Can Phil Hughes re-emerge in the bullpen?


(AP Photo/ Bill Kostroun)

It appears the Yankees are getting a head start on their postseason roster construction. Earlier today ESPN NY’s Andrew Marchand reported that Phil Hughes will work out of the bullpen during the season-ending series in Tampa Bay this week, and will likely fill the same role in the playoffs. The decision further limits the Yankees’ options for Game 3 in the ALDS and then Games 3 and 4 in the ALCS. But it does present them with an intriguing addition to their already strong bullpen.

Hughes’s success in the bullpen is unfamiliar to no one. After an up-and-down start to the 2009 season, the Yankees moved Hughes to the bullpen, where he won the setup role on merit. Throughout that summer he decimated opponents, holding them to a .172/.228/.228 slash line while striking out 65 and walking just 13 in 51.1 innings. That earned him a spot in the rotation for 2010, and for a while he shined. Through his first 11 starts he had a 2.71 ERA and even through his first 23 he kept his ERA under 4.00. But a propensity to surrender home runs, plus an inability to put away batters with two strikes, doomed him to a mediocre finish.

After more of the same this year, perhaps it is time the Yankees moved Hughes back into the role in which he dominated two seasons ago. Many of his problems have stemmed from diminished stuff, whether it’s the cutter in general or the manner in which he loses velocity on his fastball throughout a start. A move to the pen could re-focus him on those aspects of his game that made him so dominant in 2009. There are no guarantees, of course, but it does seem as though he’d at least maintain a high fastball velocity while in the pen, which would solve one of this most glaring issues.

At this point, there seems to be no downside. There is little chance the Yankees would allow Hughes to start an ALDS game anyway, so placing him in the bullpen gives him a chance to contribute. There are still questions about the Games 3 and 4 starters, given the September performances that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have turned in. Having Hughes as something of a caddy will only help the bullpen absorb innings if one or both of them pitches poorly. If he does play the caddy and the Yankees advance, perhaps they would then consider him for a starting role in that round.

All of this we saw coming from miles away. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that the move didn’t come earlier, when the Yankees were trying to transition out of a six-man rotation. Hughes might not have been the weakest link, but his bullpen experience, combined with the Yankees unwillingness to remove A.J. Burnett from the rotation, made him the obvious candidate. Now it will happen, and just in time for some big performances. They won’t need him in the later innings, since those are well covered by David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. But one more arm in the bullpen, especially one who can throw multiple innings, might be a boon this October.

Categories : Pitching


  1. CountryClub says:

    I’d prefer he start game 3, but that obviously isn’t going to happen. I expect his velocity will bump up to 94/95 and that he’ll be succesful in his limited role.

    • Jesse says:

      Same here, I’d take him over Garcia in game 3, easy. It won’t happen, but oh well. And like Joe said, if Colon or Garcia have a meltdown in the playoffs, Hughes can caddy them and if he performs well he could start in the next series if they were to advance.

      • FIPster Doofus says:

        Hughes over Garcia? Funny.

        • Jesse says:

          Garcia over Hughes? Stupid.

          • FIPster Doofus says:

            Have you watched baseball this season?

            • Jesse says:

              Actually I have. Have you seen power pitchers in the postseason have more success over pitchers who don’t throw as hard?

              • FIPster Doofus says:

                Way to generalize. Just because Hughes throws harder than Garcia doesn’t mean he’s better. Garcia has blown Hughes out of the water this season, and that’s a fact. Ergo, Garcia – who has been dependable all year – deserves to start over a guy who has been godawful from the get-go this season.

                • Jesse says:

                  Ok but when Garcia blows up in Game 3 don’t come crying to me saying that you wanted Hughes to start instead. And btw, I remember you saying that you wanted Colon to start game 3 not to long ago…

                  • FIPster Doofus says:

                    Game 2, actually.

                  • Xstar7 says:

                    I don’t think anybody will be complaining that they wanted Hughes to start instead of Garcia…..

                    And Bartolo Colon has nothing to do with the fact that Hughes is both injured and has been pretty ineffective this season. Phil Hughes is Phucked up.

                  • Ted Nelson says:

                    Things change… Colon has given up 4 or more ERs in 5 of his last 7 starts. Until then he had a 3.3 ERA on the season… through the last 7 starts his ERA is over 6.

                    You look foolish insisting Hughes is better for a playoff start than Garcia. Absolutely foolish. You can express it as your opinion… but Hughes hasn’t pitched since 9/12 and had an ERA of 6.64 in his last 4 starts prior to that.

                    And you are ignoring a lot of good pitchers by saying only power pitchers succeed in the playoffs. Plenty of veteran pitchers sit in the 80s and do alright in the playoffs. Plenty of hard-throwing starters get whopped in the playoffs.

