Monday, January 25, 2010

What To Do About Hughes and Chamberlain

As it presently stands the Yankees have four very strong starters. In 2009, what will be the top four in their rotation combined for 61 wins (15.25 per), 131 starts (none lower than 32), 851 innings (212.75 per, only Pettitte didn’t top 200 IP, and he was at 194.2), a 3.54 ERA, and 778 strikeouts (194.5 per). Based on 2009, this is just ridiculous. If the Yankees were to get anything close to this again, especially in terms of health, what they do with their fifth starter will not be ultra-important for the 2010 club.

However, past success does not guarantee future success. Especially in terms of health, and especially when three of those starters are coming off of World Series workloads (which as I’ve documented has not been a good thing the following year recently). So not only should the fifth starter be an important decision, but so too should the sixth. This is even more true when your best options for those two roles are your two best young arms that you have brought along as starters, and have taken many steps to accommodate them as such along the way. So as I begin my campaign here for Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes to both begin 2010 as starters, I want to reiterate that this opinion exists for two reasons: first, to best serve the 2010 Yankees, and second, to best serve two young and talented arms moving forward.

As Spring Training begins the top two candidates for the fifth starter role will be Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Whether there will be an actual competition is anyone’s guess. The Yankees may very well already have a decision that they think one of them is best suited to be in the bullpen based on all the data they have accumulated. I wouldn’t agree with this – I don’t think 28 starts for Hughes across three seasons and 42 for Joba across two, especially given all the circumstances and limitations that have arisen and been put on them, is enough to make any determinations, and I think they should be given every chance to start since they have both proven they can go back to the bullpen if it doesn’t work out – but I would be okay with this in relation to continuing to yank one or both of them around between the bullpen and the rotation.

These two need to continue to start if they are going to become starters. Of that I am almost positive. And I think they have both shown enough to have earned that right. On August 29th of last season, four months and 25 starts into the season, Joba was 7-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Only four pitchers in the AL East finished the season with a lower ERA. Joba clearly didn’t finish at that level, but that’s not the point. The point is that he was that productive that late into the season, no matter what the final numbers say. He started to fall off about when he passed his innings limit and had restrictions put on him. Whether either of those things had an impact I have no idea. But I know I saw a pretty good starter for four months. Hughes hasn’t quite had a run like that, but he also hasn’t been given as much opportunity, and when he has actually has shown as much or more dominance at times than Joba has in short spurts of starts.

As I mentioned before, I also believe it is best for the 2010 Yankees for both, not just one, to be prepared as starters right from the beginning of the season. So since I think it’s better for both the team and the players, I don’t want to see either of them spend any time in the bullpen early in the season. If the top four starters are healthy at the beginning of the season, the one between Joba and Hughes that seems more prepared to contribute at the Major League club at that time is the fifth starter. The other goes to AAA to take regular turns in the rotation and to be ready for when a potential need with the big league club pops up. I understand the argument against this is that AAA hitters may not challenge them, and that they are helping the Yankees short-term by being in the bullpen. To me neither of those things trumps them not only developing individually but again, being ready if and when the Yankees need a starter. That’s not only potentially good for the short-term, but almost certainly for the long-term as well. They’ve brought them to this point and should give them a chance to finish the process and do the job. And if it doesn’t work, you can always send one or even both back to the bullpen. Even if it does work for the first six months of 2010, they both hopefully get there starts/innings and if they aren’t needed to start one, or again both, can go to the bullpen late in the season or if the Yankees make the playoffs.


the gm at work said...

The first paragraph here details some mind-boggling figures. Four starters with 32+ starts. That means that the number of Sergio Mitre/Aaron Small starts were completely minimized. Seven by Hughes, nine by Mitre and former AL wins leader Wang, six by Gaudin, and one by Aceves. So it was 32+ starts by each of the top four starters and 32 starts by anyone else.

As we have discussed in this space earlier, Tampa did the same thing in 2008.

I think a good moral of the story is: If you're throwing guys like Paul Byrd into a lot of starts, you have some problems with your team. If you can keep your top four guys healthy all season, you're in good shape.

PF said...

Gm -

You are absolutely correct on your theory. However, as I tried to allude to in the first few sentences, the 2009 numbers for those starters were not all with the yankees as vazquez was with the braves. You have to swap chamberlain for vazquez to get what the 2009 top four did, where I was looking at what the 2010 top four did. Interestingly, it would be almost unchanged in terms of starts, as joba made 30 to vazquez's 32. However, every other number would be worse. The overall numbers would still be pretty good, just not nearly as good as they look right there.

Your thoughts on potentially sending one of hughes/chamberlain to AAA, where although they may not be challenged and will not be immediately be helping the big league club, will be developing as starters and not be yanked around from the bullpen to the rotation and vice versa abd all over again?

the gm at work said...

