The Hughes-Huff Tandem: An unconventional solution to a big rotation problem

Yankees outright Jim Miller to Triple-A Scranton
Girardi held a "stern postgame meeting" following Sunday's loss
Half a rotation spot. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Half a rotation spot. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

For the first four or five months of the season, the pitching staff carried the Yankees. The offense was nonexistent and the guys on the mound had to do all the heavy lifting. That same pitching staff has faltered in recent weeks — Chad Jennings did a great job breaking down the rotation’s recent performance yesterday — perhaps because they’re running out of gas after having so little margin for error earlier in the year. I imagine having to throw something close to a shutout every five days can wear on a pitcher.

The Yankees did not acquire a starter at the trade deadline — they did try to acquire Dan Haren last weekend, but to no avail — so they have had to improvise down the stretch. Since CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte are locked into starting spots no matter what and Ivan Nova pitched more than well enough in July and August to remain in the rotation, Phil Hughes was the odd man out. And deservedly so, he’s been terrible all year.

Unfortunately, the alternatives weren’t all that great. David Phelps (forearm), Vidal Nuno (groin), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) were all hurt, leaving David Huff as the only option. He pitched well in a handful of long relief appearances against last place teams but got destroyed by the Red Sox in his only start, so the Yankees opted to put Hughes back in the rotation with a twist — he and Huff would work in tandem. We saw it against the Orioles last week and Joe Girardi indicated over the weekend the tandem would remain intact.

The whole idea of a tandem starter system is to limit each guy’s exposure. The Yankees are cool with Hughes and Huff going through the lineup once (or once and a half), but the second and third times through are a concern. This calls for some obligatory stats, so here is what Hughes has done each time through the order:

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG BAbip tOPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 130 1168 107 268 64 6 27 89 250 2.81 .254 .312 .402 .305 92
2nd PA in G, as SP 128 1116 144 270 53 3 44 83 204 2.46 .269 .329 .459 .294 110
3rd PA in G, as SP 119 765 116 196 41 1 38 54 124 2.30 .282 .334 .507 .292 123
4th+ PA in G, as SP 22 37 0 5 0 0 0 0 4 .135 .135 .135 .152 -26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/17/2013.

Now here is what Huff has done each time through the order:

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG BAbip tOPS+
1st PA in G, as SP 53 481 52 125 24 2 16 38 57 1.50 .287 .342 .462 .297 93
2nd PA in G, as SP 53 465 69 128 38 6 10 32 57 1.78 .303 .354 .492 .328 103
3rd PA in G, as SP 48 314 55 91 29 0 15 22 35 1.59 .314 .364 .569 .317 122
4th+ PA in G, as SP 7 20 3 5 0 0 2 4 2 0.50 .313 .450 .688 .250 171
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/17/2013.

This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison statistically. Going through the lineup the first time as a starter is different than doing it as a tandem starter. As a starter, you need to hold something back — usually the pitcher’s third pitch — to get through the lineup the second and third time. As a tandem starter, you can go all-out right out of the chute. There’s no reason to hold anything back because the other guy is coming out of the bullpen in an inning or two. It’s more of a reliever mentality and that would improve a guy’s performance, at least in theory.

The tandem starter idea sounds great on paper but it’s difficult to pull off most of the season because roster spots are limited. Using two pitchers to fill one rotation spot means either the bullpen or bench is going to be short. That isn’t an issue for the Yankees now because rosters are expanded, so Hughes and Huff can tag-team the fifth starter’s spot without leaving any other part of the team shorthanded. Girardi used each guy for three innings in Baltimore last week and the result was six combined innings of two-run ball, better than anything either Hughes or Huff could do on their own.

Now, the danger of using a tandem starter system is that you may be replacing an effective pitcher with an ineffective pitcher for no good reason. Who knows, maybe Hughes would have fired off five more scoreless innings had he stayed in the game against the Orioles. The more relievers you use in a game, the more likely you are to run into someone who just doesn’t have it that day, and that could be very costly. Same thing with the tandem starter system; the guy coming out of the ‘pen might be less effective than the guy who just left the game. That’s the risk.