                    If you throw hard and pitch well… then yes, you will usually have more success. That doesn’t tell us which of the throwing hard or pitching well is more important. To say CC Sabathia is successful because he’s a power pitcher, for example, ignores that he’s a really good power pitcher.

              • FIPster Doofus says:

                BTW, power pitcher Hughes had such great success in the ALCS last year: 8.2 IP, 11 ER, 7 BB, 6 K’s.

                Hughes has been trending downward since the second half of last season, so power or no power, he doesn’t deserve a playoff start as of now.

          • Ted Nelson says:

            Yeah, because Hughes has been so effective and all…

  2. art vandelay says:

    like you said its unsurprising. even though he’s what 25 ? i have a feeling this is his future anyway. the only downside is hes going to start getting expensive in a few years.

    lets just hope whoever pitches game 3 can just 5 innings.

    hughes sorian robertson mo. game.

  3. Yank The Frank says:

    It’s too bad terh Yankees didn’t send Phil to Tampa before the games on Sunday. He’d be rested and ready to back up Hector tonight.

  4. Tiny Tim says:

    Phil Hughes will re-emerge in the bullpen because that’s where he belongs. In Phil’s first season as a MLB starter he started off strong and then wilted away down the stretch and if you’re looking for guys to blame for last year’s ALCS loss, Phil is at the top.

    This season after pitching so many innings he got a dead arm and has never regained his velocity except in 1-2 inning spurts. The bullpen gives him the chance to gun it up to 95-96 and blow hitters away. Hughes, Joba, and Robertson will anchor 7-8-9 for years to come.

  5. Thomas Cassidy says:

    I wish Hughes the best, but he just fucking pisses me off because he can’t stay healthy. I expect him to be traded this offseason.

    Weren’t there reports that he is a lazy fuck anyway?

  6. DB says:

    I don’t really have a problem with it. The only question I have is, does this mean they are going to go with a 3-man rotation throughout the playoffs? That would make the most sense because if not then whoever starts Game 3 would line up to start Game 7. I would rather have CC go in 1-4-7. I suppose a 4th starter could go in game 5 to avoid possibly pitching Nova on short rest. My concern is with the way AJ pitched yesterday and how poorly Colon and Garcia pitched I could see AJ now getting a start in the postseason before Hughes which I think would be a mistake. Yesterday Michael Kay seemed to believe that AJ’s performance was enough to get him a spot on the roster, which I hope is not going to be true.

  7. Hughesus Christo says:

    Glad to see everyone is on board the “burn young starters” train.

    Even if you think Hughes is a 4 or 5 (I don’t), this is a terrible move long term–making the assumption you seem to be making. Are we going to have a 100 million dollar rotation? Find Colons every year? Let’s get real.

    • JobaWockeeZ says:

      Eh if they fuck up Betances, Banuelos, Warren, Noesi and Nova then I’d be concerned.

    • Jorge says:

      It’s the playoffs. Time to calm down. This has no effect on what role he’ll be in next year.

      • B-Rando says:

        see: Joba Chamberlain.

        He shined in the pen, and just like Phil now, the temptation is always there to put him back in that role.

        I’m not saying he is a reliever forever, but to say his success (or failure) in the bullpen has no effect on his role next year seems a bit shortsighted.

    • MattG says:

      How does pitching out of the bullpen for four weeks “burn young starters?” Everyone wants to blame management for Joba and Hughes not becoming stars. Well, it seems to me each had a couple of opportunities. Maybe they should pitch better?

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Personal responsibility… what a novel concept.

      • Mike Axisa says:

        Nothing about Joba as a starter suggested he couldn’t do it long-term. His performance was certainly not an issue.

        • Guns of the Navarone says:

          The Yankees sure thought it was an issue.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Yankees baseball people are on record disagreeing with you. Perhaps you are right, but I wish you’d allow for the possibility that they are right. That these people who do this for a living and work for the most successful organization in American pro sports might have some idea what they’re doing.

          • Mike Axisa says:

            He made 34 “normal” starts from 2008-2009, meaning starts that were full blown 100 pitch outings, not cut short due to innings.

            189.1 IP
            8.6 K/9
            4.0 BB/9
            8.8 H/9
            0.9 HR/9
            3.80 ERA

            At 23 years old in the AL East. I always defer to the team because they have more info than I, but they better have some damn good inside info. If that’s not good enough to stay in the rotation, then they might as well stop drafting starting pitchers since they’re going to have sign them all as free agents anyways.

            • The Big City of Dreams says:

              *Wipes tear*

              Ahhhh boy what could have been…..what could have been. Hopefully the next batch of kids work out.

