Apr
01

Yankees will exercise patience with Hughes

By

Photo credit: Mike Carlson/AP

Hard to believe it has been this long, but one week ago the Yankees announced that Phil Hughes, not Joba Chamberlain, would enter the season as the team’s No. 5 starter. I’ll fast forward past the drawn out reactions of both sides of the Joba debate and cut to one of the more pressing questions about the decision. What will the Yankees do if Hughes struggles? As Dave Eiland and Billy Eppler opined over the weekend, the team would not call on Joba Chamberlain, whom they plan to keep in the bullpen all season. How long does Hughes have to prove himself before they turn to Sergio Mitre or Al Aceves?

Hughes has struggled as a starter in the majors, so the question has merit. After a fairly strong debut in 2007 — a 4.46 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 1.28 WHIP — he imploded after breaking camp in the rotation the following season. Before a stress fracture in his rib costed him a few months, he posted a 9.00 ERA, though only a 4.97 FIP. Even worse, he pitched just 22 innings through six starts, so just 3.2 per start. That taxed the bullpen considerably. The Yankees went 1-5 in his starts. He made a strong debut in 2009, six innings of shutout ball against the Tigers, but stumbled a bit after that. The Yankees moved him to the bullpen when he had a 5.45 ERA and 4.96 FIP.

What’s different this year, then? The Yankees saw Hughes mature in the bullpen, unleashing his fastball on opponents who had a tough time catching up. While he clearly won’t throw that fast in the rotation, it certainly gives us faith that he can sit 92, 93, as his scouting report suggested, rather than the 90, 91 we saw during 2008 and early 2009. That extra tick on his fastball will also help his changeup, still a work in progress. As pitching coach Dave Eiland said, “Phil is more prepared than ever to start in this league.”

That quote comes from Joel Sherman’s latest column. He leads off by saying the Yankees won’t guarantee Chamberlain the primary setup role, which is expected. They’ve made it clear that they’ll hand Joba nothing, and that doesn’t end with a rotation spot. The point on Hughes is a bit more interesting, though. Apparently the Yankees are prepared to live through growing pains if he experiences them.

The Yankees will give Hughes some leash to grow because they see such future promise. His ability to pinpoint his fastball separated him as a starting candidate from Chamberlain and his further development of a changeup provided him a four-pitch arsenal (along with cutter and curve) that convinces the Yankees he is heading toward the top of a rotation. Even yesterday in allowing three runs in 4 2/3 innings to the Twins, Hughes encouraged the Yankees by hitting 94 mph three times, continuing to deploy a more than passable change and not panicking when his curve was absent early.

This is clearly the right move. If the Yankees really did favor Hughes for the rotation heading into camp, there’s no reason to end his tenure after a few poor starts. He might have to pitch through problems. Thankfully, as Sherman notes, the Yanks aren’t too concerned about getting high-level production from the fifth starter spot. They have four solid pitchers ahead of Hughes who can hold down the fort. Plus, even if he’s not at the top of his game Hughes is likely as good as Mitre. So there might not be much benefit in pulling Hughes, anyway.

Categories : Pitching

111 Comments»

  1. JobaWockeeZ says:

    Yankees will excercise patience with Hughes. Yankees will also overreact to Joba having no patience with him.

    I keed, I keed.

    But honestly I think they should be more patient with Joba. They’re already thinking about a permanent role change based on like the ending months of the season.

    • They’re already thinking about a permanent role change based on like the ending months of the season.

      Eiland and Eppler seem to be. Hopefully Cashman is not, based on his recent comments.

    • Bo says:

      He’s not being put in the reliever role because of one month.

      You really dont think the Yankee FO did their due diligence with him and think he’ll perform better in the role they’ve decided??

    • The Big City of Dreams says:

      “Yankees will also overreact to Joba having no patience with him.”

      lol he probably does already. Joba has said all the right things but you have to think he isn’t happy about the situation right now. Hughes is being painted as a future ace and joba is being painted as a question mark. Funny a few yrs ago it was the other way around. I’m hoping joba goes back to the rotation in 2011. Judging by the things that have occurred on the potential FA market the odds are moving toward him starting again. It’s not a guarantee but its not as out of the question as many think

  2. Watching what happens if Hughes struggles should give us a good idea of how committed Cashman et al. really are to developing young starters.