Even though the Yankees were off yesterday and are off again next Monday, they can’t use the schedule to skip the Hughes/Huff rotation spot. If they could, I’m sure they would. The best they can do is push it back a day or two, but at this point they’re better off keeping everyone on turn to give the three veteran guys get an extra day of rest late in the season. By themselves, Hughes and Huff are obviously below-average big league starters. When smushed together in tandem system, they might actually be pretty good because they won’t have to go through a lineup multiple times. Considering the alternatives, it’s the best option the Yankees have.

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Yankees outright Jim Miller to Triple-A Scranton
Girardi held a "stern postgame meeting" following Sunday's loss
  • Eddard

    And now that BGDP is back they can go Hughes for 3, Huffer for 3, BGDP for 3. You want Huffer to pitch 2nd because the opposing team will have its LH lineup to face Hughes. Huff will either face that lineup or the other team will have to PH. It doesn’t matter because the season is over but it’s a good idea nonetheless.

    • mitch

      Yeah the lefty/righty mix is key. I agree it’s the best option at the moment. Maybe a Sabathia/Warren combo could be used as well? Kidding i think.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        There’s something to that. Sure. I don’t think you go three innings with Sabathia, but even he’s said he’s not pitching in a manner in which you leave him out there for seven/eight innings a start with the assumption that he’ll right his own ship over time this year. Having Warren up early both allows you this, may stop the potential bleeding if CC is off (and he’s been off often this year), and might give him a breather if this team pulls it off and is actually in a playoff run.

        • Eddard

          We’ve seen CC blow leads this year once he gets to the 5th inning on so this wouldn’t be a bad idea. Girardi would never do this with CC though because it would be a slap in the face. They need CC to rebound for the next few years and Hughes is gone at the end of the season so who cares how he feels.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            He’s pulling him earlier in games lately, though, and CC himself has said he deserves the short hook. I think it’s more likely to happen thank you think.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            Yea CC bouncing back is key.

            Also does anyone know how Pineda is progressing?

      • Rolling Doughnut

        Actually, it’s not a bad idea: For CC, sOPS+

        1PA 89
        2PA 117
        3PA 127

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Agree with you completely here, Mike. 12 games left. The team needs as solid a contribution from the back-end as it does from any other starter, ESPECIALLY if the front-end is pitching more like the ass-end as of late. Utilizing both, and a quick hook, stands a pretty decent chance of getting you through 5-6 innings and, most importantly, in the game. Something really only possible in September. The rest of the riffraff can handle mop-up duty.

    If BGDP looks ready to contribute, and I agree with you that he may not be, his presence could be huge here.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Also, Chad is the man.

    • The Big City of Dreams

      He is it’s just a shame he deals with a lot of stuff over there from one poster.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I don’t even look at the comments there unless someone here says “hey, take a look at this…”

        I’m purely reading for Chad. He’s definitely not there for opinion, but do think he gives a solid balance no matter.

        • The Big City of Dreams

          The comments aren’t really the problem because like ny other board/blog you positive and negative ones. It’s just ne poster that terrorizes everyone.

          I agree I like the way Chad lays everything out when it comes to the team.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I also love his approach to the farm system. He’s not getting caught up in what someone is putting up in the GCL.

            Are you referring to the commenter who made a cameo here over the weekend?

            • The Big City of Dreams

              True he more often than not just presents the info and lets it speak for itself.

              Not sure. Did the person expose family names of members on here or make threats??

              • Robinson Tilapia

                That actually happens over there? Yipes.

                Person claims to be female and name rhymes with “Misha.”

                • The Big City of Dreams

                  Yea it happens it stopped 3 yrs ago and then the guy came back doing the same thing.

                  Could be the same person because the individual has be banned but pops up with new multiples. Chad does his best to clean it up.

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    So this person would dig up info on screen names and post their real names? That’s….something.

                    This means a few guys here will have to legally change their names.

                    • The Big City of Dreams

                      Names of members, facebook accounts, deceased parents, children, even threatened Chad on a few occasions, etc.