            • Ted Nelson says:

              I’m not so sure about using short starts as an excuse. Joba was really struggling in his 3 starts prior to that and his season ERA was already at 4.34. It’s just as likely he would have done worse in extended starts late in 2009 as it is he would have done better.

              His FIP was above 4.45 all but one month of 2009, when it was 4.19. He dominated in June and July of 2008… but the Yankees are also on record saying his stuff was not the same after he got hurt in Texas… and that bears out in the stats. Hopefully he comes back from TJS and is that same pitcher, but he wasn’t really in 2009 and 2010.

              • The Big City of Dreams says:

                I’m not so sure about using short starts as an excuse.


                Why not ppl use every excuse in the book when it comes to Hughes.

    • Ed says:

      We’re talking about moving him to the bullpen on September 26th, after a season full of injuries and ineffectiveness. Best case, he had one start remaining in the regular season. If it went really well, maybe he’d be the #4 starter in the playoffs. More likely, he was going to end up in the bullpen in the postseason anyway.

      What little is left of the season isn’t going to have any meaningful impact on his future, so just stick him in the role that helps the team most now and then figure out next season during the offseason.

  8. Jorge says:

    Back issues at the end of the season probably sealed that deal. Get in the best shape of your life and get ready to start next season, Phil, and we’ll go from there. Better and worse pitchers have pitched out of the bullpen in the playoffs before.

  9. NYYROC says:

    I was hoping PH would get a PS start but given the season he’s had I can understand a move to the BP. Long term however it would be very short-sighted. The 2012 BP will probably consist of Soriano, DRob, Mo and maybe Joba. Where would PH pitch, the oh so valuable 6th inning or long relief?
    He has had a bad year not beacuse he’s a bad SP but because he had a bad shoulder.
    People talk about him tailing off in 2010. During a postgame late in the summer of 2010 I remember him saying he knew he had become a 1 speed (FB & cutter) pitcher. He knew he needed off speed stuff. He said that was something he’d work on for 2011. With his shoulder he never really got the chance.
    He seems like a smart guy and I’m sure he’ll work on conditiong and stuff to prepare for what will probably be his last chance to be a SP for the NYY, in 2012. Give him another shot next year. There should be openings in the rotation.

    • Jesse says:

      He actually has used his off-speed stuff more. He’s used his change up 6.6% of the time this season compared to 3.5% last season. Also, he’s used his curve 21.7% of the time whereas he used his curve 16.5% of the time. Who knows, maybe he’s maturing as a starter.

      And on the Phil Hughes weight front: I would be shocked if he didn’t come into camp next year in much better shape. Next year is a make or break year for him, and if he has another bad year he could see the door.

  10. CMP says:

    If AJ starts in the postseason and lays an egg like he did last year and it costs them a series, I really hope Cashman and Girardi both get fired.

    • gc says:

      So you would rather have Hughes start in his place. Even though he laid an egg in the ALCS last year too. Gotcha.

      • CountryClub says:

        Yes, I’d rather have Hughes. AJ has been one of the 5 worst pitchers in all of baseball for 2 full seasons. He is what he is.

        • gc says:

          The success or failure of the Yankees in the post-season this year will rest FAR more on the arms of CC, Freddy and Nova then on their 4th starter, whether it’s AJ Burnett, Bartolo Colon, or Phil Hughes.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Phil Hughes has been awesome this season, though!

    • David, Jr. says:

      What if AJ starts and pitches well, but CC and Nova implode. Who should be fired?

    • gc says:

      Last time I checked, you have to lose more than one game to lose a series. They’ll probably go with three starters in the division series, with AJ most likely not being one of them. If he gets a start at all, it will probably be only one starts and it would be in the ALCS. If he pitches poorly, he won’t get another shot. Plus, it’s only one game and other starters would have had to have pitched poorly as well (or just not good enough) to contribute to an ALCS series loss. So I’m not sure how blaming Cash and Joe for starting AJ would make much sense. Nova, Freddy and CC will all have more of a hand in Yankee postseason wins and losses this year than AJ will. And if he somehow pitches WELL (which actually would not surprise me, I think I may be the only one), then will you be as quick to give the guy credit? Or praise the manager and general manager for sticking with him? Somehow I doubt it.

  11. Brian S. says:

    I knew Huse was going to end up in the bullpen for the playoffs, but I would prefer that he start next season. And if they really wanted him to work as a relief pitcher to end the season, why wasn’t he used last night? /still bitter

  12. Guns of the Navarone says:

    We’ll see how he looks… I don’t think anyone can assume Hughes will magically revert back to his dominant performances of 2009 in the pen, throwing 95-96mph. He’s been injured all season with arm fatigue and now back problems.

