Are there some players who just can't hack it in New York?

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Javier Vazquez cap.jpgI’m extremely reluctant to give credence to the “Player X just can’t handle New York” line of reasoning because as explanations go, it rarely if ever accounts for all of the variables.

Javy Vazquez is a good example, inasmuch as that meme doesn’t account for the fact that he handled things just fine in New York until he got hurt back in 2004. Something else is almost always going on when a guy is playing poorly for the Yankees or any other team — maybe many something elses — and if we care at all about figuring out what it is, we’re best to leave unverifiable, unquantifiable blanket explanations out of the equation until there is nothing else available.

But you know what? Sometimes you may not have any other explanation. Take pitcher Ed Whitson. As ESPN’s Ian O’Connor writes, the fact of being in New York seems to have been his biggest problem during his brief tenure with the Yankees back in the mid-80s:

“It’s like working in an office and your boss comes in and says, ‘You
suck,’ after you’ve tried your best,” Whitson said. “Now multiply that
by 50,000 bosses, all of them telling you that you suck, and imagine
what that feels like.

“You feel like everybody’s against
you, and sometimes you just want to quit. But you can’t ever quit.”

Some people are just wired to be more sensitive to criticism than others. I have no idea if Javy Vazquez is one of those people or if his struggles this year are a function of playing in New York. And given that there’s still a lot of season to go and scores of reasons why any one pitcher can struggle, I’ll probably be the last guy to hop on that train when assessing Vazquez. Let’s talk about his decreased velocity first, ya know?

But “he just can’t handle New York” is not a wholly fictitious concept. There are extremes to the place that major leaguers don’t face in San Diego, where Whitson thrived, or the Columbus, Ohio suburbs where he now lives.

I suspect that the vast majority of ballplayers face more pressure simply making it up through the ranks to the bigs than they face from a hostile crowd or press corps, thereby rendering the pressures of New York relatively quaint, but it can’t be said for absolutely everyone.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.