    ::crosses fingers::

  3. Steve H says:

    Of course they’ll give him patience if he struggles, because they’ve already moved the next best option to replace him into the pen. Hughes might struggle, Mitre probably will struggle, and like TSJC said the other day, I think Girardi (and Cash) like Aceves in the Mendoza role. Hell, maybe they’re taking Joba out of the rotation altogether to keep Hughes from looking over his shoulder when he does go through some rough patches.

    • But wouldn’t keeping Joba in the AAA rotation show Hughes that he could be replaced/possibly motivate him further? It goes both ways, no?

      /overly simplistic’d

      • Steve H says:

        Totally agree. I’m not saying that it’s a good idea to do that, I’m wondering if that was their thought process at all. I’d much rather have the guy get motivated by someone pushing him.

        • radnom says:

          Amount that Hughes’ motivation played into the decision on what to do with Joba = 0% I assure you.
          As it should be.

          • Steve H says:

            Not from a motivation standpoint, but from a comfort level. Hughes now knows that Joba is not taking his job if he struggles for 3 or 4 starts. They may not want him to press when he goes thru the struggles that 99% of young pitchers go thru, and a good way of selling him that he is, undoubtedly who they want in the 5th spot is to take away the competitor, whether perceived or not. If Joba were starting in Scranton, every time Hughes pitched poorly, there would be 17,542 articles about bringing Joba up and moving Phil to the pen. They, potentially, are trying to keep that pressure off of Hughes.

            • radnom says:

              I know what you mean, but this is such a tiny, insignificant factor compared to everything else it really has no effect.

              Do you really think Cashman is sitting around saying “Damn, I would love to keep Joba in Scranton, but it would put a little more pressure on Hughes. Fuck it, guess I have to keep him in the bullpen.”??

              Not likely.

              Besides, you really think there are going to be 17,542 articles urging the Yankees to put Joba in the rotation?
              That would be quite a turnaround.

              • Steve H says:

                If Hughes has a 5.35 ERA as a starter, and they remember that he was dominating as a reliever, ala Joba, there will be calls for Hughes to the pen. If Joba, in Scranton, was dominating as a starting pitcher (very likely) there would be calls for him to replace Hughes in the rotation. Guaranteed.

                Do I think Cashman may have considered this when making the decision? Yes I do. It’s possible. It’s certainly not a big factor, and the decision will most likely help the 2010 Yankees. There were months of discussions on this, and I can certainly think that, however small, that could be a factor.

                • radnom says:

                  And I think its silly to assume the organization would consider possible media reaction to a potential situation in this discussion.
                  Joba’s situation was determined by a combination of how he can best help the 2010 Yankees and whats best for 2011 and beyond.
                  Joba’s effect on Hughes is not a part of those two factors and so minor it can’t possibly trump those two important factors, ergo its position in the decision making process might as well be nothing.

                • If Hughes has a 5.35 ERA as a starter, and they remember that he was dominating as a reliever, ala Joba, there will be calls for Hughes to the pen. If Joba, in Scranton, was dominating as a starting pitcher (very likely) there would be calls for him to replace Hughes in the rotation. Guaranteed.

                  Yup.

                  Proving, once again, that the overwhelming majority of Yankees fans and Yankee-centric pundits/talking heads/reporters/opinionmakers are rank, unrepentant morons.

                  Which is why whenever someone says “But the fans will object to Roster Permutation X!” I respond with “Fuck the fans and fuck the media, they’re idiots.”

                • Steve H says:

                  Joba’s effect on Hughes is not a part of those two factors and so minor it can’t possibly trump those two important factors

                  Don’t disagree here, but there were more than two factors considered and in no way did I imply that it would trump other factors. To say that after months and months of discussions it only came down to two factors, with everything else they discussed thrown out is shortsighted.

                • radnom says:


                  To say that after months and months of discussions it only came down to two factors, with everything else they discussed thrown out is shortsighted.

