Could Other Pitchers’ 2011 Seasons Affect Hector Noesi’s 2012?

Hector Noesi: Professional Pitcher. Courtesy of The Daily News

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

While the MSM, the blogosphere, and Yankee fans in general all gear up for the the hype surrounding the CC Sabathia opt out storyline and the “Yu Darvish vs. C.J. Wilson” debate this offseason, there is another potential in-house 2012 rotation candidate who could factor into the discussion as well.  That candidate would be Hector Noesi, the 2011 winner of the annual Yankees’ “Top Young Pitching Prospect That We Called Up to Use in The Bullpen Because We Needed a Warm Body” Award.  Larry K did an excellent job yesterday of painting an all-encompassing portrait of Noesi’s skill set and 2011 performance, and essentially laid the groundwork for the “Noesi 2012 Rotation” discussion.  But beyond his own makeup and 2011 results, there are other outside factors that could play a role in determining the plan for Noesi in 2012.  Those factors are Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, specifically the different paths that each of them took in 2011 and how those paths intersect with the path Noesi is currently on and the path he could be on next year.

Nova’s path would be like the yellow brick road for Noesi to follow if he is looking to become a future fixture in the Yankee rotation.  After rising steadily through the Yankee farm system over the last couple years, building up his innings workload as a starter, Nova made his Major League debut in 2010 with a handful of spot starts and relief appearances.  He was never as highly regarded as Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances, but this past season, Nova got a real shot to show what he could do as a full-time starter and he made the most of that shot, making 27 starts over the course of the 2011 season and along the way displaying very noticeable improvements to his pitching repertoire and pitching style.

The book on Nova was always that he lacked the secondary offerings and consistent command to project as anything higher than a 4th or 5th starter.  In 2011, Nova focused on improving both of those aspects of his game, especially when he rejoined the team in late July after a short Triple-A stint to make room in the rotation for Hughes.  From that point on, Nova displayed a much improved ability to throw his fastball for strikes, much better command of his offspeed pitches, and also a much better understanding of how to work on the mound and use all of his pitches in different way to navigate through a lineup multiple times.  Through August and September Nova bumped his K/9 up into the low 6s while lowering his BB/9 to the 2s, adding up to a 3.70/4.01/4.16 ERA/FIP/xFIP tripleslash, 2.7 WAR, and 16 Wins (yes, a flawed stat) over 165.1 innings of work in the regular season and a spot as the Yankees #2 starter behind CC in the ALDS.  We all know how that story ended, but there’s no denying that Nova was damn good in his Game 1 ALDS “relief” appearance, and there’s no denying that his 2011 season exceeded everyone’s expectations and served notice that Nova has the ability to be a solid #2 or #3 starter at the Major League level.

Nova’s 2011 success alone could be reason enough for the Yankees to consider giving Noesi a look in 2012, and that discussion can be steered even more in Noesi’s favor when you consider how similar Nova and Noesi are.  The innings totals and order don’t match up, but Noesi’s ascension through the Yankee Minor League system was steady and included stops at every level, just like Nova.  Like Nova, Noesi is primarily a 3-pitch pitcher who works off his fastball and has always projected as a back-of-the-rotation starter because his offspeed stuff (slider, curve, change) is considered good but not great.  And like Nova, Noesi has faced questions about how his stuff would play at the Major League level and how that would translate into a long-term Major League role.

The one added gift that Noesi has always had that Nova did not is command.  Noesi has always been praised for his command and repeatable delivery, and he used both of those and his stuff to miss many more bats than Nova during his MiL career.   His 3.17 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 8.69 K/9, and 1.69 BB/9 over 377.2 career MiL innings suggest that Noesi could project as a “Nova 2.0″ type starter at the next level, even if his stuff doesn’t play up quite as much as it did out of the ‘pen in 2011.  And a Nova 2.0 type of pitcher would be very valuable in the 2012 rotation, especially considering what Nova 1.0 did in 2011.

On the other, not so shiny side of the comparison coin for Noesi is Phil Hughes.  Hughes’ path has been a bit rockier than Nova’s, thanks to a series of injuries and a constant shuttling between roles as a starter and reliever.  After being moved to the bullpen in 2009 to make room for a returning Chien-Ming Wang, Hughes found success as a reliever, but threw a total of only 111.2 combined regular and postseason innings that season, 92.1 of them as a reliever.  He followed that up by throwing 176.1 regular season innings in 2010, almost all of them as a starter, and tacked on another 15.2 in the postseason over 3 starts, an increase over his previous career high innings total of 146.0 (set back in 2006), and far exceeding his innings total of 2009.  This past season we saw Hughes take a major step back in his development as he battled shoulder problems and a major decrease in velocity almost all year, racking up just 88.2 total IP between regular outings and rehab outings in the process and once again being moved from the rotation to the bullpen.