Don't see it happening. If it were to make sense for either of them, it would be Hughes, as he has still not had a full season under his belt yet, he has had more health problems that may be exacerbated by doing the eighth inning one night and a start the next week, and he is younger. But do teams really want to do what the Red Sox did to Clay Buchholz last year, have him light up AAA and get no promotion? Hughes has accomplished more at the major league level than Buchholz as well, so I really don't see that happening. An interesting idea, but probably not a good one.

Patrick said...

but remember that by buchholz not getting a promotion, at least he was starting. i'm not sure starting in AAA and lighting it up is any worse for your development than relieving in the major leagues (and lighting it up by the way). yes, you are helping the big league club in that instance. yes, you are also on the big league club. yes, you are also being challenged by major league hitters. but then at some point you have to be transitioned back to being a starter, and i don't think that back and forth helps at all. to me it's not about where they start, it's just that they start. i'm not at all surprised that you don't think it will happen, but i am surprised you think it's probably not a good idea.

the gm at work said...

What can I say--I think mowing down Grazy Sizemore in the eighth is more of a helpful thing OVERALL for the team and the player than striking out Joey Gathright, Chris Carter, Jeff Bailey, and Crash Davis three times a night in Scranton. Remember, when Ian Patrick Kennedy was brought up to the major leagues and got shelled, it was his first bad start since...his previous start in the major leagues.

I say definitely not for Chamberlain, but maybe for Hughes given his durability issues.

Anonymous said...

"However, past success does not guarantee future success."

Pat I am excited for you because for the first time in your life you have acknowledged this common sense truth.

As a whole I really like this post. First, you need to have 6 starting pitchers, if not more, to make it through the season. Last season in spring training the sox thought they had a plethora of arms but by the end of the year they had trouble piecing together the rotation. In a given season, 6 might not even be enough.

Also liked how you said that there should be a legitimate competition in spring training- there has not been enough evidence for either player to be making your mind up right now.


Patrick said...

gm -

there is no question that what will be best for the yankees on opening day if the rotation is healthy is for one of hughes or chamberlain to be in the bullpen instead of AAA. but, what about what bandi said about needing at least six starters (which i couldn't agree with more)? sure, the yankees have chad gaudin who is very serviceable. but after that, you're in mitre territory, and that's not a place you want to be. so while you might be serving the club's present needs, what about 4 months into the season if they are in need of another starter? would you rather have someone with legitimate upside ready to go? or just rely on typical filler guys? i'd rather have the guy with legitimate upside. that becomes more difficult if you start either of them in the bullpen than if they are used to starting all year.

what's more, i also think it's better for hughes and chamberlain as individuals to be starting. doesn't matter who against. just starting. taking a turn every five days, throwing innings, being used to working through a lineup 3-4 times. these are things you just cannot learn in the bullpen. there is also the matter of what going back and forth between starting and relieving - two very different styles of pitching - does to your body. you're a runner gm. what if every few months you had to go from running marathon's to running the 100? it's an extreme example, but they are not all that different. it's the difference between blowing it out with everything you have for a very short stretch, knowing it will be over in a hurry, and having to build up stamina to make sure you have something in your tank at the end of the game/race. i think both hughes and joba just need to get used to doing this consistently. neither of them has had a healthy full season where they assumed one role for the entire season since 2006. 2006! that just can't be good for their development.

bandi -

to reiterate, couldn't agree more with you point. you need at least 6 starters, and in a competitive al east the more of those that are legitimate and not just fillers the better. having a bunch of over the hill guys, journeymen, or swing men as the only safety valve after the first five starters is not going to get it done. they should be the back-up plan. in my opinion, the back-up plan does not start after the fifth starter. the sixth, and maybe seventh, starter should be part of the plan. i understand that for most teams this is not reasonable. but for the yankees and red sox it is. having a legitimate 6th starter option (preferably of the young and cheap variety) is something that will almost certainly come into play during the season to help your club. having a somewhat reliable 7th starter doesn't hurt either.

also agree on spring training competition. i don't think it should be the only factor - you have to take everything into account, as spring training can skew some things - and i also don' think you want to let it get out of control - with guys thinking they have to hurt themselves to win a spot. that's not good for anybody. but i do think making sure people know, as i'm sure joe girardi will because i actually heard him say so on yankees' hot stove last night on YES, that spring performance matters in a very serious way is important, because you want guys to be motivated and you want guys to compete. handing jobs to people or simply feigning that spring training performance matters is not going to bring guys into camp in the best physical shape or with the best mental mindset possible. you need to provide some incentive and a big part of that is following through and rewarding guys who do show up in that kind of shape both physically and mentally and perform, because that sets the tone for others when they see hard work will actually be rewarded, not just encouraged with no reward.

Ross Kaplan said...

You can never have too many starters so the fact that we're having this discussion is a very good thing. At worst, concerns that Joba or Hughes won't get enough big league experience or innings is ancillary. I wouldn't mind seeing Joba and Hughes alternating starts, but that of course means a situation where these guys are pitching only once every 10 days and G-d forbid if either of them make relief appearances in between starts.