                  I think you’re missing my point. ‘How can Joba best help the 2010 Yankees’ and ‘Where should Joba be this season so he will be in the best position to help the team going forward’ are only two “factors” yes, but are comprised of many different issues which are worthy of months and months of discussion. I’m sure there are hundreds of factors which come in to play here, but only factors falling under those two larger umbrellas having any real bearing on the matter. Outside issues don’t (or at least shouldn’t, in rational decision making) have any effect on the end decision unless they trump (or fall under the umbrella of) one of the main issues.

    • pete says:

      “Hughes might will struggle, Mitre probably-will-struggle will definitely suck horrifically,”

      fixed

  4. Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Uh, fool me–wuh–can’t get fooled again!

  5. pete says:

    Honestly, Hughes hasn’t had any really stellar outings this spring. He’s been pretty meh the whole time. He had a couple of nice 1-2 inning stints very early on, but has been giving up 3-4 runs every time out there since. Yet people keep finding ways to make it sound like he’s pitching better than he is. So the people who kept saying “the yankees need to stop making excuses with joba” are now making excuses for hughes. Got it.

    Honestly, it’s not that difficult to understand: in general, young pitchers suck for a while. You (i.e. the organization) simply have to deal with it, because if they have enough talent they won’t suck forever, and when they become good, they’ll be immensely valuable, since even if they are only pitching at league-average levels, they’ll be doing so at 1/10 the cost that a FA starter would demand to do the same thing.

    In other words, it’s really annoying the way everyone covering the team is making it sound like “well Hughes will be good this year, but he may or may not be an ace yet, but he certainly will be by next year”. NO. Who knows, maybe some time in the future, he’ll be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. But this year he won’t be. He’ll likely be VERY similar to joba last year, although the organization hopefully learned from Joba last year enough to avoid a similar implosion down the stretch, but nonetheless, expect inconsistency, expect short outings, expect command issues, and above all, expect 91, 92 mph fastballs that don’t always have good life.

    And it’s not because Hughes sucks. It’s because young pitchers suck, and Hughes is a young pitcher. In the end, though, it’ll have been worth dealing with Hughes sucking, because he’ll likely develop into a solid MLB starter, which, at a pre-FA salary, will give the Yankees considerable financial flexibility, since they won’t have to pay at least one back-end starter market value. But the writers/fans need to stop expecting so much out of young players. Because chances are, they’ll end up disappointed, and disappointment can lead to irrational thinking.

  6. Mike HC says:

    I am completely on board after seeing Hughes pitch the other day. He really did look like a level above Joba at this point in their development. It would be a crime not to put him in the rotation this year and see what he can do.

    The part I now disagree with is using Joba in the pen, assuming Marte, Robertson, Aceves, Chan Ho and Melancen do a solid job. Just because Hughes blew everyone away with his development last year and this Spring and overtook Joba, does not mean the Yanks should give up developing Joba as a starter. It does not have to be a one or the other thing. Joba should go to the minors as a starter and be the first pitcher to be called up if there is a need, whether in the rotation or in the bullpen (only if the entire pen is not doing well, not just for the last couple of guys in the pen).

  7. theyankeewarrior says:

    How about this:

    Hughes goes out and pitches like the beast that we’ve been waiting for him to pitch like since ’04.

    Joba returns to his late season ’07 self and makes the 2010 pen historically dominant.

    The Yankees win the World Series with a playoff rotation of CC, AJ, Andy and Javy and a pen of Mo, Joba, Hughes, DRod, Marte and Ace.

    Joba gets a second crack at starting in 2011 as the number 5 with a slight innings limit due to the year in the pen.

    He figures his shit out behind contract year CC, AJ, one of Andy or Javy and a dominating Phil.

    Bottom line: The Yankees have 5 spots for 6 guys. They aren’t the Pirates or the Brewers. They care about winning NOW. Phil looks the 5th best right now, so he’s starting. Joba looks the 6th best right now so he’s in the pen.

    Lets stop crying for our Nebraskanian Jack drinker/strike zone nibbler and embrace the fact that the 2010 Yanks have an awesome chance to repeat as MLB Champs.