                      Look at the number of posts in a blog post they used to top hundreds and still does on ocassion. Some members left as a result. Others left because of internal fighting. The Montero trade was debated on there for like 2 yrs straight. Each side taking digs at each other until it became personal. Think of it as a heated wrestling angle. Like when Raven and Dreamer went at it for like 2 yrs or Sabu against Taz. We’re talking that type of heat between the sides lol.

  • Adam T

    In the off-season the Yanks should seriously look into signing Ricky Nolasco. He’s an innings eater and will slot in as a number 3 starter. I read once that Cashman was interested in Nolasco. Pull the trigger. If you sign him and maybe Tanaka that could keep you afloat. I’m not sold on Nova, I like Phelps better. Maybe you can convince Kuroda to stay on as a mentor to Tanaka. CC has to straighten himself out, period.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I really like Nolasco, but I definitely think he’s a mid/back-end type in the AL East. He also is bound to get overpaid based on his LA performance. That screams trap contract to me right now.

      Fuck it. Go for broke. Go for Garza. Now that I’ve said it out loud, if it doesn’t get done, Cashman failed.

  • Robert

    Todays NY Post stated the Yanks did not renew the contract of a 72 yr old scout who had been with the organization 20 years.
    I wonder if all our scouts are as tenured as this scout was.

  • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

    It’s really pathetic that the NY Yankees even need to use a tandem-starter approach.

    • Improbable Island Guy on a Different Computer

      I don’t care about what looks pathetic. I care about results. It’s only pathetic when it doesn’t work.

      • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

        It’s pathetic period. How about we have a back-up plan next year?

        Yeah…I know…the back-ups are hurt.

        • Improbable Island Guy on a Different Computer

          That…didn’t work as a response to what I said?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Fifth starter is an issue for most teams. Sorry. If you don’t have to worry about your fifth starter, ever, throughout the course of the season, then you have a crazy deep rotation.

      • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

        Sure, fifth starters are usually question marks. That’s why it’s behooves a team to have a back-up plan.

        The Yankees’ back-up plan was Pineda…who was unlikely to provide any meaningful innings. Thus, we have a tandem-starter approach.

        • mitch

          They did have Phelps and Nuno as well. I think they went into the season with enough starting options. I don’t think Pineda was really part of the plan…more of a potential bonus.

          • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

            Given the precarious nature of the rotation…which featured CC (coming off elbow surgery), Kuroda (age), Pettite (age), Hughes (league average at best, batting practice pinata at worst) and Nova…the Yankees should have had more than Phelps and Nuno waiting in the wings.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Show me team with better eighth starters. Go.

              • jjyank

                Exactly.

                The team had a few question marks there, sure. But find me a team that has solid MLB starters that are in the 8-10 range on the depth chart. Find me even one team.

          • Chris in Maine

            This

          • jjyank

            Ding ding ding!

            Seriously. Nobody was all that worried about the pitching prior to the season, or even a few months ago. But when your 6th, 7th, and 8th starters get hurt/have setbacks, the 5th starter situation is going to get pretty dicey. For ANY team. You can blame the FO for some things, but not having a better 9th starter should not be one of them.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              You know where this is leading. This is all buildup to the same bullshit.

              “TEH YANKS SHOULD PREPARE 4 EVERY POSSIBILITY, INCLUDING BEING 10 STARTERS DEEP. IT DOESNT MATTER THAT NO ONE IN BASEBALL HAS DAT CUZ WE TEH YANKEES AND PAPA BEAR TOLD ME ANYTHING LESS THAN A CHAMPIONSHIP IS FAILURE CASHMAN FAILED.”

            • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

              Seriously. Nobody was all that worried about the pitching prior to the season, or even a few months ago.

              Except when everyone clamored to have Hughes taken out of the rotation mid-season because he stunk…and there were no internal options.

              So instead…we went out and got David Huff.

              And now we put them together and create Pluff!

              • Robinson Tilapia

                I assume you were this upset when they had to go get Small and Chacon halfway through the season.

                • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

                  When was that 2005?

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    Yes. How was that for you?

                    How were Dan Giese, Darrell Rasner, and Sidney Ponson for you? How was ROGER CLEMENS SITTING IN THE BOOTH OMGZ for you?

              • jjyank

                *sigh*

                It’s like arguing with a brick wall.

                • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

                  *huff*

        • MannyGeee

          The Yankees fifth starter plans were as follows:

          Phelps
          Nuno
          Pineda (eventually)
          Warren
          scrap heap pickup du jour (Huff)

          The Yankees are down to their 10th starter. It may have been a number of things, but lack of backup plans was nor it.

          • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

            Phelps- ok…I’ll give you he fits into the “contingency” cateogry
            Nuno- unknown… and not even on the radar at the beginning of the year…but ok…i’ll give you him too
            Pineda- coming off major shoulder surgery
            Warren- the long man out of the pen from virtually the beginning of the year…so it cannot be said he was a back-up plan (someone had to be the long man…so it was either he or Phelps)
            scrap heap du jour…well of course

            which means…the Yanks had 2 backups…with no prospects on the horizon

            thanks for this exercise which proves my point

            • jjyank

              You lack some major perspective here dude.

              • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

                I disagree…it’s not unreasonable for a baseball team to have greater than 7 sp’s options.

                Keep in mind…at the start of the season…not one of the Yankees deeper prospects below AAA were even contemplated to help the big club.

                So…it made it imperative to have a few more options.

                • jjyank

                  Actually, that is mildly unreasonable. Depth guys, by definition, are going to be unproven MiLB players, journeymen, and fringe MLB talent. Otherwise they wouldn’t sign a contract to languish in AAA if they were good enough to be in the Bigs. It’s not a hard concept, but one that is apparently escaping you.

                  Did the Yankees have the best depth out there? I’m sure not. Was it a reasonable amount of options? Yes, absolutely. They got some shit luck. If CC wasn’t having a bad year, Pineda didn’t have a setback, Phelps and Nuno didn’t get hurt, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. You’re asking the Yankees to prepare solid MLB options so far down the depth chart, it’s absurd. You know the kind of guy that pretty much ever team has down that far? David Huff.

                • Robinson Tilapia

                  So name me teams in baseball right now with the type of sixth and seventh starters you think are appropriate. I’m not even saying you can’t. I just want to hear them.

                  • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

                    St. Louis, Oakland, Cincinnati off the top of my head.

                    • Robinson Tilapia

                      Who are those back-up starters?

                      Also, let’s point out you mentioned three teams out of 30. Even if what you say holds up, NOT being one of those isn’t “pathetic” unless WE’RE TEH YANKEES.

                • Pat D

                  Prospects below AAA aren’t supposed to be contemplated to help the big club. That’s why they’re below AAA!

                  • Robinson Tilapia

                    I’m going to help him out and namedrop Jose Fernandez. Now pretend he said that and provide the appropriate follow-up.

                    • Pat D

                      That’s because the Marlins are run by the biggest con artist/idiot in the history of baseball.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Nuno was on the radar last season as someone could take the next step and wasn’t really a known quantity because he came out of an indy league and didn’t come through the system. Plucking those sort of guys is a legitimate way of finding talent.

              There is no hard and fast rule that a team HAS to have a long man. You can find mop-up guys rather easily. The team carried Chris Bootcheck in AAA for the majority of the season. This is what mop-up guys often look like. Discounting Warren on those grounds makes no sense.

              You decided on your argument and are now bending information in order to support it. Of course, everyone here knew this from your first comment.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          I don’t think that’s accurate. I think, as Mitch said below, they had other options.

          Actually, I’d argue that their fifth starter possibilities were deeper than several years in recent history.

          Also, much like your fourth-string shortstop often looks like Luiz Cruz off the waiver wire, what are backup fifth starter possibilities supposed to look like?

  • BFDeal

    Did Nuno’s groin fall off?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      He lent it to Ronnie Mustelier.

      • BFDeal

        I blame Stairs.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Stairs has enough groins for the entire team.