Yankees are excellent at developing pitchers

Over the years the Yankees have received endless criticism for their development of pitchers. This criticism is based on the assumption that other teams are better at it, and that they fail to develop as many pitchers as other teams. Looking at the 150 starting pitchers in the MLB today paints a different picture. The Yankees are not bad at this, they are top 10 in the league by many standards.

Of 150 starting pitchers in the MLB, 77 had success with the team that drafted or developed them, or 51-percent. 38, or 25-percent of the starting pitchers in the league were drafted in the first round before New York had a pick. The Yankees can sign international talent that helps sway the balance in their favor. It should be noted, however, that 1st round draft picks have a much higher success rate than international free agents.

The first number is how many players each team drafted/developed that are currently MLB starters. The Yankees come in a tie with Atlanta, Boston, Miami, the Rays, and the Twins for second place with eight. Texas was best with 11. These teams have a good eye for talent.

A pitcher was considered to be developed by a team if he spent more than one year in their farm system. The only player who made the Yankees list who they didn’t draft was Ted Lilly. The pitcher was considered a developmental success if he had one or more good season with the team who developed them. The benchmark for a successful season is a 4.50 ERA with 150 IP. I understand the trouble with using ERA to judge pitchers, but if anything that puts New York at a disadvantage given their ballpark, division, and American League status.

If traded to another team before producing, the player wasn’t a developmental success. Two pitchers the Yankees developed were excluded from consideration for this reason. These were Ted Lilly, whom they didn’t draft but spent over a year in their minor league system, and Ian Kennedy, who was traded just before his first successful season. Many players go on to have good careers after their contract with their original club expires. These do not count as developmental successes, as they developed too slowly to help that team.

Texas is great at manufacturing pitchers (11), but their developmental success rate is low. They’ve only benefited from three of the pitchers they’ve developed. The Red Sox helped develop eight current starters. Only two had success with the team. The Braves have only three current starting pitchers in the league that have had successful seasons as a part of their team.

The teams with the most developmental successes were the A’s, with six, and the Twins, with five. It’s  a five-way tie for third between the Yankees, Padres, Phillies, Rays, and Miami.

The A’s are 6-for-6 in harvesting production from their prospects. Barry Zito was drafted with the ninth pick in the draft, so New York couldn’t have had him. They also developed Gio Gonzalez. Joe Blanton and Trevor Cahill have been borderline successes, but have staying power, so they get credit. Dallas Braden is great. Brett Anderson has been good, but injury prone. If he was in New York, this would have been somehow blamed on management.

The Twins have several success stories. Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano come to mind right away. They developed three inconsistent pitchers; Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, and Kyle Lohse. Blackburn has two successful seasons mixed in with three poor ones. In Yankee-land, that might be seen as a failure. Kyle Lohse is not an example of someone an organization should be proud of developing.

The San Diego Padres have had some good pitchers come up through their system. Tim Stauffer, Jake Peavy, Clay Hensley, and Clayton Richard were productive. Of those, Tim Stauffer was the fourth overall pick in the draft, and Clay Hensley was not drafted by the team, but did spend time in their minor league system.

Philadelphia has had several prosperous prospects. Vance Worley is the most recent. It remains to be seen if he can duplicate last season. Cole Hamels was drafted early in the first round, before the Yankees pick. J.A. Happ had a good season before being traded. I guess he’s a developmental success? They did get Hunter Pence from the Astros, so I can justify it. Randy Wolf is still in the league and they did get success from him. That was ages ago.

The Rays have had four. David Price was the first overall pick in the draft, and Niemann was the fourth overall. Needless to say the Yankees can’t draft players like these. James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson are fair game, and the Rays have done a fantastic job with them. It looks like Matt Moore is the real deal, but he could still end up a bust since he’s proven nothing.

Finally, Miami had Josh Beckett (early first round pick), Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, and Chris Volstad.

