Phil Hughes For Fifth Starter

Plenty of ink will be spilled between the time this article is published and by the time Joe Girardi finally makes his decision, so I'm going to get my obligatory piece out of the way. The Yankees need to select Phil Hughes as their fifth starter for the 2012 season.

My opinion is seemingly baseless, as Freddy Garcia outperformed Hughes in every single pitching metric you can think of last season. Take a look:

Innings Pitched

WAR

ERA

FIP

xFIP

K%

BB%

HR/9

GB%

Phil Hughes

74 2/3

0.7

5.79

4.58

4.90

14.1%

8.1%

1.08

32%

Freddy Garcia

146 2/3

2.2

3.62

4.12

4.36

15.3%

7.2%

0.98

36.4%

Numbers from fangraphs.com

Garcia threw nearly twice as many innings, had a lower ERA/FIP/xFIP, struck out a higher percentage of batters, walked a fewer percentage of batters, allowed less homers, and induced a higher percentage of ground balls than Phil Hughes last season.

So why on earth would I take Hughes over Garcia?

Freddy Garcia was a nice surprise in 2011, and the Yankees rewarded him with a $4MM contract with incentives. However, Garcia will be entering his age-35 season and has had some trouble staying healthy over the last five years. Due to his injury history, it is worth wondering how much he has left in the tank. Additionally, it is also worth mentioning that prior to 2011, 2010 was the first time since 2006 that Garcia threw more than 100 innings in a season. Is his arm capable of throwing ~150 innings in 2012?

Outside of the possibility of injury, Garcia was a bit lucky in 2011, as indicated by his pitching triple slash line. Though Garcia sported a sparkling 3.62 ERA, his 4.12 FIP didn't support that, and further, neither did his 4.36 xFIP. Additionally, though his 3.62 ERA translated to an 86 ERA-, his 4.12 FIP translated to a 99 FIP-, meaning Garcia was very average in controlling what he is able to control: strikeouts, walks, and home runs.

Phil Hughes certainly had his difficulties in 2011, and there's no denying that. However, Hughes is under team control for a year longer than Garcia, meaning he could be in the team's plans looking ahead, and though Garcia has the higher floor, Hughes offers more upside.

According to the Bill James projections on fangraphs, Hughes is expected to post a 3.71 ERA and a 3.81 FIP, more than half a run lower than Garcia's expected 4.25 ERA and 4.43 FIP.

Additionally, Hughes is the former top pitching prospect in baseball, but his potential has yet to showcase itself on the mound for a sustained amount of time as a starting pitcher. However, Hughes is finally healthy, spent the offseason training at Athletes' Performance Institute, and showed that he was still a capable pitcher in 2011, as a he posted a 4.55 ERA* and a 3.81 FIP* as a starter after he returned from his DL stint. Notice how the James projections match Hughes' post-injury performance?

Finally, Hughes doesn't need to be spectacular. Unless you're expecting better, Garcia should only be a 1.7-2.2 WAR pitcher in 2012, barring injury or a complete loss of ability. With that said, wouldn't you rather take a risk with a pitcher who is capable of more than just 2 WAR? Even if he doesn't reach that level, due to Garcia's low ceiling, there would not be much of a net loss in wins.

Even though Garcia was better than Hughes in 2011, I'll take my chances with the upside of a 25-year-old former top prospect who is finally healthy over the low upside, average performance of the 35-year-old starter.

*I'm pretty sure these are correct, but I calculated them by hand, so if anyone has different numbers, post them.

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