The “leader” of the fifth starter competition
ByJust a week ago, Sergio Mitre apparently led the fifth starter competition. But then Al Aceves pitched well, so he was the story. Last night Phil Hughes pitched well, so Wednesday’s stories revolve around how he has stepped up in the fifth starter competition. That, and how this is Joba’s last chance — ever, according to many scribes — to audition for the rotation. The way we’ve seen this story portrayed makes the Yankees’ braintrust seem rather fickle.
I’m not really buying any of it. Maybe the team had a fifth starter picked out before they even came to camp. Maybe they’ve already made a decision based on what they’ve seen. I doubt, however, that they’re anxiously awaiting the results of exhibition games in order to determine the winner. These games are played under completely different circumstances than normal games, and I’m not sure the Yankees can make their decision based on those results.
That isn’t to say that the games are meaningless. The staff can observe the pitchers and see if they’re doing the right things — mixing pitches, throwing strikes, challenging hitters, etc. The results, though, shouldn’t much matter. As we’ve been saying all spring, there’s just too much going on.
Take Phil Hughes’s appearance last night for example. The results show that he pitched very well: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 59 pitches. Yet he faced mostly substitutes. Not only substitutes, but substitutes from the NL’s worst offense. Can the Yankees really trust the results in this case? Of course not. But they can observe other aspects of Hughes during the start and make determinations. That, I think, is what this competition is based on — if it’s really a competition at all.
Today Joba starts against Philadelphia, the NL’s best offense. If he goes his four innings, but allows five hits, two runs, and walks one, will that really be judged as worse than Hughes’s outing? The discrepancy in talent there is immense, the reserves on a terrible offense against the starters on the best offense. In fact, if Joba pitches well we should all be encouraged, since he did it against tougher competition.
This is all a rant to say that these stories in the newspaper don’t necessarily reflect the actual decisionmaking process. They’re stories based on the results of the game and conversations with staff. Maybe they give us a little insight into the team’s thought process, but maybe they don’t. Again, maybe the team is keeping its true intentions under wraps. We don’t know. What we do know, though, is that trusting the straight results of these spring training appearances won’t help us better guess the competition. There are just too many variables involved.

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