Now there’s no way to know for sure that the major increase in workload from 2009 to 2010 and the switching between full-time reliever to full-time starter were the causes for Hughes’ problems in 2011, but in an age of carefully-monitored innings limitations on young pitchers it would be a good place to start if you were searching for an explanation.  And this relates to Hector Noesi in that he just went from a career high 160.1 IP in 2010 almost exclusively as a starter to just 81.0 IP in 2011, the majority of them as a reliever.  The Yankees have Noesi pitching in the Arizona Fall League right now, presumably to get his innings total up for the season and get him stretched back out to be able to start again, but he is still going to come in at far fewer innings than he threw in 2010 and he is still going to finish this season up having had to transition from a starter to a reliever and then back to a starter at 3 very different levels of competition in less than a year.  Considering how poorly that has worked out for Phil Hughes, and considering the fact that Noesi already has a serious arm injury on his record (TJS in ’07), the Yankees would be wise to consider taking the conservative route with Noesi in 2012.  In the “win now” environment that exists in the organization, though, the conservative route likely wouldn’t do Noesi any favors in building a case for a 2012 rotation spot.

Now this is not to say that Noesi absolutely SHOULD be in the rotation in 2012 because Ivan Nova did well this year and it’s not to say that he absolutely SHOULD NOT be in the rotation in 2012 because Phil Hughes did poorly.  But the Triple-A rotation is going to be crowded next season (Phelps, Warren, Mitchell, ManBan, Betances) and logic would dictate that Noesi would become the next in line to get bumped up to the Majors.  We’ve seen the Yankees mismanage their young pitching prospects enough already (cough, cough, Joba!) to know that they aren’t the best in the world at handling young pitching, and I’d hate to see Noesi be the next casualty.

It would be great to see the Yankees learn from their past mistakes and not repeat the same ones time and time again, but with the uncertainty surrounding CC and the FA market and the uncertainty/straight up lack of faith in A.J. Burnett and Hughes, there is a window of opportunity for Noesi to make an impact in the 2012 rotation.  Hopefully the Yankees find the right balance between what Nova and Hughes did in 2011 and the “win now” team attitude to influence their plans with Noesi in 2012.

Born in Dover, Delaware and raised in Danbury, Connecticut, Brad now resides in Wisconsin, where he regularly goes out of his way to remind Brewers fans that their team will never be as good as the Yankees. When he’s not writing for IIATMS and An A-Blog for A-Rod, he likes to spend his time incorporating “Seinfeld” quotes into everyday conversation, critiquing WWE storylines, and drinking enough beer to be good at darts.

8 thoughts on “Could Other Pitchers’ 2011 Seasons Affect Hector Noesi’s 2012?

  1. Outstanding piece, Brad. Though Nova has a head start, I think Noesi’s upside as a starter might even be higher than Ivan due to that ability to control the strike zone. I know we haven’t really seen that from Hector at the MLB level, but it’d be insane to expect him to jump up to MLB and continue walking less than two men per nine.

    For what it’s worth, Hardball Times’ Oliver projection system currently has Hector putting up a 4.29 ERA over 110 IP, with a 6.6 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in a season worth 1.4 WAR in 2012. That’s probably an ambitious projection — and a lot of people have issues with Oliver as it is — but I don’t know that it’s also out of the question, either.

    Unless the Yankees end up signing two free agent starters this offseason, I’d expect to see Noesi given an opportunity to start at some point; it seems silly to waste his arm in the bullpen in such a fungible role.

  2. Tony Rubberknuckles

    Im excited to see Noesi next season. He looks like he could be a damn good pitcher. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  3. Good call, franks. I actually realized that today after the post had gone up. Shame on me for not fact checking.

    And Larry, I would definitely take that output, and even a little worse, from Noesi in 2012. Especially if it keeps his innings at a reasonable level.

    The FA situation is the one point I didn’t really touch on that much, but it’s worth mentioning. All my discussion points become moot if the Yanks re-sign CC and another FA pitcher, because I don’t see the Yankees removing Burnett or Hughes from the rotation for Noesi. But at the very least, Noesi gives them some security against having to repeat the Colon and Garcia signings of 2011 (even though those worked out just fine).

