Advocates for David Phelps must be pretty bummed at the news that Michael Pineda has beat him out for the fifth spot in the Yankees' rotation. Both pitchers were brilliant this spring, but in the end Phelps' versatility proved to be his enemy. Pineda hasn't pitched out of the bullpen since his days in Double-A ball whereas Phelps has thrived there when called upon over the past couple years. Therefore, placing Pineda in the rotation and Phelps in the bullpen was the logical move.
This puts David Phelps in a familiar situation. In 2012 and 2013 he was the first alternate for the Yankees rotation. That is, he was the sixth unique pitcher to start a game for the Yankees in both seasons and will certainly be that man heading into 2014. So will he have to wait long to get a start? Just how soon is that pitcher typically needed? Let's take a look at the past ten years to find out (data courtesy of Baseball Reference):
|First Appearance of 6th Starter for Yankees|
It looks like strange things can happen to a rotation before the season is even a month old. No-names get spot starts, never to be heard from again and lifelong relievers like Brian Bruney get pressed into emergency duty. This recent trend tells us that it's likely Phelps will get a start by the quarter mark of the season and probably even well before that, just as he did the past two years.
Once he breaks into the rotation he might also be needed there long-term. For the first time since Andy Pettitte established himself in the mid-90's there is no sure thing among the Yankees' starting five. CC Sabathia is coming off the worst season of his career, Hiroki Kuroda struggled in the second half of 2013 and just turned 39, Masahiro Tanaka has never pitched an MLB inning, Ivan Nova's career has been marked by its inconsistency, and the aforementioned Michael Pineda has missed two full years due to injury. The Yankees have even subtly acknowledged their tenuous situation with their roster moves. Outside of Phelps they will round out the pitching staff with even more arms capable of starting should they be needed.
So even though he lost the battle, David Phelps may still win the war. At 27, he's entering his prime years and should get his best crack at a full-time starting gig in the coming weeks. Cue Eminem.