    We can bitch and moan about Joba’s future if/when they put him in the pen again next season without giving him another crack at starting.

    • theyankeewarrior says:

      DRob***

    • Bottom line: The Yankees have 5 spots for 6 guys… Phil looks the 5th best right now, so he’s starting. Joba looks the 6th best right now so he’s in the pen.

      That’s where you lose me. That part is not correct, IMO. We don’t have 5 spots for 6 guys, we have SIX spots for 6 guys. That sixth spot is the Designated 6th Starter (caps added for emphasis) who opens the year in Scranton and comes up WHEN, not if, but WHEN he’s needed in the rotation.

      Joba starting the year in the Scranton rotation will, in all likelihood, mean that he pitches MORE innings for the 2010 Yankees big league club than Joba opening the year in the big league bullpen. Putting Joba in the pen not only messes with his development as a starter for 2011, it weakens the team THIS YEAR in 2010.

      They aren’t the Pirates or the Brewers. They care about winning NOW.

      Damn straight, the Yankees care about winning now. That’s why they signed Chan Ho Park, so that he could join the relief ace fivesome of Mo-Marte-Robertson-Aceves-Park, giving us a dynamite back end of the bullpen and allowing us to not have to panic, keeping both Joba and Hughes in the more important 5th and 6th starter roles where they belong and where they most help the 2010 Yankees.

      • theyankeewarrior says:

        I see your point, agree with the concept, but still disagree with the execution. Although several Yankee coaches have been quoted about this bullpen nonsense, I fully believe that if a freak injury occurs within the starting rotation, Joba will be the guy they go to. (if it’s long term) Cashman said that “he’s a starter in the bullpen” and he’s the one I trust, and believe.

        I agree that the 6th starter may end up pitching more innings/more important innings than the setup men, but technically, something has to go wrong first for that to happen.

        I think the Yanks want Joba to go through what Phil did last season. (Although he already did this in ’07) Go into the pen, attack hitters, learn from facing MLB talent, and get a bit of confidence back.

        Joe and Cashman don’t think Joba can learn from pitching every now and then in the bigs (i.e. spot starts + filling in when AJ or Andy’s elbow hurts them for a couple weeks)

        I think they want him to go back to the basics and gain some command on his fastball/slider. Then try the whole process over again in either February 2011 or later this season should something unforeseen happen.

        If nothing big happens, then Mitre makes some spot starts and Joba is used in high-leverage, late inning situations and can help Mo keep his 5000 year old shoulder fresh.

        As for Park, Ace, marte etc.? They’re quality pen arms but I think they need to prove themselves again each new season. Come June, they could each be All Stars or DFA candidates.

        • If you’re totally disregarding what the Yankees’ Pitching Coach– and Director of Scouting–not just any “several Yankee coaches”, as you put it, but possibly the 2 most important Yankee brass, after Casman himself– have said, and they directly said “Joba‘pen for the whole season“, then think about this:

          How long will it take to stretch Joba out, even if they were to do that, against everything that’s been said?

          Long enough to trash the rest of the ‘pen? Long enough to require too many starts/long relief appearances from Meattray and Chop?

          There comes a point of diminishing returns. When is that? The All-Star break? Mid-August?

          Think about it…

          • theyankeewarrior says:

            I’m not disregarding what they said, I’m choosing to believe Cashman #1 and my basic logic #2. How long would it take to stretch him out? Well seeing that Cashman and Co. have already released Gaudin and appointed Mitre at the 6th starter, I’m assuming that they trust him his ability to hold down the fort for as long as it takes to either:

            1) Get Joba ready
            2) Get another starter via free agency or trade

            When you consider their budget, the FA market and the prospects that they have already dealt, which of these two options makes the most sense to you after Mitre?

            I think that Joba would be the logical long term solution for starter #6 and in the meantime, I think the Yankees will be fine with a Mitre/Aceves type in the 5 hole, leaning on the rest of the starters and everyday players on their way to a division title.

            And I don’t understand the trashing the pen part…

            • Well, you see, this is where we differ, I don’t trust Mitre in the rotation for any length of time.