    I just want the kid to stay healthy. If he doesn’t look good out of the pen there’s no need to push him. Hector Noesi is perfectly suitable for the role of caddy out of the pen, IMO.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      Agreed. Motion is different. Short-arms the heck out of the ball. I can’t see him hitting 95 with that motion… but we’ll have to see.

  13. LarryM.,Fl. says:

    Phil to the bullpen is the logical move. His placement in the bullpen will allow for an early hook of any pitcher other than CC. With a strong bullpen, the starters can give it their best shot, just keep us in the game, leave no gas in the tank maybe Freddie hits 88 on the gun or Colon hits 95/96. They get gassed in come the bullpen guys. We don’t have a rotation comparable to the Phils but we do have one heck of a bullpen. Their are many ways to win a game and the Yanks can take the alternate route with a decent starting staff and outstanding bullpen.

    As far as 2012 Phil needs Jennie Craig program or a telephone hookup to Andy P. 2010 innings plus poor conditioning, weight and legs may have caused a dead arm. There must be someone who can impress upon Hughes that he needs to dedicate himself during the off season to conditioning.

    • Monteroisdinero says:

      This. Phil can be effective in the bullpen in one way and one way only- by keeping us in the game should one of our starters get hosed in the first 3 innings. He wouldn’t be used in the last 3 innings I would assume.

  14. Frank says:

    He belongs in the BP. Right now, his pitching repertoire just isn’t good enough to be a starter. A straight FB and a half decent curve just isn’t good enough to get through a powerful lineup 2-3 times. He needs to improve significantly on his secondary pitches.

  15. FachoinaNYY says:

    So long as he still gets a shot at the rotation next year, where I fully expect he will have a bounce back year, I am 100% happy with this move.

  16. Jonathan says:

    I’d be more likely to want AJ in the bullpen than Hughes. AJ could throw upper 90s in short bursts most likely and actually has a good secondary pitch, unlike Hughes. What’s more appealing? Mid to upper 90s with a nasty hook or low to mid 90s without another quality pitch. My guess is that since Hughes excelled in the pen in the past and AJ hasn’t really been there before. I think Mike has already laid out the reasoning why you’d expect AJ to pitch well out of the pen and Hughes over AJ doesn’t make any sense to me.

    • Guns of the Navarone says:

      Because AJ goes through stretches where he can’t throw it in the ocean. It’s one thing to come out throwing mid 90′s with a good curve, but you also have to be able to throw them for quality strikes.

      • Jonathan says:

        Many relief pitchers have trouble throwing strikes. That’s a main reason for them moving to the pen. Soriano and Robertson both walk too many but are highly effective relievers. Great stuff with poor command vs average stuff and average command….at least AJ has a chance to have command…Hughes may get a jump up in velocity but that cutter and curve will never be good pitches this year.

    • Ted Nelson says:

      AJ might actually start a game… so this might be exactly AJ over Hughes. Or it might be both to the pen. I would guess some of it depends on Colon’s last start, but the guy has allowed 4 or more ERs in 5 of his last 7 starts.

  17. djyank says:

    for the division series



    so i guess ayala misses the cut?
    too many starting pitchers in the pen?

  18. toad says:

    Girardi has to be ready to give the starters, especially Colon and Garcia, a quick hook – much quicker than in the regular season. So he needs someone who might pitch 3-4 effective innings and give the offense time to catch up. Seems like a reasonable slot for Hughes.

  19. Nom Chompsky says:

    I read a report stating that Phil Hughes has been smoking cigars non-stop and living almost entirely off of Chipotle burritos. If this is accurate, he might acquire the grunt and fart mentality necessary for bullpen success.

  20. Steve says:

    No, I don’t think he can. I don’t think he’s that good – for some reason people think the pen is a place where miracles occur. All of a sudden he’s going to stop making bad pitches, bad decisions? He still has one pitch – and it’s not like his FB is that good anymore. Even pitchers who throw very hard get hammered if their FB is straight. It really doesn’t matter, though. Phil will be used in low leverage situations – he just won’t be an impact player IMO

  21. Steve says:

    I don’t see any way he throws 95-96 in the pen and when he did in 2009, he was awful…I don’t trust him at all in big spots

  22. Steve says:

    Yeah, he was awful in 2009 post-season…..and awful last year except for a game against a Twins team that was done.

    But even if we forget all that, I just don’t see how the pen is going to transform him into more than what he is. However, as Steve Goldman said on his blog, this decision really means we won’t be seeing Hughes until the team is losing so it’s not that big of a deal.

  23. Alibaba says:

    Since Pettitte, we have not been able to make a good starter out of any pitching prospect. Tampa, on the other hand, made almost all their good pitching prospects into good starters.

    Is it the pressure in NY? Is it mishandling? (Joba was.) Or a combination of both?

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