Now, the Yankees. The Yankees developed Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte, and Chien-Ming Wang. Nova has much to prove, and Hughes is inconsistent. Pettitte was drafted ages ago. As we’ve seen, every team on this list has guys like that. Of all the teams listed, the one thing that New York’s list lacks is an ace. Every team has at least one early first round pick though, something the Yankees won’t ever have. The eight starters currently in the MLB that were drafted, signed, or developed by New York include those four, plus Ian Kennedy, Ted Lilly, Jeff Karstens, and Hector Noesi.

While the team has failed to develop an ace, they have an excellent success rate developing pitchers. Every team has the same amount of players in the minor league system, and yet the Yankees have more success stories than most teams in the league, with few exceptions. The lack of star power in the system could be due to any number of factors, not the least of which is luck.

The importance of draft picks can’t be emphasized enough. The fact that 25% of starting pitchers are players the Yankees never had the opportunity to draft is telling. The talented players that fall to New York are often injury prone or seen as long term projects. These players have high risk of busting. Brackman and Joba constitute players of this caliber. The key is that these players fell to the Yankees for a reason. They often bust, and it gets blamed on the Yankees for mishandling them. All pitchers are fragile, but those who make it to the end of the first round often have red flags. The Yankees have made up for this through international signings. This has helped make them on par with some of the top teams as far as development goes.

It should also be noted that the Yankees are a win now team. This means that obtaining top prospects through trades is not often an option. It did happen recently with Jose Campos, but I wouldn’t count on that being a frequent occurrence. Low budget teams are able to trade for prospects. When the writing is on the wall and they can’t resign a player, they trade for a nice package of prospects. Surprisingly, the Rays haven’t benefited much from that either. They do get more compensation picks.

Any number of things can hamper pitcher development. Injuries, control problems, mental issues, behavioral problems, and mechanical problems can all turn a promising prospect into a project. Sometimes players just don’t have the stuff. Developing starting pitchers is difficult; even the best teams have few success stories. There are 20 starters in every farm system. If one or two end up successful MLB starters, it would be a success. With such low success rates, there has to be a considerable amount of luck involved. The 18-19 starting pitchers who don’t work out are not all failures on the part of the organization.

New York gets a lot of attention for being bad at developing pitchers because there is so much emphasis on the players that fail. Every organization experiences these failures, and as a matter of fact most have a lower rate of starting pitcher success than the Yankees. I hope this post opened some eyes about starting pitching development. Not only is New York currently on par with some of the best in the league, but the minor league depth at the position of starting pitcher is better than it has been in decades. I know that many New Yorkers love to find fault in the Yankees front office. I think it is time to find a new reason to bash Cashman because the times have changed.

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13 Responses to Yankees are excellent at developing pitchers

  1. hotdog says:

    I am hoping the Yankees hold onto their talented pitchers this year and do not trade for an over-the-hill former all-star by the trading deadline…i'm not convinced that the formula works…

  2. Tanned Tom says:

    By and large the NYY do a good job of drafting, but a poor job of developing. 2 cases in point: Most tellingly they bungled the whole Chamberlain-Kennedy-Hughes scenario. Kennedy has become an ace for Arizona, and Chamberlain has been jerked around and blew out his elbow. The pitcher they consistently preferred during this time, Hughes, has been worse than inconsistent. He has been either out of shape, injured or ineffective with the exception of 2009 when he pitched out of the pen, and the first half of 2010. Terrible.
    Then last year they demoted their 2nd best pitcher (Nova) because Cashman wanted to give starts to Hughes (coming back from yet another injury), Burnett (terrible signing), and Colon ( so overweight he pulled a muscle running from the mound to 1B, and who everyone knew was going to run out of gas down the stretch). This is called mismanagement. During the Cashman era there is exactly starting 1 pitcher drafted and developed by the club who is still productive and still wearing pinstripes – that's it, one in 15 years. Ivan Nova, and they've done what they could to ruin him, so far without any success.

