For four out of five days, the Yankees’ starters have been among the best in the game. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte have combined to go 41-22 this season with a collective 3.81 ERA. In 606.1 innings, the quartet has allowed 564 hits and 238 walks while striking out 497. The WHIP of 1.32 is a little on the high side, but the K/9 of 7.38 is stellar. This Big Four are primed for an October run.
The other guy — that much-maligned fifth starter — hasn’t been nearly as good. The Yankees have tried Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre in the role. Chad Gaudin will make his fifth starter debut later today. As a group, the Yanks’ fifth starters are 6-9 with a 7.79 ERA. In just over 100 innings — that’s 4.1 IP per start — these pitchers have given up 143 hits, and their WHIP clocks in at 1.83. It has been a constant struggle to find a fifth starter, to say the least.
Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal dropped a bullet point on the Yanks’ hunt for a fifth starter. He wrote:
The Yankees inquired about Reds right-handers Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, but backed off when the Reds said they would not include any money in a deal. While the Yankees remain active in their pursuit of a starter, they likely will stand pat and await the benefit of the roster expansions on Sept. 1.
We’ve assessed both Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo when the Yanks nearly acquired him prior to the July 31st trade deadline. There is no need to get into their pluses and overwhelming minuses right now.
Instead, I’d like to ask yet again why the Yankees are continuing to overlook the most obvious answer to their fifth starter problems: Phil Hughes.
Earlier this year, the Yankees tried Phil Hughes in the rotation. He went 3-2 with a 5.45 ERA. In 34.6 innings, he allowed 37 hits and struck out 31. He had one awful start against the Orioles and one very good start. His other five starts were inconsistent, exactly what you would expect from a young starter with great stuff but not enough Major League experience. Prior to Chien-Ming Wang’s comeback, Hughes had seemed to turn a corner, and the Yankees kept him around.
At first, Hughes shadowed Wang, and he really seemed to excel out of the pen. He was throwing harder and was attacking the zone more than he had as a starter. With the Bridge to Mariano unsettled, the Yankees fell in love with Phil Hughes in the 8th inning. He was as lights out as Joba was in 2007, and all of a sudden, Phil Hughes the starter morphed into Phil Hughes the lockdown reliever.
Since the move to the bullpen, Hughes’ innings totals have been meager. He threw just 13 innings in June and 14 innings in July. This month — 18 days through August — Hughes has thrown just 5.2 innings. For comparison’s sake, Sergio Mitre has thrown 14.2 unspectacular innings this month. The 8th inning does not matter more.
On the season, between the Majors and Minors, Hughes has thrown just 87.1 innings, and at this rate with his current usage patterns, he won’t reach more than 105-110 in the regular season. Next year, as a starter, Hughes will be limited to around 150-160 innings. If this sounds like Joba Chamberlain, well, that’s because it is.
With their win last night, the Yankees are 75-45. They have a seven-game lead with 42 left to play, and while it ain’t over ’til it’s over, it’s getting awfully close. The Yanks could stretch Phil Hughes out, give him a few starts, build up his innings and then move him back into the bullpen for the playoffs. The future would thank them, and it would give the Yankees a better solution to the fifth — and fourth — starter issue than Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin will.