate about innings limitations and the development process for young pitchers. The “Joba Rules” are viewed by many as par exemplar of what not to do.
Hughes’s young career, meanwhile, is a synthesis of the other two. He imploded in the early months of ’08, bounced back an forth between the bullpen, the rotation, and the minor leagues, seemed to have reached his potential when he made the All-Star team in 2010, but has since experienced a progressive downward spiral, featuring mysterious injuries, psychological meltdowns, declining velocity, and spotty command. As with Joba, as his salary increases, his production diminishes.
Pitching is, of course, a famously volatile commodity. Nobody has a perfect record developing blue-chip arms into top-flight major-leaguers. Even the Giants, with their outstanding reputation for drafting and developing pitching, have some notable misses (Noah Lowry, Kevin Correia, David Aardsma, etc.). However, as excitement mounts over the ascendency of Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances, I think it is important to ask: During the incredibly successful fourteen-season administration of Brian Cashman, where has all the pitching come from?
Chamberlain, Hughes, and Kennedy are just the most recent in a long line pitching prospects who have failed to live up to the front office’s expectations. Remember Andy Brown, Dave Walling, and Jon Skaggs? No reason why you should. They are first-rounders who flamed out long before they got within sniffing distance of the major leagues. How about Jeff Karstens? He, like Kennedy, improved dramatically after leaving the Yankee organization. To a slightly lesser extent, the same is true of Ted Lilly, Randy Choate, and Tyler Clippard. And then there’s the disastrous signing of high-profile international free agent, Kei Igawa, who seems to have gotten worse in each of the five seasons he’s spent in the Yankee farm system.
In truth, in the last fourteen seasons, the only homegrown pitchers I can come up with who lived to expectations are Chien-Ming Wang, Scott Proctor, and David Robertson (and, to be fair, with Proctor and Robertson the expectations were pretty low). Three pitchers in fourteen years.
The unraveling of 2007 first-rounder, Andrew Brackman, at AAA, is the latest bad omen.
It’s a pretty paltry record. What are the possible causes?
1.) Bad Luck
I don’t like to chalk a decade’s worth of data up to the whim of fortune, but it certainly isn’t beyond a reasonable doubt. Pitching is a volatile commodity. Yada, yada, yada.
2.) New York is Unkind
The leap from the high minors to the big leagues is physically and psychologically taxing to begin with. Growing pains are inevitable. Young pitchers need to learn how to respond to adversity. They need the patience and forgiveness of teammates, coaches, fans, and front office. Many would argue that this is less forthcoming in New York. Certainly, if one looks hard enough, one can always find a vicious critic in the Big Apple. On top of that, the AL East offers the toughest competition in the majors, the ballpark isn’t always forgiving, and the defense, if we’re honest, hasn’t been consistently stellar during the years in question. These factors could combine not only to erode the confidence of a young pitcher, but even cause fatigue and injury.
3.) Developing Pitching is Not Cashman’s Strength
Every GM has a weakness. Jim Hendry has about two dozen. One could look at the track record of Yankee pitching prospects and conclude that, while Cashman and his staff have been pretty successful identifying “live arms,” they have perhaps been remiss in their evaluation of durability and psychology. The Cashman Era has been, for the most part, joyous for Yankee supporters. One can forgive him this peccadillo.
If you are prone to believing that either or both of the latter two explanations are relevant, than I think this track record should be taken into account when the Yankees are sizing up their trade options. Self-awareness is a virtue. Banuelos and Betances may actually be more valuable to another team than they would be to the Yankees, because the chances of them reaching their full potential might be higher. If both teams can recognize the existence of that disparity, than it is an opportunity for both to improve.