The Yanks’ bullpen has been on everyone’s mind lately. After all, as Joe discussed yesterday, it’s been terrible in the early going, and everyone wants to fix it. How is a matter of debate.
So far, Brian Cashman has gotten slammed for his bullpen construction in every which way. They have no long-man; they have no Joba-style set-up man; they have lefty specialists who can’t lefties out; they have a bunch of no-name middle relievers who can’t get anyone out. It’s just been one big mess in 20 games. Never mind the fact that these same bunch of no-names had some pretty stellar numbers last year.
While the Yanks’ Front Office maintaining an even keel, a lot of commentators are using this opportunity coupled with Joba’s less-than-stellar start to bring up that good ol’ Joba-to-the-pen argument. Yesterday, though, I saw an interesting twist on it. David Pinto, riffing off a John Harper column that won’t get any RAB-endorsed traffic, suggests putting Phil Hughes in the bullpen. He writes:
Harper is the latest to bring up Joba back to the pen again, this time, because Phil Hughes might be ready to start in the majors. Why not move Phil to the pen, instead? Given that the Yankees seem to need a long man once every time through the rotation, so why not give Hughes that job? That way, he can work his way into the majors, spot start for injuries, and if Bruney can’t pitch for a while, he can be a two-inning setup man.
I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea of taking a 22-year-old starter and turning him into a glorified mop up-cum-setup man. I don’t like the unpredictability, and as I’ve discussed in the Joba debate, I don’t like squandered an asset in a low leverage role.
First, let’s look at Hughes’ age. Phil needs to build up arm strength and stamina. The Yankees believe that Hughes, just 22, will factor into their future rotation plans, and last night, Hughes did nothing to dispel that notion. Limiting him to a few innings’ worth of long relief every few days won’t help him prepare to be a starter.
Second, Pinto’s suggestion relies on what I hope is a faulty premise. So far, the Yankees have needed a long man at least once — and often more than once — per five-day period, but the team can’t plan for the future working under that assumption. What happens then when A.J. and CC and Andy and Joba and Chien-Ming Wang are firing on all cylinders? The Yanks would either be left with a very well-rested and underused Phil Hughes or the team would be using Hughes in a mop-up role. That’s why they have Brett Tomko toiling away at AAA; it’s not a role suited for your top pitching prospect.
Pinto’s idea here then is to move Hughes into a two-inning setup role if Brian Bruney can’t return from his current injury. Outside of the differences between starting and relieving, I think a move like that would push Hughes into a role that doesn’t help him progress. Sure, he’d be getting Major League innings, but he’d be getting those innings in bits and spurts.
In the end, we want to see prospects contribute at the Major League level, but a pitcher’s value is in starting. Any pitcher — especially young ones with live arms — should be given all the chances they need to cut as a stater and only then do they move into a less valuable role. It’s the same debate we have with Joba, and it’s one that we shouldn’t even start concerning Phil Hughes.