  4. franks59

    Great article, but Noesi is not pitching in the Arizona Fall League; he is pitching (not very well: 2 starts, 4.2 innings, 7.71 era) in the Dominican Winter League for Tigres del Licey.

  5. Kevin Ocala, Fl

    The Yankees mismanaging their young pitchers? According to who, Tom Verducci and Mike Lupica? These narrations are overly simplistic. None of us knows what’s really going on behind the scenes, and may never do so. Hughes and possibly even Chamberlain in a few years are still young pitchers. This analysis lacks long-term perspective. Go back and look at the career path of let’s say 50 “well known” pitchers and look at their careers year by year. Randy Johnson, Schilling, Santana, Pedro Martinez, the Mets’ “Young Guns” (that mis-fired), Mariano, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Ron Guidry, Tommy John,Dwight Gooden I can go on off the top of my head, easily, pitchers that when you examine their career paths fell apart for a lot of reasons (mental,physical, drugs, etc) that never fit the narrative that the media wants to to examine in any depth. So don’t get too high or too low about these guys, I’ve been a 40+ year Yankee fan, and I’ve was reading Bill James 30 years ago. The more you read, the more you go back on careers and scout evaluation, the more you understand that blind luck plays a BIG role in careers. Just ask yourself, if Verducci really knows so much about pitching then why in the hell isn’t he being employed by a team? What happened to Bill James with his career w/ the Red Sox? Why didn’t Peter Gammons become a GM? Most of these guys are a-s kissing lampreys that pick up a couple of crumbs when they suck-up to their “sources”. And those very same sources use them for misinformation. Don’t believe me? Go back, and read their books, articles, predictions, and hot tips and see how they played out. There’s so much smoke out there that it’s amazing that we all don’t have cancer of the rectum. That being said, reading and speculating is a fun way to pass the time but don’t develop too much certitude. My response in not directed at any writer or fan on this or any other baseball site. And I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, just a dose of perspective. Can’t wait next year already, ya know?

    • T.O. Chris

      The Yankees mismanaged Joba Chamberlain regardless of what his future holds, I really don’t see how this is debatable. He was rushed to the majors the same year he was drafted (al but skipping triple A) in order to be shoved into the pen. Then brought back in as a reliever to start 2008, without being allowed to start the year in triple A as a starter, and get the inning/experience he so badly needed at that level. Then switched back and forth between rotation and starter, and eventually starter who could only pitch 2-4 innings at a time, before being told he was no longer starter capable when he had to have TJ surgery. He could go on to be a hall of fame pitcher, doesn’t change the fact that they screwed up in his development, or lack there of.

      • Kevin Ocala, Fl

        T.O., look around baseball, there are a lot of Chamberlain “types”. Some make it, some kinda make it, and some go on to become superstars. Hell, maybe we could have been celebrating Mo’s 300th victory. All I’m saying is the old bromine about 20/20 hindsight. Just sayin’……..

        • T.O. Chris

          None of what you just said has anything to do with what I said…

          Of course there are other pitchers like Joba, what does that have to do with how they handled his development? Have you even looked at his minor league numbers? He had 1 start in triple A in his career, and a total of 8 innings pitched in Scranton. This was the same year he was drafted. He was never given a chance to have the development time, in a learning enviorment, he needed for his mechanics, control, or development of his change and curve.

          He pitched a total of 88 minor league innings in 2007. 40 of those came in A ball, 40 in double A, and 8 in triple A. This is not enough time to have a proper development curve. The Yankees rushed him to the pen, because they needed a setup man to make the playoffs. This is mismanagement. No way around it.

          There is nothing hindsight about this, I said at the end of 2007 they needed to start him in triple A in 2008. I then said at the begining of 2008 when they started him in the majors in the pen that it was a bad idea. Then when they finally wanted him to be a starter they did so at the major league level, first stretching him out in the pen. Then at the end of 09 they had the weird Joba rules where he became a starter logging reliever innings so he wouldn’t go over his innings limit.

          They clearly didn’t have a real plan, and if they did they didn’t stick to it. Defend the organization however you want, they screwed up on this one. That doesn’t mean Joba would be any more than he is now the other way, but it would have given him every opportunity to do so.

          Compare his management to David Price, big difference in the way the two were handled. Both were put in the pen in order to help their team make the playoffs, but both had completely different handling after this.

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