Saturday, June 13, 2009

Stranded On An Eiland

When the Yankees hired Dave Eiland as their pitching coach prior to last season, it signaled a shift in organizational philosophy on the major league level.

The Yankees moved away from the traditional philosophies and beliefs of Ron Guidry and Mel Stottlemyre, and jumped into the stat-oriented analysis of the Money Ball era. They also embraced the current philosophy surrounding the development of young pitchers.

And with a number of talented, young pitchers -- Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy -- about ready for the majors, hiring Eiland was the right move. He deserved a chance.

The Yankees hadn't had a draft pick become a mainstay in their rotation since Andy Pettitte in the mid-1990s, and only a handful even made it to the majors. That inability to develop talent was taking its toll on the major league team, leading the acquisitions of busts such as Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez, among others.

But it takes more than statistical analysis and developing youth to be a major league pitching coach. You still need to be able to work with pitchers, correct their mechanics and get your message across.

And we are at the point when it is safe to conclude that Eiland just isn't a major league pitching coach and it's time for him to be let go or reassigned.

That Yankees continued their run of poor pitching performances Saturday with Andy Pettitte allowing five runs in five innings in a 6-2 loss to the Fernandos ... I mean Mets at Yankee Stadium, snapping the Mets' three game losing streak and dropping the Yankees three games behind the Red Sox in the AL East. (Who even heard of a major league team have three Fernandos, anyway?)

Over the past five games, only one starter has managed to get past the fifth inning, the rotation going 0-4 with a 12.23 ERA and a 2.20 WHIP. The starters have allowed 29 earned runs, 31 hits and 16 walks in 21-1/3 innings, striking out just 16. They've thrown 480 pitches to get only 64 outs, and only 276 were strikes, a percentage of 57.5.

In short, they've been awful.

But you don't make a change like I'm advocating based on five games -- unless your name is George M. Steinbrenner III.

No, I'm calling for this change based on Eiland's body of work.

Start with last season, when the Yankees began with Hughes and Kennedy as their Nos. 4 and 5 starters and got exactly 0 wins from them. Eiland had worked with those guys in the minors and was promoted to the majors specifically because he knew their windups and mechanics well.

Yet that didn't help him get those two kids straighted out.

Yes, Chien-Ming Wang's and Pettitte's injuries last season were big blows, and the Yankees didn't have the organizational depth to fill the void, so it was easy to look past the starters' troubles and inability to average as few as 5-2/3 innings per start, especially when Brian Cashman went out and landed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in the offseason.

The acquisitions of those two alone should have made the rotation light years better.

But it hasn't.

The numbers this season are staggering.

Let's start with the staff as a whole. Entering Saturday, the Yankees' 4.90 ERA and .786 OPS against ranked 12th in the AL and their 1.44 WHIP was 11th. They had allowed 318 earned runs (the third most in the AL), 245 (second most) and 83 homers (most).

The starters were a combined 21-16 this season. Their 26 quality starts and 4.93 ERA ranked 12th in the league. Their 1.46 WHIP and .781 OPS against were 11th, and their 352-2/3 innings pitched 10th. They had allowed 205 earned runs (fourth most) and 156 walks (most).

Folks, that is not the mark of a good pitching coach, especially with a rotation that I'm sure even Dave will admit in an honest moment has a lot of talent and pitchers who throw filthy stuff.

Want more damning numbers?

The staff's .260 BAA entering Saturday was sixth best in the league and 542 hits allowed fourth fewest, which means the Yankees are being killed by all those walks. Their 454 strikeouts were second most and 7.46 Ks/9 IP second best, which means they can escape jams, but not if they are not constantly in them.

Saturday, Pettitte didn't even give the Yankees a chance. With a beat-up bullpen, the Yankees were desperate for Pettitte to go deep into this game. Instead, he gave them his third sub-par outing in his last four starts.

He went deep into the count and didn't have a single 1-2-3 inning. He allowed Fernando ... I mean, Omir Stantos' two-out, two run homer in the second. And by the fifth, Pettitte had nothing left, allowing three runs on five hard-hit balls.

The Mets had a 5-1 lead and the game was all but over, especially against a Yankees offense that managed just four hits and two runs 6-2/3 innings against Mets emergency starter Fernando ... I mean ... oh, wait, his name actually is Fernando ... Nieve.

“To pitch like I did today and only last five innings — that’s not
doing a good job,” said Pettitte, who turns 37 Monday.

Pettitte has always been a horse in his career, eating a lot of innings. Yes, he gave up hits, but usually a manageable amount, and he was always able to work out of trouble because he didn't walk many, kept runners at first close and got doubleplays.

But this season, those doubleplays haven't been coming, he's had a five-walk and a six-walk game, and he's had two games in which he's allowed 12 hits, including Saturday. His cut fastball has deserted him.

Something is amiss, and the numbers show it's not just Pettitte.

While the Yankees do need to start developing their own pitchers and embrace the modern tools and philosophies that have evolved during the Money Ball era, that doesn't mean all of the old-school philosophies no long matter.

Pitchers still need to be able to attack the strike zone, pitch inside and throw strikes. They need to trust their stuff and they need to believe in a specific pitching philosophy.

Friday night, Joba kept shaking off Jorge Posada. They were not in sync. Joba wanted to feature his slider, while Posada want him to be aggressive with his fastball. Posada was right, especially when Joba walked in a run when he threw a 3-and-2 slider in the third.

This is not a sign of team with a coherent pitching philosophy.

But it is a sign of a pitching coach who is not able to get his message across to his team. And whenever that happens to any coach in any sport at any level, it's time for a change.

The Yankees do have options. Nardi Contreras is an experienced major league pitching coach who is well versed in the new philosophies. He's currently the team's roving instructor/pitching guru.

They also could reach out to Leo Mazzone, the former long-time Braves pitching coach who is currently doing some work for ESPN. He knows what it takes to develop and bring along a pitching staff (see Glavine, Tom and Smoltz, John).

Another thing the Yankees should do is reach out to Guidry to work with Wang, something Peter Abraham has been advocating. Guidry had a great rapport with Wang and might be able to get him back on track. I don't think Guidry should return as the full-time pitching coach, though.

In any case, with an off day coming Monday, now is the time for change.

The Yankees need to get off this Eiland.

Of Note
Brian Bruny had a flawless rehab outing, throwing 8 of 12 pitches for strikes and hitting 94 mph with his fastball. He's expect to be activated on Tuesday, which could mean Jose Veras will finally be DFA'd, despite pitching two scoreless inning Saturday. Nothing would make me happier.

Runners In Scoring Position
1-for-3 (.333)
146-for-564 (.259)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
80-for-296 (.270)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Sunday vs. Mets, 1:05 p.m., YES, TBS, local TV (Check your listings)
Johan Santana (8-3, 2.39) vs. Burnett (4-3, 4.89)

The Yankees desperately need Burnett to bounce back from 2-2/3 inning outing Tuesday and go deep into the game, especially against Santana. Beating Santana is never easy, but the Yankees did go 1-1 against him last season, scoring seven earned runs in 13-2/3 innings.

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