              I’ll happily eat my words if he proves me wrong.

              And I don’t recall reading where Cashman said anything about Joba coming out of the pen into the rotation this year. He only said “long term he’s still a starter”, IIRC.

              I think that Joba would be the logical long term solution for starter #6 — we agree, if “long term” means “this year”. I see him as a #5 starter, working his way higher in the rotation, truly long-term.

              And I don’t understand the trashing the pen part — you don’t think it will tax the ‘pen to have Joba slo-o-o-owly stretched out from a single-inning reliever to be a starter? Someone’s gotta pitch the extra innings he won’t be giving as a two-or-three- inning SP, and those innings from the ‘pen will be in addition to their regular workload.
              What happens if Hughes struggles at the same time, and only goes 2-or-so innings for consecutive starts?

              Although I suppose they would call someone up from the Minors in that situation, so perhaps it’s not a real concern. Then again, what if they do, and that pitcher struggles as well?

              which of these two options makes the most sense to you after Mitre? I’m not nearly as sanguine about acquiring top-shelf starters through free agency as I was a year ago. Teams seem to be locking up young starters now. But this is beside the point–we’re discussing whether Joba’s going to the pen is permanent this season, and whether his not being stretched out is a problem if they did change their minds and stretch him out as a starter in case of injury.

              Let me clarify here–I’m nowhere near jumping off a ledge. I’m happy that this is our biggest problem. I just would like to see Joba prepared to immediately fill in as a starter if an injury occurs, not least because it would ease my concerns about the organization’s long-term commitment to developing pitchers from within.

              • The Big City of Dreams says:

                “And I don’t recall reading where Cashman said anything about Joba coming out of the pen into the rotation this year. He only said “long term he’s still a starter”, IIRC.”

                Cashman unlike Eiland and Eppler didn’t completely rule it out. He didn’t say that joba would definitely be the guy but he did say they would have discussions and determine what to do next.

            • OK, I gotta go now, thanks for the conversation.

              • theyankeewarrior says:

                I had to run as well. I think that the worst case scenario right now is that Mitre makes a few terrible starts and gets DFA’d and Joba himself or someone else is forced to take over if there is an injury.

                If Joba was the “6th starter” an easy scenario would be that he rarely pitches against MLB hitters all season and when he does, his starts are spotty and unpredictable. This kind of situation would not be kind to a kid who nibbles at the strike zone and needs to re-learn how to approach batters and regain his confidence.

                I think keeping him in the pen allows him to be more aggressive with his stuff, regain his velocity, and have the potential to stretch out in AAA for a few weeks should something go wrong with a starter early on.

                I also think that this is a case where they know something we don’t about him. Cashman said he’s a starter in the bullpen and I think that for 2010, that may be what’s best for the team. We could find out otherwise should a could guys go down and he’s nowhere near ready, but he also could have been given the 5th spot and fallen on his face early on.

                I just trust Cashman’s judgment too much to question him right now.

                Think about it this way: He wants Joba to be a starter. He wants to be the guy who develops young studs. Why would he do something that hurts Joba after 3 years of grooming him? I think Cashman has a plan and this is just one of the steps.

                We’re just sighting what ifs here.

                • The Big City of Dreams says:

                  “I just trust Cashman’s judgment too much to question him right now.

                  Think about it this way: He wants Joba to be a starter. He wants to be the guy who develops young studs. Why would he do something that hurts Joba after 3 years of grooming him? I think Cashman has a plan and this is just one of the steps.”

                  hopefully so because there are a section of fans questioning what his plan for joba is right now. Even the fans that wanted joba in the pen are questioning whats going on right now.

                  It does seem like they want him to do what hughes did last yr the one problem is if he goes regain his 2008 relief form doesn’t it cement his future role on the team? I hope it’s not the case but even though cashman wants him as a starter it seems like the group that wants him in the pen are flexing their muscles more than ever. Thats the difference between hughes and joba no matter how great hughes was last yr a majority of the ppl never wavered on him starting or not

  8. mustang says:

    Well I see thing are still normal with the Joba/Hughes thing?

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