Yankees ex-righty Phil Hughes officially retired this week. We love him, but he shouldn’t be your *best* drafted pitcher.
The post-dynasty Yankees’ half-collapse was mostly brought on by a lack of reliable arms surrounding their offensive core.
Not only were the pitchers on the ’04-’08 squads fairly unremarkable, but they were often…well, very, very bad.
The 2004 debacle doesn’t happen in the ALCS if the Yankees’ No. 2 starter isn’t Jon Lieber. And for the next several years, with a chance to enact vengeance on the league (and the Red Sox), New York never advanced past the ALDS, buoyed only by the shocking emergence of Chien-Ming Wang. Besides uncovering that ground ball specialist, the Yankees mostly trotted out uninspired veterans (Randy Johnson, Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small) and rookies who were never meant for the spotlight (sorry, Matt DeSalvo, Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright).
But that was all supposed to change entering the end of that decade. In recent drafts, the Yankees had accrued a triumvirate of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, who were supposed to form a fearsome rotation core for years to come. Ultimately, as pitching prospects often do, they dissolved the best-laid plans, and Hughes’ official retirement on Sunday underscored the end of an era that never really was, reminding us just how difficult it is to project pitching in the draft.
Now, that’s not wins total. It’s wins with the Yankees. But that means they’re either drafting the wrong guys or keeping the wrong guys, which is a top-to-bottom issue.
We love Phil Hughes. He’s an affable guy, adept sports card trader, and ended his career as a solid pitcher with some defined career highlights. In ’09, he emerged after a tough season as a bullpen ace for a championship team. In ’10, he made his first and only All-Star team, and won a clinching ALDS game, even if he wasn’t quite as electric as prognosticators foretold.
But if Hughes’ 56 wins are leading the pack for your franchise’s entire first-round draft history, then it’s time to reevaluate the modern strategy (as well as issue a stark warning to stop prematurely trading arms like Scott McGregor, ’70s Orioles legend).
The laundry list of first-round arms chosen by the Yanks over the years reads like an unemployment line, beginning with HS righty Bill Burbach in the very first draft of all time in 1965. Over the last few decades alone, you can spend an afternoon scrolling down the list and sighing while reading names like Brien Taylor, Jon Skaggs, Andrew Brackman, Jeremy Bleich, Ty Hensley and Ian Clarkin. It all comes down to ’17 first-rounder Clarke Schmidt — no pressure, kid.
Hitting on an occasional standout like Hughes would go down a lot smoother if there was some discernible history of draft selections performing better than the injury-prone righty with the nasty hook. But if his star-crossed career is the best of the best, that should serve as an evaluation alarm.
One silver lining? This statistic only applies to first-round pitchers the Yankees signed.
Otherwise, current Yankee Gerrit Cole (2008) would already lead the pack.