Hey Yankee fans, wanna hear a funny joke? Since being called up, Joba Chamberlain leads David Phelps in innings-pitched: 3.1 – 1. Apparently the Yankees brass has decided that their Guy Who Can’t Start needs more innings than their Guy Who Might Have to Start on a Moment’s Notice In Case of Injury.
Not that I am here to complain about Joba’s usage, mind you – I’m happy that he’s seeing some extended relief work. This is all about Phelps, or, more precisely, the lack of Phelps. I am ready to say he should replace Nova for the time being. Two weeks ago, I believed he should have replaced Freddy Garcia. A month ago I believed he shouldn’t have been called up from AAA if the Yankees weren’t going to give him innings (and they haven’t). The common theme here is that David Phelps needs an opportunity to pitch, somewhere, in competitive baseball games.
I think we can all agree that Phelps profiles as a starter long-term and not as a reliever. To maximum his value for the club, either as a future Yankee or as a future trade chip, he must be allowed to start games and build innings. Right now Phelps is at 70 innings between the majors and minors. We’re getting to the point where his lack of innings this season might affect the number of innings he can throw next season – we’ve been down that road before, and it ain’t pretty.
If we think of Phelps as a starter going forward, the Yankees can use him in one of three ways for the rest of this season:
- They could decide he is of immediate benefit to the Yankees’ starting rotation, and use him to replace Nova or Garcia. I for one wouldn’t mind sending Nova down for a few starts. He’s lost 6 of his last 8 starts. He hasn’t been helping the team of late, and Girardi can’t exactly pull the “veteran” card that he loves to use with Garcia. Also, Nova is most likely a part of the Yankees’ plans going forward - let him get his act together down in AAA, and give Phelps a few more big league starts to see what he can do.
- They could decide that his importance to the 2012 bullpen outweighs his development as a starter. At first blush, this might seem to be what the Yankees are doing with Phelps at the moment, but Girardi’s usage of Phelps over the past few weeks hasn’t exactly screamed “essential reliever.” Phelps has been brought in six times since his promotion, and five of those times the Yankees were behind. The only other time Phelps has pitched was the 10th and 11th inning of that extra-inning loss to the A’s in Oakland…and we all know that the 10th inning of a tie game on the road is every manager’s excuse to send in the long man. Leaving out the concept of the long man for a second – and the Yankees haven’t really needed a long man this season, since their starters have been averaging 6.2 innings per start – Phelps lacks the kind of wipeout swing-and-miss pitch that would help him thrive in a relief role. His strengths are command and control of multiple pitches – kind of like a poor-man’s Ian Kennedy. The Yankees seem to believe this, which is why they aren’t giving him high-leverage relief innings. The question then becomes: why have Phelps in the bullpen at all? Why not…
- Send Phelps to AAA to start. Build up his innings, both for next year and in case of injury or ineffectiveness in the Yankees’ rotation.
Personally, I’d be down for either 1 or 3. But the Yankees’ moves so far has led me to believe that Phelps will continue to be buried in the bullpen. Do they have no faith in Phelps as a started, or are they simply short-sighted?