    • Yeah, don't bother reading the article.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      There are a lot of people with this viewpoint, and this is why I wrote the article. Lots of people want to talk about Joba, Phil, and IPK. I would put Joba directly into the category of "slipped to the Yankees because he's injury prone." Texas is doing the same thing with Ogando as the Yankees have done with Joba, yet there have been no injuries to Ogando. Joba is a fragile guy, and you couple that with the fact that he doesn't take care of himself and shows up each year to camp more overweight than the last. I want Joba to succeed more than anyone, but he has no one to blame for his failures but himself.

      On to Hughes. Hughes still has 2 seasons to become a great developmental success. He's already successful by the standards of the above article. Anyway, Hughes showed up to camp in 2011 out of shape without having thrown all offseason. That is out of the Yankees control, and has nothing to do with development. This year he's shown up in great shape, and his stuff looks better than it did even in 2010. We'll see how the season turns out but he looked pretty good against a tough Tampa Bay team. The Yankees have done nothing wrong with Hughes.

      As for IPK, I would argue that the Yankees developed him, while Arizona just gave him a chance. I didn't include him on their list, mainly just to give other teams the benefit of the doubt. I do sympathize with the argument that the Yankees don't give their pitching prospects a chance, but that is a very different argument.

      Finally, Ivan Nova. I don't think there's even an argument to be made that the Yankees did anything wrong with him. Sending him down to the minors is actually the best thing that could have happened to him. He worked on some pitches and came back as the dominant pitcher we saw in the second half.

      Your last statement about the Cashman era is simply false. Read the article for proof.

  3. Bronx_Knight says:

    Greg, is this article based on your own research? If so, this is absolutely outstanding. Even if you are just summarizing and presenting someone else's research, still a great write-up.

    First-rate analysis. Please keep up the good work.

  4. Bronx_Knight says:

    The praise is deserved. Enough praise. Go write another great article.

  5. TedK says:

    Greg, thanks for the info. I hear about and follow our prospects, but I don't know anyone else's. That makes it hard to really know how the Yankees compare to other teams. So few prospects make it that every team looks bad if you don't know what the norm is. It's great to see an article that sheds some light on the issue.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Thanks Ted. I'm the same way. I've been following Yankees prospects for a while and don't know much about other organizations. I was frustrated with people complaining about Yankees pitching prospects failing all the time with no real factual basis for their complaints. I did feel like this shed some light on the issue, although I like anyone else would like to see the Yankees develop an ace at some point.

  6. Bronx_Knight says:

    I would quibble with the conclusion that the Yankees have not developed an "ace" over the past 20 years. How did you define "ace" for purposes of this article?

    In particular, while Andy Pettite was never considered the number 1 pitcher on the Yankees' staff, that doesn't necessarily mean he wasn't an "ace" caliber pitcher. Andy has won 240 games, including two 21-win seasons. He has a career 3.88 ERA, almost all of which was earned in the toughest offensive division in baseball. He spent most of his career with the best team in baseball. During that time, he was always the number 2 pitcher (and often not by much). I think you can argue that, during Andy's career, there would have been a lot of teams who would have slotted him in at number one, if they could have gotten their hands on him.

    Bottom line, just because a guy spent his career in the number-two slot of the best team in baseball doesn't necessarily mean he's not an ace-caliber pitcher.

    • Greg Corcoran says:

      Agreed. True "aces" are so tough to come by anyway (strikeout, shut down pitchers). A lot of what developing an ace amounts to, in my opinion, is luck. For the purposes of this article I wanted to give the other side as much of the benefit of the doubt as possible. I didn't want my claim that Pettitte is an ace to become the focus of the debate surrounding the article. Personally, I think you are correct, and that reinforces my argument that the Yankees are excellent at developing pitchers.

  7. Ed G says:

    "A pitcher was considered to be developed by a team if he spent more than one year in their farm system"

    ….I guess this is the Readers Digest version of "Home Grown"…The Yankees failure to find and keep pitching prospects is a front Office failure. Did Cashman pay you to write this bunk ?

    • If you read a bit further, I also mention that the Yankees really didn't benefit from this rule. All of the players on the Yankees list were either traded for other assets or are currently pitching for the team. Hate all you want, but I challenge you to find an article with more objective information than this that proves me wrong.

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